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A job nearly completed


This past week witnessed a blitz of tree measuring from yours truly. I was determined to fulfill a self-appointed mission. On Monday and Tuesday, Monica and I stayed at Cabin #6 in Mohawk Trail State Forest, which allowed me to complete my goal of relocated and measuring all 150-foot white pines in the Pocumtuck Grove of Mohawk Trail State Forest as part of the greater mission of confirming all 150s in Mohawk. After each visit to the Pocumtuck Grove, I kept thinking I had completed the mission, but then doubts would set in. Why? Because the tightly packed grove is a bear to measure. It tests every measuring skill that I have developed over the years and points to gaps in our tree measuring methodology where trees grow very close together. Most trees in tight clumps don't get measured.

On Monday, I started out looking at the Pocumtuck Grove basically through the same eyes, i.e. to say with the same set of mental filters operating. This means that I had conditioned myself to see the trees in the Pocumtucks through past mental imprints that reinforced for me which I thought were the tallest. However, on this visit something moved me to climb a hill and examine the grove from an entirely new perspective and at a significantly greater distance. From my new position, I could not see the bases of the trees, but I could see some of the crowns better. One tree stood out. It appeared much taller than my perception of it from the road below. It wasn't a new tree, just a new perspective. I went down to the tree and put an orange marker on it at 6.7 feet above its base. I then went back to my distant perch and shot to the crown and the orange marker. After doing the calculations and adding 6.7 feet, I got a little over 157 feet. Wow! This was 5 feet above my last measurement. I then realized that from my closer perches, I simply was missing the tops of some of the trees.

To shorten the story about my long and labored effort that lasted the rest of the day, I eventually confirmed eight more 150s! I felt simultaneously elated and embarrassed and the tallest tree in the grove turned out to be a 158.6 feet. How could old Dbhguru have missed eight of the sixteen 150s for so long? That will be the subject of future emails, but it happened. I confess.

Well, after a wild Monday, on Tuesday I set about measuring pines across the road and uphill, trees that I had assumed to be in the high 130s to low 140s, because of a couple of measurements of trees near the edge of the road and some untested assumptions. Before I was finished, I had confirmed trees to the heights of 152.9, 148.1, 145.0, and 143.8 feet. Here again, I had been applying a faulty mental filter and had to find a way to see the stand through new eyes. It is close to a Zen thing, I guess. So, by Tuesday's end, i had confirmed 9 new 150s in mohawk, bring the count to 104. Was I finished? Nope.

Yesterday Monica and I returned to Mohawk and I settled the question about a former 150 in the Cherokee-Choctaw Grove. It is officially a former 150, i.e. o longer part of the club. That brings the total number of 150s in Mohawk to 103, prior to the growing season. Actually, I have one last tree to visit - the Oneida Pine. It has been part of the 150-Club for years, but I haven't remeasured it. So, if it fails, the number will be 102. Either 103 or 102, it is a much higher number than I had been projecting. I had thought we would go into this growing season with at most 95 pines in the 150-Club. I expect that we'll exit this growing season with 112 150s. Maybe more.

So, the pre-growing season’s confirmation of the 150s for Mohawk is complete. I can now contemplate the meaning of the concentrated effort. I have lots of thoughts on the matter, most not very profound. But perhaps a few merit consideration by not only my fellow Ents, but DCR, Massachusetts environmental groups, State friends groups, and others.

I routinely tout the superlatives of MTSF to officials of DCR, forestry professionals, environmental groups, state friends groups, personal friends, and the people in the groups that I lead on interpretive walks. Others have come to expect to hear tree numbers pitched and re-pitched by me. Those who know me best, recognize that the engineer side of my brain is compulsive about accuracy. I loathe approximations, rounded numbers, etc. – i.e. the vacuous reporter approach to numeric information that substitutes a general term like “hundreds” for a precise reporting of say a number like 110. I regard it as a way of trivializing the importance of accuracy. In some vague way it purports to convey that broad generalizations carry meaning, weight, and perspective that precision obscures. In my humble opinion that is pure hogwash. For example, one may state that the Alps are thousands of feet high. That conveys some information, but “thousands” can mean two thousand as easily as it can mean fourteen or fifteen thousand. In terms of mountain wisdom, there is an enormous difference between two thousand and fifteen thousand in terms of geology, climate, amount of oxygen, plant and animal communities, visual impact, etc. Well, enough from the soapbox.

I’m never quite sure how the numbers I present are received by DCR officials, except those whom I know well, but I can say the higher up the ladder I go, the more nondescript the response I expect. The uppers seem confused on how to react to the information they are receiving, as in: is he telling me the truth; why haven’t my people told me that; is there any significance to what he is saying; should I care; can this information embarrass me? There have been exceptions, but they are that - exceptions.

The value placed on and an understanding of the information I pass to DCR recipients says much about bureaucracies and how they work, about organizational hierarchies, and about personal priorities, sensitivities, interests, and visionary talents. So far, Massachusetts DCR officials have conflicting scores on how sagely they deal with the numeric information on Mohawk’s trees that they’ve received through their filtered channels or directly from me. I still have hope that DCR, as an organization, can come to fully embrace the meaning of Mohawk Trail State Forest. I know that some within the recreational arm do. One person, my friend Tim Zelazo is fully as appreciative of Mohawk’s treasures as I am and determined to see justice done. I think there are others on the recreational side who are equally impressed, but most on the resource side (the Bureau of Forestry) are clueless.

Exactly what is the significance of Mohawk Trail State Forest? If challenged to explain in depth why the 6,500-acre property is special, can I make a convincing case? Well, let’s see. To begin with, Mohawk Trail State Forest is located in one of the Bay State’s most scenic regions. The region is relatively unpopulated by Massachusetts standards and consequently can be consider a wildland. That gives Mohawk a good send off. But what makes a forest special: big well formed trees; champion trees; outstanding statistical measures; species diversity; rare species; strong genetic populations; lack of invasive species; old growth; aesthetic combinations of forest features, such as a mix of meadow and forest, stately trees, picturesque rocks, waterfalls; limpid pools, etc.; scenic vistas; historical features; cultural value; Native American connections; solitude and lack of trash and other eyesores left by careless hikers and campers?

Mohawk has all the above attributes. In addition, it exhibits some of them in abundance and near the top of the comparison list for not only Massachusetts, but for New England, and in a few cases, the entire Northeast. And as a last attribute, Mohawk represents the most concentrated expression of raw white pine power that I know of in New England. The great whites rule, reminding us of the pre-colonial New England. There are many picture perfect pines in mohawk that impact the visitor individually and as gestalts. And the statistics confirm Mohawks preeminence. Its count of 103 white pines exceeding 150 feet is second in the Northeast. This statistic alone makes Mohawk exceptional. So, the case for Mohawk is so easy to make that it can be safely declared to be the Forest icon of Massachusetts - without fear of exaggeration.

Are there negatives in Mohawk? Yes, there are a few. The proximity of Route #2 introduces some noise pollution. The campground along the Cold River can introduce congestion, but only in the area of the campground. There is an old dump that needs to be cleaned up near the confluence of the Cold and Deerfield Rivers. But these negatives do not reduce the overall value of Mohawk.

I will conclude with some images from this past week.

The first image is of Monica standing among the Council Pines within the Pocumtuck Grove. The shiny spots at the base of the trees are our identification tags. The pines you see are 140-footers.

of MonicaInThe CouncilPines.jpg

The next image shows rocks and forest in an area that Monica and I think of sacred space. The image is on Thumper Mountain, the little mountain with the big heart.


The third image shows Monica and my grandson Devin in the Council Pines. I'm starting Devin out young.


The last image looks up into the crown of one of the 160-footers - the John Brown tree. I have shown this image before, but wanted to conclude with an image that speaks to the scale of the Mohawk forest. Enjoy.


by dbhguru
Sat Mar 27, 2010 2:28 pm
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Communications styles


Bob, Congrats on your new trees. Don't be so humble you da man! When you measure hundreds of trees once in while you might make an error. Great work on the project. I wish I had your writing ability and you had my accent. Larry

Hey buddy, I do have your accent. Uh, at least once I did. Now I guess it is half and half. But back in my native South, it doesn't take me long to revert to my good old boy habits. and manner of expression. Comes pretty natural. plus, I can get real breakfasts.

In terms of writing ability, I have often wished I could write like this or that person. I especially envy the late John Madson, with his ability to precisely describe features of the prairie in ways that instantly transport you there. You feel the wind, you savor the rich, diverse grasses, you drink in the expansive skies and feelings of freedom. Madson shows us how to be simultaneously colorful and precise - an ability not all acclaimed nature writers possess. I could rattle off a couple of dozen nature writers I read whose writing abilities put mine to shame. Yet, in one area I believe that I can match most of them, and that is in giving precise descriptions of landscapes. I have often read flowery descriptions of place from a writer with a gift for words, but in the end had to shake my head - too many words and too many comparisons that didn't quite fit.

Developing precise descriptions of a place is a challenge I always feel compelled to accept. How, for example, can I convey what makes the White Mountains of New Hampshire appear different from say the Green Mountains of Vermont, and those ranges different from the Smokies. Then there are the supreme challenges like describing the Olympic Mountains of Washington. Their ruggedness and vertical relief, their glaciers, and luxuriant forests impart to them a distinctiveness that separates them from equally great places like the Grand Tetons of Wyoming. Both mountain ranges exhibit great vertical relief. But then so do the Wasatch in Utah, the Sangre de Cristo in Colorado, and San Jacinto in California. You get a lot of mountain for your money with all those ranges. And let's not forget the high Sierras. But the Tetons, Wasatch, Sangre de Cristo, and San Jacinto rise from desert or near desert surroundings. This introduces environmental effects like clarity of air along with different cloaking vegetation, different amounts of snow cover, etc. All these features have significant visual impacts, which I struggle to capture in words.

I look forward to our San Juan adventure in late June. I especially look forward to joining forces in capturing the essence of that gorgeous country southwestern Colorado country through words, images, and numbers. Ah yes, numbers. Gifts to us mortals from the gods.

by dbhguru
Tue Mar 30, 2010 11:21 am
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The Final Chapter


Today my friend District Manager Tim Zelazo and I met at MTSF to complete the inventorying of the 150s. I needed to remeasure the Oneida Pine to insure it hadn't lost any crown. If so, we would have 103 confirmed 150s in MTSF. It hadn't lost an inch. At 152.5 feet, it has crown to spare.

On the way to the Oneida Pine, I showed Tim Magic Maple. He liked the tree a lot. An image of Tim and Magic Maple follows.


Threading our way through rock formations, we approached an area of old hemlocks. The following image is of the passage through.


The next image show Tim next to a 10.1-ft around, 121.3-ft tall, 250-year old hemlock. Way cool.


The final image shows a 103.9-ft tall yellow birch I measured. Not bloody bad.


Oh yes, we found another 150-ft white pine near the end of the historic 1700s Shunpike route. It becomes the Robert Campanile Pine. It is 9.3-ft around and 150.5 ft tall. That, folks, is number 104 confirmed. Mohawk rules. There are 9 trees that could grow into 150s by the end of this growing season, which would put MTSF #1 in the Northeast. Blue paint at the base of the Campanile Pine reminded us of a planned timber sale that was halted when MTSF became part of the 9th forest reserve. I felt immense satisfaction. This tree and one higher on the ridge named Lonesome Pine, also a 150, were to be part of a softwood timber sale. However, I was allowed to draw the boundaries of Reserve #9, which includes the cluster of north end pines. It would have been tragic to have lost them.

by dbhguru
Fri Apr 02, 2010 8:18 pm
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MTSF - Four Graces


On Friday DCR District Manager and friend Tim Zelazo visited the north section of MTSF and named a cluster of 4 trees for members of DCR who stand tall in the protection of our precious natural, historical, and cultural heritages located on public lands. After I named the new 150 for Robert Campanile, the naming event for the remaining 3 trees went to Tim. Tim photographed two of the 4 trees. Light conditions did not allow for all 4 to be captured on film at the time we were there. Although we did not discuss the overall potential significance of the naming of the Four Graces, I think we both sensed that it was an important step. We didn't know how those being honored would react. For example, would they feel self-conscious or awkward? Finding out was Tim's assignment. I was most thankful for that.

Friday's dedication has since given me pause to reflect on the meaning of the event. I am only now coming to realize its potential significance. It takes dedicated people inside and outside government to value and protect our heritage. Often there are selfless warriors for the environment inside government who work everyday for the protection of the resource entrusted to them, yet receive no public recognition or appreciation. They sometimes are forced to make compromises to keeping the wheels turning, but they never lose sight of the resource or its value. I am thinking of writing an essay about the Four Graces and making it the basis for a submission to a future edition of the Bulletin of the Eastern Native Tree Society. I also want to undertake this assignment out of appreciation to my friends who enjoy my articles and descriptions. At this moment, I am thinking of Larry, James, Ed, and Marc who regularly comment on the articles I write. Dis Bud's for you guys!


by dbhguru
Sun Apr 04, 2010 2:23 pm
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More Sharptop


Here are more Sharptop Images. I call the first two Spirit Rocks.



The next shows old growth along the trail.


by dbhguru
Mon Apr 12, 2010 7:08 pm
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Crabtree Falls


One of the greatest surprises for me of the any of these trips down the spine of the Appalachians has been my visit to Crabtree Falls on the side of the Priest - a 4063-foot peak east of the Parkway and south of Charlottesville. I was astounded to read that the falls are billed as the highest in the East. How could I have missed such a spectacle? Well, I did. They are spectacular. Are they the highest waterfall in the East? Maybe. How do we define a waterfall? If we think we have challenges with tree measurements, we can be thankful that the dimensions we measure for trees are well defined. Not so for waterfalls.

Are the falls 1,200 feet high? Are the falls 1000 feet high? Where is the bottom? Where is the top? Do we count cascading waterfalls the same as plunging waterfall? Oh boy! Lots more to come.

by dbhguru
Mon Apr 12, 2010 7:46 pm
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Monica’s and my Virginia excursion is winding down. Tomorrow we will head home. However, I thought I’d give a few preliminary trip reports this evening, saving the myriad of details until I’m comfortably settled in my easy chair at home. So here it goes with the first preliminary report.

Our first big event was a climb to the top of Sharptop, one of the two Peaks of Otter in the southern Virginia Blue Ridge. Sharptop is a respectable 3,875 feet in altitude and was once thought to be Virginia’s highest mountain. That distinction goes to Mount Rogers at 5,729 feet, but Sharptop is still very much a favorite.

The shortest route up is 1.5 miles and gains around 1,300 feet of altitude. The trail is extremely well maintained. There are lots of rock steps. It isn’t a hike for folks with bad knees. But the view from the top is awesome. Actually, climbing Sharptop is a religious pilgrimage for some people and visitation is heavy. The first image below shows the summit view, looking northward toward Flattop, Sharptop’s sister peak. Flattop is actually the higher of the two. It is 4,001 feet. It was once called Roundtop.


Swiveling the camera around, I took the next shot looking down and east toward the community of Bedford.


One of the most aesthetic features of both Sharptop and Flattop is the blend of large rocks and old trees. The trees form old growth communities in the upper elevations. The rock-tree communities can be extraordinary, and for me, were a discovery. The next image shows a typical rock-tree scene going up Sharptop.


The next image highlights an area of old growth chestnut oak. I haven’t been able to calculate the probable acreage of old growth, but it has to be in excess of 50 acres. I suspect it is more on the order of 65 to 75. I counted over 200 annual rings on several trunks that had fallen across the trail and had been cut. They were the rule rather than the exception.


The last image is an extraordinary scene of a white oak swallowing a rock. I’ll let the image do the rtalking.


by dbhguru
Mon Apr 12, 2010 6:57 pm
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Lake Minnewaska


Three more images of this exceptionally beautiful mountaintop lake. The Shawangunks are known for the climbing opportunities they offer. But ordinary, garden variety hiking is extremely rewarding in the Gunks. I don't know what the total old growth acreage is, but it is significant.




by dbhguru
Wed Apr 14, 2010 8:52 pm
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Minnewaska State Park, NY


Today Monica and I returned to Massachusetts by way of the 21,106-acre Minnewaska State Park in the Shawangunks of New York. Minnewaska is awash in old growth, albeit of the gnarly kind. Pitch pines there approach 300 years according to a sign. I don't doubt 250 one bit. Other species are comparably old. The park was once a playground for the rich, and for the most part, its beauty and naturalness was preserved. The forest type consists of white pine, pitch pine, eastern hemlock, chestnut oak, red oak, red maple, white ash, shad bush, black birch, yellow birch, gray birch, and white birch with emphasis on the chestnut oak and pitch pine. Mountain laurel adds a splash of green to the understory. The shad bush was in full bloom. There are three natural lakes including Minnewaska, which lies at around 1600 feet altitude. We walked around the lake. The images below speak to the beauty we saw. I highly recommend this wonderful state park. It is an ecological treasure. Its high points are around 2,000 feet and overlook the valley below that lies at about 300. You get plenty of elevation change. Now to the images.







by dbhguru
Wed Apr 14, 2010 8:32 pm
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Re: Crabtree Falls


In a previous post I spoke of Crabtree Falls in Virginia’s George Washington NF. The falls are billed as the highest waterfall in the entire eastern United States. Heights of 1,000 to, 1,200 feet are quoted. The elevation change from top to bottom of the series of drops exceeds 1,300 feet. Most of the drop is by what most people would clearly accept as waterfall. I expect a conservative construction of the waterfall part of the 1,300+ feet is at least 900 feet. The highest single drop is about 400 feet – and looks it.

Old growth follows the waterfall corridor, but over much of the mountain complex logging was intensive. Consequently, there is no old growth bonanza to be reaped, but that seen along the falls corridor is satisfying. Chestnut oaks, tuliptrees, northern reds, and blackgum, all exceed ages of 250 years. I counted about 250 rings on one downed chestnut oak that had fallen across the trail and was cut.

The first image below shows the beginning of the falls complex. It is at the start of the trail.


The second image is of a majestic old tulip tree that is probably over 250 years old, if not older. I measured it to the impressive height of 153.6 feet. It is approximately 12 feet in girth.


The third image shows Monica and yours truly about about the midway point of the falls complex.


Spring wildflowers abound. The large white(pink) trillium was out in force.


An ancient blackgum posed for me along the trail. If there isn't 300 years in this tree, I'm a monkey's uncle.


I'm still puzzling over the height of Crabtree Falls. I think we have to take a measure of the horizontal distance between the top and bottom of a waterfall or cascade and compare it to the vertical drop in a percent slope kind of calculation for height to be meaningful. I'm not prepared to do that now. It will be saved as a project for the future.

by dbhguru
Thu Apr 15, 2010 3:22 pm
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Flattop, Peaks of Otter, Virginia


The sister peak to Sharptop is Flattop. At 4,001 feet above sea level, Flattop is the higher of the two peaks of Otter and the less crowded. The trail up from either side has large boulders and old growth. From the south side, you can see Sharptop. It is a dominant sight. The following image of Sharptop seen through blooming red maples looks like a Japanese painting. I took many shots. This was one of my favorites.


In the next image, Monica is seen through the combination of rocks and trees, a scene that dominates the Peaks of Otter.


by dbhguru
Thu Apr 15, 2010 8:30 pm
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Re: Minnewaska State Park, NY

James and Marc,

Two more images of Minnewaska. The first looks across the lake toward the Catskills in the distance. The second is on the escaprment looking through pitch pines. Soooper place. Wicked cool.



by dbhguru
Thu Apr 15, 2010 8:45 pm
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On April 12th I met with Sandra Mudrinich, the horticulturist for Montpelier. She is very receptive to an ENTS project to document the big trees of teh Madison estate as only we can do. The property is awash in tall tuliptrees, including possibly Virginia's tallest tree - a tulip at 167.1 feet that I confirmed on the visit after many tries. It is a major challenge and I do mean major.

The following image shows a handsome 150-footer that makes 14.1 feet in girth. I expect it is between 150 and 200 years old.


An observation platform, as shown below, looks into not less that six 150-footers. Not far away is a skinny northern red oak at 147.0 feet. There is so much work there to do. The father of our Constitution deserves our best shot. Who is interested?


by dbhguru
Sat Apr 17, 2010 8:39 am
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Back to Mohawk


Earlier today I led a group from the Springfield Naturalist Club on a guided tour of the more accessible big tree sections of MTSF. We reached our destinations mostly by trail, a not typical course for me, but trails do serve useful purposes. A big one is to minimize damage to fragile vegetation. Another is to get people to scenic areas without fear of accident. Since the age of the majority of participants equaled my own, today was no time for off trail excursions through boulder fields with tricky footing.

Today's program allowed me to reconnect with old friends - one from over 30 years ago. We stared at each other's thinning gray hair and accumulation of wrinkles. Could we be the same people? After sharing memories, we concluded that we were. Others I hadn't seen for over a decade. It was quite a reunion.

I'd done programs for the Springfield Naturalist Club in the past and I like those folks very much. On my last program, I had taken them to Monroe State Forest. It had made an impact. However, I had never done a program for the Club in Mohawk. Naturally, I wanted the members to take to my forest Mecca, and they did. Mohawk's wealth of beautiful trees began working their magic. They always do. I see people leave in what I've come to call the woodland trance. As evidence of the forest elixir, at the end of the walk, every single member shook my hand - the first time that has happened for so large a group. Were I in the mood to indulge my modest ego, I might think in a self-congratulatory way, but on deeper reflection, I would have to acknowledge that it wasn't me they were thanking - other than to lead them to spots. They certainly weren't applauding my endless spewing out of numbers: tree measurements, the altitudes of surrounding peaks, acreages, dates, climate statistics - you name it. No, it was the trees that wowed them - and in particular, the great whites. The charismatic pines of Mohawk always impress visitors, at least those who are tree savvy and appreciative. Never fails.

At our parting, the members of the club pledged to come to the aid of Mohawk should anything ever threaten that irreplaceable forest icon. In hearing their words, I felt a deep sense of relief, knowing that Mohawk has powerful allies. I hadn't forgotten that the Springfield Naturalist Club came to the aid of Mount Tom State Reservation in the mid-1980s and halted a foolish timber sale then planned by the Department of Environmental Management. Mass Audubon and other mainstream environmental organizations had thrown in the towel, but the Naturalist Club persevered and won.

Back to the present, it was especially good to see Mohawk today after Monica's and my return from Virginia. I needed a reaffirmation. On the Madison Estate, I was constantly cognizant that I was in the domain of the lordly tuliptree--tallest of all native eastern hardwoods and the tree of my youth. In MTSF, I had returned to the kingdom of the great whites, tallest of all native eastern species, including the tulips. That said, in fairness, I should point out that the white pine eclipses the tulip by only a few feet in today's growing environment and there are far more towering tulips than pines. Additionally, in the southern Appalachians, the tulips and white pines often go head to head. However, the battles don't end that way elsewhere. In northern climes, the great whites win hands down. But in the mid-west, the tulips win just as handily. It is nip and tuck - a worthy contest. So is measuring both species. Each has its special challenges that can leave the measurer mumbling in single syllable words of four letters each.

For comparison of the species, today, my memories of Virginia were still fresh. At Montpelier, I struggled to find the tops of towering tulips with the three lasers I used. I was in their world and they were not going to reveal their dimensions without a battle, or at least a test of my will power--I like to think the latter. It was as if Montpelier's tulips were silently whispering, "measure me, Bob Leverett, if you can, but beware, I will not divulge my stature to you readily. I will never allow you to take me for granted. You must work and work hard, for I am lord of my domain. You must be humble in my presence."

In Mohawk, I don't get a similar feeling of resistance when measuring the white pines, although I often must take a lot of time to measure individual trees. I attribute measuring difficulties to the crowded configuration of many pine groves, as opposed to a resistance to being measured. I account for the difference in my perception this way - another flight of imagination, I suppose.

It is no secret that I like to compare and contrast the tulips and great whites. But it isn't a simple comparison of statures, as readers might expect from my frequent postings on tree measuring. Comparisons form along many lines of perception, straightforward and subtle. For instance, in Montpelier, I found the light green foliage of the tulips uplifting to my spirit. The almost iridescent green of tulip leaves imparts a spring-like feeling long after spring has bowed to summer. When the tulips bloom, it is easy to imagine oneself in a tropical setting. But there is more to the effect than leaves and flowers. The light-colored bark of the tulips seems to air out the forest. The tulips lift do our spirits, whether the trees are young or old and whether we are junior or senior. How about the pines?

In Mohawk, the dark green foliage of the lofty pines imparts a slight somber or stern sense to the woodlands, though not always. One does feel oneself in a more northerly clime, though, and that connotes rugged character. In mixed stands of conifers and deciduous trees, the white pines often thrust their crowns through the shorter canopy of hardwoods. In doing that they communicate their great heights and give meaning to the ecological concept of super canopy. In the regions where these two charismatic species dominate, they create energy gestalts that leave their imprints on the surrounding countryside. I am loathe to place one imprint, tulip or white pine, on a higher pedestal than the other. I am thankful for both, but alas, I cannot help perpetually contrasting and comparing, searching for the right words to convey what will always remain elusive. For me, comparison is in the genes, but so is my undying admiration for these two noble species. They are so different and that has made me think about what makes each so powerful. When I am among the tall tulips of my native South, I acknowledge that their energy signature is distinctly their own. No other species leaves the same imprint on its surroundings and the sheer dominance of the tuliptree's size insures that the energy imprint is intense. But, the same can be said of the great whites of the northeastern states. They dominate their surroundings as thoroughly as the tulips. Maybe it is partly my fixation on stature.

Both species tower to dizzying heights. They leave their competitors to gaze longingly upward. In direct dimensional comparisons, the tulips are more massive, but the whites have an oddly reassuring presence that seems to counterbalance what they give up in girth. I think it has to do with their darker, deeply furrowed bark. An then there is the unconscious awareness of the immensely historical role of the great whites in New England. But no sooner have I called the white pine's cards to the table than tulip awareness surges in my frontal lobes. Remember me, I am the tree of your youth. I am the true giant of the forest. In the end, I pronounce the contest a draw. No losers. Only winners.

Thinking in a different direction, I think of the white pines of the north and the tulips of the south as somehow being aware of the other. This probably sounds foolish, a product of a bizarre, overworked imagination, but in a distant, multi-dimensional way, maybe the two species are connected as mutually respectful arboreal relatives, each content to rule in its distinctive domain - one to the north and the other to the south. But, if the climate continues to warm, will the tulips establish a stronger presence in the north? What will happen to the great whites. That's a worry I will gladly put off for another day.

If this contorted comparing and contrasting seems excessive to any of you reading this essay, others would agree. I recall a young woman on a walk who had absorbed all the comparing and contrasting she could handle and timidly explained that she liked all trees, large and small, old and young. I sheepishly acknowledged her point and agreed with her. It was my way of making her feel that she hadn't crossed any boundaries. However, on subsequently thinking more deeply on the subject, I realized that I didn't like all trees the same. To do so would be to deny their individuality. It would be as though I liked all people the same, which I don't. Trees are individuals. Were I to feel compelled to like them all, then I'd have to like those little ornamental pear trees that people plant in their yards after removing perfectly fine native species. It is as though people must leave their territorial marks and force conformity. I have a hard time accepting those little human engineered forms as true trees. So, my acknowledgment to myself is that some trees inspire me. Some don't. I feel no need to apologize for that. All trees are not created equal.

Well, I've rambled enough. Back to Mohawk. I took only one photo today. It was a shot of three of the Council Pines, some of Monica's favorites trees. She has a spot among them where she sits quietly and meditates while I scurry around measuring. It is a special spot for both of us and one today that I felt like sharing with the group. It also afforded me the opportunity to continue my efforts at capturing the different looks of important places and trees. As the seasons change, as the light increases or decreases, as the amount of green waxes or wanes, and forest moods become strikingly different. I want to capture those differences. Today, the pines were seen through brighter light. As a consequence, they looked appreciably different from the last time I saw them. So, I tried to capture today's look. To mercifully end my rambling, I present the single image of the Council Pines in the Pocumtuck Grove.


by dbhguru
Sun Apr 18, 2010 9:13 pm
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Leeds Nursing Home Site, MA


This morning Bart Bouricius and I went to a site on the property of the Leeds Nursing Home. bart had discovered the site and thought the white pines had real potential. The first image below shows Bart next to a pine the blew over.


The next image shows the forest interior. It is cluttered, but not so cluttered as a very young stand. The forest is attractive and very healthy.


The tallest tree I measured is 128.6 feet in height and the largest in girth is 10.6 feet. There is a fairly large number of 120-footers, but nothing reaches 13. The stand is young and shows real potential. Give the stand another 25 to 30 years and it will be impressive. The status of the property is unknown in terms of its preservation. There were no other species that got me excited. The adjacent property across the small stream had been heavily cut.

by dbhguru
Mon Apr 19, 2010 12:40 pm
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Mohawk. April 20, 2010


Yesterday Monica and I went for a stroll in Mohawk. Actually, it was a lot more than a stroll. We climbed to the top of Todd Mtn going up the steep side, but the hike was worth it. The image below shows early spring from the old Mohawk Trail looking westward. The gorge directly below is about 850 feet deep. Although that depth isn't in any way remarkable, it does provide a real scenic dimension.


The next image looks toward Hawks Mountain, a ridge that reaches 1883 feet above seal level starting from an elevation of 600 feet - again, not record setting, but not shabby.


The third and fourth images show an absolutely gorgeous American beech. It measures 8 feet in girth and 114.1 feet in height. It shows no evidence of beech bark disease.



The rock outcroppings on the slopes of Todd Mtn are interesting and often impressive. The next two images show rock formations. There is a forest that grows in the boulder fields. Not all trees make it as shown in the second image.



On the way back, we took a shortcut through the Pocumtuck grove. Here is a scene I thought worth capturing.


by dbhguru
Wed Apr 21, 2010 8:12 pm
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FFVP Report


Today I went to a briefing on the end of the Forest Futures Visioning Process held by Commissioner Rick Sullivan of DCR and EOEEA Secretary Ian Bowles. It looks like we will get 60% of the 308,000 acres under DCR's control set aside for reserves and parklands. Some of the DFW and Reservoir lands totaling an additional 250,000 acres will also be set aside in reserves. I believe the final reserves and parklands acreages will exceed 200,000 acres. That amounts to at least 80,000 more than we thought we were getting on the initial establishment of the reserves. We currently are at just under 50,000 acres. Give the amount of opposition to parklands and reserves, I consider this a major victory.

I also had a discussion with the Secretary and he wants me to contact him for possible tours of the special forests sites. That is a big leap forward. I also had a good talk with Commissioner Sullivan and gave him a copy of the ENTS Bulletin. I think he may just read it. I have infrequent communications with Sullivan and they've all been satisfactory.

Toward the end of the gathering I spent time shmoozing with DCR's recreational arm. That went very well. They like ENTS and support us. So, the good news is that our (ENTS) stock is definitely on the rise. I do believe we will be called upon to help identify more forest reserves. Wicked cool! If I were a drinking man, I'd be gulping old fashions, martinis, or Jack Daniels on the rocks. But I'm not, so this Kool Aid will have to do. Maybe the rest of you can guzzle a brew or two in celebration of ENTS accomplishments in protecting great forest sites like Mohawk and Monroe. Life is good. Life is good.

by dbhguru
Wed Apr 21, 2010 8:49 pm
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Shurpike: Perfect day in every way


On April 24th, Monica and I climbed to the top of Clark Ridge in Mohawk Trail State Forest following the path of the historic 1790s Shunpike, a route laid out to avoid a toll road followed by the route of today’s River and Whitcomb Hill Roads. There are three historic trails in the area: the old Indian trial, now called the Mohawk Trail; the Turnpike; and the Shunpike.

My good friend DCR District Manager Tim Zelazo has been researching the Shunpike route and has placed markers along the way where washouts have obscured the original route. Tim and I walked part of the path in late March and both felt a sense of history as we walked and talked. Notable trees along the way stimulated our sense of history, including a scattering of old-growth hemlocks and white ashes, and a handsome yellow birch that just reaches 100 feet – an important height threshold for the species.

The day of our trek was picture-perfect--sunny, not too warm, not too cold. The black flies were pesky, but not yet biting. I was thankful that we didn’t have to douse ourselves with insect repellant. The swarming of the flies around our heads was a nuisance, but one well worth enduring for a chance to experience the unfolding of spring. It becomes a different matter when the little buggers begin sinking their teeth into your face and hands and draining you of your blood supply.

The iridescent green of the maples gave the forest a light, uplifting feeling, affirming for me that spring is the season of renewal. I began looking for an image to showcase the maples, which were set against the undistinguished colors of species not yet leafed out – principally oaks and ashes. Soon this seasonal spectacle of variegated colors will pass and the eyes will then behold a more uniform green. By mid-summer only experts will be able to distinguish the species at a distance. So, this time of year is provides excellent opportunities to recognize which species inhabit the mountainside and in what abundances.

The first image I will present was taken near our starting point at Zoar Gap. The view is what you see when on the Zoar Gap bridge looking across the Deerfield River and up onto the Todd-Clark ridge. The low point in the image is the gap between Todd and Clark, about 1530 feet elevation. The ridge has been a research site for years. It boasts a Rucker Height Index of over 130, a value that is achieved in an area of only 300 acres.


The start of the climb up Clark Ridge begins just across the Zoar bridge. The old seldom-used trail passes through impressive northern red oaks and by a stand of bigtooth aspens that includes the 126-foot tall northeastern champion. The aspens are slender and only a seasoned veteran would take notice of them.

As we climbed higher, one attractive scene after another unfolded. Evidence of past human habitation is evident from old rock walls, a sign of the sheep-pasturing episode of the mid-1800s. But the forest has matured beautifully since a time when what is now forest was open fields that were nestled against the slopes of Clark Ridge.

Once we were well upon Clark Ridge, the views through the trees revealed the sharp profile of Negus Mountain which lies on the other side of the Deerfield River. The shape of Negus as seen from that area is pleasingly conical. In fact, all the landforms are striking. The steepness of the gorge at Zoar Gap suggests higher mountains than the modest topographical elevations confirm. The swift flowing Deerfield River just below Zoar Gap lies at an elevation of about 650 feet above sea level. The summit of Clark is listed on the latest terrain maps as 1,912. Todd Mountain at the end of the ridge complex is listed as 1,711 on older maps, and 1,702 on the latest ones.

The next two images show Negus Mountain as seen across the gorge at 1,773 feet elevation. Negus is seen through a veil of trees. The second image shows a lookout spot with a large glacial erratic in the center of the picture. That erratic is famous among dedicated hikers, who pause at the boulder to catch their breath after a challenging climb up from the river through dense mountain laurel. The laurel and rock outcroppings that have to be negotiated have turned more than a few casual hikers around. You earn the view from the erratic.

Negus is an old haunt of mine. It is a mountain long recognized as highly scenic by none less than the late Harvey Broome, past president of the Wilderness Society. When Broome climbed Negus it was in the 1960s, I think. He later wrote about the event in his book “Out Under the Sky of the Great Smokies”. I recall that he made a comparison of the view from Negus with a famous view from his beloved Smoky Mountains. That comparison always excites me and confirms that our Berkshires are not to be easily dismissed. I sometimes wonder if Broome recognized that the forest he gazed into from the Negus side of the gorge is Mohawk Trail State Forest, which would one day be called the forest icon of Massachusetts? Did he recognize the line of ancient hemlocks along the Todd-Clark ridge that predated the arrival of European Americans to the area? Did he know that an old Indian trail runs along that summit ridge, a trail that saw Mohawk and Pocumtuck warriors; a trail that saw the likes of Benedict Arnold, General John Burgoyne, and many other persons of historical significance; a trail that was declared a well kept secret by none other than my friend Bill McKibben.



Once Monica and I had climbed high up on the side of Clark, the sounds of the Deerfield River faded. Still, we could hear an occasional squeal of delight from a river rafter far below. But human sounds are muffled. On the slopes, one is surrounded by dense forest. One threads one’s way among rocks and ledges, which act as excellent sound bafflers. Nature asserts itself, especially when off trail. The convenience of a human-established path disappears. One pays close attention to every step. But on our route up Clark, we were following the Shunpike. It was a little rendezvous with history, a local history that we didn’t know, but could dimly imagine. For me, I could only envision endless toil. I felt a slight twinge of guilt, so casually walking on what had been hard labor for generations of early settlers. More recently, the route we walked was a jeep path for hunters. But last winter’s ice storm near the summit of Clark has shut the path to all but foot traffic – a good thing. The following image shows Monica on a short stretch of the Shunpike.


As we continued up the Shunpike, I became engrossed in the numerous microhabitats that we saw. The slopes of Clark are dominated by trees, shrubs, and rocks, loges, tip up mounds, floral displays, and small streams. Here natural forms do not compete with human engineering. Nature draws one to the bosom of the mountain. We were in Clark’s world and the mountain presented its treasure of exquisite forms for our eyes to behold.

One treasure of the route up was an area literally saturated with Squirrel Corn. It reminded me of an ostentatious display of Dutchman’s Breeches on Flattop Mountain in Virginia. One expects floral shows of all kinds in the southern Appalachians, but displays such as we saw in the Berkshires are rare feasts to be savored. The dainty foliage and small white flowers called out to me, asking to be noticed and remembered.

Combinations of flowers, trees, or rocks are what I most enjoy. The next two scenes focus on picturesque rocks and trees – two out of three.



When in superlative forest, I become fixated on individual trees. I do not want human-created forms and sounds to interfere with the subtle stream of perceptions that the woodlands provide. I come to know and appreciate each tree, anticipating its presence from afar, when returning to a favored haunt. As a young person, full of youthful energy, the forest was often little more than a background that slid by my feet as my fast pace and labored breathing turned woodland outings into athletic endeavors. In such a state of mind, trees lose their individuality, becoming mere props to social and athletic events. But now older, and hopefully wiser, connections to trees develop quickly and become intensely personal. Trees are never just trees.

I present the following Clark Mountain trees as evidence of my passion, beginning with Magic Maple, a favorite of Tim Zelazo. I think Tim puts Magic Maple at the top of the pecking order of drop-dead beautiful red maples. I would never vote against this graceful entry. Magic Maple presents herself to her admirers in a small glade-like area where one can circle the magic one and gaze into her upsweeping branches - a metaphor for the rising spirits in places of physical beauty.


When I’m in a forest with charms, I’m constantly thinking about trees as individuals and in the collective sense. Each species has its group personality. Each tree has its unique appeal, but thinking in terms of group characteristics, few species can match the yellow birch for the raw expression of individuality. Yellow birches are attention grabbers, especially when they do what they do best - bond with rocks. The yellow birch is the quintessential architect, the sculptor among forest trees. Birch roots often engulf entire rocks in an octopus like fashion, reshaping the terrain and joining organic with inorganic structures that will endure for centuries. Both Monica and I were instantly taken with the birch in the following image.


I should include a little something for timber community. In the Shunpike area of Mohawk Trail State Forest, gorgeous northern red oaks are everywhere present. The Shunpike oaks are not old - certainly not old growth. Most are in early maturity, but one feels secure in their presence – reassured in some inexplicable way. The Shunpike oaks are pencil straight. I’m sure each and everyone one would make the lumberman salivate, but in today's environment where shortcuts are the rule, few lumbermen would let oaks reach the sizes or ages of the Shunpike oaks. So, these handsome trees serve an unintended function. They remind us of what forests can become, managed or unmanaged, if allowed to grow for 100 years. The image below shows Monica behind one of the perfectly straight northern reds.


For real tree aficionados, few species garner more respect than the ancient Berkshire hemlocks. We have dated them to a little over 500 years. This charismatic eastern species seems to best fit our notion of what primeval woodlands should look like. There is a number of imposing old growth specimens in the area of the Shunpike. The following image shows a prominent old-growth hemlock that began life before the Shunpike was even conceived. This tree has seen it all and through the tempests has remained rooted. It witnessed the building of the Pike. It has endured three centuries of winter storms, of summer lightning, and the wistful eyes of passing lumbermen. It is a living museum. The old tree now measures an impressive 10.8 feet in girth and 120 feet in height (the calculation came out to 119.96).

This height puts the hemlock into an exclusive fraternity of Berkshire hemlocks that mathematician and Ent extraordinaire John Eichholz is tracking. He is documenting all hemlocks that reach the threshold height of 120 feet. Why 120? Our data tell us that a height of 120 feet is an expression of hemlock growth that can be achieved in potentially many locations in Massachusetts, but is toward the upper limit of what we can expect out of the species. By contrast, the population of hemlocks that we’ve documented over 130 feet is extremely small and appears to represent rare exceptions. So, we drop the bar to a point where there is a real probability of a good hemlock site producing a tree of the threshold height. We have many species thresholds that we deal with. It keeps us busy.

The old sentinel on the Shunpike had its crown broken in the past, but from the area of the break, sprouts developed and the crown has once again become healthy. The sentinel of the Shunpike could live another century if the hemlock woolly adelgid doesn’t cut its life short. At this point, it has no adelgid, nor do any of its neighbors. So far all Mohawk has been spared.


No visit to the Shunpike area of Clark Mountain is complete with out a visit to Bruce Kershner's Pine. For those who didn’t know him, Bruce was an outstanding forest ecologist who devoted his life to the preservation of ancient forests. There is even a law named for him in New York. He and I coauthored the “Sierra Club Guide to Ancient Forests of the Northeast”. But Bruce had many accomplishments to his credit. The list would be longer than this essay.

I like to think that My wonderful friend's tree holds the energy of the spot. His tree represents what Bruce stood for. Sadly, Bruce was never well enough to visit his tree, but he saw images of it and embraced it as the monument he wanted. Without further adieu, I present the Bruce Kershner Tree. Oh yes, my wife Monica was the one who chose the tree. She was moved by its symmetry and presence. It is a white pine’s white pine.


The final event I'll report on was the big surprise of the day. As we descended, bush whacking down the steep, rocky side of Clark, Monica asked me if we would see the great Joseph Brant white pine. She was accustomed to approaching it from below. I allowed as to how we might see it, if I could steer us toward it, not knowing for certain that I could. I didn't say any more, but silently headed to where I thought the Brant pine would be. After a descent filled with uncertainty, I unexpectedly let out a yelp. There it was. Monica was at first startled then realized what likely had excited me. "Is it Joseph Brant?" she inquired. "Indeed, it is", I replied. I had homed in on the lone tree like a sidewinder missile locking onto an unmistakable heat source. There the hulking form of Brant stood, its crown rising far above the 100-foot plus canopy of hardwoods. It is king of its court.

We headed straight for the Brant Pine and stood for a while spiritually connecting with and honoring the great tree. I took a shot of Brant, looking up its long trunk. I suppose shots of other white pines look similar, but Brant rises to just under 159 feet and may well enter the ultra-exclusive 160 Club with two years. The Brant pine is no spring chicken. I think it is around 175 years old, which means that it began life around 1835. That is well past the Revolutionary War, but 25 years before the start of the Civil War. The Brant Pine marks a point of development and turmoil in our history. But the Brant Pine is not about the United States. It is about a Mohawk warrior who was a towering figure in eastern New York during the Revolutionary War. Brant understandably fought for his people against the tide of white settlement that could not been stemmed. He fought with the British, holding the rank of captain in the British Army. He eventually settled in Canada. Many places bear his name in the Toronto area. Now, one tree bears his name in the Berkshires of Massachusetts.


After paying tribute to Brant, we moved silently down the ridge, where I re-measured the impressive Oneida Pine - a 154-foot tall tree that grows down slope in the shadows of the Brant Pine. From its lower perch, I think of Oneida as announcing the presence of Brant, the Mohawk. The Oneidas occupied land just west of the Mohawks, were a much smaller tribe, and were closely allied to the keepers of the eastern gate.

After I was satisfied that I had finally resolved the question I had about Oneida’s exact height, I was ready to continue. Monica was patiently waiting close by, as she so often does. In terms of determining the Oneida Pine’s exact height, you see, if I hadn’t resolved the problem, it would have laid in my subconscious. I would have even dreamed about it. I am programmed to return over and over until I have resolved the issue with a tree as surely as a spider must weave its web. With me, it's genetic. So with Monica’s indulgence, I had done justice to the Oneida Pine, and would be able to sleep that night.

As we started down the ridge, I looked to the southeast. My gaze settled on the distant crown of a tall pine I had measured back in 2001. At the instant I looked toward the pine, it looked extremely tall. It rose far above the hardwoods surrounding it. I dimly recalled a height of around 146 feet from the early measurement. Could the pine now be over 150? I tried to spot the base from where I stood, and made some preliminary calculations that suggested the pine was indeed a candidate. We moved down to toward the tree. Monica calmly and me excitedly. I found a spot where I could see top and bottom clearly and took careful measurements. Yes, the pine had made it. It is now 151.8 feet tall, and becomes number 105 I Mohawk, i.e. the 105th tree in Mohawk to have been accurately measured to a height of 150 feet or more since the end of the last growing season. Watch out, Cook Forest State Park, PA, and Dale Luthringer, MTSF is slowly but surely closing the gap. Mohawk might well overtake Cook by the end of this growing season. Mohawk has half a dozen pines above 149. A good growing season could produce 111 to tie Cook. An exceptional growing season could produce 2 or 3 more, and put Mohawk firmly in the lead.

What to name the new 150? Several possibilities floated through my mind, but none seem to fit. I often imagine a tree talking to me, suggesting the name it wants. If I force the process, I'll invariably forget the un-acceptable name. Then suddenly I remembered that we have a Hiawatha Pine in the Trout Brook drainage of Mohawk. For those unfamiliar with Iroquoian history, Hiawatha, the great peacemaker, is associated with the formation of the Iroquois Confederacy. In lore and song, Hiawatha is widely remembered, but there was a second, Hiawatha’s teacher. The other legendary creator of the Haudenosaunee was Deganawidah. Ah, the new 150 should be named in honor of the mysterious Huron who helped establish the Confederacy. So Deganawidah, it became. Deganawidah is older than most other pines in the area, perhaps 190 or 200 years old. Its girth is 9.2 feet, not overpowering, but respectable and probably befitting the physical stature of the sage, himself. Behold Deganawidah in the image below. Note the somewhat twisted form.


I've put a lot on everyone's plate. So, I'll present one more image. It is of Monica next to Deganawidah. I doubt the old pine has many more years. It has a long lightening scar and lots of rot in its base. So, I will visit it often, photograph it, think about the role of Deganawidah and the improbable link between that legendary figure and a future trail that would wind across the Berkshires of Massachusetts joining the waters of the Hudson with those of the Connecticut. When his tree falls, we will name another.


I will close with a special thanks to my wife Monica for her patience as I steer us across boulder fields and up and down slopes always toward another tree to check on or measure. I also frequently ask her to pose by a tree. I tell Monica that I need her in the image for scale. The truth is that I just love to photograph her.

by dbhguru
Sun Apr 25, 2010 3:11 pm
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Re: Claremont NH


Monica and I got a very late start for Claremont, but we did go. As a mix of snow and rain pelted us, Monica and I trekked through the private site. Our time was very limited, so we went straight to the area where the tallest trees grow. I spent my time measuring trees in two ravines. Here are the 9 pines I measured:

Pine# Height Girth

1 147.5 ft
2 150.1 ft
3 155.3 ft
4 157.5 ft
5 159.8 ft
6 162.3 ft
7 162.9 ft
8 164.1 ft 9.4 ft
9 166.2 ft 8.2 ft (tallest known tree in New Hampshire)

There are many 150s on the site, perhaps as many as 70 and I think there are between 8 and 10 160s. I will return in late October to intensively measure the stand. Great site. Tree #8 was climbed by will Blozan back in 2003, I think.

Monica was operating the camera, but something went amiss, so we don't have any images of the tall trees. We'll make up for it in October. The two images I do have show a huge pine near our friend's house. It measures 12.7 feet in girth and is 116.0 feet tall.



by dbhguru
Wed Apr 28, 2010 9:25 pm
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Claremont NH


Today Monica and I will head to Claremont, NH. I'll be verifying the tallest white pines in that private stand of super pines. There are 5 or 6 that exceed 160 feet and probably between 50 and 60 that exceed 150. It is the greatest concentration of 150s after CooK Forest State Park and Mohawk Trail State Forest. I can well imagine either of two trees, or both, challenging Jake Swamp for title of tallest tree in New England. Should be an exciting day.

by dbhguru
Wed Apr 28, 2010 7:30 am
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Bryant Homstead Visit


Earlier today, I met my buddy Gary Beluzo at the William Cullen Bryant Homestead in Cummington, MA. Gary wanted to test mehtods for photographic stitching of images in horizontal layout format and I wanted to build a better library of simple images for the Bryant forest, and measure a few trees. I suppose the latter goes without saying.

The Bryant Homestead was constructed in 1785 and is the boyhood home of William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878). The homestead is managed by the Trustees of Reservations, a very worthy conservation organization that I fully support. TTOR manages nearly 25,000 acres spread over more than 100 properties and is generally considered to be one of the oldest conservation organizations in the nation. TTOR has some real jewels and the Bryant Homestead is one of the jewels. The property contains a small area of old growth and one of the truly great white pines stands in New England. As was introduced to the pines around 1990 by my friend Jack Sobon. We've since monitored the growth of the pines. We have records extending overly nearly 20 years. Unfortunately, the pines were hit pretty hard by last winter's ice storm, but though many limbs were lost, the big trees survived. It will take a few years to heal the wounds, but I have faith. The Bryant pines get pummeled every few years, but continue to grow.

As we started down the Rivulet Trail, a hobble bush caught my eye. The image below shows the bright green leaves and snowy white flowers - a sure sight of the progression of spring. Soon the hobble bush and other shrubs and deciduous trees will complete leaf out and the canopy will close and tree measuring season will end. Realizing that, I needed to take full advantage of the opportunity to take some last measurements of the tall pines while I could still see their tops. But first, the flowers were demanding my attention.


A treat for any visit to the Bryant woods is a chance to commune with the old hemlocks. They, more than any other species carry the theme of old growth and heritage trees for the Homestead. There is presently no adelgid in Bryant so the hemlocks look splendid. The image below shows a group of hemlocks that we've dated to between 230 and 270 years of age. There are many hemlocks over 175 years and I expect a few over 300, but most of the old ones appear to be in the age interval cited above.


The main walking trail on the Bryant property is the Rivulet Trail. For years that was the primary nature trail. However there is now a loop trail off the Rivulet Trail called the Pine Loop Trail. I had the honor of laying it out a number of years ago. I will always be beholding to the Trustrees in following through in acknowledging the value of a pine stand adjacent to the area with the Rivulet Trail and accepting my recommendations. The treasure of the trail is the stand of gargantuan white pines that the trail passes through. There are a number of pines over 11 feet in girth and 3 or 4 over 150 feet in height. At one time, there were 6 over 150, but the winters pare back their crowns. There are many over 10 feet in girth and 140 feet in height. The following image is of a big pine measuring 11.7 feet in girth, but only 120 feet in height, thanks to that miserable ice storm.


A short distance farther, I reached the second of the huge pines at the west end of the property. It measures 13.1 feet in girth and 142.4 feet in girth. I have its trunk volume calculated to be 739 cubic feet. I originally had its girth even more, but using the Will Blozan method for determining girth, I have settled on 13.1 feet. The first of the following two images shows the Patriarch Pine - its new name. The second image shows Gary Beluzo among other big bruisers in the process of photographing the Patriarch.



A short distance from Gary in the preceding image stands a magnificent pine that we both photographed. I think the name Centurion fits that pine. So the Centurion it is. The next two images show Centurion.



Oh yes, Centurion's dimensions. Hmm, now what were they? Oh yes, Girth = 12.0 feet and height = 149.3 feet. That is a higher number than I previously got. The answer apparently lies in last winter's ice storm. It thinned the crown enough for me to hit spots in the crown's interior that I could not previously measure with the laser. Finding the absolute top of tall white pines is a task not for the feint of heart. You often have to climb them. Otherwise you get lucky if measuring from the ground.

I once confirmed 6 white pines in Bryant to over 150. However, the winters do damage. They pare back the crowns of many. What about Bryant's flagship tree? No problem. It came through the ice storm with crown entirely intact. Bryant's tallest pines is appropriately enough, the Bryant Pine. It is shown in the following two images.



Today, I remeasured the Bryant Pine at 156.7 feet in height and 10.3 feet in girth. My last measurement was 156.6, so I'm within the range. It is unquestionablly the tallest tree on the Bryant property and I'm confident on all TTOR properties. Jack Sobon measured it in 1991 with a transit to 149 feet and a few inches.

The big Bryant Pines should not be an exclusive old boy's club. The next image shows the Emily Dickinson Pine (far right) and other trees in the vicinity. It's Emily's family. The Emily Dickinson Pine is one of those that has lost crown due to teh ravages of winter. At one time Will Blozan gt 154 feet for Emily. Now the big tree just exceeds 148 feet. Its girth is 10.8 feet.


Gary and I also measured an impressive pine on the opposite side and down trail from Emily's pine, which we decided to name the Lynn Margulis Pine, in honor of that great scientist who lives on part of the Emily Dickinson property. Lynn was Gary's mentor. Dr. Margulis is one of the truly great scientific thinkers of our time. She was once married to astronomer Carl Sagan. The dimension of Lynn's tree are Girth = 10.6 feet and height = 143.7 feet. Gary took the images.

As a last image, I present a lovely unnamed old yellow birch. There are many old birches on the Bryant property and I expect they are around the same age as the oldest hemlocks. None are exceptionally large or tall, but they have a commanding presence.


by dbhguru
Thu Apr 29, 2010 5:27 pm
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Elders Grove Map


Yesterday DCR District Manager Tim Zelazo and I visited the Elders Grove. I needed to get more data so that I could create a rough stand map. Tim did the photographing, which left me free to measure and calculate. I wanted to insure that the 150s hadn't lost any crown from the winter's snow and ice. Sometimes I feel like a mother hen always checking on the whereabouts and condition of her chicks.

The following map shows the relative positions of the pines in the Elders Grove. I think there is one more - a small pine on the southern border. I'll get to it next visit.


The opportunity also gave Tim a chance to check on the Americorps kids who are rebuilding the trail form Zoar Gap back around Todd Mountain to the lower meadow. The kids were doing a great job.In the future, the Elders Grove will be less anonymous, but is in no danger of receiving too much visitation. The vast majority of visits would likely hardly notice the tall pines. It usually takes trees that are at least 5 feet in diameter to start drawing attention. The pines will likely be appreciated for their grace and symmetry, but mostly as a forest backdrop. It will be left to the ENTS faithful to enjoy them for what they are and represent.

by dbhguru
Sat May 01, 2010 2:04 pm
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Meditations in Cabin #6


Yesterday Monica and I returned from a two-night stay at Cabin #6 in Mohawk Trail State Forest. It was the third time we had stayed at the cabin. However, this trip was to be about communing with the forest - sitting quietly under pine boughs, listening to wind, and soaking it all in. Our visit wasn’t slated to be another tree measuring fest for yours truly. Well, the best-laid plans of mice, men, and tree-measuring fanatics go astray, or so it is said. I can personally attest that lots of pines got measured or re-measured, but what was I to do? I could clearly hear them whispering in my ear: “Measure me, Bob Leverett, measure me. I’m important too.” So, I was yanked back into my usual role. By contrast, Monica held true to the plan. She meditated, gazing up into lofty branches that brushed the sky with each passing breeze. While I spewed numbers, she welcomed the transcendental. She even napped under the Council Pines.

Let me say just a few words about Monica’s connections to the trees. To my immense satisfaction, Monica has bonded with Mohawk and its treasure of exceptional trees. Her recognition of individual tree has grown impressively. She knows them by name, although she hasn’t yet fallen prey to the numbers game, and probably never will. Thinking about it on another level, I think Monica has developed sensitivity to the energy of the trees – an experience that awaits properly attuned souls. It is a human-tree connection that the most inventive descriptions and photographs cannot fully capture, but one that will continue to inspire myth, poetry, and prose. It takes large, mature trees to provide the experience, and Mohawk has plenty of those.

Greeting the place

Shortly after we arrived and got set up in the cabin, Monica asked to go to her private spot nearby. It is a collection of charismatic trees we call the Council Pines that form a circle. Going to the pines has become Monica’s way of connecting to Mohawk and feeling greeted by the forest and its denizens. There is a second way she connects - climbing nearby Thumper Mountain. Thumper is the little mountain with the big heart that presents rocks, mountain laurel, old trees, and a view to visitors organized in ways that speak to Tolkien forms. Thumper Mountain magic is the brief way I think about the gestalt.

After Monica visited the Council Pines, we climbed Thumper and then descended to the gateway, an opening between two large boulders that represents the interface between the worlds of the seen and the unseen. Monica sat in the gateway and completed the reconnection. We were ready to fully experience our third stay in Cabin #6.

The following image shows Monica standing within the circle of the Council Pines.


I think a lot, these days, about how we each relate to the forest. I search for the nuances. Over the years, for me, communing with the pines has become a constant process. When walking among the pines, I’m constantly straining my neck, looking up into the crowns. The patterns that the limbs and branches make against the sky can appear as abstract images, tree art., symmetry and asymmetry merged.

I expect that to my friends, I appear completely focused on my job of measuring and documenting trees. Of course, the measuring is a big part of any trek into inspiring woods. In pursuing the tree measuring, I set priorities for myself, not fully understanding what outcome I’m actually seeking. I seek to rationalize my compulsion. I tell myself that measuring is just my way of communing with a tree. I am honoring a tree by measuring it. It is my equivalent of saying hello, of admiring the beauty of a tree, of acknowledging the job it is doing in the forest. Or as I also tell laughingly myself, it’s in my genes – out of my conscious control. But how is it for others? I can only imagine the effect for any particular person. The question I struggle with is whether connections to the forest are forged entirely in the mind as a response to visual, auditory, and tactile experiences – or is there another dimension to consider? Over the years, I have moved toward a more mystical interpretation.

When approaching a grove of pines, I believe there comes a moment when the visitor enters, for want of a better description, the collective unconscious of the pines – a manifestation of their energy fields. I am constantly snapping images trying to capture the essence of the collective unconscious. For me, the following image communicates the presence of the field. For an upcoming PowerPoint Presentation, I have titled the image “The Three Knights”.


I seem to spend a lot of time these days photographing the soaring trunks of the Mohawk pines. As I have mentioned on other occasions, it is a pursuit I never tire of. But I also turn my attention aloft in search of photographic opportunities. In displaying their lofty crowns, the Pocumtuck Pines reveal their role as overlords of the forest. I am reminded of peacocks spreading their feathers in regal displays.

We of European descent think of the pines as connecting Earth to sky – figuratively speaking. The next image represents my effort at communicating through a two-dimensional image the connection role, a role that progressively develops. From tiny seeds the pines grow into seedlings, then bushy saplings, followed by a human teenage equivalent stage, gangly and awkward. But from these unimpressive beginnings, the monarchs of the New England forest slowly take shape. It takes the better part of a century. Eventually each pine reaches upward to connect the two worlds. Individual trees present themselves in all their finest, befitting the arboreal royalty they represent.


Trek up Hawks Mountain

After a good night’s sleep, we arose to a morning meal of oatmeal, embellished by Monica’s creative mind. We talked about what to do in what promised to be a warm, humid day. Ah, let’s tackle Hawk’s Mountain, I suggested. Hawks is a high ridge in Mohawk that forms part of the eastern border. The name Hawks is for the family that owned land in the area, dating back to the middle 1700s, I think.

Hawks rises from a beginning elevation of 600 feet to a respectable 1,883. The actual start of the hike to the top is at about 675 feet, and it is almost all off trail. The vertical rise of 1,208 feet is no picnic, but no challenge either. The western sides of Hawks were heavily logged and the top was cleared for sheep pasture. The mountain is slowly recovering from the many insults dealt it by the European settlers of the area, who knew only of methods brought over from England, Scotland, and Ireland.

The next image provides a look at Hawks from Todd Mountain. Hawks is the big ridge on the horizon.


The route I chose took us along a delightful stream named Trout Brook. Monica is first and foremost a water person. Get her near water and she’s happy. She was delighted to listen the music of the brook. We stopped at a couple of spots along Trout Brook that for us are idyllic. The following two images show the spots.



I wish I could paint an elfin image of the rest of our trek to the top of Hawks Mountain, but it is more a tale of battling forest gremlins. The black flies had decided that old Bob had come for lunch, their lunch, and I spent the entire climb up and back down swatting and cursing. The flies did swarm around Monica, but left her fairly blemish free. They decided my blood was to their taste and I forced me to do my duty and donate about half a pint. I hate black flies!

One sight did cause me to momentarily stop my swatting and take a photograph. It was of a beautiful hemlock, perhaps 175 years old. Its dimensions are respectable: height = 120.7 feet and girth = 8.9 feet. It is part of a grove of attractive hemlocks that appear to be in prime condition. The following image shows the Tsuga beauty with another beauty – Monica.


Back to measuring

Once back at the cabin, I set out to catch up with my measuring. I launched into my work with fiendish determination, and guess what? I confirmed another 150-foot white pine, bringing the count for the Pocumtucks up to 18. I once thought there to be less than 12. The slender new 150 is hardly noticeable. Its girth is a skinny 6.3 feet. But once I looked up and contemplated what I was seeing as a vertical distance, I set about getting an acceptable measurement, made all the more difficult by the bright green leaves of the understory striped maples. And the closeness of competing pines. I finally settled on 150.8 feet for the thin tree. That makes number 106 for Mohawk before the growing season gets fully under way. I also measured several new 140s – new in the sense that I had not previously recorded their heights. There are so many, that measuring them all is not in the cards. However, one tree impressed me mightily, but not for either its height or girth – rather its height to diameter ratio. The tree measures 145.5 feet in height and 4.5 feet in girth. That gives it a height to diameter ratio of 101.6 to 1, the highest I’ve gotten for a pine in Massachusetts. I am still amazed at a white pine, so skinny, getting so tall.

The storm hits

While I measured, Monica decided to take a nap, but not in the cabin. She chose to go to the Council Grove and nap under the Council Pines. It was what reveries are made of, but hers was suddenly interrupted when we received notice of a quick moving storm descending on the area. High winds and torrential rains were predicted – not a safe place to be. So we jumped in our new Subaru Forester and headed for the Charlemont Inn to wait out the storm. Now here is a bit of information, I doubt many readers are aware of. Hot fudge sundaes are known in these parts as antidotes for severe thunderstorms. So we eagerly applied the remedy. In short order, the winds died, the rains ceased, and the sun reappeared. The storm was over as quickly as it had began and we headed back fearful that some of our pine friends had not faired well. But there they were, standing tall. They had taken what the tempest had tossed and had only dropped a limb here or there. Our beauties were dripping with fresh raindrops, needles glistening in the sun, which was peeping through large, billowing clouds. The pines would continue dispensing their forest elixir. All was well.

Around the campfire

But the passage of the storm had put a chill in the air. Monica requested a fire. That was my job. So I suspended tree measuring and busied myself making one for her. I had made one the evening before, and she was pleased with it. You see, Monica loves to sit before a campfire and either read or watch the flames do their dance. Flames are hypnotic for most of us, but Monica takes it further. She has learned to use flames as instruments of deep relaxation and meditation. It is the secret of one classical pianist, and it works.

The next three images show Monica and the fires I built for her at Cabin #6. The first image shows her through a curtain of smoke in fading light. Yes, I hear all of you saying: “great combination, Bob! Where did you learn photography?” Hmm, well, not at the hands of any professional who I can recall. The second image shows the same fire and Monica, minus the cloud of smoke. It takes me time to figure out how to do things right, but eventually I get there. The third image was taken in fading light and through the pines. A contemplative Monica bows her head. She has become one with the forest. I can only imagine her conversation with the pines, one carried on through the haunting sounds of flickering flames, and the rustle of needles, caressed by a linger breezes in the aftermath of the tempest.

And this was the way it was on our third visit to Cabin #6 beneath the Pocumtuck Pines in Mohawk Trail State Forest. Monica deepened her connection to and respect for the great whites. But there is one remaining short chapter.

After our return, to Cabin #6, Monica was visibly worried about the Americorp kids working on Mohawk’s trails. One of the Americorp crew is named Molly , who happens to be one of Monica’s piano students. Suddenly Molly walked up to pay us a visit. She had a wide smile on her face and I listened as they talked about piano lessons, techniques, practicing that a serious piano student must commit to. I silently slipped back into the green, content that all was well and that I needed to be about my work.

Shortly, Monica called to me to come and give Molly a brief explanation of what the Mohawk pines represented and a few facts about the old Mohawk Indian Trail. Brief explanations are not what I’m good at. Now, prolonged ones saturated with numeric information is another matter, but not wanting to break the spell of the moment, I restrained myself. Molly was visibly happy to know that the trail she was working on was so distinguished and that so much colorful history occurred along the trail corridor. My explanation, Monica’s contributions, and Molly’s appreciative ear were all witnessed by the standing ones, which looked wisely down on us. Their ancestors had witnessed the events of an earlier era. Now, somehow, I believe the imprints left by those early events are reproduced in the long, evening shadows of the tall pines that watch over Cabin #6.



by dbhguru
Thu May 06, 2010 3:52 pm
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A return to Cabin #6


Yesterday, I returned to MTSF, visiting Cabin #6 and remeasuring the Cabin Pine. It stands in front of and a short distance down the hill from the cabin. I had measured it prior to the recent batch of snowstorms. The following image shows the crown of the pine. Snapshot 2010-03-11 18-24-36.jpg . In the image, you can see three tops. The one on the left is the highest. It is somewhere between 154.0 and 155.0 feet. I am showing the height as 154.8 feet, which is my latest measurement. The sprig looks to the the lowest of the three. It is more distant. The middle spring is about 153 feet and the right most is slightly over 151. The image illustrtaes the value of the sine top - sine bottom method.

by dbhguru
Fri Mar 12, 2010 2:10 pm
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One picture is worth .....


Today while in the Shunpike area of MTSF, I decided to remeasure a white ash I keep track of. It has several candidate tops. While searching for the highest one, it occurred to me that the ash would be a good tree to illustrate the futility of trying to accurately measure such a tree with clinometer and tape measure. While we had these conversations on the previous email list, it occurs to me that new members may be in the dark on the topic. So, I thought I'd bring up the topic again.

In the image below, 5 tops are highlighted with arrows. Each top is a candidate for being the tallest sprig of the ash. The straight-line distances to the tops identified by the arrows, from left to right, are: 51.5, 55.0, 50.0, 52.0, 54.0 yards respectively. I could have drawn at least 2 more arrows, one being to the far left. But the sprig to the far left is the same distance as the one just at the left arrow. There are several tops in the cluster to the the far right. The 54-yard bounce was the greatest distance I got out of the cluster.


In calculating height by the tangent method, were I to go with the sprig that registers the highest angle, I would set the angle of the top at 41.8 degrees. The level distance to the trunk is 131.3 feet. Using this angle and trunk distance, the tangent-based height above eye level is 117.4 feet. The height from eye level to the base is 15.0 feet for a total tree height of 132.3 feet as determined by the tangent method.

Using the distance of 55.0 yards straight-line distance to the target at an angle of 41.6 degrees yields 109.5 feet above eye level, the highest vertical distance for the marked sprigs. The distance below eye level is 15.0 feet, for a total sine-based height determination of 124.5 feet. The error incurred following the tangent-based determination is 7.7 feet.

At the distance the measurer must be to see the candidate tops of the ash, the eye can't discern which sprig is horizontally closer to the measurer. Basically, they look the same. So, it is reasonable to go with the sprig at the highest angle. Moving closer to the ash, the measurer completely looses sight of the tops, so trying to compensate for crown-point offset is futile, by moving closer to gain a better perspective.

The measurement error of 7.7 feet incurred by using the tangent method is not staggering, but that is because I was positioned 131.3 feet horizontal distance from the trunk. Had I moved closer to a distance of 100 feet, outward projecting limbs would have intercepted my line of sight and shooting to the highest appearing point would have introduced even more error. I would guess at least 12 feet, if not more. The tangent method could not be effectively applied in the situation I describe here. In the coming months, I'll do more comparisons with images and diagrams.

One of the beautiful trees in the Shunpike area is a slender black cherry. I have named it Cherishable Cherry. It is between 112 and 114 feet tall, as best as I can determine. There may be a higher top, but making that determination would have required much more time that I had. The following image looks up the trunk.


by dbhguru
Sun May 09, 2010 6:03 pm
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