Reading the Forest

Onebeechhillsep16-2 Saturday in September we decided to attend a guided walk hosted by the local land trust. Our guide for this outing would take us up the forested side of Beech Hill, discussing how to interpret the history of the area through clues of the landscape.  Along the way he referenced two books by Tom Wessels; The Forested Landscape and Forest Forensics.

Our first stop was an area consisting mostly of young sugar maples, with one lone massive oak tree nearby. According to our guide, the single oak tree and its size indicated that at one time this area was an open space, a pasture perhaps with the oak tree providing shade for farm animals. I’m afraid I couldn’t tell you much about the sugar maples for my mind began to wander. Seems to happen when things get too technical for me. At this point, I started to study the area around me and was attracted to a small seed pod, like a dandelion puff, stuck to a log at my feet. While the conversation droned on, I was mesmerized by the beautybeechhillsep16-1 of that intricate spidery form below me. I was brought back into the group as an arborist in our group was estimating the age of the oak, as well as the maple grove, confirming that this area was clear at one time.

We stopped at a stone wall, where we learned that the large trees near the wall were left as “border” or boundary trees. Here, we learned that if you studied the area around the wall, you would find a hollow and piles of small stones against the wall. If beechhillsep16-3I remember correctly, this indicated that the smaller stones in the field were pushed against the wall, by a plow leaving the hollow nearby.

Our guide then led us down a side trail towards the only wet spot left after this dry summer. The fact that this pond was here could only be the result of a spring, and indeed our leader pointed out the source that was feeding this small pond. One of the members of the land trust who had joined this walk, pointed out that this side trail was a “social trail” and beechhillsep16-4not sanctioned by the land trust. In other words, they wanted this pond to stay protected for the wildlife seeking refreshment.

Nearing the section of this loop trail that would return the group to the parking lot, most of our fellow travelers decided to finish the walk there while a few of us continued on up to Beech Nut House at the top of the hill. From here, the path became very overgrown and we had to push our way through flowers and hedges that were taller than anyone in the group. In addition to fighting the vegetation, we crossed two bog bridges that were nearly rotten. Finally, we emerged on a ledge and I admired the view while a geologist in our group talked about the ledge and pointed outbeechhillsep16-5 glacial markings.

Shortly after this brief stop, we reached the top of  Beech Hill and the beautiful Beech Nut House. What was left of our group listened to a docent talk about the history of this small, stone cottage before wandering around the top of the hill to admire the house and the views. I looked out over the water and noted the clouds of an incoming front that would bring rain later that evening. Shortly after this observation we headed back through overgrown trail and completed the loop back to the car.




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