Monday, November 13, 2017

Thanks to our woodland Stewards

By Beth Sullivan
We were lulled into a false sense of comfort during the warmer days of early November. But with the recent big wind and rain storm and then the arctic cold front dropping like a ton of ice-cubes, we now can acknowledge it is truly November.
Thank an Avalonia steward for a cleared and safe trail.

If you are an observer of the woodlands, you know that even without a true hard freeze, the leaves began to turn in October, and within a few weeks the density of green was diminished. One thing that is apparent though is the difference in how the different species of trees respond at this time of year. The Red Swamp Maples in the wet woods are the first to turn their lovely reds and are the first to lose their leaves. It is really obvious in some places now, where the wetlands are, by the appearance of stark gray trunks and branches.
Up a little higher in elevation are the Beeches. In the drier woods their overall appearance can be quite different. Beech trees have southern genetics. They tend to hold their leaves longer than most of our other native trees. On a recent walk in the Woodlot Sanctuary, portions of the trails felt like early summer with spring-green leaves on both sides of the trail-all young Beech trees. Others are beginning to turn yellow which precedes their coppery color. A walk through the beech woods can be quite bright and cheery at this time of year, and later, when all other leaves have fallen, those papery copper leaves remain and rustle even when snow is on the ground.
The trees that have had the most trouble during these November storms are the Oaks. They also hold their leaves a long time, sometimes well into spring when the new budding leaves push off the old brown ones. As they grow in a woodland setting, their trunks rise straight and tall. When they reach the height of their neighbors, they push up a bit farther and spread out their crown. And that crown is loaded heavily with leaves. When the storms last weekend hit, those exposed crowns got caught in the wind. They twisted and bent. The abuse they took was frightening to watch. Most were resilient but, sadly, a great number of them succumbed. Many just twisted and cracked high up the trunk. We think of Oaks as so solid and strong, but they were no match for this wind. There were some that uprooted. The wind in their crowns tugged and pushed. These trees are surprisingly shallow rooted, and if the core wood didn’t give and break, they gave up at the roots.
The Beech in the front remain green, while the Red Maple wetland behind is leafless. 

The tallest Oaks have shallow roots.

This ancient Oak at Paffard Woods has lost its final battle.

Here’s the plug for all our stewards

When the winds finally ceased, we all crawled out of our powerless homes and began to assess the damage. First to our own homes and yards and woodlots. But a large number of us have responsibilities to our preserve visitors: we had to make sure the trails were safe, first and foremost. And then we needed to clear them.
As one steward put it: “There can’t be anything left loose up there. Everything was shaken out and dropped”. The woods and trails were littered with wooden debris, small sticks, medium sticks, branches of all sizes and big main hunks of trees. Even entire trees from crown to root. As we walked through the woods, it was pretty amazing to see sticks impaled into the ground several inches deep. That takes a lot of force.
Over the next week individuals and teams spread out and kept in touch with me; reporting who went where, who saw what, and who was able to accomplish some clearing.
My heartfelt thanks to those who spent time struggling with hang ups, blockages, stuck chains and temperamental chain saws!
Thanks to Jim S, Jim F, Mark H, John C, Fred E. and Tote S and his sons and students, who fought with the big obstructions to open the trails. Thanks to all the many walkers who kicked aside debris, picked up limbs and helped clear the smaller stuff.
It is the spirit of volunteering that runs stewardship, and stewardship manages the land so all can enjoy. And that is what runs Avalonia and our wonderful 3500 (and growing) acres.

Please volunteer

Please let us know if you can help with stewardship efforts. With Mother Nature being cranky lately, we will need a lot of assistance!
A broken snag will create a place for wildlife.

Dealing with the tangle of tree tops is a challenge. 

Debris along the trailside is now a protective brush pile.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

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