The spectacular fall weather has finally succumbed to the season, and frazil ice has even formed in the Hudson. I’m still hoping for some Indian summer because my sprained ankle has kept me from finishing up some fall chores, including putting away the (snow-covered) plastic Adirondack chairs.
One of my last trips before the ankle accident (in the house!) was to walk the Raymond Brook trail from the Barton Mine Road to Rte. 28 near North Creek, a 4.5 mile rather rocky trail but almost all downhill. This was built by our master trail builder, retired forest ranger Steve Ovitt, as a ski trail, where rocks underfoot don’t matter. The three bridges are perfect for skiers—wide enough with snow on them and with high railings; and the trail is wide enough for good skiers. (I did a similar route centuries ago in deep, powder snow but it’s out of my league now.)
I figured it would take a couple hours as, after all, nothing would be growing or singing or buzzing any more. Ha, it still took over four hours because there were so many interesting things to look at, puzzle over, and photograph. Dusk was settling in before we got to the “spotted” car. The open hardwood forest has magnificent white ash, sugar maple, basswood, yellow birch and bigtooth poplar trees, some of which “needed” to be measured. Because many massive deadfalls are lying on the ground pointing in different directions I would say this is an old growth area, or close to it. They were not all blown down at once in a hurricane but died of old age one at a time.
The strangest thing was a big downed log, I think yellow birch, with what looked like long, soggy white sheep’s wool hanging down from its heartwood. What on earth?? I sent a picture of it to a professional botanist and forester. He was at first puzzled too, but he went for a walk in his backyard woods and saw what seemed like the same phenomenon, a first for him too. We think we know what caused it now, but I need to get back there to look at it again.
Another short trip was with friends and a man who is documenting old growth white pines wherever they grow naturally in this country, which is from Maine to northwest Iowa (hard to imagine!). We started on a trail into the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness where he measured the height of some impressive pines using a nifty little laser device that can focus on the highest twig and give the exact distance to it. He then measures the distance horizontally from where he is standing to the tree and can determine the height. He also measured the circumference of the tree about four feet above where he imagines the seed started growing. Here and at Pack Forest we measured a half dozen trees over 140 feet, and a couple of those over 150 feet, the holy grail for white pines these days.
Scientists are trying to develop formulas for different tree species which will give an estimate of their total biomass, though for some species the size of the crown is important too. Other scientists can then estimate the carbon these mature trees “sequester” and compare this number with how much clearcut lands with replanted trees sequester. They are learning that even massive trees continue adding girth and height as long as they live and are excellent carbon sinks. Google “Native Tree Society” for this man’s club of lovers of trees too big to hug!
This fall I also fit in a short, easy trail Steve built this summer, a loop for mountain bikes which goes off of the Ski Bowl loop trail. It winds down, around, and up through big oaks and hemlocks, and past the biggest hop hornbeam I have ever seen, linking back up with the main trail, which passes big white pines and has a wonderful view of Moxham Mt. The new loop will be a fun snowshoe trail to look for animal tracks this winter (or to use ice creepers on if there isn’t enough snow again this winter) and a great ramblers’ trail to look for flowers, mushrooms, birds and more mysteries next spring.