Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Great Stories and Untold Futures at the Edge of the Woods

I took a slow walk along the shoreline of Lake Sara (in Effingham, IL) this past weekend on a wonderfully balmy Sunday afternoon. The remaining ice at the mouth of the coves created a glassy stillness despite a steady breeze. The ravines in the woods were too muddy to traverse, so I stuck to the shoreline and the woods' edge.

On the eastern edge of the woods was a stump of a White Oak (Quercus alba) that had fallen during a storm last summer. My father-in-law has been slowly cutting this large tree into firewood. The growth of the last decades stood out in tones of rust and auburn. I stopped to reflect on all the seasons this tree had seen before it met its demise; its history written between each its 96 rings.

A closer look shows the slowing growth of the tree's last decades. I'm unsure what caused the black-edged discolored patches in these outer rings, although I'd suspect some vascular problem.

Standing just a few yards away from the fallen oak grew a Mockernut Hickory (Carya tomentosa or Carya alba) with its bending, scraggly branches drooping low towards the ground. This tree stood in contrast to the fallen oak. Pubescent buds swelled along the hickory's twigs, almost pulsating with excitement at the warming temperatures.

The terminal hickory buds were encased in a downy covering that looked like buckskin. This species of hickory is known for its pronounced heart-shaped leaf scars that mark the place where last year's leaves attached.

The Lake Sara woods have been a place of great reflection for me over the past few years, and this past weekend was no different. Walking among these trees reminds me that great stories have been etched into their trunks and untold futures await in their buds.

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