HORT travels

Exploring the horticultural beauty in every adventure.

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.

A particularly root-filled section of trail along the Gunpowder River in Maryland

No one has ever accused me of being graceful. Like most hiking humans, I occasionally trip on the trail (no, not that kind of trip, I can’t walk and do that at the same time, I have trouble enough simply walking) failing to raise my hiking boots above random rocks and roots in the trail, perhaps caught deep in thought, perhaps lost in conversation with a hiking buddy, perhaps tired after the miles. On this solo hike, I tripped on a root and stopped to notice the network of roots crisscrossing the trail which ran along a reservoir.

Roots holding a bank of soil along a trail.

Those tripping hazards are so much more than annoyances. They are keeping the soil from falling into the reservoir through the process of erosion. Erosion, of course, is the process through which water and wind move minerals and soil. Through an intricate network of tap roots, lateral roots, feeder roots, fibrous roots, minerals, water, organic matter, microorganisms, macro-organisms, fungi and bacteria soils are being created and held in place. These roots provide more than a sturdy place to hike. They support an ecosystem while keeping the reservoir clean for the recipients of the drinking water stored within.

What’s left of a massive root system of a Coastal Redwood

These roots are also providers, storing nutrients and water in the winter. When the leaves are gone and the tree cannot produce its own energy, it is okay, the roots will provide when the time is right. When the temperatures rise and sap starts to flow it is from these roots. They provide exactly enough sugars and water for the tree to grow new leaves so it can create its own food once again.

Roots used as steps up a steeper part of the trail.

There is a saying about roots and wings we were given as young people, that children should be provided both roots, for a sense of place and grounding and “home”, and wings ,to explore and find freedom and make their own way. Whether or not they were provided, we are able to create our own roots.

It is roots breaking through rock that is the genesis of soil and a foundation of life.

It is true that our roots, whether given or created, can be tripping hazards. They can be complicated. Much of the good they do happens out of sight, below ground and mysterious, often revealed only with trauma. Sometimes they are severed, intentionally or not. Roots alone cannot stop all erosion. Sometimes the roots that trip you, maddeningly or embarrassingly, may not trip another single soul on the journey.

Roots of a beech tree find their way over a boulder.

But those roots can also prevent the erosion of connections you make and the happiness you create around you. They are sources of stability, they can become part of a network that nourishes, even when we are not able to nourish ourselves.

The roots that may cause us to stumble along the trail are reminders that what may cause us problems may also be beneficial in ways we will never see.

A Virtual Revisit: Grey Towers


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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