Treleven in November

6 Nov

As the land starts drifting off to sleep for the winter, we’re trying to finish up a new set of trails carved through the southeast corner of the woods on the farm. About five more acres of previously impassable forest have been restored to accessibility by hikers—not to mention winter explorers on cross-country skis and/or snowshoes. Many of the trees in this part of the woods are simply magnificent, and it seems a shame that for most of the last forty years they were impossible to appreciate simply because there was no easy way to get to them.

White Pines Trail
We’ve become impressed by the huge disparity between a particular forest aesthetic that has come down to us via western culture—the idealized forest in which all the trees are standing tall and straight and healthy, with a park-like understory that allows for easy strolling—and the actual requirements of a healthy forest ecosystem. The latter embraces standing dead trees or “snags,” downed limbs and deadfalls gradually decaying all across the forest floor, and robust growth at both the forest’s midstory level and closer to the ground. The problem with such an ecologically desirable forest is that it’s uncongenial for humans to walk through and enjoy. Well-designed trails answer the problem by creating lanes of access that don’t require stumbling around and wading through underbrush. Beyond the trails, though, the forest can go on doing its thing.

About 3500 feet of new trails have been blazed this year, so that—combined with the previous trails created as part of the “bat project,” it’s now literally possible to walk for miles in the woods on the farm. Having trails, too, allows a rational approach to dealing with invasives such as buckthorn and Japanese barberry. Tackling these problems on a forest-wide basis is simply too daunting, but to deal with them in particular quadrants defined by well-marked trails is a doable thing.

Wolf Oak

Thoreau writes about making pilgrimages to visit particular trees in his neighborhood around Walden Pond, as if visiting old friends. Now we’re beginning to be able do that, too. But since there are still at least forty acres of forest here without any significant trails or easy means of access, we’ll be continuing this work for a long time. Who knows what inspiring trees may be found in those inaccessible woods, yet to be admired?

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