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Posts tagged ‘Forest Management’

Context and Ambiguity

This summer, I set out to develop a better understanding of creativity as it relates to entrepreneurship, but also to my own photography.  So naturally, I’ve probably been less creative. Ironic I know.  I have been reading, a wonderful way to spend the time.  Most recently, I’ve been working my way through Brooks Jenson’s The Creative Life in Photography.  Brooks is the publisher and editor of LensWork Magazine, one of the most important outlets for good fine art photography. I had the pleasure of doing  a portfolio review with him last year, and I’m still working on the lessons gleaned from the experience.  In his chapter on Photography and the Meaning of Life, he rants as I believe he would say about trivial photography, photography that emerges from the psyche of the photographer and more importantly does not involve an effort to say something that will be meaningful to others.  He then offers a simple, but incredibly powerful exercise:  If you had five minutes left on the earth, or five minutes to talk things over with God, what would you say?  (This is a Kindle book, so the page numbers are strange, this “at” Location 1247.)

That’s quite a challenge.  The point he is trying to make regarding photography, I think, is that when an image is displayed, we’re asking someone else to stop and look at it, to take their precious time and give it to the artist.  Is it worth it?  He feels that too often, it is not.  Time to look in the mirror I suppose.  What would I say?  As a trained academic, I would probably try to take up as much time as I possibly could, so I’d probably want to make quite a few points.  One in particular though, is that things are not always as they appear to be.  That we need to stop and look more closely.

It’s rained quite a bit recently and we’ve gone out to photograph regardless.  Once you get used to it you quickly see that the rain causes the greens and reds to appear deeply saturated.  No Photoshop necessary.  The stand of trees here was beautiful. (Click on the images for a better view, particularly if your on one of the retina displays.)


However, the graphical pattern that makes this stand of trees so beautiful is the result of unwise forest cultivation.  The trees are dead, from Pine Needle Scale, a problem I’ve discussed before.  In reality, most of what we see is actually fairly ambiguous.  Which means that we can interpret things anyway we wish.  Frightening, isn’t it.


This beautiful country road is the back side of Winsor dam, a massive expression of the sheer will of humans to overpower the forces of nature.


The boulders along the shoreline are yet another manifestation of engineering prowess, not millenia of tides and waves, at Goodnough Dike.


And this little guy was hiding out right in the middle of a 2500 ft long dike.  How did he get there? Great question.  And he was not alone.  He had friends as well.  I think he knew what he was doing. Perhaps these images trivialize the point but to state it more clearly, they remind me that we are intimately connected with our environment, an environment that we have shaped and continue to shape.  Everything you see here has in some way been influenced by humans.  It is interesting that a great deal of beauty has resulted from that influence, at least as can be seen at these locations, after a nice rain.  Of course, that’s not always the case, regardless of what some might think.  It is important to understand the context of what we see in our environment.   That’s our job.  Thanks for listening.  I think my five minutes are up.

Saying Goodbye to an Old Friend

I’ve written previously about the Isaac Newton apple trees on the campus of Babson College, where I work.  They are a wonderful symbol of the intellectual curiosity and excitement of the founder, Roger Babson as well as his appreciation of the natural world.  They were grown from cuttings from the original tree that helped Newton deduce the laws of gravity.  Many trees have come from that line but my favorite, and the favorite of many on campus is this particular tree, which was planted in 1954.


It is old as fruit trees go, quite old.  It’s longevity is really the product of the hard work of the Facilities staff of the College.  But caring ultimately can’t conquer time.  Last Wednesday, was the time chosen for Sir Isaac’s and Roger’s tree to be taken down.  The tree is still producing leaves, as you can see here.  Examination by experts though over several years, made it clear that it was extraordinarily fragile.  Building will be taking place nearby.  It could not survive a move.  So with reluctance, the decision was made that this was the time.  The College did a very good job of communicating the issues to the community, thankfully.  Ever since I came to Babson I have found the tree to be a place of contemplation, a place that was very helpful, even necessary at times.  It turns out, I was not alone.  Other came to say goodbye last Wednesday morning.  It was difficult to watch, to experience, but I’m glad I was there.  The day began like a bad trip to the doctor.  Waiting.

Clearly I have a deep affection for nature and at times, anthropomorphize trees. Relationships are what we put into them.  Watching arborists at work has always fascinated me.  Like many professions whose work doesn’t make it to the TV or computer screen, we don’t realize just how complicated the job is.  I’ve had the good fortune to photograph a number of arborists over the years, and have come to view them as part craftsman/woman, part scientist/engineer, part naturalist, part business person, etc.  They have a lot going on. I was struck here by their exercise of craft.  The removal of a tree in close quarters is difficult and can be dangerous.  In addition, they were quite aware that this tree was special.  I appreciated that.  Preparation took the better part of half an hour.


I was reminded then of the carpenters’ oath:  measure twice, cut once.  The tree was being held up at this point by a cable from a crane, tied carefully to the trunk and upper branches.


The cut took just a minute or two, after which Sir Isaac’s tree was released from the bonds of gravity.


And moved toward the heavens.


The ascent also lasted only a few minutes.



The tree was then laid on the ground and the arborists and staff from the College examined it, and could clearly see that indeed, it was literally a shell of its former self.  Much of the wood, however, as well as the remaining cuttings will be saved for gifts and other symbols.


It is difficult to come to grips with just how powerless we are in the face of our mortality.  We try not to think about it, but there are reminders.


I’m glad that I had a chance to get to know Sir Isaac’s tree, and to share it’s life with quite a few other admirers on the campus.  It occurred to me that, hey, this is a college campus and I’ve been here quite a while.  I’ve never seen any form of disrespect paid to the tree.  Not so much as a piece of liter or toilet paper.  From what I’m told, my perception is accurate.  So now, we move ahead.  Here is Babson’s new apple tree grove, and you can guess where the seedlings came from.


I want to thank Stephen Tolley who was in charge of the project for giving me access and background.  I also want to thank Stephen and colleagues for the care they demonstrated.  Best wishes to those in the USA and elsewhere who observe Memorial Day and pay their respects this weekend.

The Dying Trees – III

We returned this week to Quabbin Park, in Belchertown and Ware, Massachusetts to continue exploring the story of the dying Red Pines in New England Forests.  Just to recap, Quabbin Park is the more or less officially designated visitors area for the Quabbin Reservation, home of the massive and wonderful reservoir that sustains much of eastern Massachusetts.  The accidental wilderness there was created in part by the rebirth of natural forests once farming there ceased, but also by the planting of millions of pine trees to aide in the natural filtration of the water.  In places, the population is quite mono-species and as such, is vulnerable to infection.  Invasive species moving north as the climate warms attack, the forests, the most notorious being bittersweet, that overwhelming vine that is now common place in our forests, draping itself around the trees.  (Think back, if you’re a New Englander, it mostly wasn’t there when you were a kid.  I’m from Virginia and it wasn’t even a big deal there.)

The second most obvious invasive species in the Quabbin area is Red Pine Needle Scale, on loan from Pennsylvania and further south.  It attacks Red Pine trees only but makes really quick work of them. Here’s the forest near the Winsor Dam spillway.  Three years ago, these pines were all nice and green.

The stand of Red Pines along the red side of the road, for about 100 yards or more in, is now dead.  It clearly has become a potential safety hazard, and the Division of Conservation and Recreation who managers the land in the Reservation is now taking those trees down. I’m going to switch to black and white imagery here, as, at least for me, it captures more of the mood of the work in process. Things begin to get a bit otherworldly.

They are making progress it seems.  This is seriously difficult work, requiring heavy equipment and traversing some challenging landscapes.

Your taxes and water bills at work…  As I’ve stated in previous posts though, I don’t see that there is any choice here.  We should keep in mind though that to the extent climate change or other human actions play a role in these species migrations, our bill will continue to rise.

That being said, life goes on, sometimes in spite of our best efforts.

The Dying Trees – II (And it won’t be the last)

I’ve talked on several occasions about the impact of Red Pine Needle Scale at the Quabbin Reservoir, including here if you’d like some more background. In essence, Red Pine Needle Scale infects and quickly kills Red Pines.  In the Quabbin forests, inside the Reservation there are numerous stands of Red Pines.  They are all vulnerable and many are dying.  This is taking place in part because of the migration of the Scale into New England, from south of here (perhaps due to climate change, as some believe), and in part because mono species cultures are vulnerable to attack.  (We should think about this, whether or not there are too many people in one place or too many cows/chickens in a barn. The Asian Long Horn Beetle which is currently attacking Worcester, Massachusetts is successful, in part, because too many maples were planted in the city after Worcester was victimized by a massive tornado.  It did seem like a good idea at the time.  It’s just too easy for any sort of disease to spread from one member of a species to the next.)  The impact here is quick and intense.  This was, only about four years ago I’d say, a very normal and healthy looking stand of Red Pine.

Now, the stand is dead.

This was taken, last week, in August.  Of course, pine trees aren’t supposed to be barren at any time of the year.  The stand is about 100 yards deep it would appear.  Though there is pain in the tops, where the needles belong, there’s still a hint of beauty down below.  If you just looked down, you might not notice anything.

DCR, the Division of Conservation and Recreation, is now removing the stand.  They have to it seems to me.  One strong down draft and the highway that runs through Quabbin Park would be littered by these dead trees, and someone could get hurt.  The process has just begun it appears.

Even in the midst of this we can already see what nature has in store.

We cut the trees, then we replanted, now nature is taking them down.  Our environment is very dynamic and subject to change.  We play a role in that change, like it or not.  Red Pine Needle Scale will change the face of the Quabbin Forest.  I’ll follow up in a few weeks to see what this area looks like after the trees have been removed.

A Toast, To a Very Old Friend


The Holidays of course remind us of what is important, who and want matters to us. Nothing lasts forever, no matter its importance.  I’m a big fan of trees, as anyone who read this blog will know. Though I appreciate all trees, I’ve got my favorites. The road from Gate 41 at the Quabbin Reservoir in Petersham, to the water is one of my favorite, very short walks because of one tree in particular.

It may not look like much, particularly in the winter.  But a closer look at its branches gives one a sense of real strength, at least it does so for me.  It’s circumference is way over six feet.  You can’t really tell the age of a tree without examining it’s rings, but this tree is embedded in a stone fence in what was once the community of Storrsville, which was essentially abandoned by it’s occupants well before the Quabbin Reservoir was created in the 1930’s.  I suspect this tree was not only there at the time, but was probably already old.  A tree like this can be well over 150 years old, dating it back to the Civil War era.  A close up view might explain my fondness for this big guy.

In the background you can see Rand Brook and on the other side of the brook is an old mill dating back well into the middle to early 1800’s.  We have seen this tree in all sorts of weather and it is still very much open for business.  Loaded with leaves in the summer.  So of course, it was still loaded with leaves when the October 31 ice and snow storm hit, a storm that wreaked havoc on trees and power lines.  And on our friend here.

Will it survive?  I don’t know.  That’s a big wound.  My guess is that it will survive for at least a few more seasons, but wounds allow for infections.  The Division of Conservation and Recreation who manage the Reservoir typically leave things wild unless fallen limbs block the road.  You could tell that they had in fact sawed and moved off some of what fell.  Beyond that, this wonderful old tree is probably on it’s own.  I propose then a Holiday toast to what matters.  Cheers.