/The trees and me 

The trees and me 

By Jim Poling Sr. 

budding is taking its time because of this spring’s chill. But slowly
and surely new leaves are appearing, and soon those long views through a
naked forest will be gone.
That’s a bit sad because walking a
leafless forest with the snow gone is a fine experience. You see
interesting details that are hidden at other times of the year.
the hilltop far back in this bush I peer through skeletal trees and see
the lake below, dancing sparkling blue in the spring breeze.
humps and hollows of the land are all visible, and I can see almost the
full length of the ravine being navigated by a doe and her yearling. Mom
is moving very cautiously, likely because she has picked up a hint of
my scent.
Walking here tells me how the woods withstood winter’s
ravages. Twigs litter the ground, snapped from trees and tossed about by
stiff winter winds. Also, some larger, full branches have been brought
down by stronger winds and heavy snows.
You get the feeling that all this is part of a natural culling of the weak to make the overall forest stronger, healthier.
similar is happening in our human population during this COVID-19
pandemic. The old and the infirm are succumbing in greater numbers, but
unlike with trees, the human culling weakens, not strengthens, our
There are a lot of older tree folks back here in this
forest. Rugged silver birches with shaggy bark look like old men nearing
the end of their time, but still hanging on to give shelter to birds
and animals.
The most commanding sight in this leafless world are the
granite ridges, solid Canadian Shield faces eight to nine metres high.
In winter they are obscured by ice and snow. Soon the leaves on the oaks
and maples will hide them completely from anyone nearby.
Today they
are awe inspiring, dominating this piece of undressed forest but giving
no hint of their past. The things they must have seen over thousands of
At the base of the rock face I see a splotch of colour. It is
the pale tan of dried and dead beech leaves that a young beech refused
to drop last fall.
There are others not far off and that is a good
sign. Beeches are terrific trees and I hope they all grow up to have
long and fruitful lives.
Science has yet to figure out why all
beeches don’t drop their leaves in autumn. There is no firm evidence of
why, but much speculation.
One theory is that holding on to the
leaves reduces water loss and provides a small amount of nutrients to
the tree during winter and early spring.
Winter leaf retention,
called marcescence (mar-ses-sense), is seen mainly on young beeches, or
sometimes the very lowest branches of a larger beech. It is also seen
sometimes on other species, notably oak and ironwood,
The retained dead leaves are pushed off by new buds that appear at this time of year.
people are bird watchers but I am a tree watcher. I find it interesting
to follow their transitions through the seasons, standing stoically
against extreme elements that often break their limbs, snap their backs
or uproot their lives.
They are the one living species on earth whose
sole purpose is to benefit other species. They feed and they shelter
and give of themselves so others can be well and happy. As we all know,
they absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen, helping to save mankind
from its own pollution.
It is important to watch trees and to learn from them. For instance, we are learning more about how trees affect human health.
2013 study reported in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine
found that human deaths from cardiovascular and lower respiratory
illnesses increased with the devastation of ash trees attacked by the
invasive emerald ash borer.
The study found that the deaths of huge
number of ash trees could be linked to an additional 21,000 deaths – an
additional 24 deaths per 100,000 people every year. That is a
10-per-cent increase in mortality for those two diseases.
Naked or fully leaved, there is much more among the trees than meets the eye.