Tag Archives: trees

Not succumbing-Reddy Branch

I went to the woods today for the same reason I often do. To clear my mind, to be alone, to be free, for a moment or two, from the politics of work and the need to be something for others. My son did not join me today, and for today at least, I was thankful. For today I needed to be alone as I had just made a work related decision that had me choose pragmatism over idealism. It was a difficult decision and one that does not sit well. As these blogs are about the woods, I will not pollute them by bringing up this compromise that will likely send me there even more.

Today, the woods presented, at first, little solace. Lush with new growth of bittersweet, ivy, honeysuckle, and rose, my work from two weeks ago seemed to be for naught. More tilting at windmills and, today, I did not have my Sancho at my side.

Below is the picture I took on April 17, ten days ago, after clearing this patch which is in front of the big maple and the line of hollies. Hopefully you see how the right is cleared and the left is still cluttered with invasives.


The photo below  is what greeted me today, April 27. Lush and full. There was some difference between the right and left. I have to admit that I stood for a minute, surveying the scene, asking myself what I was hoping to accomplish. Acres of rose and other invasives greeted my gaze. But, how could I quit? Walk away? I had started this mad quest-if I quit now, it will all be in vain. At least here, I could lay better claim to be the master of my fate and the captain of my soul

I lost myself for an hour clearing this spot, again. What is possessing me to do this work? How am I ever going to get these woods to where they need to be, I have no idea. This ground possesses me now. I am too stubborn to give up. So, I worked. First, I pulled all the bittersweet-little vines of little more than a foot or two in length. Hundreds of little honeysuckle shoots, already climbing up the saplings, each other, and anything else that is vertical. Pure grip. No Pulaskis, no loppers. Just pulling. My fingers are raw and swollen now as I type. Next, the rose. Little more than stumps and scraggly bushes, I finish what I had started last time-digging with the Pulaski. I checked several times. I hope that I got them all.







I know I am not done. But two the photos that follow are my hope that this work is not in vain. There are other saplings. I am working to identify them. I do think that they are blackhaw and ash.


If I am correct, this is a young dogwood; there is a larger specimen nearby and several smaller ones of this size. With most of the ivy pulled (you can see some on the left) and most of the honeysuckle (you can see some next to the ivy in the upper right corner) this sapling may just have a chance.


And this is an oak sapling. I believe this is a black oak.

After this work, knowing I would not yet be missed at home, I walked up to the ridge to check on its progress and to tear out two privet bushes I had previously left for another day.

I found this beautiful little sassafras tree growing right next to the privet. Now it has some more room.


I finished my work tired and with aching hands, ready for dinner and an evening with my books. I had forgotten about my day and its demands. These woods ask nothing of me and, for that, I return to give more. There are no politics here.

Reddy Branch-dogwoods

I continue to learn more about these woods as we move deeper into the verdant spring.

My son and I returned to the hill and ridge line by the hollies, seeking to finish what we had started over the winter-clearing the hillside and opening it to native growth.

It was easy to find a focus this morning as the dogwood, Cornus florida, are in full bloom, the white flowers bright against the grays of the larger trees and the green of the rose. It is gratifying to find something native and to clear the invasive plants away from it. After an hour or two of work,

Like with the spicebush, which is now moving from yellow blossom to leaf, the dogwood, a native tree, became the target of our ongoing rescue mission. This simple tree, common throughout the Eastern United States, is, along with the eastern redbud, a harbinger of spring. I have found no redbud in these woods; another hope-perhaps with more clearing, these common trees will find their way here.


As we worked through another enormous hedge of intertwined rose, we uncovered nearly twenty ash saplings, at this point, little more than three foot long sticks crowned with quarter inch leaves. This evidence of new growth under such battered older growth (as you can see in the pictures, there are many down trees and broken branches) gave us more of a desire to not only cut the rose down but to take the time and energy to pull roots as well. Seeing young ash trees is especially heartening as the county park system has justifiably felt the need to cut down larger specimens due to infestations of the emerald ash borer which is destroying ash trees throughout the Eastern United States, endangering millions of trees and striking yet another blow against the biodiversity and health of the forests. It is imperative that there be a young generation of trees ready to replace the old.

I attempted to take pictures of the young ash leaves but either my skill or my camera does not allow for focused close-ups. I will be working on that this year. There is so much to the minutiae of the forest. I cannot capture adequately the endless details that speak the language of the forest.

Unwilling to leave, I returned to where we had cut over the winter and found the floor of the forest full of regrowing rose that had not been pulled. Alas, this is the consequence for simply cutting and not pulling. I am confident that if I left this rose alone, I would return in the winter to find that it had sent forth three or more feet of growth over the summer. I did not; while my son returned to the car, I swung the Pulaski a few more times, digging out another half dozen roots.


I am determined to see this quarter acre become the nucleus of the forest reborn, so I will be revisiting it after I work on other areas, giving it at least a few minutes during each of my visits. Many of the small gray saplings in this photo are ash. That is more rose under the broken cherry tree. To the left, on the large oak, is dead English ivy.


I do not know if this maple in the picture below was growing last year or if its growth is the result of the rose no longer impeding sunlight and taking nutrients. But this photo captures the hope and promise of our work. This tiny sapling is already in full leaf and will, if the deer do not browse it, have a good chance of growth this year. That is Japanese honeysuckle that will need to be pulled before too much longer. Much of the grey you see is rose cut over the winter.


I am eager to return.


Reddy Branch-sweeping my mind clear of invasives

Yesterday, I cleared a small piece of Reddy Branch and managed, in the process, to clear my mind.


I followed my usual process.

The tree branches were the first to be tossed aside, to be hidden from view behind the old maple. All that wasted time, money, and gas driving to that meeting which could have been a webinar. Done-no longer a source of stress. Lets move on to tougher stuff.

Now, the rose, not overwhelming here. Bounded by the trail and the holly, this patch could be trimmed to the ground, pulled out by the root. Only got pricked a few times. How gratifying to cut the long, barbed stalks down to inches that will become little more than harmless litter on the forest floor.  Done in an hour. Like waiting for others to make a decision. Budgets have been cut but students still need help over the summer. Who’s going to pay? Got a teacher waiting to fill a class, waiting to know if there will be a paycheck this summer. Done. I’ve communicated. I have to wait for other people to make their decisions. No longer my problem.

The ivy and honeysuckle need to go. Standardized, computer-based testing. More than eight hours of meaningful instruction lost to the banalities of another test pilot and students unfocused and tired by the time they get to class. This work will take a little while longer. You see, you have to bend at the waist and pull from the ground to get out the ivy and honeysuckle. The ivy will root every few inches, the honeysuckle will set a root in one spot. The leaves have to be brushed aside to find that spot that will allow you to pull. This area was around 500 sq. feet-manageable. And, then I got the gratification of holding yardage of vine in my hand, freed soil beneath my feet and a mind cleared, for a time, from all of the intrusions of another day.

I went home to make dinner for my family and time for them to remove the invasives of their day, the exams, the meetings, the uncompleted frustrations.

I looked forward to it.


Reddy Branch-a few days after the snow

I got in several days of work on the hillside before the snow came on Tuesday, part of the big Nor’easter. My goal was to continue to knock down the multi-flora rose, open up space for the small hollys, and create a five foot circumference around the bigger trees.

After the 3-14 snow_0474

I went out today, freed from meetings and appointments, looking forward to taking pictures of the snow and ice in the late afternoon sun. And continue to learn to use my borrowed camera.

I was hoping that the snow had knocked down all of the cuttings and remaining pieces of rose, helping me envision what the forest floor might look like in a few years as I continue to clear.

There was too little snow and still too much rose for me to get a shot of a nice, white blank canvas. But the big trees are definitely clear of clutter.

The fields up at the top of the ridge certainly provided wide open clarity.

After the 3-14 snow_0444

After the 3-14 snow_0487_edited-1after-the-3-14-snow_0491_edited-1.jpg

I keep trying to capture the immensity of this maple up on top. Still working on that.

After the 3-14 snow_0453

The creek down at the bottom of the trail, on the way to the twin oaks, was frozen over and I had to go cross country as the trail down to the creek was a sheet of ice; being in the shade, it was too hard for me to smash a toehold. Played around with the light on the ice.


I’ll continue to  work and enjoy the simple pleasures of Reddy Branch. I am looking forward to the spring to see what delights the forest offers.






I have been avoiding the news, again, occasionally glancing at the New York Times and the Economist to be aware of the more significant happenings. But I will not watch the news-I cannot contribute to the Orwellian personality cult that has become my country.

There is finer sustenance at my table than the latest spew from the pumpkin man with daddy issues.

I went to the mountains this past weekend. I went despite the weather forecast of ice, wind, and snow. But, my wife would say that I never heed the forecast for what is considered “bad” weather. It seems that my twenty plus years of backpacking stories are full of ice storms, snow, torrential rain, and  hip deep mud.

I went because I had to-the mountains were calling and I had to go. To be more precise, the hemlocks offered me their rich, loamy embrace and I found myself lonely without them.


Norman Maclean wrote, in his novel, A River Runs Through It, “I am haunted by rivers” as he describes fly fishing and the truth found in the waters of western Montana.

As any of my hiking companions can tell you, I am haunted by hemlocks. I search for them along the mountain streams and in the shady hollows. I appraise the health of the smaller ones, looking for signs of the adelgid that annihilated some of the best memories of my childhood. I proclaim, with desperate hope, as I examine one small tree, that this particular specimen looks, “okay.” I quietly weep when I hike the Cedar Run trail in the Shenandoah where all of the giants are felled-the trail along the creek is littered with the immense carcasses of the once towering hemlocks. Briars have replaced what was once a cool, moist, dark forest floor. I follow the news of replantings and of scientific studies into ways to combat the killer, the wooly adelgid from Asia. (The United States Forest Service has some excellent resources.)

But all of this work just brings me more sadness. I know that all of these attempts are good and coming from the best of intentions; but what is left of the wild? This is just another example of manufacturing wilderness. So much has been altered and destroyed either by malice or neglect that man must intervene to save or manage what is left. Where then does one go to escape, for a moment, the teeming multitudes? Even these trees, miles from any trail head, have been tagged and numbered-a nail driven into their bark, a metal disk proclaiming each tree a number. Thankfully, some of these disks are hidden from view. But they are there.

No words or photos of mine have thus far paid sufficient homage to the giants left in relative peace on the side of that mountain in West Virginia. How can one avoid cliche and banality? My solution is to plan another trip. I guess I will need to return with camera and notebook and keep trying.








Reddy Branch Part II-slaying bittersweet

My son and I went a little further south into the younger part of the woods to scout out the work we would ask a crew to help us with. The crew did not materialize, so we started the work on our own. These photos are of bittersweet vines; many of them are 2-4 inches in diameter with root systems that go as much as 4-6 feet into the soil. The bright orange is the sure sign that you have bittersweet. Two hours of work left us tired, and an entire nest of bittersweet, that had drowned three trees and threatened to drown another six, cut, pulled, and destroyed. We refer to these piles of bittersweet as nests due to how many layers can be uncovered. These old vines can become stacked on top of each other, sending roots into the ground from all parts of the vine.

I recognize that these photos are not attractive in the least. I’ve included a photo of the old oaks and the older part of the woods to keep the goal in mind-an open wood free of invasives. You can see in some of the photos how the tree itself becomes twisted due to the strength and weight of the vines.

Some might ask, “why not leave the vines on the trees? These photos look awful!” For now, the forest floor does look bad. If I don’t cut those severed vines into smaller pieces, they will be there for decades. But what will also be there are oak tree that will grow straight and tall, drowning out the light for the vines to grow.

What I could not capture with my camera was the Pileated Woodpecker that swooped over over us, as we finished our work, with his ridiculous call and flaming red head. Perhaps saying “thank you” for making sure he has plenty of tall, old trees to find his lunch?

From the looks of it-no snow, warming temps, and emerging buds, spring is going to be early this year. I hope to be able to post some photos from these woods that show some of spring’s beauty.

I am a fall and winter visitor to these woods, usually leaving when the warmer breezes arrive. This year may find me working later in the spring. I will keep updating and I hope you will keep visiting.

And I hope that you too have found worthwhile work that fills your hours.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

White Oak Canyon

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

If you ever find yourself in the Washington D.C. area and have in interest in mountains and waterfalls, you may want to wander over to the Shenandoah National Park, a relatively easy two hour drive from downtown. Shenandoah National Park is known for Skyline Drive, which follows the ridgeline of the mountain. Access to the amenities and most of the trails can be found here. The park is also known for its wildlife, especially bears, and for its waterfalls. You can access some trails from down below. Be sure to have a map. You’ll be winding through country roads and farm lanes to find the trailheads.

You can’t go wrong checking out White Oak Canyon and Cedar Run. Any time of year you’ll find  water. You’ll likely find wildflowers in the spring, swimming holes in the summer, changing leaves in the fall, and ice and snow in the winter.

The towering hemlock are gone, taking away shade in the summer and green in the winter, but the rocks and the mountains are still there.

It was a misty day, wetter as we climbed higher.

I hope these few pictures give you an idea of what you might find in a beautiful national park.