It is always amazing how we can go from saturated soil to totally dry in the blink of an eye. The soil through the wet meadow (which is now anything but wet) is a heavy clay. This soil almost always has standing water, but once the spring rains cease, the ground will form large cracks as it shrinks from drying out. Plants that survive here must be extremely tough.
Now is the time for some of the shrubs to flower. The dogwoods, Red Osier, Silky and Grey all have very similar white flower clusters. There are also flowers on the Multiflora Roses, which form large clumps wherever they can squeeze out some space. While pretty from a distance, the hooked barb on the stems of this shrub can reach out and grab you as you stroll the trail. For this reason, we like to keep a pair of pruners with us to cut back rogue branches several times a year. The native vines, River Grape and Virginia Creeper have already flowered. Both vines are found extensively on our property, except on the drumlin where there is less moisture all year. The grape vines can grow to be very large, with trunks that reach up to 8” or more in diameter. All of these shrubs and vines will produce berries that will feed many birds later in the year.
As we head up the drumlin, we enter the shadier part of our walk. Years ago, when our property was farmed, the drumlin and the area along the creek served as pasture because they were too difficult to plant. These were the first parts to be abandoned. As they have gone through the various stages of successional growth over the past 50 years, there are now many large trees that fill the areas. On the west side of the drumlin there are Black Walnuts, Ash and Shagbark Hickories. As we crest the hill, we find Sugar Maples and Bitternut Hickory. There is a small section of American Beech, most likely all belonging to the same root system. Beech trees are shallow rooted and will send up new shoots from the roots to create a colony. In our woods there is one very large Beech and quite a few much smaller ones. While Beech nuts are supposed to be quite tasty and they offer food to a number of birds and animals, they are not an ingredient in either Beech-nut Chewing Gum or any of the Beechnut baby foods. Towards the north end of the drumlin there is also a colony of Quaking Aspen. They are probably all connected through their roots as well. As we travel down to the creek, where the soil becomes moister, we find Basswood, Ash, Hornbeam and a few Shagbark Hickories. In the actual creek bed, there are Black Willows.
Ash make up a large part of the mix of shade trees throughout our property. For years we have known that the Emerald Ash Borer would eventually make itself known here. This year is the year we see our first signs of damage, although we know that means that the insects have been here for some time. Every day, as we walk, we look for signs of death among the Ashes. Most of the trees that are showing damage have trunk diameters of 18-24”, trees that have been growing for a long time. We only have a handful of trees showing signs right now, but we know that will accelerate. Sadly, with so many trees over such a large piece of property, there is no way we could afford to treat these. So we watch the inevitable and plan for ways that we can use the wood.
As we leave the creek and head up to the field, we notice on the hillside that there are tons of Ash seedlings. Sometimes when trees are severely stressed, they will produce an unusually abundant amount of fruit before they give in. These seedlings give us hope that, by the time they are large enough for the borers to be interested in them, perhaps there will be a natural predator that will help keep the insects in check, reducing the number of trees killed each year. Sometimes, in spite of what humans do to the natural world, it is able to come up with solutions of its own. This gives us hope.