It is always a treat to watch Spring arrive in our woods. Somehow the combination of Pandemic exhaustion and my recent illness has made it even more special than usual this year. By my calculations it is about ten days late this year, and more welcome than ever.
My walks in the woods invariably begin with a visit to the tree we planted in memory of wife four years ago. We chose a tulip tree in homage to the four magnificent specimens that bordered the deck on our cottage at Conneaut Lake. We dug up saplings in my sister-in-law’s yard and planted them the first year we had the cottage.
They grew rapidly and seemingly converted the deck into a tree house, at the same time converting me into a tulip tree fan. Members of the magnolia family, also known as yellow poplar, their formal name is Liriondendron Tulipfera. Although the tulip connotation is from their flowers, the leaves also have a tulip configuration.
Our tree was reasonably large when it was planted. It soon was attacked by a buck trying to rub velvet off his antlers. I responded by constructing several fences, each more rugged than its predecessor. My current responsibility is keeping a suet holder filled. The chickadees and nuthatches attracted to it would please my wife.
This week the tiny, tulip-shaped leaves began to come out. In a few weeks they will be large and uniquely distinctive by their shape. Perhaps this will be the year we produce flowers for the first time. Till then I am content with enjoying the crocus and daffodils we planted around the base of the tree.
This is an interesting time of year, when the first tiny leaves appear converting each individual tree into a unique “puffball”, each with a distinctive shade of green. In a month they will lose their identities and become part of an integrated mass of monochromatic green.
The first wildflower to bloom each year is the celandine; it bloomed on Easter Sunday this year. For weeks I had carefully watched for it to appear. Suddenly one day tiny green coin-shaped leaves began to push their way up through the brown carpet of leaves remaining from last Fall and turn the carpet to green. Then lovely golden flowers appeared in great profusion.
Years ago celandine was known as pilewort because of the effectiveness of its leaves in soothing the pain from hemorrhoids. Today some areas consider it to be an invasive plant, primarily because it pushes out other plants and then is dormant from June to February. I consider it a welcome invader.
Ten days later another family of welcome plants began to puncture the leaf carpet – the may-apples. One day they are tiny green shoots; two days later they are full size miniature palm trees. These are all single-stalked. In a few weeks they will be joined by a bifurcated version sporting a bud that will become an elegant flower in May and a full grown apple in July.
On lucky days I encounter my friend Hugh and his dog Ziggy and share my walk with them. Hugh has recently discovered another mystery in our woods. We regularly pass the statue of Winston, a large, sitting dog. In the depth of the winter, with all the undergrowth gone, Hugh noticed another statue.
Upon investigation he determined that it was headless. Despite a lot of looking we have been unable to locate its head. We are uncertain whether the statue was a dog, perhaps a Golden Retriever, or a lion – my vote is for the latter. It certainly is an excellent candidate for another story about our enchanted woods.
The woods are full of plastic tubes enclosing saplings that well-meaning conservationist have planted. Planting trees is a worthwhile endeavor. However, sticking a tube around a sapling and hoping that works is not sufficient. The woods are full of residue from such failed experiments, non-biodegradable tubes lying on the ground and no evidence of any surviving tree.
A humorous example of this is the “Deer Exclusion Area”. This was a 2012 Eagle Scout project where a small area was fenced in, to study the effect of preventing deer from destroying the undergrowth and saplings. Last Fall the conservationists ignored the experiment and planted fifteen saplings inside the enclosure and protected them with plastic tubes. So much for Science!
Another frequent stop in my walk is the Freedom Tree. It was planted in 1973, along with a monument in honor of a local flyer who was killed in Cambodia during the Vietnamese War. The tree survived till 2008, then died. A Girl Scout project moved the monument to a more accessible area and planted a new tree.
That tree never really caught hold, and met an early demise. The next effort was a tulip tree that was prospering until a buck rubbed it so hard that it broke off a few inches above the ground. Eventually a shoot came up from the base; I have been rooting for it, apparently in vain. When I inspected it this Spring it was cut off above a foot from the ground – deer? Nonetheless, it survives, and so, we hope, will Freedom.
My brick garden has had a productive Spring – numerous Cooper Bessemers, a few C. P. Mayers, and one lone Porter National. Just uphill from the garden the conservationists have removed underbrush from a large area and replaced it with a forest of plastic tubes. In doing this they have exposed a delightful rivulet cascading down the hill from a spring. We will keep track of this and see if the spring dries up this summer.
I am fortunate to be able to observe, first hand, the progression of the seasons. It is an eternal miracle for which we all should be grateful.