Giants Among Us

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©DCarew Trees in Winter

The first rays of sunlight were lighting up the branches of the trees behind my house, and the half-moon was still visible in the sky, when it struck me that trees would be a worthwhile subject for this column. In the “dead” of winter trees reveal one of their many beauties. The “architecturality” of trees is really seen only when the leaves are off; and when snow has settled on their branches this effect is only enhanced.

The trees behind my house are Black Walnut. This beautiful tree is not common but we are lucky enough to have many in the Millbrook area. Black Walnut is not native to our area but it is speculated that First Nations intentionally planted them. This fact makes them even more attractive when you think that many years ago people had the forethought to carry nuts here to plant to provide future generations with food. And the walnuts are delicious! But I must admit they are a frustrating source of food: the shells are extremely hard and inside the meat is separated by many, sturdy walls that make the nutmeats difficult to extract. But this isn’t a food column! To me the Black Walnut as a tree is one of the most beautiful. The trunks are very tall and very straight, the branches long and graceful. And in summer the leaves are carried as many small leaflets along a central rib. They hang elegantly.

Eastern White Cedar is an extremely common tree in our township. Many of us will know them because they are so often used for hedges. Birds make great use of the protection that such hedges and trees offer in winter. A little research gave me this interesting little fact: cedar was probably the first North American tree introduced into Europe (ca. 1566–that date deserves an exclamation mark!). When I am out for a longer walk that takes me along Baxter Creek I try to return to Millbrook on the snowmobile trail. If you take the snowmobile bridge, very soon you will come upon a pair of cedars that must be record-breaking in their size! One day I finally remembered to bring a measuring tape with me, and the larger of the pair measured more than 16 feet around! And this was lower than chest level (where you usually measure the girth of a tree) because the tree branches out before chest level. The second tree is impressive but is outshone by the larger. The smaller of the two clearly shows traces of very old fencing wire embedded in its trunk.

Ash is another of our very attractive and useful trees. Its wood is often used for flooring and if you’re like me you have great difficulty telling it apart from oak. Many of you will remember the extreme beauty of the coloured leaves this fall. Ash turns a very attractive dark purple and is a marvellous foil to the yellows, reds and oranges. Sadly our ash trees are threatened by an imported beetle, the Emerald Ash Borer. All along Highway 401 the ash trees have been killed. And the menace is now in our county. Of the many majestic ashes near us none is more beautiful than a magnificent specimen on Distillery Road at the entrance to Medd’s Mountain Park. Oh, how I hope this one escapes the deadly beetle!

Throughout Medd’s Mountain Trail there are wonderful examples of very old hemlock trees. This attractive evergreen has bark very much like a white pine, while its needles are smaller than spruce or fir. Eastern Hemlock is peculiar in producing many differently shaped trees–all the way from graceful bushes up to towering giants. We have very few (if any) massive white pines in our area but we have many impressive hemlock. Hemlock was not prized for lumber because its many knots are hard enough to dull a saw, or deflect a nail when working with the finished lumber. Also its wood is not good for fires because it throws off sparks. These “deficits” have bequeathed to us wonderful mature specimens to admire.

I have already written too much and so I won’t even attempt to write about our beautiful maples. There are giants among us! And they are here for all to see and admire. This new year get out to see them. Happy New Year and make a resolution to get out and enjoy!

Get Out! by Glen Spurrell

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