Wednesday, December 28, 2016

2016 Trail Log

Lots of people are bemoaning 2016 as the year that just won't stop delivering bad news. It has been rough for a lot of reasons - the loss of loved ones, a contentious (often vicious) election cycle, world violence, and news that our old earth is really ramping up her protests to our presence. I'm more worried now than I have ever been for the futures of my grandkids. But I won't let any of this get me down. It was even more important this year to take those walks - to walk out the door and put those burdens down. I trained for my long walk across Spain. I slipped out the door more times than I can remember for a few miles break from working on my PhD dissertation defense prep. The Camino.  I hiked in the Rocky Mountains with my son. It was a great year for adventures, birding, paddling, and exploring. "Go for a walk" has never meant more than it has this year.

January hike in Codorus State Park, 2016.

February hike on the Mason-Dixon Trail, 2016

Icy Muddy Creek trail, March 2016.

Trail closing protest, Holtwood, PA, April, 2016

Hiking across the Pyrenees, France to Spain, May, 2016.

Me and Francoise coming into Santiago de Compostela, Spain, June, 2016.

Walking across the Fall Line on the Northeast River, July, 2016.

Island water trail on the Susquehanna River, August, 2016.

Hiking in the Rocky Mountains with son George, Colorado, September, 2016.

River Hills hiking in October, Susquehanna River, PA, 2016.

Walk around Walden Pond, Concord, MA, November, 2016.

Bug hikes alone without her sister Annie, Mary Ann Trail, PA, December, 2016.

Again I met my minimum yearly goal of hiking over a thousand miles (which isn't hard to do, actually) including the Camino de Santiago de Compostela (which was) across Northern Spain. My son and I walked above 10,000 feet for four dizzying days in the Rockies - the longest I've spent at altitude in hiking boots. I logged over 100 water miles by canoe and kayak. And with all the counting miles and adventures I've had several great friends to share much of it. But I lost one of my best hiking partners in 2016 and that - above all else that happened this year - was the saddest day when my black and tan coonhound Annie, at age 12 (very old for a coonie) passed away in October. 

Annie, 2004 - 2016.

2017 will be an interesting year for political and scientific reasons, no doubt, but I look forward to logging more miles by boot and boat as I continue to expand what I consider the Mid-Atlantic hiking region. Getting the grandkids out on some longer trails, joining up again with my son for another adventure or two, and of course grabbing my hiking and paddling buddies for "play day" adventures will add to my unquenchable thirst for experiencing the natural and human history of my home region. This has been a hard year but one full of lessons and gifts. Now it's time to start planning for 2017 and I thank 2016 for giving me the determination to push on.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Rewilding my One Acre: The Bud Edition

In 1970 the one acre I currently own had been stripped completely bare of all its oak-hickory woods. The previous owners of my cabin who lived here in summers and over long holiday weekends, had directed a local tree cutter to remove a mature oak or two to protect this small place from falling limbs.  While they were home in Baltimore (Edna's husband worked in the steel mill at Sparrow's Point) a tree cutter came and removed not one or two oaks, but all of them except one. When they returned to the cabin for Thanksgiving break, they were horrified and heartbroken. They never got to see their old place reforested, so that's been my mission since moving here in 2001.

Rhododendron - restoring a small north-facing slope to mimic the Muddy Creek Ravine.

My local tree cutter, Gary of Delta Tree Services, groans when he hears the story repeated. "Those were bad times for absentee woodlot owners," Gary said. "Good saw wood was bringing in very high prices.  There were pirate cutters, illegal cruisers, and tree thieves everywhere. Even generations-old yard trees were stolen while families were away. It was not a very honorable business to be in." Luckily, Gary is a hard-core conservationist and a treasured consultant. As I've hiked around these parts for more than thirty years, I decided to try to copy some of my favorite places in the Lower Susquehanna Valley. I have a small north-facing slope grove of Rhododendron that reminds me of the Muddy Creek Ravine. And I want to replicate the diverse understory woodlands of Susquehanna State Park across the river in Lancaster County.

Go Native Tree Farm, Manheim, PA

I could just wait around for squirrels and blue jays to bring in acorns and nuts from elsewhere and hope they forget about them. That might take a long time. So, I started collecting native tree seeds and nuts on my many hikes. Some of my successful saplings are growing well, others - well - not so much. I've had some luck with hickories and elderberry. Then Gary suggested I check out Go Native Tree Farm in Manheim. About an hour's scenic drive east across the river, I now buy well-established young trees and shrubs from a hard working young Mennonite farmer who collects native seeds, propagates them, and raises hardy native woody plants for his growing fan club of determined woods planters like me.

Hans has built a niche (and successful)  business around his love of native trees.

I visit Hans in early spring and late fall and he always gives me a tour around his high tunnels, in-ground plots, hedges, and windbreaks. Everywhere are black plastic growing containers and he is very happy when I bring him the empties. In addition to being a tree farmer, he collects used planters buckets to refill with well-heeled trees. "Upcyle!" he cheers as he shows me a barn full of empties his customers drop off. For trees with long tap roots, like hickories, he buys root tubes - one of his biggest expenses.  I tell him what has emerged on its own, how my previous purchases are doing, and what I'd like to add next. "Oh, let those hickories come back if you've got some vigorous young seedlings coming up on their own!" I do, and I've marked them with bamboo stakes and tree tags. That's important to do because despite Edna's attempts to replant her property with trees and shrubs, her choices were non-native and invasive. I try hard to not kill my native volunteers during my spastic honeysuckle rampages and ripping out of abundant Kousa dogwood saplings that pop up every year by the hundreds.

A hickory I raised from a nut I collected on the Susquehanna is now over six feet tall.

I was really happy this year to buy up a Franklinia from Hans. Its a small Appalachian tree that was once found in the wild but is only found now in gardens or reforested areas planted by people. I am a devoted fan of William Bartram, colonial botanist and naturalist, who brought seed back from his walking trip through the Altamaha River woods in Georgia in 1777. It was very rare when Bartram found it and he is credited with saving it from extinction. Every Franklinia grown today is a descendant of the conservation plantings of William and his father John in their riverside garden near Philadelphia. It went completely extinct in the wild during the 1880s but thanks to the Bartrams we can keep this species going. It can be a finicky tree to grow - it doesn't like being disturbed once established - but I'm giving this one a good try and will learn all I can about it so I can be a good steward. "Keep it sandy in the planting hole," Hans advised. "Well drained but not dry."

Thanks, William Bartram! Franklinia

I've got plenty of spicebush growing in a little wild patch out back and have moved some small ones to the front, but I did buy three more from Hans who has taken very good care of his hundred or so plants growing in-ground in beds. This is a great little tree to use in a permaculture garden. Spring and summer leaves make an absolutely fantastic iced tea. Pollinators love its early blossoms. In winter here in the Susquehanna Valley, it practically shimmers in low winter light as the predominate understory shrub.

Paw paw leaf scar and a tiny new bud waiting for spring.

Sassafras is a volunteer on my acre and I encourage the vigorous volunteers wherever they emerge. Another wonderful tea-making plant that used the thick yellow roots. My Great Aunt Virginia made a wickedly good root beer at her home in West Virginia along the Shenandoah River. It was really beer, too! She bottled it in old bluegreen Coke bottles and let it ferment for the winter. Come summer she'd put the bottles in the river or in a washbasin filled with ice and served them freezing cold at summertime family reunions. I was twelve the first time I got drunk on this stuff. I couldn't get enough! I learned moderation by the time I was thirteen. Best family reunions ever.

Sassafras sapling raising her arms to the light.

Native dogwoods have had a tough time of it here in the Mid-Atlantic with an introduced blight that causes die-back and eventually death. I guess that's what Edna had in mind when she planted a forest of Korean Kousa dogwoods which are immune to the blight, but lord-a-mighty - is this an invasive tree! I yank them up all the time. I took special care of the native dogwoods that she must have planted in hopes one or two would take. I had three good specimens planted as yard trees by Edna. Now I'm down to one, the other two having succumbed over the past ten years. My single survivor is looking great though and I make sure to keep it cleaned up and mulched. Hans is growing some good stock with silky and red osier dogwoods so I'll start a patch of these next fall.

Native Flowering Dogwood, so far blight free.

I dug in a bunch of witch hazel both out back and in the front. I love the fact that they are the last to bloom in the fall and the first to bloom in late winter. My oldest tree is almost fifteen years old and has developed its signature multi-stem base.  Hans has been cultivating what he calls his "Amish Witch Hazel" in his high tunnel. I bought three of these. "Almost dwarf, " he explains, "Not so tall but very dense base. Might make a great addition to your hedge project. I've only ever seen these growing wild here in northern Lancaster County."

Giving this "Dwarf" Witch Hazel a try.

Although Arrowwood Viburnum comes up occasionally on its own I bought three more from Hans to add to the hedgerow project. Two of hedge row clients have really enjoyed the way this shrub-tree sends up multiple water sprouts when thinned. Coppicing is an art I really love practicing with my billhook on these plants, as well as on black willow. Watching the new shoots sprout up the following year give me so much hope that nature persists. I love, too, looking at the buds in winter of all my trees and shrubs - here and on my hikes - that hold promises of spring.

Arrowwood Viburnum.

Buds are fascinating up close. I have a small land lens I carry with me and I giggle whenever I see a face made with leaf buds and bud scars. Elderberry never disappoints! My attempts at macro-digital aren't so great but you get the idea. These little faces give me hope too. Hope that we can keep laughing even through dark winters and stone-cold days.

Elderberry - scowly face.

Hans asked me what my favorite small tree or shrub was and that he would kindly set aside a batch for spring. I said "Redbud!" before he even finished. I can't think of a better spring blossom that fills woodland branches with cranberry-colored flowers and hums with small native bees. The flowers are heart-shaped and the natural spread of its branches reminds me of someone holding out their arms to give you a hug. The zig-zag stems contain the tiniest buds of all, dark maroon, perched above the leaf scar, grinning. Hans agrees. Its the small tree we both love - that loves you back!



Hans runs an excellent small tree nursery on his grandfather's farm in Manheim. His stock is grown out from collected seed from the wild. He grows only shrubs and trees native to the Mid-Atlantic from the coast to the Appalachians and collects seeds on his hikes near and far, including seeds collected the New Jersey Pine Barrens and the Laurel Balds of Dolly Sods. His nursery is open on Saturdays, otherwise by appointment - he's happy to see you!