Tree Tales

Carole Teator:  Thank you for inviting my story. And thank you for the column on the catalpa tree. I do enjoy them, particularly when they are in bloom.

This is a story of losing a tree.  Carole shares that it “… helped me realize how deeply one can mourn the loss of a non-sentient being.”

Cottonwood

Austin Road Cottonwood“I recently came across the attached photo of a cottonwood tree that I once knew and this old friend has been on my mind since. It grew along Austin Road, north of Marion, and I came to know it when visiting friends who live nearby. When I could, I would walk to visit the tree and eventually photographed it in every season. It was huge—perhaps 20 feet in circumference?—and it stood alone, between a field and the road. Nearby is a small woodland, the proximity of which may have made the cottonwood seem even more solitary at the side of the road.

“One day, one of my friends who lived near the tree dropped me off at the Cedar Rapids Airport. A terrible storm blew in, delaying my flight and making me very concerned about my friend and her young son, who I knew would be driving on Highway 13 at the height of the storm. When I was able, I called to check on them. She said they were fine, but that the old cottonwood had blown over in the storm. Shock and sadness washed over me, and I was as surprised by this visceral reaction as much as I was by the news. I mean, it was a tree I only saw every few weeks and I only had known it a few years of its life. But it seemed a connection to the past and a sentinel of beauty and solitude that was now gone. I had connected to this tree more than I had understood, or even understand now. I continue to mourn its passing, but I am so grateful for the photos I took of it that remind me of its beauty and grace.”

Catalpa

Bev Hannon: “Your Sunday article on catalpa trees brought back lots of memories.  We had two trees between the sidewalk and street at the house I grew up in, in Manchester, IA.  I loved those trees and founds all kinds of way to use the blossoms and beans as a child.  I think I even used to climb the trees, ‘though not successfully.  I held “tea parties” in the shade under them, serving the early beans in my little tea dishes and of course, decorating my table with the blossoms.

“Unfortunately, the trees are long gone, as well as the house I grew up in.  It burned down, and someone set up a double wide trailer facing the other street (corner lot), not West Marion St., so even my old address is gone.  🙁  But the memories live on.
“Thanks for your good words for Catalpas.”

The Ramsey Table

Marion Patterson: While clearing out the attic, recently, I came across “The Ramsey Table”. This was a roughly fashioned coffee-type table my folks made shortly after we were married and brought to us in Iowa.  Dad had found an 18″ wide plank from the home we lived in Goffstown, NH.  Purportedly, (one of) the oldest in town. The home did pre-date the Revolution and was for sure haunted! One family that lived there was “The Ramseys.” Much to my folks’ bemusement, a friend and I concocted all sorts of adventures surrounding this unknown family.  Thus the name of the table.
Mom placed a variety of sentimental objects in the little shadow box cubbies that Dad had made.  Many of these I later replaced as their meaning dissolved.  Glued-down pennies of significant dates like when we were born, graduated high school and college, got married remained. And, a little memento of “Baby Magaret” a long-lost relative from 1878 Chambersburg, PA, who died in infancy.
Square Nail Holes

Square Nail Holes

It was time to dismantle The Ramsey Table as we have never had a good place to display and use it.  I did so reflectively.  A further look at the plank revealed some interesting features.  It was a decades-old pine tree with three knots across the middle. As a young tree, it grew fairly fast in New England soil in years when sufficient moisture helped it along.  Later the rings grew closer together until they were indistinguishable. Revealing less moisture and more competition perhaps as it grew.
Most interesting to us were the widely spaced square nail holes!  Their presence and configuration confirmed that this was an old piece of lumber. So, we have kept the plank and are thinking about the best way to honor it and Mom and Dad’s gift of The Ramsey Table.

The Treehouse
Rich Patterson

When I was eight or ten years old Dad helped a friend and me construct a treehouse in a multibranched gray birch tree that grew behind our house in New Jersey. It was mostly platform four or five feet above the ground.

Growing nearby was a tall maple on high ground overlooking Cedar Lake. It was easy to climb trees with horizontal branches perfectly spaced apart. My friend and I carried boards way up in the tree, perhaps 40 feet above the ground, and we made a platform there. We even made a flagpole and hoisted it above the tree’s top.

Grandma Zieger lived close by and saw us high in the tree and alerted Mom and Dad, as a fall from that height would be serious. They were unworried, as they thought we were in the low tree. Only later did they discover the lofty perch and discouraged its use.

Pacific Madrone
Rich Patterson

In the late 1960s, I found myself in the army as a neophyte infantryman. For a while, I was stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington on the south end of Puget Sound in the rainforest, a land of giant trees.

One evening my company was told to gear up and, squad by squad, we climbed aboard helicopters. Soon we took off in the darkness and not long later landed.  A lieutenant told us to jump out and make a defensive perimeter. We could expect an attack at dawn. It was a big war game, the blue army vs. the green one.

So, we formed sort of a circle as best we could in the darkness and took turns on guard duty all night. Two of us would be awake for an hour while the rest slept.  At the end of an hour, the guard duty guys would wake up the next shift, and so on.

I ended up with the dawn shift and got poked awake around 4:30 in the morning. With a partner, we peer outward searching for danger, but we could see nothing. It’s true that the darkest hour is just before dawn, but as the earth turned toward the sun the land lightened and gradually I could make out the trunks of huge Douglas fir and cedars.  Beneath them was a tree so unusual it riveted my eyes. Small and twisted, it had large deciduous type leaves and looked like it belonged in the tropics. I’d never been in the rainforest before and was so fascinated I stood up to get a better look.

Instantly an M-16 spit out a clip’s worth of blanks. In those days blanks had bullets made of compressed paper. Several splattered on my chest and hurt but did no damage. Within seconds and army “referee” approached, put a colorful tag on me and pronounced me dead.  I was told to walk back to the LZ  (helicopter landing zone).

It was the Pacific Madrone that helped me realize that curiosity about nature can be dangerous.

Old Henry

Old Henry

Old Henry

R and M Patterson: Folks who have visited Indian Creek Nature Center over the decades remember fondly “Old Henry”.

This large silver Maple along Indian Creek just off the Sac and Fox Trail, grew up when the Center was a farm, was flooded regularly, thrived in the dense moist soil and was home to many animals.  Its girth beckoned visitors to wrap multiple arms around its massive trunks and cool off in its shade.  Kids and adults alike loved Old Henry. Cedar Rapidians returning for the Holidays often made pilgrimages to see Old Henry and reminisce about their adventures there.

So, many mourned when its branches started to fall off, when winds toppled large sections of its trunk and when it finally, keeled over from age.  Its limbs lay scattered about and kids still climbed all over them until these rotted away.  But, Old Henry’s passing opened up space for new Henrys to grow. Some are good sized.  Birds and mammals have returned to nest and rest.  Insects and worms still ply the soils.

Perhaps one of the most touching tributes over the years was that each late fall, some kindly soul would leave a garland around Old Henry with a few tidbits for the animals.  Even as Old Henry became littler and littler, this anonymous person would trek out to Old Henry and leave love offerings.  So, Rich was moved when this week he walked past Old Henry, now a tiny stump, and saw a garland wrapped around the remains and a few tidbits for the animals.  A fitting tribute to an old friend. Thank you.

Osage Orange or Hedge Apple

This fall we’ve noticed Osage Orange fruits for sale in grocery stores and roadside stands. They are fascinating and have a delightful fresh citrus scent.

These are often called Hedge Apples, and many people call the tree they grow on Hedge. More properly the tree is called an Osage Orange and the fruits are Osage Oranges. To add confusion some people, call the tree Bodark because its springy tough wood was once used to make bows.

The Osage Orange once lived in a relatively small area of Texas and Oklahoma but because it is tough, drought resistant, and thorny it was commonly planted in places outside its native range. The tree’s branches twist in many directions with thorn-studded twigs. When planted in a row, the trees created a living fence that cattle wouldn’t cross. In the days before barbed wire was invented millions of Osage Oranges were planted for fences.

The wood is hard and heavy and is outstanding for firewood, but cutting it is challenging because of all the thorns.

Does a Hedge Apple in the basement keep insects away?  Many people think so and annually buy or collect a few. We think it’s an ineffective way to keep out insects and find caulking entry points better for excluding bugs from our home.

In recent years an oil extracted from hedge apples has been used in shampoo and hair conditioners, and many people love the product. It is marketed as POMIFERA in honor of the tree’s Latin name Maclura pomifera.  Todd Johnson, a native Bloomfield, Iowan, has cashed in on the Hedge Apple industry.   

Hungry squirrels sometimes eat the seeds hidden inside hedge apples and livestock sometimes dine on them but they are inedible to humans.

There’s no harm in putting a few hedge apples in the basement but don’t count on them to keep away bugs.

Possum visits

Below is a guest blog by Arianne Waseen about a visit by an opossum.  Thanks, Arianne!

Possum

“Possum come aknockin’ at the door.”

“I went out in the afternoon a few weeks ago to look for eggs.  I opened up the large door on the front of our coop, and in the nest box was something grey and furry and curled up in a little ball.  My first thought was that it was a cat, but looking more closely it was definitely possum fur.  I yelled and jumped a bit, and ran in to tell my husband and mother-in-law to come take a look.  By the time we got back the possum had woken up.  We opened up a little door we have at the back of the nest box and my mother in law encouraged the possum to jump down by prodding it with a broom from the front of the nest box.  It jumped down and ran off.  The opossum has come back a few times, and while it has not harmed our chickens, we are getting fewer eggs than we should be, and the possum has suspiciously glossy fur.”

Ringneck Pheasants Give Lesson to Landowners

This fall thousands of hunters will bring millions of ringneck pheasants home to be converted into delicious meals. Pheasants have been around so long that many people think of them as native birds. They’re not but they provide a lesson on how to structure a modern yard to attract wildlife.

In the 1880s Judge Owen Denny was stationed as a government agent in China. He and his wife took a fancy to colorful and tasty pheasants, which are native to Asia. They had some captured and shipped to Portland, Oregon where Denny’s brother released them on the family farm.  They reproduced like crazy, and just ten years later Oregon opened the nation’s first pheasant season. About 50,000 were shot.

Pheasants began spreading out on their own and people speeded the process by capturing many and releasing them all over the country. The birds never took hold in the hot humid south but thrived in northern farmland that was a patchwork of grain and hayfields separated by brushy fence rows. By the mid-1900s they were abundant in the Midwest and eastward to the Atlantic wherever farms provided the right habitat.

Pheasants live near human activity. They love farmland yet shun forests. The bird did well until enormous changes in agriculture took place in recent years.

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Keeping Bugs Out of the House

At Winding Pathways, we take joy in fall’s colorful leaves, cool days, and clear air, but we know insects are on the move.

Box Elder Bugs, Asian Beetles, other insects and spiders, and mice all sense that frigid air is on the way and seek shelter from the cold. Houses offer secure nooks and crannies to hide in and central heat to keep them toasty warm. Houses also imitate natural wintering places. Asian beetles, for example, naturally winter in the cracks of rock outcroppings. So, a house makes a perfect substitute.

Caulking Tool

Filling a Crack

Homeowners have options for reducing winter insect infestations. Many turn to insecticides when they spot beetles or bugs clustering on interior windows and walls.   We avoid poison and opt for nontoxic solutions.

At Winding Pathways, we simply make it hard for bugs and mice to enter.  We can’t keep all of them out but we greatly reduce their numbers.  Here’s what we do before the first frost:

 

  • Load a tube of exterior caulk into our caulking gun and inspect our house’s exterior. We squirt caulk into every crack and hole in the siding. Likely bug entry points are where wires, cables, and pipes enter the house and around door and window frames. Often old caulk has split or fallen out, so we replace it. We also inspect thresholds to make sure there is no space beneath doors for bugs to enter. Sometimes we need to replace weather stripping around doors and windows.
  • Keep most firewood outside. We used to bring several days’ worth of firewood inside to make feeding our woodstove convenient but insects, like mosquitoes, hitchhiked on the cordwood and then roamed around the house. We now keep the wood in the cold just outside the door and only bring in a few pieces at a time when we need to feed the fire.
  • There’s an added benefit to excluding insects and mice. The holes and cracks they use to squeeze into the house also invite in winter’s cold air. Sealing them up keeps the house warm and lets us use less fuel in our furnace and wood stove.
  • Cleanse houseplants. We move some houseplants outside for the summer and bring them back indoors before the first frost, but insects can ride the plants into our home.  To prevent this, we carefully clean and repot plants. Master Gardener, Tina Patterson, had an excellent column in The Gazette, Living Section, Sunday, October 1, 2017, that describes in detail ways to safely clean your plants and keep them healthy inside all winter. We have reprinted this with permission of the Gazette, Linn County Master Gardeners Program, and Tina Patterson.

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Managing Deer and Deer Hunters

Many landowners face challenges caused by abundant deer. This animal evolved under heavy predation by wolves, bears, mountain lions, and Native American hunters. Their survival strategy, in addition to being well camouflaged and fleet, is to have many babies. A healthy doe normally bears one fawn when she is just one year old and twins or triplets in subsequent years. Wild predators have been extirpated but deer continue to reproduce at a rapid rate. When they are too numerous, over browsing of crops, trees, shrubs, and wildflowers devastates ecosystems. Deer numbers need to be kept in balance with their habitat to protect natural beauty and devastation.

Modern hunting is an effective substitute for predators. Deer hunting is popular but many hunters, or potential hunters, lack a place to hunt. Many landowners suffer deer damage but don’t hunt.

Successful match making between hunters and landowners can work toward their mutual benefit. However, the relationship is most successful when hunters are managed by the landowners with expectations clearly articulated BEFORE permission is granted to access property.

Most hunters are ethical but they sometimes stretch understandings, especially verbal ones.  For example, if a landowner gives permission for one person to hunt, he/she sometimes assumes that gives them license to invite their relatives or friends to hunt the property.  And, they may assume that this is perpetual permission and that they can hunt any species at any legal time without additional permission.  Also, to control deer populations it is essential to harvest does, yet many hunters seek only big bucks. Landowners using hunting as a management tool may need to insist that does be taken.

Attached is a sheet of expectations that a landowner might present to anyone wishing to hunt.  It articulates expectations and clarifies the relationship between landowner and hunter.

 

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