Tuesday, August 30, 2016


Most needles gone by late November.

 New needles just poke from buds in late March.

Needles a centimeter long in mid-May.

 Full-grown needles and pollen cones at the end of May.

I used to frequent the local Veterans Administration grounds, where kind authorities welcomed the town's youth soccer league to their lawns.  Since my kids have aged out, and since it's not on any of my neighborhood walking routes, I seldom visit these days.  But when I do, its for only one thing: tamaracks.  

Tamarack, aka larch (Larix laricina), is not technically a native, since its real home is the great boreal forest of the far north.  This gangly, awkward-looking tree is a prince in frog's skin: an important species in the coniferous forest of Canada as far north as trees grow at all--the edge of the arctic tundra.  The genus Larix is circumboreal, its eleven species occurring in northern Europe and Asia as well as North America.  Our well-grown Brockton VA tamaracks were planted, but as forest royalty in their own place, they have my respect.  

Larch is the more unusual in being deciduous--one of a small group of conifers whose soft needles turn yellow and drop in the fall just as most broad-leaves do.  I visit to watch this seasonal play, the yellowing and dropping of needles, the new suit of fresh green in late spring, and the little cones that follow.

Since I hadn't been by in over a month, I took a different highway exit home than usual so I could pay my respects.  

I was shocked to find every single tree gone.  A neat bare circle of earth marked the place each had stood.  New fence posts hinted at one likely reason they were gone, though I don't know what prompted the fence.  I stood still at the nearest circle, as at a freshly-covered grave, before bending down in a forlorn hope of finding something.  Tattered cones met my fingers, and I carefully collected three, thinking there might be a few seeds remaining, and perhaps one or two that would germinate.  

Of course, these had been mature trees that had borne cones many times, and as my eyes wandered aimless in the little wood adjacent I saw several older teenager tamaracks standing there, hands in pockets, graveyard-whistling a little and hoping not to be noticed by the humans that had taking their parents.  

The sight of these gave me hope.  Some bore cones of their own, so that if the seeds I found today don't germinate, fresher ones might.  They, too, would undoubtedly meet the chainsaw someday--all things die--but I hoped not til they had grown to be as old as their parents, and not til they had their own strapping youngsters established in some safely-neglected bit of woods.  

 All that remains of the tree photographed at top.

 Youngsters know they will live forever.

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