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Archive for July, 2015

A large diameter white pine in an old growth forest.

A large diameter white pine in an old growth forest.

While hiking in a remoter section of the Essex Chain, I had the good luck to stumble, quite accidentally, upon a stand of old growth. This stand was contrary to everything I had here to for known about the Essex Chain tract. The Finch and Pruyn company, having owned the parcel for over one hundred years, had cleared just about every marketable tree, at one point or another. The evidence of some of the oldest cuts appear to have decayed, but there is pretty clear evidence of 50 year old cuts and 30 year old cuts, sometimes in the same stands. Finch Pruyn took only softwoods (that I know of), so it is not uncommon to see some sizeable hardwoods, though in some stands even those are gone. Once the paper company knew they were going to sell the land, they, like most extractive companies, pulled every marketable piece of timber, leaving huge swaths in a state of early succession, with degraded, nutrient deprived, acidic soil.

So, imagine my surprise, when I hiked up a steep lakeside embankment, and cresting it, meandered into an open, mature, northern hardwood stand. In this forest, there are only occasional ground cover plants, such as hobble bush, maple leaf viburnum, wood and bracken ferns, and more rarely, stripped maple. Along the ground there is an abundance of wood sorrel, dew drop and gold thread, with occasional red and painted trilliums. More rare, there are showy lady slipper orchids in the damp and shady places. Also in the shady places there is shin-leaf pyrola, and Indian pipe. But, amidst this glorious show of rich northern hardwood plants, stand the most impressive site of all.

Intermediate Wood Fern

Intermediate Wood Fern

Dew drop

Dew drop

Indian Pipe

Indian Pipe

Shin-leaf Pyrola

Shin-leaf Pyrola

I was first drawn to a White Pine, Five feet in diameter. This tree, by my estimates, would be between 200 and 250 years old, predating the Finch Pruyn acquisition, and the only known clearing on this tract. Amidst the pines were similarly large Hemlocks and some smaller but still impressive Black Spruce. The spruce grows more densely and thus does not achieve the stately diameter of the pine. Further into the stand, Yellow Birch were reaching their peak and dying of old age. Wherever a dead stump marked the spot of a once stately tree, the associated dead fall lay near by, victim, most likely of wind or ice loading. On the stumps, new, shade resistant, hemlocks had colonized the canopy gap, using the nutrients of the downed logs to fuel their growth. Perhaps most impressive were the White Ash, of similar diameters as the pines, with trunks nearing 150 feet tall, and growing perfectly straight. From so far below the canopy, these giants seemed to whisper and groan, each catching the gentle breeze in their ample limps.

Despite all I had heard to the contrary about habitat preference, there amidst the rolling wooded topography, a moose appeared between two pines, looming six feet tall, but still dwarfed by the trees. She shook her head confusedly, before lumbering off into the deep woodlands. An impressive sight, to cap my peaceful afternoon in the cool, breezy quiet of the old growth timber stand.

Finally, a pair of black-capped chickadees descended to ward off my intrusion into their nesting area, and I was reminded that here, I am only an admiring visitor.

Forest sunset

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