Friday, May 25, 2007

The Tree of Life

The trees of Moose Hill have so much to offer. They provide food and shelter for the creatures that live there and for those who pass through. They can also protect a wandering spirit and sometimes even share a story.

On several of my visits over the past year I’ve found myself focusing on a single tree, such as the black gum that offered its ripe October fruits to robins or the broken ash tree that reminded me of a damaged soul. There was that little pine that sat patiently in the shade of its elders, waiting for its chance that may never come. The cucumber tree that reminded me of my first dendrology class transported me to idealistic and optimistic times. I found another special tree that is appreciated by many – people and birds alike.

Weather permitting, I’ve been taking my breakfast on Moose Hill before work a couple of times a week lately, trying to let the spring bird migration wash over me. One of my favorite spots to sit is a nice, flat-topped rock right near the old Billings barn. I like this spot for so many reasons: It is close to the sanctuary parking lot and I can be there in five minutes. I like to sit there and imagine life on the farm in simpler times. The old barn, the new but rustic tractor shed, the stone walls, the big old maple trees, the surrounding fields all combine to create a picturesque rural scene that makes me wish I could paint or draw.

This area also has a wide variety of habitats that all come together near the barn. The barn itself offers old rafters for the phoebe that can always be seen there. Birds of the deep woods can be heard singing in the forest behind the barn. There are all kinds of brushy edges and tangles that attract towhees and catbirds. The old field across the road has nesting boxes for bluebirds and tree swallows and provides a stage for dancing woodcock. Below the field is a maple swamp that must harbor unique birds along with the frogs and peepers that call from there. I can usually count on seeing chipping sparrows in the old gravel road and orioles in the maples that border it. In an overgrown field behind the barn, last week I saw my first indigo bunting in a very long time.

Just across the drive from the barn door is a big old apple tree. I’ve noticed and admired this tree several times before, but after a birder I met a couple of weeks ago told me it is a well-know bird magnet, I started paying more attention. There are two apples, really, a large old tree and a smaller one right in front of it. The big old apple is about 40 feet tall and that much around. I went there last Tuesday morning specifically to sit by the apple trees and watch the action. The foliage was dense, but on closer inspection, the leaves were peppered with holes from the caterpillars that draw the birds.

I sat down on my rack and settled in for breakfast and entertainment Moose Hill style. A red-eyed vireo, recently arrived, was singing from the top of a near-by maple. High up. Way up. Tree top. This bird is often heard, but less frequently seen hidden in the dense foliage high in hardwood trees. At first, it was good to hear his arboreal serenade, but these cheery busybodies never seem to shut up, and soon enough I was wishing he would be quiet so could hear something else. A movement under the big apple caught my eye and I got up to see what it was. The ground under the tree is quite open and I watched as a wood thrush – my first of the year – hopped around robin-like. After a while, he retired to the forest to play his lovely flute.

During my short stay, many birds visited the old apple. Many of them were regulars such as the phoebe, catbirds, chipping sparrows and chickadees. The only warbler I could identify on this day was the black-throated green thanks to a quick glimpse of his distinctive facial features and his zee zee zee zoo zee song. A few other small birds were there, but I couldn’t get a clear view as they moved steadily through the thick leaves.

My breakfast was finished, a few raindrops began to fall, and even I needed to get some work done. I took a last look at the old apple as a few of the blossom petals drifted to the ground like fat snowflakes. I wondered if this tree or its predecessors nourished the farmer that once worked this land. Perhaps it was planted by a Johnny Appleseed-like character intending to provide fruit for cider. Little did he know he would be supplying a very different sort of intoxication, but one no less valued, for those who came here from a time and place very far away.

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At 12:55 PM, Blogger Lynne said...

My life has gotten so hectic in the las few weeks. I was thrilled to see you had a new post, and as I expected, you took me away from it all. I'll be back to reread this post when I need a quick pick-me-up. You write for all of the senses- it's such a treat. Again, thank you for sharing your trips to Moose Hill.

At 1:38 PM, Blogger Larry said...

I can almost visualize being there.-it does sound intoxicating-Oh what the heck-I'd have one glass of cider too.

At 7:32 PM, Blogger CabinWriter-- said...

Why do I feel so peaceful after reading your entries? I look forward to each one.

At 10:42 PM, Blogger MojoMan said...

Thanks Lynne, Larry and Vivian. Every time I visit Moose Hill the mingled feelings of anticipation and calm settle over me like a blanket of peace. I'm glad you seem to understand that. I'm sure that's because you have similar feelings of your own. I'm sure not everyone gets it.


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