Wednesday, June 09, 2021

Chance Encounters with Trees in Lambertville and New Hope

My awareness of trees made me a mixed bag as a companion on a recent visit to Lambertville. The same eye that spots nature's wonders makes it hard to ignore tragedy.

My first find was a red mulberry tree, encountered on the Lambertville side of the bridge, draping itself over the canal. My daughter and I gorged on the berries.

Most mulberry trees grow straight up, leaving the abundant berries frustratingly out of reach, but this one grows right out of the old stone wall of the canal. Suspended above the water, its limbs grow horizontally towards the sidewalk, making for a beautiful presentation of berries to passersby.

The view down the Delaware River from the bridge was glorious, the air above the long-traveled water fresh and richly scented. It was a time to be positive, to focus on the upside, but I couldn't help scrutinizing that seemingly verdant distant hillside. 

There, mixed in with the green, was evidence of the massive dieoff of ash trees--a profound moment in history that we are living through, ever since the Emerald ash borer hitchhiked to America in the wood of packing crates twenty years ago. 

There are immense ash trees perched on the bluff overlooking the river, like the grove on the left here that shaded us as we began our leisurely walk across the bridge. They are still green enough to deceive most people, but will end up like those just to their right in the photo. These observations could have triggered thoughts of past dieoffs that transformed our forests, marginalizing once dominant trees like American chestnut and elm, but

fortunately, there was a more positive tree story to shift to. Walking across the bridge, I noticed an improbably large tree rising above the houses along the shore in New Hope that looked to be flourishing. Later, I ducked down an alley to have a closer look. A bicentennial plaque in front of it says it was alive at the time of the signing of the U.S. Constitution in 1787. That makes it more than 234 years old.

A man living next to it, who grew more friendly once he realized we were interested in the tree, said it's a willow oak. 

When I lived in North Carolina, we had many willow oak trees. Conveniently, their narrow leaves would settle in nicely with the pine needles, and after a few years I let that mix of leaves and needles replace the lawn as a pleasing surface for the yard. 

Some of the branches of this specimen would be impressive trees on their own.

New Hope prospered early on because of the ferry, and also because of the mills powered by the steady springfed waters of the resident stream. Tucked behind the Bucks County Playhouse, which used to be a mill, this dam frames a scenic, misty cove. A great blue heron stood stockstill, scrutinizing the falling waters, waiting for the stream to deliver dinner.

As if it were an old friend, I pointed out the native indigo bush lining the shore below the theater. I didn't get much of a response from my companions, but for me, knowing the plants makes it possible to feel familiarity even in a place where one knows no one at all, and makes an extraordinary place all the more extraordinary. 

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