Monday, March 23, 2020
Solace and Beauty, Peace and Quiet at Herrontown Woods
As a big economy is brought to its knees by a tiny virus, many of us larger species have been getting outdoors to find solace and beauty in a nature that quietly perseveres, largely unfazed by an economy's wild swings. With the machine world's background din newly subdued, there's a greater depth to the peace and quiet to be had during a walk in the woods.
At Herrontown Woods, we've made a few changes in response to the public health crisis. The popular walking sticks are now in storage for the duration,
and the chairs at Veblen House are practicing social distancing.
It can be reassuring to find simple pleasures in small things. Remnants of Elizabeth Veblen's english garden are being protected and restored. These are a few of the many daffodils planted last spring. Others of her own plantings are coming back, simply through our holding off on mowing until the leaves have had a chance to recharge the roots for next year's blooms.
A few snowdrop blossoms remain from the broad sweeps of blooms earlier in the spring.
I glanced up from work at the botanical garden next to the parking lot, and saw this blossom that finally revealed the identity of a mystery tree that has been growing there, tilted almost horizontally--a willow.
This small patch of frizzy grass growing near Veblen House looks to me like poverty oats grass--a native species of Danthonia. Most turf grasses are non-native, but I've long speculated about what a native lawn might look like, populated by Danthonia, Dichantheliums, and the soft fescue one can still find in older lawns.
Diminutive American hollies stand out in the winter woods. They remind me of the hemlocks in the New Hampshire forests that would remain small for decades in the dense shade, ready to launch a burst of growth if and when the death of a nearby tree allowed some sunlight to reach the ground.
These little leaves could easily be mistaken for some diminutive wildflower or weed, but they are the leaves of Hearts 'a Bustin', a shrub that can reach 10 feet high but which has been laid low by deer browsing. It's an old story: the nonnative Euonymus alata shrub dominates in much of the preserve, while this native Euonymus americana barely survives, all because deer prefer to eat the native. We've taken a few of these remnant nubbins and planted them in cages in the botanical garden, so people can see what they are supposed to look like.
It's hard to capture in a photo the expanding flower buds of a highbush blueberry. They tend to be loners in the understory, hard to tell from other shrubs unless you develop an eye for their fibrous, brownish bark low on the stem.
The hazelnuts we planted are already busy, with their male catkins hanging down. Blueberries, hazelnuts, pawpaws, plums, butternuts, persimmons--these are part of the edible forest concept that is appealing even though it has, so to speak, yet to bear fruit.
This rock, along the yellow trail, seemed to be looking back at me. Was it chance that gave it acorn eyes?
In March, it's very easy to see what I call the "second forest." Having come from different climates, introduced species tend to leaf out earlier than the natives. This photo shows a broad swath of privet leafing out in the understory, beneath native trees still in their dormant brown.
The "second forest" is also visible in the fall, when the nonnative privet, multiflora rose, and honeysuckle remain green after the natives have dropped their leaves.
The combination of winter forest and brightening days makes for a wonderful time of year to explore patterns, like this corky bark, unusual for an ash tree. This may be an example of a tree's bark getting more distinctive with age.
With nature as the consummate artist, each boulder in Herrontown Woods tells a story that weds life and stone, organic and inorganic, present and past.