My favorite time of year here in New England is autumn. When I was much younger it was in the fall when I would fall in love. Even at this outer edge of my life the deepest of blue sky in autumn, and the leaves in their annual riot of color cause a frisson of joy. But leaf fall, the onset of winter, does not trigger depression in me. Winter is just another season and it one of breathtaking beauty. One of the favorite treats of winter is leafless old trees.
Now we’re in spring, at last. Before long our trees are going to leaf out and we’ll be into another summer. Take advantage of this in between time and really look at our trees before their branches are hidden behind leaves.
There is a lot of forest here in Deering, and in nearby town. The magnificence of the architecture of old trees is on full display now and has been throughout the winter. Look at a solitary old maple in the forest. The trunk all knotty and cankered, signs of depredation over even centuries. Deeply furrowed, the trunk sometimes seemingly twisted. Incredibly muscular branches that have supported generations of birds and squirrels. Solitary trees sometimes surrounded by their progeny, younger trees waiting their turn. These trees shade the forest floor to ensure regeneration of all sorts of life. They protect their young, and the young of others as they, in their own time will replace their elders. We now know that the trees are interconnected and communicate through a fungal network, and the network even extends to trees that were cut or that fell years ago. The old trees connect to us. We planted them before our houses many years ago and they stand, protecting our homes from wind, sun, and rain. They reassure us with their relative permenance. Some would say they are sentient, and there is a story of a man who trees loved and who was eventually enfolded by them. When I look at old trees with their often wild branching words that come to mind and images include power, strength, age, wisdom, beauty and community. I wish I were a poet. Words fail me in expressing my feelings.
Look around you at old trees living near you. Here are some of my favorites.
Let me know of your favorites!
This sugar maple at the top of Deering Center Road stands before ‘its’ house. Clearly this old tree stood before a different house, at another time. Maybe this is a modern iteration of the home that originally stood on this spot. Each autumn it’s leaves are outstanding.
The trunk of this maple looks to have been twisted but one gets an impression of strength, of muscles, of a readiness to defend the home and its occupants against evil.
These old sugar maples are all that remain of a population of several on the Baldwin property off Reservoir Rd. They were noted in the 1980 census of big trees but today they show signs of weariness, age. In their day one can imagine that they provided a good lot of New Hampshire maple syrup to their happy humans. The tree on the right was a champion nearly 40 years ago but today is a dignified but hollowed trunk. A reminder of what once grew in this part of the forest.
This sugar maple on East Deering Road started growing about 400 years ago.Sugar maple is not considered to be a long-lived tree! The trunk of this one is a mass of knots, scars of old branches and other predations. Despite those ravages, the tree is hanging on, reduced to a trunk and a few long, mighty branches, but probably good for a long while yet
There is another truly elegant sugar maple where Sleepy Brown had his house on North Road, many years ago. This tree is about 300 years old and, while looking at it leaves no doubt that it has seen a thing or two, it bears its age lightly. The Audubon Society, which now owns the tract, logged it recently and now this old tree is visible from the road. This proud old creature, surviving in the forest for all these years, does not in the least call to mind that sappy doggerel “I think I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree.” This old maple speaks of the profane, of earth, of spirits present and past. At once a fierce monument to survival, remembering that 150 years ago this tree likely stood in a sheep meadow, now a projection of a forest community, a wise statesman to whom we should pay close attention.
White ash on Old County road, near the site of Deering’s Poor Farm. Not succumbing to Emerald Ash Borer, this tree has serious heart rot but still, there it stands alone in a pasture, not seemingly connected to any other trees. Certainly no trees any near in age to this one are close by, although there are two large ash trees in front of the house on the road. Maybe this is the parent to them.
What I do know is that this stately tree was beloved of a wonderful person who is no longer with us. Her ashes are scattered around the base of her tree. These trees, they are more than biologically connected to their ‘natural’ world. We join their networks. They reassure us. when so much else seems wrong or fleeting they remain close to us. They can enfold and protect us. It’s proven that just walking in a forest can improve our mood, influenced by ‘vapourscoming from trees. This ash was loved by a woman whose spirit persists. This ash will always remind of her and a wonderful day with friends. No doubt this ash has been loved before, and when we are long gone, this ash will be loved by others.
The Wilkins Family has been in Deering since the beginings of our town. They donated land for the first cemetery, on Old County Rd, and the Wilkins House has stood since the end of the 18th Century.It has been the home of the Walmsley family since the mid 1960’s. This apple tree was there when they moved in. Actually, this apple tree has been giving green apples since at least 1920. A very long time for an apple!
Blackgum is the longest-lived hardwood tree in eastern North America, with a maximum age of something over 600 years. Two blackgums in Deering are not that old, but they most likely were here when Deering was first settled. Blackgum was not included in the 1980 list of Deering’s biggest trees, despite there being several in town. They were most likely overlooked because they live in swamps or wet places, and the two largest are growing in a swamp that not close to any road or hiking ail.
Blackgum (Nyssa sylvatica) is a very slow growing tree that is able to grow under a wide range of conditions. Although here in New England it is more common in wet areas than on dry sites. It never comprises more than a small percentage of species in any forest and it is usually overgrown by other species such as red maple. These two Deering trees are taller than the surrounding forest, and their distinctive canopy can be seen from some distance
The trees have long, straight trunks. They branch from near the top of the trunk and branches come off at right angles to the trunk, resulting in a nearly flat canopy. Blackgum is resistant predators, including most insects and fungi. The trees were not taken in logging because even though the wood is very hard, it tends to rot. Bark in old trees is very thick, distinctive for being deeply ridged. Their thick bark makes the trees fire fire resistant.
I know of three places in Deering where blackgum grows. In two of them the trees are solitary, but at the third site on North Road there is a grove of maybe a dozen trees. The biggest two are found not far from each other in the Manselville swamp. I like to snowshoe out there and sit for a while in the cold of winter, looking at these wonderful trees.
A final favorite old tree is not in Deering. It is impossible to pass the Hillside (South Weare) Cemetery in Weare on route 149 from Deering to Weare an d not see the wildly branched catalpa at its entrance. It seems an appropriate sentry, stationed at the entrance to this burying ground to discourage those, physical and spectral, who would enter and disturb the local residents.