Column, Tree Talk

Looking at the forest from all angles

By Gary Salmon

When in a forest, our eyes focus usually on two features: the trees in the vertical scale and to a lesser extent those on the horizontal scale. But some trees fit neither of these and can really catch your eye. It is those that lean, having fallen partially down due to uprooting and often supported by an adjacent tree. Although the tree will die, it will stay in a limbo situation sequestering its carbon and awaiting the inevitable collapse to the forest floor, where soil organisms and moisture will start the decay process, returning the tree to soil.

By Gary Salmon
The fallen butternut tree which later became six bowls.

Gerry Martin — a local forest landowner and wooden bowl maker — and I encountered one of these leaners while enjoying an afternoon in the woods several years ago. It was a large tree and dead with the bark still on but little else to help identify it, except for the forester along with the bowl maker. Gerry could not identify the tree but could certainly see its potential as a bowl source. It was a butternut tree. Because it was not on the ground, it would remain in storage until ready for harvesting, which turned out to be measured in years. Gerry’s woodlot has a road system, and he has the equipment to get trees out of the woods and up to his workshop, which he did. This fall, he finally released the bowls growing inside to their full potential. They were many and beautiful and fairly large and “home grown” from his own woodlot. Six of them now are sequestering carbon in a home in New Jersey.

So as we head into this ‘tweener’ season between leaf-watching and sugaring, remember that forest life is not built around verticals and horizontals but around all shapes, forms, and arrangements, some living and others not so much. All are integral to a healthy Vermont forest. Much like the six bowls decorating a home in New Jersey, may this holiday season decorate your lives.

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