Forest Magic

Needle ice in the forest floor.

Needle ice in the forest floor.

This weekend, I got my birthday present: a site visit with the Catskill Forest Association. Which means, someone from the CFA came out to our house and walked the property with us, and taught us about the trees and wildlife, and how to encourage even more animal friends to visit.



The forester, John, (who is basically a grown-up Sam Gribley from My Side of the Mountain) started by discussing the apple trees on the property, all of which have seen several years of neglect. We talked about pruning and grafting...and naturally now I'm going to take the class the CFA offers, so you'll be hearing about it!

Near the pond, we disturbed a woodcock who was hanging out in the brush, and John pointed out several buck ruts and scent scrapes, and high up broken tree branches that a bear had likely taken a tumble out of. I squealed when he said we may have a mink near one of the streams.

Our woods, unlike the fairly non-diverse Catskill Park, contains mostly hawthorn (aka thornberry trees of death), but also maple (red and sugar, both good for syruping), service berry, red oak, and even a few ash. John explained several ways to identify these tree in winter, by looking at the smallest branches and the bark.

The next day, I went back out to try and identify and photograph everything he showed us, so I could share here. Erm. Here's a picture of Pancho.

But! Walking through again I saw the woods in a different way. Matt and I both did. Instead of a mass of trees, I started to see them individually, and noticing things about them that I had never seen. I started to put my own catalog together in my head: the one with buds is the red maple, the one with the yellow leaves still on is the beech.

The greatest wonder is that we can see these trees and not wonder more.
— Emerson

Trees, especially without leaves, are much harder to differentiate than flowers and vegetables, but I'll get there. And now that I know our woods are made up of ten or so types of trees, rather than the three hundred in my tree book, I'll have an easier time.

The recommendations we got for creating an even more diverse ecosystem were mainly about creating more low cover for small animals. The deer eat so many of the low plants that there aren't many places for rabbits and other such lovelies to hide. So we'll fell some trees and leave the logs in the woods. (After we take a tree chopping course called THE GAME OF LOGGING. What?!) The meadow we're planning will help with that too.

Sometimes my brain starts to overload with all the possibilities. After gardening in a 4 x 6 foot garden plot for so long, I have to remind myself that yes, I can buy that many seeds. I can plant mint, and milkweed, and more kale than I need (than anyone needs). I can do whatever I want. This land will have its limitations too, mainly in the form of deer and other nibblers, but that learning will be joy, too.

(Remind me of that if I ever try to blow up a groundhog, a la Michael Pollan.)