December 30th, 2006
You might be wondering why there’s a photo of a fishing lure at the head of this post. I debated over which of several images might best represent our Christmas Day hike at Baxter Conservation Area, and the fishing lure seemed to tell the story best. Due to unseasonably warm weather, the Rideau River was entirely open and even the smallest puddles were unfrozen and just beginning to form a thin film of ice. It seemed quite novel to view a beautiful collage of Silver maple leaves in shallow pools along the trail. Bordering one of the ponds, the Highbush cranberry (Viburnum trilobum), were loaded with fruit and looking quite festive.
We wandered along a couple of trails, but had to retrace our path and take small detours as we found quite a few under water — also an unusual sight, and especially at this time of the year. We wanted to walk out to a point along the shore of the Rideau where there is a large Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis) that we had thought to measure as part of our tree-measuring project. When we arrived at the spot, we were quite disappointed to find the the tree had recently been cut down and was lying beside its much decayed trunk. Nevertheless, we decided to take a measurement just for the record. The circumference was 78 inches, so approximately 25 inches DBH. I did a bit of looking around for info on growth rates for Yellow birch and found a couple of useful references on this page from an online edition of the USDA’s Silvics of North America. It states:
Yellow birch is one of the slowest growing components of both old growth and unmanaged second growth northern hardwood forests. D.b.h. growth rates of less than 2.5 cm (I in) in 10 years are common in unmanaged stands or stands managed under the uneven-aged system.
In New England mature trees on medium sites have attained a height of up to 30.5 m (100 ft) and a d.b.h. of more than 76 cm (30 in) at age 200 . . .
And so it would seem that this recently deceased Yellow Birch could have been around 200 years old. There are a few others of somewhat smaller diameter in the same general vicinity, so my guess is that they’ve been around for awhile too.
I must admit that I was probably more dismayed to discover that several of the mature Blue Beech trees (Carpinus caroliniana) that grow along the point trail, are now gone. One diseased individual had been cut down, and a couple of others had been flattened by a hardwood that had been recently felled, and at least a couple more large and several small trees had been cut down by beaver (see above photo). As a result of the recent fatalities, there aren’t too many of the larger trees left, and considering the beaver activity along that section of shoreline, I have some doubts about the longevity of the remaining stand. These trees are not actually related to Beech, although that seems to be suggested by their smooth, skin-like, slate gray bark. Some like to call them “muscle trees” for the muscle-shaped ridges in the tree trunk. Although these trees are considered of no commercial importance — being too small and very twisted in shape – I find them striking and very much enjoy their sculptural appearance. The wood is very dense and heavy, but due to the small size of the trees, its use has been restricted to the making of small tools. In Native Trees of Canada, R.C. Hosie states that, “Since the wood is extremely hard, the early settlers fashioned wedges from it for use in splitting other trees.”
After studying and measuring trees for a few minutes, we spent another few minutes wandering along the sandy shore out along the point near the observation deck with a view upriver on the Rideau. In summer, it’s not actually possible (or, at least, “easy”) to walk in this area as the water comes up to the shoreline and there is much vegetation overhanging the edge. However, the odd conditions of this season have left the shoreline open so that you can walk at the water’s edge. It seems that sand has been deposited on the point — I’d have to say there’s more of it than I’ve noticed when looking off the observation deck in summer, so it almost seems that the river has pushed sand up there over the past while. We found quite a few rather fresh-looking mussel shells along the shore, with still more visible out in the water. I photographed a few – most were Eastern elliptio (Elliptio complanata), but there were a few goodly sized Eastern Lamp Mussels (Lampsilis radiata) among them (I apologize in advance for the horrid photos – no idea what went wrong). As well, I did find some Zebra mussel shells clinging to debris in the drift along the shoreline.
A little further along the shoreline, I found a dead gull floating in the water. I don’t know gulls well enough to know which species it was. I noticed that someone else wearing hiking boots had already investigated the gull as there were prints in the sand all around. In the same vicinity, I found a large blue minnow-type fishing lure with 3 sets of hooks on it, tangled up on some tree roots along the shore (see above photo). To my knowledge, there was no connection between the lure and the dead gull — just a coincidental proximity.
On our return from the point, we stopped to admire a vine growing from the earth to the top of a tall tree. I photographed it near the base where two heavy entwined cords looped out from the tree before separating and climbing a few meters before entwining once more. They continued further, releasing and then entwining at least once more before reaching the tree top. Perhaps I’m just in a reflective mood as this year comes to a close, but the vine seems a fair representation of my life and how I seem to grow away from and then return to certain themes and projects. The same can probably be said of our relationships with the people in our life — time spent together and time on our own — time to grow alone for awhile — and then return to share some of what we’ve seen and learned along the way.
Tags: Baxter Conservation Area, Gull, Eastern Elliptio, Elliptio complanata, Eastern Lamp Mussel, Lampsilis radiata, Zebra Mussel, Blue Beech, Carpinus caroliniana, Yellow Birch, Betula alleghaniensis, Highbush Cranberry, Viburnum trilobum