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Archive for the ‘Trees’ Category

Cone Talk

The cones have tales to tell this fine spring day.  Do you have a minute to hear what they have to say?

old black spruce cones

Let the old gray cones speak first.  They’ve likely seen better days but are still holding on tight to the even older black spruce that bore them years ago.  Neither the young nor the old should underestimate the value of tenacity.  Hang in there baby!

spruce cone leftovers in woodpile

These spruce cone leftovers on the woodpile reveal a spot where at least one red squirrel likes to dine regularly.  Hopefully the neighborhood cats aren’t paying attention.

closed spruce cone in bog

A closed cone in a boggy area doesn’t want to expose its seeds to the wetness if there’s still a chance it can disperse them farther in drier weather.  It’s only natural for all of us, even small pine cones, to aspire to reach out to the world beyond our little neck of the woods.

open cone indicating dry forest

A spruce cone on the forest floor is already open, even though it rained heavily here a couple of days ago.  A sign of a dry summer ahead, it’s also showing an increased risk for wildfire.

speckled alder cones and seeds

Speckled alder cones have only a few seeds left in them, but are proud to say they helped feed a good many hungry chickadees this past winter.   When you hear the chickadees sing, you can thank the alders.

red spruce cones

Red spruce cones announce to the world that they’re open for business.  Pollination business that is.  Their bright red bract scales are ready to receive the male gametophytes that will produce a new crop of seeds.  They’re so spectacularly beautiful, a close-up is warranted…

red bract scales on red spruce

Green cones appear for the first time atop a tall balsam fir I transplanted as a seedling years ago while holding a baby on my hip.  It’s always a thrill when your babies start having babies of their own, whether these babies are humans or trees ;)

green balsam fir cones

Get outside and hear what nature has to say to you today.

Text and photographs copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2013

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The trees of the Acadian forest have something to say.   Ever since the Europeans arrived here, they’ve been patient, but they’ve put up with our foolishness long enough.  It’s time for us to listen up.  This past week, forester and law student Jamie Simpson took it upon himself to help them get the word out.

I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.
~ Dr Seuss, The Lorax

Last Friday Jamie put up a billboard between the two bridges in Halifax along much travelled Barrington Street to increase awareness of our government’s clearcutting policy.  As you can see, in this larger version of the billboard photo,  a picture truly is worth a thousand words.

Whole tree harvest cut near Upper Musquodoboit Nova Scotia ~ Photo Jamie Simpson

Despite its promises, Nova Scotia’s NDP government has done nothing to stop whole harvesting of our Acadian forests.  It’s not just wrong.  In Jamie’s words:  ‘It’s shameful.’  By allowing a loose definition of a clearcut in the fine print, despite its new policy, the NDP government continues to allow harvesters to transform more of our mixed growth forests (with the potential for partial harvesting) into mud pits.

Northern Pulp biomass harvest ~ Photo Jamie Simpson

Northern Pulp, the company that ravaged the tract of land shown above, was sold to Paper Excellence Canada, which in turn is owned by a conglomerate of Asian and European owners.  Like the Lorax in Dr Seuss’ book of the same name, perhaps we need to get angry while also retaining a seed of hope. We need to tell our government representatives that they have to be more creative in finding a solution that works both for the forests and the forest workers.  Now, before our landscape is ravaged any further.

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better.  It’s not.
~ Dr Seuss, The Lorax

For more information concerning the decline of Nova Scotia’s forests since the arrival of Europeans, see my earlier post on  The Fall of the Tall Trees.

To help Jamie get the word out, visit his website for a list of government contacts at Clearcut Nova Scotia:  What to do.  MLA Becky Kent is the representative for Cole Harbour/Eastern Passage.  Her contact information is listed here.

Text copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2012.
All photos shown courtesy of Jamie Simpson.

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When you walk in the woods, do you see the forest or the trees?  Do your eyes come to rest on the bark of the closest  trunk or is your vision focused on the woods behind it?

Similarly, when you’re walking on the beach, are your eyes scanning the shore for a special shell,  a heart shaped stone or a bottle with a message in it, or are you gazing at the horizon line?

It’s easier to focus on the trees nearby if the path ahead is tangled with vegetation.  The possibility of ticks in the grass or mosquitoes lurking in the deeper woods may prompt you to take a closer look at the soft new growth on the branches  within your grasp.

If the path ahead appears clear and bright, you may be more inclined to venture into the forest.

At home or at work, I often find myself caught up in the details in my surroundings.  My eyes dart quickly back and forth looking to re-arrange or make right whatever seems out of place.  However, when daily life sometimes becomes cluttered, as the beach is with seaweed after a storm…

I lift up my eyes to focus on what’s ahead.  (One of these days I’m sure I’m going to see a mermaid sitting on top of that big stone).

Our ability to shift our focus is a gift that allows us to be happy in any circumstance.  All that’s required from us is a willingness to refocus our attention, perhaps for just a moment, before getting back to the task at hand.

Text and photographs copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2012

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Fascinated by the play of light filtering through the trees onto the tangled undergrowth, it’s no wonder why Vincent van Gogh made so many paintings of such scenes.

Trees and Undergrowth by van Gogh

The effect of light changes from one minute to the next as clouds pass overhead and the breeze affects the movement of the leaves.  The time of day also plays a role in how warm the light will appear on foliage and bark.

Nature is always changing, never stagnant, but some environments tend to reveal that quality more than others, and it’s no surprise that it’s in those places that we most feel alive.

Undergrowth by van Gogh

In springtime, new undergrowth looks especially fresh as a myriad of tiny plants blend together to create a living mosaic.  Ferns unfurled add a lushness to the forest floor.  Carpets of green wood sorrel replace last autumn’s dried leaves.

The emergent undergrowth provides a contrast to the vertical lines of the lichen covered trees.  As saplings, these trees too were once a part of the undergrowth.  Now their ongoing competition for light forces them to soar above one another, revealing their green lushness only in the canopy.

Trees with undergrowth of young balsam firs

Although he often exaggerated the intensity of Nature’s palette, van Gogh understood the importance of  being outdoors to witness the effect of light on a landscape.  Pictures and photographs can only begin to tell the story.  Whether or not you’re a painter, the woods are waiting for a visit from you to show off their new spring growth.

Lady’s slipper orchids growing in Nova Scotia woods

 It is not the language of painters but the language of nature which one should listen to…. The feeling for the things themselves, for reality, is more important than the feeling for pictures.
~ Vincent van Gogh

Wood sorrel carpeting the forest floor

Paintings by Vincent van Gogh shown above:
Trees and Undergrowth (1887)
Section of Undergrowth with Two Figures (June 1890 Auvers)

Text and photographs copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2012

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Sometimes it’s difficult to tell one cat from another, especially if they’re plants, not animals.

A cattail from last year looking ragged in springtime

In the spring, last year’s cattails look shabby and ragged.  An aggressive native species, colonies of this spike-like plant are commonly found in ditches and freshwater wetlands.  The soft down-like seeds are easily dispersed by the wind.  Besides being employed by birds to line nests, the down was used by First Nation’s people as a firestarter and to line moccasins and papooses.  Many parts of the plant are edible.  (For more see the Wikipedia page for Typha at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Typha) New green cattails will appear later this summer and turn brown as the season progresses.

Cattails growing in a ditch.

Cattails are often confushed with catkins, the male (and sometimes male/female) reproductive part on some trees and bushes.  Below are catkins on an alder tree.    The word ‘catkin’ is derived from the Dutch word for kitten.  In late spring, these catkins certainly look like kittens’ tails.

Male catkins on a speckled alder in May

In the next image, you can see the greenish catkins as they appeared earlier this spring, hard and closed.  Also visible on the leafless branches are small brown cones leftover from last year.  These cones hold many small seeds that are a favorite of chickadees.

New catkins on speckled alder with last year’s cones

Below are the pussywillows that are such a welcome sight in early spring.  Their soft grey fur invites petting by young and old.  As a child I recall my first grade class glueing these to an image of a kitten to provide texture and color.  It was a common craft back then when most children had access to pussywillows near their homes.

Pussywillows are a type of catkin growing on willow trees or bushes.  Eventually, they go to seed and appear quite different than when they first emerged from the branch.

By now, it’s difficult to find evidence of  pussywillows in our woods.  However, fresh green catkins can now be found on the yellow birch trees.

Yellow birch catkin

With such staggered and changing appearances, cattails, catkins and pussywillows can seem as mysterious as their feline namesake.  Perhaps that’s part of their charm.

Text and images copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2012

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Light grayish green lichens known as Old Man’s Beard hang from the trees in the forests.  Sometimes blown onto the ground on windy days, to the touch, these lichens are usually soft but sometimes stiff in dry weather.   A few are streaked with brown.

Old Man’s Beard is frequently found in clean, moist environments such as boggy woods.  Though it prefers to cling to coniferous trees in old growth forests, it also hangs from the younger birches in my backyard.  Sensitive to air pollution, it’s often found with other types of lichens, such as the foliose lichens shown below.

  

Canada’s native people harvested Old Man’s Beard long ago and added it to their diet.  It can be steamed or dried and pummeled into a powder.   A strong antibiotic, it was also used to prevent infection and gangrene from setting into external wounds.   A thousand years ago, Old Man’s Beard was already being used as a medicine to treat lung cancer.  It’s still used today as a treatment for tuberculosis in China as it contains usnic acid.

La barbe de nain illustration by Elisabeth Ivanovsky

The antibiotic properties of Old Man’s Beard make it an effective treatment for fish infections in ponds and aquariums.  Yellow warblers seek forests where the Beard is present as they consider it an indispensable construction material in building their nests. 

A french fairy tale, LA BARBE DE NAIN by Marcelle Vérité, explains that the beards once belonged to elves.  Long ago, it was customary for these kind, cheerful creatures to arrange bundles of deadwood on the forest floor as a gift for mankind.   But when men greedily began to cut down live trees, the elves hastily fled to remote mountain peaks, snagging their beards on branches in the process.  The lost beards can be found in forests to this day.

Considering the wonderful medicinal properties of these beards, their elvish origins are no surprise to me.

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maple buds in spring

Canadian maple buds.  Check. 

coltsfoot in bloom

Coltsfoot.  Check.

junco attacking car mirror

Mating-crazed junco obsessed with its reflection in my car’s mirror.  Check.

chickadee and mourning dove calling from treetops

Chickadee and mourning dove calling from the treetops.  Check.  Check.

crawly creatures under rocks

Creepy crawlies under the garden stones:  Millipede, earthworm, beetle, salamander.  Check.  Check.  Check.  Check.

Nova Scotia slug

Slug.  Check.

red squirrel defending its territory

Red squirrel defending its territory.  Check.

snowshoe hare in april

Snowshoe hare on the lawn.  Check.

periwinkle or myrtle

The first periwinkle of the season.  Check.

Hope rekindled.  Check.

 

 

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Every day, trees in the forest compete with one another for the light needed to make their food.   What can they teach us about surviving in a competitive world?

Find a mentor.  Longer-living evergreens are often given an advantage in their younger years by shorter-lived deciduous nurse trees.  In my yard, birches frequently shelter small spruce and firs from winds, snows and grazing mammals. 

Make the most of the storms of life.  When Hurricane Juan blew down mature trees in 2003, the forest suddenly was opened to a light it hadn’t seen in decades.  Balsam firs and mountain ash took advantage of the increased light, experiencing exponential growth.

Know your competition and be ready to act.  Scientists at the University of Buenos Aires recently discovered that plants are able to anticipate future competition from other plants in their environment by discerning a variance in the color of light that’s reflected off neighboring plants.  If potential competition is sensed, they react by shooting up towards the light more quickly than normal.

Agility means that you are faster than your competition. Agile time frames are measured in weeks and months, not years.
~ Michael Hugos

Often, trees in the open will grow at a slower rate than those growing competitively in stands.  If shallow-rooted, the former are also more likely to be toppled over during a windstorm.

I’m in competition with myself and I’m losing.
~ Roger Waters 

Losers in the competition for light

And while the law of competition may be sometimes hard for the individual, it is best for the race, because it ensures the survival of the fittest in every department.
~ Andrew Carnegie

Winners will go on to litter the forest floor with the next generation of trees for years to come.

This post is in response to Assignment 15:  Competition over at Scott’s Views Infinitum.

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The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity… and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.
~ William Blake

It may be the way of  humans to want development to cease once their home is built on the edge of the wilderness  but I still shudder every time I see tracts of land cleared.  I realize that before my home was built on this spot, many wild creatures made this acreage their home. Trees once stood where my driveway now covers the ground with gravel.

Yesterday I went looking for amphibian eggs in a spot where I had seen them in a waterway near the bog years before. Chainsaws tore through trees in the vicinity throughout the afternoon.

I also looked for Boreal Felt Lichen, an endangered species that seems like it would thrive in this neck of the woods. Though none was found yesterday, I did find a cluster of foliate lichen that I had seen earlier this year. Unfortunately, this time, the tree was on the ground, freshly sawed into pieces, a casualty of the surveyor’s line.

These lands are likely slated to be developed soon.  yet, fresh evidence of porcupine, hare and deer activity was everywhere to be found.  It’s a shame that so many animals will be displaced and that all these lichen-covered trees will eventually be covered with weedless green lawns and paved driveways.

Bogs are often considered wastelands by developers who want to fill them up.  That saddens me just as much as the demise of the trees.  New trees can be planted on cleared land but a bog can’t resurface once it’s been filled with rubble.

Throughout  the walk, my friend Sybil who accompanied me kept repeating lines from Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi…

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till it’s gone.

Her singing was barely audible over the roar of the chainsaws.

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Old trees can easily conjure up memories of times past.  Covered with lichens, mosses and fungi, they are witnesses to history, quiet observers of human events and animal activities.  Their silent demeanor makes them privilege to secrets told beneath their branches.  Perhaps it’s because we expect trees to know so much that they spark our imaginations.


A favorite book from my childhood was The Faraway Tree Adventure by Enid Blyton. (My copy was the french translation: DEUX ENFANTS DANS UN SAPIN).  The story involved the magical encounters experienced by two children who follow an elf up a tree.  My imagination was sparked by the idea of a tree so wonder-full that it could act as an enchanted gateway to other lands and fairy folk.  

Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world.
~ John Muir

Two spruce trees I recently saw standing side by side in the forest reminded me of that magical tree I had read about years ago. They were wrapped up in mist and entwined in each other’s branches, still erect while others of their size were overturned by strong winds. 

Their older lower branches were bare of needles but looked strong enough for climbing.  As a child, I’d always been unable to reach the lower branches of the trees I believed held magical worlds in their canopies. At what age do we stop trying to climb up trees?

The magic that eluded us as children because we didn’t have arms long enough to reach the next branch, eludes us once again in adulthood as we become more and more attached to safe ground.  The trees must find us odd indeed, but in their wisdom, say nothing.

What tiny creature do you suppose lives in that hole among the roots?

In the tradition of  She Said, She Said, Sybil of Eastern Passage Passage has also written a post about these same trees.  You can find her post here along with marvelous close-ups of the wonderful worlds she captured with her lens.

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For every beauty, there is an eye somewhere to see it.
For every truth, there is an ear somewhere to hear it.
For every love, there is a heart somewhere to receive it.
~ Ivan Panin

Messy woods that consist of a tangle of fallen trees are seldom considered worthwhile exploring. Yet there are wonders waiting to be revealed in the most unlikely places…

Though it’s now barely noticeable underfoot, millions of years ago, the creeping club moss shown above grew much larger.  The swamps that were filled with these club moss trees during the Carboniferous period were eventually transformed into the coal that’s mined today. 

Did a flicker make this hole? Standing dead trees (snags) in old growth forests offer places for wild creatures to nest. If flickers nest here this year, they’ll be looking for tasty ants, their favorite food, to feed upon in the neighborhood this summer.

Who treads the delicate stairs of this stair-step moss?   Utilized in the past as a covering for dirt floors and a gap filler between the logs of log cabins, it’s now being studied for its anti-bacterial properties.

The porcupine teeth marks on this tree reveal a delicate pattern.  Could we be missing a woodland delicacy by not including inner bark in our diet? It might be worthwhile trying in a survival situation.

Could this delicate creeping vine be partridge berry? Its rich red hue will turn to green later this spring when it will blend in more with the mosses surrounding it.

The forest is reflected in a woodland pool that will sustain a diversity of life before it dries later this summer. Do the faeries sit on this log at the end of day to relax and chat about the day’s adventures?

And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.
~ Roald Dahl

These photos were taken on a most enjoyable walk in the woods yesterday with my friend Sybil of Eastern Passage Passage who posted a very different version of our adventure on her blog :) You can read her post here.

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A clever way for thieves to steal from a store is to switch price tags on items, putting low prices on items of higher value.  The thieves then purchase the  items.   This technique works best in stores where cashiers are oblivious to the true value of the merchandise and too busy to take notice of obvious discrepancies. 

Like the pre-occupied cashiers, we don’t know the value of our natural resources and are too busy to notice that they are grossly undervalued.  We might be tired and overworked, or so distracted that we don’t clue in.   Developers keen to turn a quick profit are the ones who stand to gain.

This happens in third-world countries where rainforests brimming with biodiversity are razed to make way for single crops that strip the soil of its nutrients and contribute to erosion.  It also happens in wealthier nations where scrub lands with shorter trees are filled with concrete by residential and business park developers focused on turning a quick profit. 

In resource-rich Canada, we take for granted the cleanliness of our seemingly endless supply of clean air and water, not fully realizing the role trees play in their presence.  In one year, a large tree can supply enough clean air for a family of four to breathe and a single medium-sized tree can filter over 2000 gallons of water.  We cut down old growth forests and pat ourselves on the back when we fill the bare spaces with tiny seedlings that will take several lifetimes to mature.  We fail to appreciate how much trees buffer noise, create windbreaks, intercept rainfall, hold and create soil, absorb carbon dioxide and provide a habitat for wildlife.  Even their beauty is uplifting.  But because we have so many trees here in Canada, we take them for granted. 

The law of supply and demand dictates that our trees will increase in value as they become less abundant.  But why do we have to wait until then to appreciate them?  The United Nations has declared 2011 to be the International Year of Forests in an effort to heighten awareness of their value to mankind.

If a 24K bar of gold weighing 28 lbs is worth approximately half a million dollars, what is the value of a single tree? 

For in the true nature of things, if we rightly consider, every green tree is far more glorious than if it were made of gold and silver.

~  Martin Luther

Gold bar photo credit:  Sybil Nunn

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