Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Forest Pilgrimage

Eight hundred years agrowing: An ancient black tupelo towers over the swamp

I went to visit some ancestors yesterday.  Vince Walsh, founder of Kawing Crow Nature Awareness Center and owner of hundreds of acres of Greenfield forest and swamp, led me through his land to adjoining state forest, where ancient black tupelos grow. And I mean really old!  At least 800 years old, according to core samples.  Just imagine: 800 years ago, when these trees first sprouted, the Crusades were going on across the Atlantic. (Christians and Moslems hacking each other to bits. Some things never change.)  How can it be, through all those centuries, these trees just kept on growing?

I suspect terrain was a factor: the swampy ground would have made lumbering laborious.  Plus the trees' own growth pattern could have saved them: by the time they reached a height that would have attracted Europeans' axes, their boles began to hollow out, making them useless for ships' masts or building lumber.  And so they grew.  And grew and grew.  Still very much alive, they tower above all other trees around them, their limbs and branches twisted into fantastic bends and arches.   And yesterday I saw them.  Touched them.  Sat on the trunk of a fallen giant and pondered the passing of time.

I feel an almost mystical relationship with these trees.  I had never seen them before I started paddling the Hudson about 15 years ago.  I recognized maple and oak, hickory, beech, hemlock and pine, but what was this tree with gorgeous green glossy leaves, that bore blue-black berries each fall, and turned the most spectacular red in autumn?  My desire to find a name for this tree sparked my passion to know the names of all its neighbors -- a passion that still sends me off to the woods and the river whenever I can.  I trace the start of this, the most serene time of my life,  to finding those tupelos.  Next to getting my Hornbeck canoe, that is.

So it felt like a pilgrimage yesterday, a difficult passage at times through the melting marsh, but worth the wet feet for sure.  And we also had another grand experience.  Passing through open marsh, where at least a dozen herons' nests topped the standing snags, Vince spied a great horned owl, perched on the edge of a nest.  And another one, down in the nest! Because of my bad eyes, I couldn't see it, even through Vince's binoculars.  But he showed me where to point my camera,  and look what the camera saw.


NatureGirl said...

Is that a great-horned owl and nest? What a great find! We usually think of them being a bit more secluded than this!

Woodswalker said...

Yes, Nature Girl, TWO great horned owls that have moved in on a great blue heron's nest. And yes, this is certainly a wide open area, but let me tell you, it is in a sense VERY secluded, surrounded by hundreds of acres of ordinarily inaccessible swamp. We could still sort of make our way on ice two days ago, but plunged through many times. I doubt many humans will pass that way again this nesting season.

catharus said...

Fantastic! Wonderful story!