Recently, one of my Smith County Master Gardeners loaned me a copy of the book, Finding the Mother Tree-Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest (Suzanne Simard, Knopf, 2021). It’s about the relationship between all the plants in a forest and their mycorrhizal fungal connections. It’s a bit anthropomorphic, but nobody has to talk me into being in love with the forest. I’m a child of the woods after all!
I’m listening to the audio version on my long daily commutes since I’m overwhelmed with books and articles for my schoolwork at SFA. I dearly love reading, but so many books, so little time. Thank goodness Mrs. G got me into audio books. I plow through them now, and love when an assigned book for school is available from the library.
It’s sad to see all the dead and damaged trees leftover from last winter’s Deep Freeze. I fully expected death and damage on coastal species like live oaks and Chinese tallows; but I have to say, seeing “cold hardy” native species such as post oaks, water oaks, and willow oaks take it on the chin was an eye opener. Those trees evolved here for thousands of years, so theoretically should have been fine, but not so for many of them.
The good news is that autumn has arrived and as I’m sure you’ve heard, “fall is for planting.” Fall is the perfect time to plant new trees since the mild conditions and increased moisture allow for root growth during the dormant season before the first summer stressor arrives. And even though I own thousands of trees, I can never have enough and love perusing nurseries, catalogs, and my mind for more.
I also love scouting my own forest to identify what I already have and to see what seedlings are popping up. This enthused diligence also allows me to pluck out invasive species like Chinaberry, Chinese tallow, Chinese privet, and mimosa when they first pop up. I long ago chain-sawed and dealt with the existing ones. I love “healing” my woods and want it to be native and natural.
The month of October always means getting home to darkness by the time I get out and about. Thank goodness for Acer and my headlamp. Acer is getting on up in years and doesn’t always feel like blazing the trail with me unless I carry a gun. I’m no hunter, but a Jack Russell will crawl out of his coffin to go hunting. I sure miss big Jules who dearly loved roaming the forest with me. Since my face is often plastered with orb weaver webs with a hapless spider exiting from my eye socket, ear, or mouth, I recently decided to use Google Lens and the internet to identify a few of them. I do love learning and have always had a thing for much maligned spiders. So now, I know how to spit out spiny orb weavers, marbled orb weavers, and barn spiders!
Though I love spiders, Mrs. G, like most, lives in fear of them. I often point out that they eat only insects and that I’ve never seen a human carcass hanging in a web, but to no avail. What’s cool is how my headlamp makes the wolf spider eyes sparkle like diamonds on the forest floor. I can’t imagine the insect carnage going on down there every night. From their twinkling star appearance, I’ve roughly estimated four wolf spiders per square foot. This means there are conservatively 1,393,920 wolf spiders working the night shift in my 8-acre Rebel Eloy Emanis Pine Savanna and Bird Sanctuary! Better keep that to myself.
It’s amazing how the forest looks so different at night. In addition to frequently getting disoriented and having to find my way out (I’m surrounded by a highway, a creek, and my pines; so impossible to get lost), I love hunting for trees that I didn’t know were there. One night I spotted a teenage nutmeg hickory (my fourth) and a mockernut hickory that I can never find by day.
I must admit that I play favorites and that I’m partial to those with fall color. More than half of the trees in my hardwood (Trillium Woods) forest are southern sugar maples that turn somewhere between butter and canary yellow each fall. But what I really stay on the lookout for are red maples which turn shades of red, orange, and yellow. I only have a few adult trees but have spotted a few seedlings and have transplanted some other seedlings from a fencerow down the road. I’m trying to line my “Maple Walk” around the pines with chalk maples and red maples so I can have reds and oranges to go with my yellows. Life truly is a canvas for me.
I recently stopped to let a couple know how rare and special the northern sugar maple was in their yard. It turns out that they had brought it from Iowa and miraculously it has survived our summer heat and drought. They didn’t realize it was anything different. I’ve been watching the fall color for years now and suspected that’s what it was. I’ve only seen three in my life in Texas, so can now add Timpson to Longview and Tyler.
In addition to maples, I also love oaks. Once again, I’m partial to those with fall color so even though I dearly love my native post oaks and Shumard oaks, I really covet my white oaks and swamp chestnut oaks since they often turn Aggie maroon in the fall. With their little leaves, little acorns, and little fall color, water oaks are my least favorite. But in nature, all oaks are good. Heck, all native trees are good.
I’m also fond of baldcypress and plant as many as I can, especially in swamps and around ponds where they look so natural. And though some don’t think it’s so grand, I like their fall color as well.
I almost forgot pines! Being a 7th generation East Texan, my blood runs evergreen with pitch. I love all three of our native pines which include loblolly, longleaf, and shortleaf. I love the way they look. I love the way they smell. And I love the way they sound.
Trees don’t just make forests; they also make sense, shade, and saps like me happy.