Even trees get thirsty sometimes

With all the spring sun we’ve been getting in New England these days, even the trees are thirsty, sneaking surreptitious sips of high fructose corn syrup in the form of McDonald’s sodas. Either that, or “leaf litter” isn’t the only kind of dry detritus you can find in the woods in springtime.

Forsythias

Last week in Keene, we had our first fire warning of the season: a reminder that low humidity and dry leaf litter make for dangerously flammable forests. This weekend in Waban, the “fire” outside is metaphoric, with forsythia blooming like a yellow-hot blaze in suburban yards and gardens.

Although I mentioned Earth Day earlier this week, yesterday I was remiss in remembering Arbor Day. Steve was similarly remiss, mentioning today that he’d forgotten both Earth and Arbor Days, presumably because he was “not watching the calendar closely enough!” For good or ill, neither Earth nor Arbor Day is on my calendar, but I’d like to think that doesn’t matter: wouldn’t it better for us (and the health of the planet) if we spent less time watching our calendars and more time listening to trees?

In New England at least, the trees right now will tell you it’s spring, their “words” being unfolding leaves, blooming flowers, and (in the case of pines) a yellow dusting of pollen. Before he died, Thoreau had intended to construct a local “Kalendar” that, according to Bradley Dean, would provide a biological time-line of the natural year, with the blooming and breeding of plant and animal species serving as temporal markers:

Apparently he intended to write a comprehensive history of the natural phenomena that took place in his hometown each year. Although he planned to base his natural history of Concord upon field observations recorded in his journal over a period of several years, he would synthesize those observations so that he could construct a single “archetypal” year, a technique he had used to wonderful effect in Walden.

Maple blossoms

In my neck of the woods, I’ve learned, trout lilies bloom at the end of April, and forsythias flame not long after. I don’t need a calendar to remind me of that fact, just my blog (the 21st-century, high-tech equivalent of Thoreau’s journal) and photo archives. Next week, I’m hoping the wake-robin (Trillium erectum, also known as purple or red trillium) will be blooming since I have an unofficial ritual of blogging them on May 1st, whether at Goose Pond or Beech Hill. After May 1st, I’ve learned from years of New Hampshire living, the black flies will emerge, and my days in the woods around Keene will be numbered, at least until blood-sucking insects die off.

It might be true that the trees of the greater Boston area are fond of McDonald’s soda, but I’d prefer that instead of “loving it,” they simply leaf it. Steve rightfully notes that every day should be both Earth and Arbor day, for “When should we not be thinking about trees, about the health of the planet?” Between you and me, I think the trees in New England and elsewhere would be healthier if they just said no to soda.

This post is a roundabout excuse to mention two tree-related things. First, the Nature Conservancy is spearheading an effort called Plant a Billion Trees which is attempting to re-forest a richly bio-diverse (and unfortunately endangered) area in Brazil. If you, like Steve, can’t plant a tree in your urban backyard, you might consider donating to the cause of “One dollar – One tree – One planet.”

Rooted

Second, don’t forget to submit your tree-related links and pictures to next month’s Festival of the Trees. You can send permalinks to mike (at) 10000birds (dot) com, submit them via the Contact page at 10,000 Bird’s, or use the Festival’s online submission form. The deadline is April 29, so get moving!

Magnolia

Today was another mild, gloriously sunny spring day in Keene: the kind of day when it’s difficult to stay indoors. During the free hour I have before my noon lit class, I took a walk on and around campus, crossing the railroad bridge over the Ashuelot River then following the local bike path a few blocks into town and back. On a sunny spring day, exercise easily passes for ecstasy.

Chalk folk

The stretch of bike path that intersects campus could never be confused with wilderness. Both the paved and dirt portions are leftover from Keene’s industrial heyday when the railroad delivered raw materials and retrieved goods like chairs, ball-bearings, and bricks in exchange. The segment of bike path I walked today passes an auto body shop, several derelict garages, and a series of run-down industrial buildings that house the local aikido dojo, a large upholstery and fabric store, and other commercial endeavors that aren’t quite ready for the prime time of prime downtown real estate. Most New England towns offer a mix of the quaint and the quotidian, and today’s stroll took me past the backside of industries most casual tourists never take the time see.

Chalk folk

On Earth Day more than any other, it strikes me that these well-worn sites of human industry are exactly the kind of places we overlook in our quest for the “virgin wild.” In today’s noon lit class, we began to discuss Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild, the very title of which alludes to the allure of the untamed and untrammeled. “If only I could escape civilization like Christopher McCandless did,” readers of Krakauer’s narrative might wish, “and encounter Nature where she is still untouched and untamed!” And yet “the Wild” is an elusive quarry. Venturing into the Alaskan “wild,” Chris McCandless ended up camping in an abandoned bus not far from Healy: not exactly an untouched wilderness. In McCandless’ mind, however, the mental distance he’d traveled from his suburban childhood in a privileged Virginia suburb to an alien Alaskan landscape transformed even an abandoned bus into a Wild place…as did his eventual demise there.

Cheshire Tire Center

Perhaps an apt way of observing Earth Day would be to temporarily refrain from fossil-fueled travel in search of the Wild. Instead of jet-setting to popular eco-tourist spots or retracing the steps of Chris McCandless in search of Alaskan enlightenment, perhaps the most green thing we can do is to make a conscious effort to stay close to home, engaging in human-powered travel as we explore the streets and sidewalks of our own human habitats. “Walk more, idle less” proclaim dozens of crayoned signs in the shop windows of downtown Keene: local school children’s answer to global warming, high fuel prices, and expanding American waistlines. Thoreau famously claimed that he “traveled a great deal” in his hometown of Concord, Massachusetts, and maybe he was onto something. Rather than seeing “the Wild” as being far off and elusive, perhaps we should re-inhabit our own habitats, investigating wonders close to home while making an eco-friendly commitment to “Think Globally; Walk Locally.”