HORT travels

Exploring the horticultural beauty in every adventure.

Callous & Callus

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Callus wood forms around an injury on this tree.

On a recent hike on the anniversary of a day significant to me for the trauma I experienced on that day I was thinking a lot about scars.

5 years ago, to the day on this day of my hike, I learned that you can feel your heart break. This may sound insane to some people and lucky you for not knowing or not having had the experience. Those of us who have experienced this we know it certainly is a thing. And while I do not know if my heart looks any different from when it did before that moment (I suspect not, but still I wonder), I feel like there is a scar there along the place where it broke. My heart physically feels like it changed forever, but I know it continues functioning and supporting me, still able to love, forgive and care and still moving blood and oxygen around this body.

Incomplete wound healing

As I traveled along the trail I started noticing scars on trees. As I have mentioned, you cannot always see the damage a tree (or a person) is dealing with from the outside. But sometimes, you can.

I noticed, like us, they have scars for two types of wounds – the intentional and the accidental. Like us, regardless of how the wound got there, the tissue created to protect and heal the wound is the same.

Callous can describe a person. It certainly can describe the person who caused this heartbreak. This usually means they are insensitive or unfazed by emotions, empathy or sentiment. I think of it as meaning that they are hardened from these emotions, perhaps because of something that happened to them, perhaps because they never witnessed those emotions in action or felt those emotions personally, who knows.

Callousness can be a protection from getting too close, from feeling emotions.

A callous can also be a protection. You may know the raised, hardened bumps of skin on palms and fingers that speak to the work you do and the hobbies you have. I have callouses from splitting firewood, from raking leaves, from shoveling snow, from gardening and from kayaking. These callouses form over time after repeated damage or irritation to protect the skin in the future.

Though spelled differently, callus wood forms on trees as protection.

Compartmentalization of decay in a tree

Trees naturally compartmentalize damage to prevent it from spreading to the rest of the tree. Part of this process is the creation of callus tissue, the process of which begins the moment the tree is damaged. These undifferentiated cells, called parenchyma cells, grow quickly and spread to cover the wound before insects or diseases can enter. These are also the cells that create burls on trees. Eventually as these cells grow, woundwood forms and covers the wound like a scab covers and protects the wound.

In order for the process to work, the area of the tree that forms the cells to create callus tissue must not be damaged. If it is damaged, incomplete healing occurs ensuring continued damage to the tree.

We can think of callus wood on a tree like scar tissue, a different, smoother type of tissue than the surrounding tissue. Like scar tissue which is stronger because the arrangement of cells is more dense and arranged in a way that makes it strong but less flexible.

When a surgeon operates on us, the cuts are intentional and created to heal as well and as fast as possible with little scarring and complete healing. When our wounds result from unintentional accidents or are the result of the callousness of another human the scarring may be worse, the wound longer to heal and in some cases may not heal at all.

Many completely healed wounds on this American Beech.

The same is true of trees, when storms damage trees the callus and woundwoond may not be able to form, leaving the tree susceptible to further damage. If a well trained and knowledgeable arborist is pruning a tree, they know to cut properly so the wound can heal completely.

I suppose when our hearts break there is no way to know if we heal completely. I like to think that my heart has healed completely. While I do not know if there is physical evidence of the damage, I know I will never forget the feeling, and I am certain it is vulnerable to being broken again, but it is stronger and different and functioning just fine, despite the damage.

Wounds are an inevitable part of a tree’s life, just as they are an inevitable part of ours. How we, and they, heal from them depends as much on the circumstances that created them as the tools within to heal.

Lots of scars and even a heart-shaped wound, but this tree survives.

Dead Inside

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Surprisingly, when you look into the crown of this tree, it is perfectly alive.

To describe a feeling of just not caring any more, or as sometimes it’s stated, running clean out of fucks to give, someone may describe themselves as dead inside.

Someone who is dead inside is completing the basic life functions – eating, breathing – but cannot muster caring, empathy, compassion, drive, pleasure, excitement, creativity, appreciation, lust, love.

When I hear this term I think of trees.

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Roots: Tripping Hazard or Erosion Control?

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Muddy Boots and Exposed Roots

Spending 2 full days watching the E! Sex and the City Marathon has me reading the title above in Carrie Bradshaw’s voice and imagining it being typed across a pixelated computer screen. Not that Sex and the City ever focused on nature or that Carrie Bradshaw would be caught dead in hiking boots. But thinking about the duplicity of something in a particular circumstance certainly was Carrie Bradshaw’s forte. This binging happened to coincide with the 10th anniversary of me moving into my home sweet home.

Roots and the Reservoir

This anniversary of setting down roots, my surprise at being in one place this long and recent reflections on impermanence had me thinking differently about the roots I encountered on a recent hike in Maryland and along a trail I was walking for my annual participation in the first day hike. Really I cannot think of one trail I have hiked that didn’t have exposed roots along the way.

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Back on the Trail

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A golden Sugar Maple leaf, Acer saccharum, manages to perch perfectly on a twig between the creek and the trail.

For many the pandemic inspired people to get out on the trails, into parks and exploring nature, maybe for the first time, maybe to places they have never been. For me, the pandemic had the opposite effect. All of the places I usually find solace in a quiet exploration I found teeming with people, uncomfortable, crowded and unpleasant. The trails that brought me peace and an opportunity to contemplate and observe were now obstacle courses of bikers, joggers and walkers. And so I avoided my favorite places.

6 months into the pandemic, my friend and I began venturing on early morning bike rides. The area was opening up. Group activities and businesses were finding their new way to engage people and less people were hitting the trails, especially early. Eventually, after quite a few bike rides, I felt I could walk, and contemplate and recharge and observe out in my favorite natural places again.

Ahhhhh… Breathe in…. Breathe Out…

Listen to the crunch of the gravel under your feet…

Listen to the rippling of the creek down below…

Stop every five seconds to take another photo of the beauty that surrounds you.

Pale purple flowers of Blue Wood Aster, Symphyotrichum cordifolium, and the bright yellow leaves of Spice Bush, Lindera benzoin. Note the empty trail.

The Perkiomen Trail, my favorite stretch being the Crusher Road Access to Spring Mount, felt peaceful and accessible and enjoyable again.

Poison Ivy Toxicodendron radicans crawls up a homeowner’s fence putting on a bicolor show.

It is not that I stopped exploring nature during my Pandemic Pause from the Perkiomen Trail. Interestingly early on in the pandemic car traffic became so light I felt comfortable walking the narrow, unlined, hilly, curving roads around my home and began taking suburban safaris finding two 3.5 mile routes that took me past all kinds of nature I hadn’t noticed before. Over the months I discovered native plants I thought I had to drive someplace else to see and watched the changing of the seasons right close to home.

Blue Wood Aster Symphyotrichum cordifolium edges the trail and a lone jogger in the distance.

On this day I managed to time my morning walk just right to capture the essence of autumn in the sunrise and the wildflowers. Back to my happy place, a little bit of feeling normal, in this crazy new world.

Dewy Spiderweb

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PS

There was some evidence of the crazy I missed while avoiding the trail over the summer. Notice the trashcan stuck high up on the trees in the photo below. A remnant of the intense flooding storms we experienced over the summer.

A Virtual Revisit: Grey Towers

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Gifford Pinchot, the first director of the US Forest Service was also a eugenicist.

Back in 2014, I wrote about visiting Grey Towers. I cannot believe I have been writing this blog for more than 6 years! And how times have changed. In that post I mentioned Gifford Pinchot, former governor of Pennsylvania, first chief of the US Forest Service, sometimes called father of the Conservation Movement.

Grey Towers, a National Historic Site, was Gifford Pinchot’s family home. While it was beautiful and full of history, there was a story lacking in the interpretation both in the house museum and in the gardens.

I am sharing some of that additional story here, because I think it is time that we all, whether on a national platform or through a blog that reaches a handful of people on its best day, need to start telling the complete stories of our history. If we do not know the complete story we can at least start telling MORE of the story.

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Road Trip – Cascades Trail – North Adams MA

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844d5bbc-6e09-4f6d-adc5-03c58c514c0bMy wanderlust is flaring up something serious right now. 45 work days working from home. Today is day 50 of the social-distancing, quarantine, stay-at-home order for the area I live. 50 days! I have watched the end of winter and the beginning of spring as buds swelled and flowers emerged.

I realized quite some time ago that inserting myself into nature is how I cope. When I am sad, depressed, anxious or angry I turn to trails through the woods and the delights of nature to restore my spirits, give me hope and grant me perspective.

My 50 days have not been without connection to nature. I am lucky enough to have a wooded back yard and gardens and live in a rural enough area to be able to see frogs and flowers along my daily walks. But there is no substitute for a good hike along a new trail.

Glimpses of wildflowers or waterfalls, and in the very best cases, both,  are frequent goals of mine on these walks. Arriving to an elevated vista is also something I look to find.

While we are still closed down, though there are murmuring of a slow reopen, I continue to think back to the trails I have explored and making lists of places I want to go.

The Cascades Trail was a funny trail. I followed signs for it along the sidewalk and through a suburban neighborhood. I felt kind of funny traipsing through a quiet neighborhood with my hiking poles and backpack walking past people raking leaves and moving mulch around.

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George Aiken Wildflower Trail

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Hunkered down in quarantine during prime spring ephemeral season has me thinking back to places I have been lucky enough to visit. It is also giving me reason to stay close to home and time to look back and write about some of the places I have explored.

In the summer a little more than a year ago I ventured solo north to Vermont for a week. Meandering the unfamiliar roads on the way home from a state park I saw a sign for this Wildflower Trail. I never miss an opportunity to get up close to wildflowers and decided to check it out.

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Change Along the Perkiomen Trail

The past lives on in art and memory, but it is not static: it shifts and changes as the present throws its shadow backwards. The landscape also changes, but far more slowly; it is a living link between what we were and what we have become. This is one of the reasons why we feel such a profound and apparently disproportionate anguish when a loved landscape is altered out of recognition; we lose not only a place, but ourselves, a continuity between the shifting phases of our life. 

~ Margaret Drabble A Writer’s Britain: Landscape in Literature

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The Perkiomen Trail is close to home and a regular haunt for me. The 20-mile trail is a place of recreation, exhilaration, peace, reflection, solace, and education. In the 9 years I have walked and biked the trail it has changed. It changes seasonally, trading carpets of spring ephemerals for the russet and burgundy of fallen leaves in Autumn. But I have not witnessed anything so drastic as the change I saw upon returning to my favorite local outdoor place in early June this year.

While away visiting the big trees of northern California at home destruction was being wrought by straight-line winds gusting up to 110 miles per hour.  The storm also came with flash flooding of the Perkiomen Creek and the many other smaller tributaries coursing through the region. Luckily, my woodland home was spared damage from downed trees, but the same cannot be said for many in the area. Homes along the Perkiomen Creek were particularly hard hit by both flooding and the strong winds toppling trees. Unlike Ms. Drabble’s statement above – in this case the landscape changed drastically and quickly.

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The William Scarbrough House and Gardens at the Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum, Savannah GA

J.B. Jackson said a landscape is “a portion of the earth’s surface that can be comprehended at a glance.”

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Detail of a bench back in the gardens

While in Savannah for a long weekend to celebrate my mom’s milestone birthday the group of us in town went to visit the Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum. It was on my dad’s list of places to visit while he was there and so we all went along.

Quickly I lost the group as my hunny and I were drawn to the call of the landscape, as does seem to happen – you too?  All it took was the hint of something well-pruned and a glimpse of a flower to distract us from the museum entrance, drawing us around the corner and into the garden. Though the garden is not large, it was at least an hour before we finally made inside the museum.

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The Tall and the Small – A Visit to the Redwoods and Finding Wildflowers

That tree in the background – that would be an enormous tree in our eastern forests.

“Like a flea hugging its dog” Richard Powers writes about touching a Coastal Redwood in The Overstory, I am certain no more accurate a description for anything has ever been written. Had I picked up this book prior to my visit to see these behemoths in person I may have thought this sentence pure hyperbole. After visiting I know now this phrase is as accurate as any scientific description.

The Tall

Reverence

A hiker among the redwoods.

Unlike Powers, I could not come up with the words to accurately describe what I witnessed exploring the beaten paths through Redwood National and State Parks in northwestern California. I ran out of seemingly fitting adjectives in the first 100 yards, eventually becoming speechless, neck craning back as far as biology would allow to try and take in the entirety of the tallest living organisms on the planet.

A vertical panoramic of the redwood forest, as much a cathedral as anything I have entered.

I can only describe the feeling of walking in this forest for the first time as similar to that I feel when walking into a cathedral. While I do not have religious beliefs and have never attended church for services other than weddings, I have been nearly overwhelmed with a sense of reverence and awe when walking into the great cathedrals of Europe and America. The beauty, the silence, the craftsmanship, this history takes your breath away and there seem to be no words of beauty and grace and magnitude adequate to describe what surrounds you. And this is exactly how I felt walking the path into the redwood forest. Not only does the forest leave you speechless, it actually absorbs speech. Once you are 25 feet or so away from the next group of hikers their sounds disappear. Children’s laughter is absorbed into the chest-high sword ferns carpeting the floor . Couple’s chatter is soaked up into the damp mosses, lichens, huckleberries dripping from branches far overhead. Dog barks are absorbed into the foot-thick sponginess of the tree bark. Entire groups of conversation are muffled by the feet of soil building in the connections of branch to trunk, wrapped in wren song and delivered in burbling packages down the streams so essential to this ecosystem.

The Small

Insignificance

Part of the significance of these trees is how small they make you feel. Perhaps this is a function of growing where where the trees get a measly 150′ tall and 8 feet wide. Maybe those who grow up among the redwoods, do not feel as small. It is important to be reminded of our insignificance, of our short lifespan, of our smallness. It is humbling to realize these trees, some more than 1000 years old and more massive than anything else on the planet (3 times the length of the longest whale, wider at the base than two Volkswagon beetles) exist. We are just a blip on its lifespan. Blips of lifespans are shown in the tree’s rings after it falls, or has been fallen.

Evidence of drought and fire and flood and lightning can all be read in the rings of a tree stump. Except in this case, in this case the influence of man on these trees causes the stumps – so the damage we have wrought is never evidenced in the rings. We can see the rings because of our influence and interpret other details of its millennium of life, but we humans and our tiny masses and minuscule lifespan make no appearance at all. It is scary to learn what we tiny, infant humans have done to the populations of this ecosystem.

Small Remnants

You may think that when a redwood topples over naturally everything about the remnants would be enormous. And some of it is – the crater left in the landscape from the tonnage falling to earth from 30 stories above makes an impression. However, the pieces that are left, in many cases are firewood sized. This is because the tree is so massive when it hits the ground it shatters in a way the locals call ‘toothpicking’.

When these trees are harvested for that desirable redwood for our back decks and long-lasting outdoor furniture the soft undergrowth of rhododendrons, salal and understory trees, as well as all the huckleberries and ferns are bulldozed into the fall zone creating a mattress for the tree to land on, preventing the toothpicking and ruining of the lumber.

The familiar shape of the soil-ends of toppled giants

When the trees topple naturally the root masses that emerge are curiously alike. There are no long dangling roots, or half-fallen trees connected to the earth still by sinews of long anchoring roots. They are uniform and rootless. Much smaller than you would think. This is because under the surface of the soil the trees have formed a network of roots. Interconnected and interdependent. If one tree were to fall and take all of its roots with it – it would upend the entire forest. And so they have evolved weak points in their root zones, near the root flare, where the mass of roots disconnect from a tree. The tree falls leaving its roots for all others using it resulting in the uniform root mass now exposed.IMG_6847

Fauna

Even the large fauna feel small in this landscape. While I was laser-focused on the big trees, I was not even thinking about the wildlife we might encounter, even when we weren’t specifically looking for it. We happened upon a Roosevelt Elk just munching on ferns next to a well-travelled road. We saw a black bear cub and a fawn. We saw small birds, harbor seals and sea lions, river otters and many many snails and slugs.

Accidental Perfect Location

You may be wondering how it is we saw sea lions and star fish on our trip to the redwoods. Our visit was to the Coast Redwoods, to visit Sequoia sempervirens. These tallest living beings on the planet live along the Pacific coast of southern Oregon and Northern California. They need the ocean mists to provide supplemental water and the fogs to keep the humidity up and the soils moist. They will not live outside of these conditions. They may survive This is in comparison to the Giant Redwoods, Sequoiadendron giganteum which are not quite as tall but wider than the Coast Redwoods, known as the most massive trees on Earth, and thrive inland limited to the Western Sierra Nevadas in California.

No Coast Redwoods without the Coast

What I didn’t know when I selected our amazing cabin using VRBO for the first time, was that it was in the perfect location for a plant-nerd like me and an off-road enthusiast like my companion. Turns out the 15 acre property with the middle fork of the Smith River running right through it, is surrounded by thousands of acres of the Smith River National Recreation Area. There are no tourist shops there. There is no place to get a t-shirt or any branded cardboard cutouts for your instagram selfie. Where we were there were just various ecosystems, crowdless trails and enormous trees and tiny wildflowers.

From the ground up in the Redwood Forest

We could day trip from the top of a mountain to the sands of the ocean. We hiked, a most amazing hike, from the coast into the redwood forest, hiking 9.9 miles of a 10 mile hike before we saw another human being. Eating lunch on a bridge over a creek surrounded by 300 foot tall Coast Redwoods. And this type of exploring we did, each day.

Snow covered peaks in the distance

We had a 4-wheel drive rental car because it was recommended by our cabin owner just to get in the driveway. We put it to good use. We traversed dusty switchbacks into the Six Rivers National Forest taking in the scenery from the mountain tops. Looking out at snow covered peaks and finding amazing wildflowers we had not seen int he redwood forests. Here, we found ourselves in a serpentine barren. Serpentine barrens have soils high in magnesium and low in other nutrients and are generally high in nickel. This combination makes for a unique plant community with many plants found only there.

A scene from the serpentine barrens of Smith River National Recreation Area

 

Accidental Timing

As I was planning this vacation, I was concerned with just one thing – seeing these trees! Imagine my surprise and delight when, as we trekked various trails, I realized we were there during spring wildflower bloom time. This made for longer, slower hiking and an ever-growing appreciation for the endless patience and understanding of my hunny as I photographed E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G in bloom.

Some of the Wildflowers in Different Ecosystems