We had a great walk in Herrontown Woods a week ago. The abundant snow brightened the scene, and there were lots of bright questions, including why the common names for trees are as they are. Why are oaks called red or white or black? And why is there a dog in dogwood? In the midst of a towering forest, sometimes the simplest questions can leave a walk leader stumped. Even my assertion that the trunk of a musclewood tree looks muscular was received with considerable skepticism by a charming young girl named Meadow, who wanted most of all to head off-trail and climb some of the boulders beckoning as we headed up into the Princeton ridge. Not a bad idea, that, but we ended up staying on trail and more or less on topic, discussing the ways to know a tree by its bark, or craning our necks to see last year's blossoms on the soaring tulip poplars. (Note: For some interesting cultural history of dogwood, and speculations on the origins of its name, click here.)
One curious sighting was a young tree, perhaps 15 feet tall, whose bark had been stripped clean off from the top all the way down to about our level, where shreds of bark still hung on. The exposed wood was smooth and shiny, as if carefully burnished by someone on stilts. Various theories were put forth: lightning, perhaps, or the rubbings of a wayward giraffe. I doubted it was lightning.
On the way back, we stopped by the Veblen farmstead, where the boarded up home of the famous mathematician still sleeps, dreaming mysterious dreams and waiting for someone to solve the riddle of its future.