Friday, November 11, 2011

Red Maple Trunks (oil on canvas 5 x 7 in.) Sold

24 October 2011 finds me sitting at the base of a huge old, many-trunked Maple in a grown over fencerow in the woods, near the Sand Road Maple Farm, south of Moose Creek, Ontario. The mossy log that was one of its fallen branches stretches toward me and everything is being sprinkled with falling Maple leaves. Behind me stand several ancient White Pines, all gnarly and some fork-trunked, old pasture trees that grew up twisted because of White Pine Weevil. The pines and this maple flourished, thick- trunked and full-crowned in the open during decades of agricultural use of the ground, as we can see from the branching close to the ground.
The tree I am painting splays its grand cluster of trunks tall and now mostly leafless against the autumn evening sky. Little Balsam Fir grow here among the ferns and clubmosses. There are a few leaves of the Yellow Violet and a single Pyrola spray, which are the only proper forest floor herbs or sub-shrubs. There's Vitis riparia (Frost Grape) cabled up into the canopy of the larger Maples, and fallen bunches of Grapes lying on the forest floor, perhaps cut by Red Squirrels. Perhaps they feel safer chewing up the Grapes on the forest floor than up in the canopy where hawks might see them. The Birches here are fallen and rotten, having given way to the succession of more shade tolerant trees, but on the other side of the old fencerow the woods have the close texture of a coat of hair, as young Maples shoot up narrowly among the already narrow Birches.

Fred found one 25 cm Common Buckthorn, and many Cherry bushes all distorted by Whitetail Deer browsing, as well as White Pine seedlings that also look stunted or browsed back. As I paint, he moves back and forth, in and out of view among the trees, carefully turning logs and collecting centipedes and sow bugs, but no salamanders. Undertaking his standard search for Eastern Redback Salamanders, he turns 100 pieces of cover within a 100 metre area. Before it's too dark to see, he has checked under 84 logs, ranging from long-dead to falling-apart rotten, but he finds no Salamanders or slugs or snails, and only a few Centipedes, Millipedes, and Earthworms. When land has been grazed, the soft forest floor which is naturally full of holes from rotted away roots and punky remains of logs buried in deep leaf litter becomes trampled and compacted. The soil is compressed, leaving no access to underground spaces for salamanders to hibernate below frost level.

All afternoon we've been hearing the local birds, who will stay here for the winter - Blackcap Chickadee, Blue Jay, and Robin. Red Squirrels chirrrr and, a Spring Peeper practices a few territorial peeps. A male Wood Frog hops past, heading for a safe spot to freeze solid for the winter.
As we leave, there's Branta canadensis (Canada Goose) going over or around in various flocks (provoking discussion of how many Geese can be covered by a "gaggle" and whether the proper collective for these huge migratory flocks shouldn't be "clamour"?), with a sky-filling low overflight at 18h00.

2 comments:

  1. I like the word they use for geese flying in formation: "a skein of geese" sounds, to me, just lovely.
    I always enjoy seeing your paintings and reading your commentary, Aleta. I always learn something new. This time I simply had to look up "wood frogs" to find out how they survive being frozen alive. Amazing!

    Kay, Alberta, Canada
    An Unfittie’s Guide to Adventurous Travel

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  2. One of the first things we look for in any woodland are the invasive Buckthorn shrubs, Rhamnus cathartica (Cathartic, European or Common, Buckthorn), and Rhamnus frangula (Frangulous, Glossy, Smooth, Alder, Columnar, Tallhedge, European, Black, or Shining Buckthorn, often called Frangula alnus in contemporary taxonomies that elevate the Rhamnus subgenera to generic status). Here we've seen only a few plants of each species, but in many woods in Grenville County and around Ottawa dense stands of one or both species really reduce the habitat and growth of forest floor herbs and tree regeneration. They have no significant herbivores, and their foliage stays green and intact late into the fall. The only control method is slashing, pulling, or poisoning of individual plants, and we look forward to some Insect herbivore evolving a tolerance for these species, and chewing them into the background.

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