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The Dying Trees

If you run a WordPress blog such as this, you can access a statistics page which will provide you with all sorts of interesting information, such as how people got to your site.  I’m occasionally surprised and given to some self doubt.  One of my more popular posts was “Things to do on a rainy day” in which I presented a variety of ways of photographing wood on the side of an old bar(n) in Vermont.  I have a feeling that my title threw off a bunch of parents who, desperate, tried to google their way through a rainy day and probably found instructions for photographing wood to be less than helpful.

Sometimes though, you see something quite powerful.  Recently one of the Google searches that led someone to this blog was titled “Why are the trees dying at Quabbin Reservoir?”  That got my attention.  In fact, the situation isn’t quite that dire.  They are not all dying, thankfully, but the Red Pines are, due to Pine Needle Scale.  Pine Needle Scale is an invasive species, joining us from Pennsylvania and parts south, that is nearly always fatal to a Red Pine.  Increasingly, you can see its impact at the Quabbin forest.  (Click on the images for a better view.)

This was taken at Gate 52, inside Quabbin Park.  If you look carefully, you’ll notice a small deer feasting off the vegetation on this small island which lies just off Little Quabbin Island.  (This is what the folks at National Geographic call a “scale element.” It’s a tool to help the viewer get a sense of size.)  Here’s another view, this time of Little Quabbin Island itself.

What you see are small clumps of dying trees amidst otherwise healthy hardwoods. Each individual clump by itself doesn’t look so alarming. The real impact though, probably the impact that drove the sad Google search is experienced through a view of the big picture.  Here’s a small version of a very large panorama.

The real panorama, full size, is posted at Gigapan here.  Have a look.  We live in an amazingly small world, from an environmental perspective.  Some of you may have followed the story of the Mountain Lion that was unfortunately killed by a car in Connecticut.  In the Boston Globe this morning, it was reported, in “New England in Brief,” that the Mountain Lion was actually from the Black Hills of South Dakota, by way of Minnesota and Wisconsin.  It was tracked by authorities using DNA samples, presumably from its scat.  This was not a captive animal escaped.  This Mountain Lion made the journey in the wild.  It is one of the longest journeys ever recorded by a land mammal.

While taking this panorama, we were joined by one of the most beautiful birds we’ve ever seen in the wild, a Scarlet Tanager.

Of course I had the wrong lens on at the time, one of my strengths when it comes to wildlife, but you get the idea.  This little guy and his buddies will be leaving soon, for their winter home in Central America.  It is a small world indeed.

Artillery Practice at Gate 52, the Quabbin Reservoir

I beg your pardon?  Must be some mistake.

No, not really.  In fact, during World War II the Reservoir (which was still in the process of filling) was used for a variety of forms of target practice.  Gate 52 is actually inside Quabbin Park, just west of the Goodnough Dike.  It’s a short walk from the Gate to the Reservoir itself but along the way, you will see platforms for, you guessed it, artillery.

Thankfully, the stewards of the Reservoir have seen fit to leave them be.  Perhaps as a reminder.  Your next question may then be, “is it wise to pump artillery shells into public drinking water?”  Didn’t those things contain all sorts of chemicals?  I don’t have enough details to respond to the question.  J.R. Greene says the following in his wonderful book, Historic Quabbin Hikes.  “The shells were fired into the flooding valley and their effectiveness (and the gunner’s accuracy) were checked.  Many guns made at the Springfield Armory were tested here.”  Here’s the powder house where ammunition and firing powder were stored.  There was a war on, after all and I don’t say that sarcastically.  The way we make decisions is influenced by a host of factors. And we’re always making trade offs.

The reality is that we know so much more about the vulnerabilities of the environment now than then.  Lead for example was everywhere, particularly in paint.  What we didn’t know is how easily children could be poisoned by that lead. Many were and some died.  Policy leaders in governments at all levels have made it much more difficult for our children to be exposed to lead in the same way, thankfully, though the danger still exists.  In this case, the Reservoir is so vast, that perhaps it could absorb whatever toxins might have been involved.   I think the lesson here is that we need to be respectful of what we don’t know.  Hubris is not indicated.

This is the end of the trail at Gate 52.  Old State Rt. 109 which used to run from Belchertown through Enfield to Ware goes underwater here.

Lily Week Goes Wild

We were in Petersham, MA yesterday, inside Gate 40 to the Quabbin Reservoir.  On the search for invasive species, we quickly discovered that we were the invasive specie, at least that’s what the swarming collection of mosquitoes and flies of various sorts seemed to think.  We were covered head to toe in approximately 1/4 inch of deet, so they couldn’t bite us.  Frustrated, they seemed to take on a “in that case, we’ll drive you crazy” strategy which worked quite well.  We did locate a stand of Red Pines that is being quickly attacked by Pine Needle Scale, but more about that in another post soon.  However, we also saw other species that were also not originally from around these parts, Lilies.  We were obviously thinking about Lilies this week given their beautiful presence in the City.  But out here???

We’ve seen them frequently before inside the Quabbin Reservoir gates and often speculated as to their origin.  When you see Lilies by the side of the road, it is hard not to imagine that they were planted by someone, but by who?  I have to believe that few if any folks would have the motivation to set down bulbs inside the Quabbin gates.  The reality is, these European immigrants are extremely hardy and multiply. Certainly the actual flower bulbs planted by the original settlers, such as produced this Day Lily, would have given out long ago I would think.

But their off spring, maybe not.  Chris noticed a less common variety on the opposite side of the road, a Canada Lily.

In addition to being beautiful, the Canada Lily was also used by Native Americans to treat a variety of illness with a tea prepared from its roots:  including stomach ailments and rheumatism. (from New England Wildflowers by Frank Kaczmarek.)

I’ve often considered the great character trees along the roads inside the gates of the Quabbin to be the last living entities that remain from that era at their pre-Reservoir location.  It is perhaps the case that these “wildflowers” have been keeping the trees company.

The Flowers of Summer

Closer to home, walking about the City.  Lots and lots of green of course.  But nature, with a little help, has a way of breaking up the monotony.  Thankfully, homeowners and gardeners seem to have rallied around to my mind, one of the most beautiful of flowers….the Lily.  They seem to be nearly everywhere, mostly planted and frequently well cared for, but some just seem to keep coming back year after year, even though who actually did the planting may be long forgotten.  (Click on the images for a better view.)

I also find them to be a good deal of fun, as they seem to work and play well together.

Sometimes the most interesting sites really are close to home.

A New E-Book: Boston’s Water Now Available

I’m proud to make available a new collection of imagery from the Quabbin in PDF format.  This is available for download at no charge.  If you are interested in prints, please contact me.  Thanks.  Update: Iphone and ipad users, I’m sorry what you’re seeing doesn’t look right!  please go to this link, where things should look a bit better.  

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