Column, Tree Talk

Good bag and a clear night

By Gary Salmon

You know that there is a big difference between waiting for spring and embracing winter. One involves a warm fire, a good book/Netflix, hot chocolate, and windows to the world both inside and out — a certain degree of passivity if you will. However, with miles of trails, or not, and thousands of acres of forest, Killington is well placed to do a little embracing.

Any deer hunter will tell you that a little snow on the ground increases visibility in the woods tremendously. Both the trees themselves and entire forested hillsides suddenly become completely visible to those willing to get out. And although wildlife numbers may be less, their movements will certainly stand out be it a flitting chickadee or a deer feeding on a sunny hillside. Even tree parts take on a “new life” in the winter. For example add a little snow to remnant tulip tree flowers and you get winter snow cones.

This might be a good time also to examine your ash trees for the presence of emerald ash borer (EAB). This insect keeps expanding throughout Vermont killing trees as it goes and while Shrewsbury now looks like the hole in the donut on the EAB maps it will eventually get here and force the town and landowners to either inoculate, let die or cut down their ash trees. Early stages of infestation are very hard to detect but as the tree is invaded by more and more borers two signs become visible in the wintertime. Ash tree crowns have died back and dense clumps of new branches have appeared on the lower crown. A flattening of the ridges on the bark, called “blonding,” also occurs, created by woodpeckers looking for borers beneath the bark. Evidence of either of these activities is probably worth contacting If there is a history buff in you, this is the time of year when the “road crews” cut down dead roadside trees including, sadly, the remnant large sugar maples still gracing our road sides. Road salt has been the major contributor to the loss of these historical trees, many of them in the 4-foot diameter range. It’s what is left, however, that is still valuable – the stump. If the trunk was solid and your eyes are good, counting the growth rings will take you back to an era of dirt roads, stone walls next to them, horse and wagon travel and little sugar maples starting their growth journey toward becoming today’s legacy trees.

So if you have “seen it all” you can always change your viewpoint for added embracing. Get up in the air and look at the crowns close up. VINS has its famous “canopy walk” and it is open in the winter complete with loaner snowshoes to get you there. Available phone apps will help you identify everything from tree species to last summer’s bird nests still in the canopy. Another viewpoint involves a good sleeping bag and a clear night. Forests on a dark or moonlit night take on a whole other perspective. You can’t “see the forest for the trees” but you can hear them. The sound of the wind, perhaps the call of a barred owl, and stars through the canopy all make for a great evening adventure provided you stay warm. The fallback position, once the bag you are in is no longer warm, is a mug of hot chocolate by a warm fire.

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