A forest is for rest. Sitting in the circle surrounded by many “treeful” companions, I’m lucky that the trees around me, aren’t just trees, they are familiar parts of my own history, my own story, and my deep love of the natural world. During my youth, I misspelled forest…”forrest”, for rest. The forest has always been a restful place for me. A place where the windows of the world opened to reveal secrets from the wild side.
Plants also provide a bridge into the rest of nature. When I slow down enough to notice a particular tree, or a leaf, perhaps taking in its fragrance or texture, that’s when I discover the strangest caterpillar I’ve ever seen, or a birds nest hiding in the thicket. It’s in such moments of delight and discovery that real communion is possible.
Learning the names of the trees or any plants and animals, shouldn’t be about acquiring a store of “nickel knowledge” but about delving into some of the stories and mysteries woven into the fabric of wild communities. Such knowledge not only helps develop a sense of kinship, but leads to greater understanding, that can have ecological as well as economical significance.
Take this mature wild black cherry (Prunus serotina), which I recognize even when the leaves are too high to see because its bark reminds me of burnt potato chips. The leaves serve as a host of the eastern tent caterpillar, and the caterpillar droppings, or frass, has been linked to aborted foals in the horse racing industry (I’ll cover this in a future blog). Livestock owners who have wild cherry on their property must be vigilant about removing any fallen trees or limbs because as its foliage wilts, cyanide is released making it dangerous for domestic animals who may be tempted to eat it. The rich reddish brown wood of black cherry is prized for cabinets, fine crafted furniture, veneers, paneling, and assorted tools and crafts. The dark red fruit which turns black when fully ripe are eaten by many species of birds, including the American robin, gray catbird, brown thrasher, and the northern cardinal, as well as mammals such as, the red fox, raccoon, opossum, and gray squirrel.
Join me next week as we continue to explore the Bent Twig Trail looking for stories hidden in the Bernheim landscape.
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