My woods are talking to me, but I do not understand. My backyard is almost an acre of trees, mostly tall, stately tulip poplars. These amazing trees shoot straight up for over 100 feet before opening their canopy. I am told they yield a prized sap, not to everyone’s liking but the choice of some bakers. Their wood is soft like pine, and ideal for furniture and paneling.
We also have a sprinkling of beech and dogwood, and a few maples here and there. But mostly tulip poplars. I understand they tend to cluster without crowding out other specimens. That is what we have.
I bought a book recently called Reading the Forested Landscape by Tom Wessels. It offers eight lessons in reading the natural history of your wooded areas (he focuses on an area of New England), explaining how to see in the stumps, the undergrowth, the trunks, etc. influences, both human and natural, that caused your woods to look the way they do. Like when my trees talk to me, I read this book and do not readily understand. But I did learn this: that
there is something called a mast year. Evidently, many common trees produce nuts at a modest rate year after year, just enough to keep in practice (and to feed the woodland animals) but not enough to expend lots of energy.
Then, on some sort of signal imperceptible to us, depending on the year and the weather, all the oak, or maple, or (I am assuming) the tulip poplar deliver a bumper crop of nuts. This assures an abundant amount to feed all the creatures that rely on them, as well as a rich complement to seed the local area. If the area has been disturbed recently and is in the recovery mode, the tree that masts that year gets to set down its claim. It will become the defining tree in the area. I am imagining that is what happened in my forest. This area was a farm in the last century. There don’t seem to be any trees nearby older than 50 years or so. I once saw a photograph of this area in the 1950s and it was desolate - not a tree in sight. So, perhaps when the plowing stopped, and the reforestation began, the nearby poplars masted and laid a claim to my yard.
And somewhere in my forest, there is a tree that is moaning. When the wind is mild and the trees sway ever so much, if you are very quiet you can hear the soft moaning, creaking, of a tree in the back. It sounds just like you would imagine a bit of old wood to sound like when it bends just a bit too far for comfort. Imagine an old tree leaning over to empty the dryer, and that is what this sounds like. We first heard it three years ago and, fearful of a dead tree falling in on our roof, we had a tree guy come out to listen. Of course, the tree didn’t make noise when he was here. So we did nothing. The sound hasn’t gotten louder, indeed it seems a bit softer. I certainly don’t know what that means.
Truth be told, while my woods are only an acre or so, I have not walked every bit of them. But I do wonder what other messages they have for me so will work harder this winter and spring to listen harder and get to know them better. And hopefully, with time, begin to understand.