Ever since we moved to Cranberry Lake five years ago, I have been promising myself that I will catalogue, as far as possible, the trees on our 2.25 acres of land. For a British immigrant of twelve years, I’m surprisingly good at recognizing birds, animals and wildflowers despite an English country childhood in a very different ecological environment. But I don’t feel I know my Ontario trees quite so well and I am amazed by the diversity I see around us. I am embracing 2021 as the year of the trees!
i-naturalist – a useful tool
Back in December 2020 Dog & Cranberry Lakes Association offered a helpful webinar on how to use i-naturalist. This prompted me to create a project (The House at Turtle Pond · iNaturalist) where I am gathering together all our observations of the incredible variety of life around us. My experience has been that this has further sharpened my ‘seeing’ and boosted my knowledge. Be warned, though, that contributing to i-naturalist can be addictive! I felt that this was a tool that might provide me with way of bringing together what I discover about our trees as well as assisting me in identifying them.
As the deep cold of winter began to wane, I thought I’d start by looking at some of our evergreens. In all honesty, I’m finding it a lot harder than I imagined to arrive at definitive identifications. Who knew that there are so many different varieties of Pine, Spruce, Fir, and Cedar?! And the same is true of the deciduous trees. It’s a little overwhelming!
One of the issues I have found is that, to have confidence in your classification of a tree, it is helpful to be able to bring together observations from the different stages of the annual cycle. Unfortunately, i-naturalist doesn’t facilitate this. So, I have created a spreadsheet where I can record flower, leaf, seed, bark, and overall shape of tree as well as seasonal shifts. I also have started a simple list on this blog under Rural Life – Trees and Shrubs at the House at Turtle Pond.
Although i-naturalist can point me in the right direction or occasionally confirm something I’m already reasonably sure about, in many cases I am going to have to turn to books and additional online resources. What I really need, once we have a little more freedom to interact, is a local expert. Are there any volunteers out there, I wonder?
If my ability to catalogue our trees is, as yet, still somewhat limited, my awareness has shifted significantly.
I have become conscious that, in an area where water is all around us – constantly changing, taking our breath away on a daily basis – it is easy to relegate the incredible beauty of the woods to a supporting role. Yet looking at our photos it struck me that, if the lake is the backdrop to our lives, the trees provide the framing.
Never, until this year’s slow sidle into Spring, have I realized quite how beautiful is the flowering of the trees! It’s easy to be uplifted by the obvious blossoming of Cherry trees, Magnolia or Serviceberry. But, perhaps because so much of the action takes place far above our heads, I think many of us miss the delicate beauty of the blooms of Maple and Basswood, Oak and Elm, Willow and Birch; tiny explosions of colour, curled catkins, soft Pussy-Willow puffs!
We are barely into the growing months of the year and already there is a deepening intimacy in my relationship with trees that will only increase with the shifting seasons. I can’t wait to make the connections between flower, fruit and leaf, to witness the greening with newly heightened senses, then later the florid fullness of Fall.
I’m reminded that, when we choose to focus in a specific direction, there is invariably a richness to be discovered that, once found, will never wholly be lost.
As we moved to this beautiful place, I was startled by the unexpected strength of a sense not of ownership but of stewardship of the land; of a deep love and great desire to do right by it and by all the beings with which we share it. This sense of responsibility underpins my life here. There are many ways in which we try to put this into action, including supplementary planting of native species, particularly those supportive to pollinators and wildlife.
As part of this, we have tried to make sure we plant at least a few trees and shrubs each year. After less than stellar attempts amid last year’s uncertainties, we have big plans for 2021. We will be adding to an existing grove of White Pine with seedlings courtesy of the DCLA 2021 Spring Tree Sale. (There will be further availability in the Fall – keep an eye open for mailings to get your order in!)
Having struggled for the last few years to find a relatively local source for a wide range of native plants, I was like a kid in a candy shop when I discovered Natural Themes Native Plant Nursery in Frankford. My order, to be picked up in the latter part of May, includes eight native species of trees and shrubs. We have more Serviceberry in our woods than I had realized, but all our other purchases are supplementary to what is already here.
I am writing this on Earth Day 2021. At a time when many of us have moments when we feel as if it is difficult to breathe, how apt it seems to focus on appreciating the trees that are often described as Earth’s lungs.
A friend recently asked what the motivation is to plant trees knowing you will never see them reach maturity. There are so many good, practical ecological reasons. More than that, though, I think that every tree you plant is a statement of hope, of belief in a future in which you will no longer play a part and an act of love for the planet and future generations.
Gina Bearne, April 2021 – originally written for the Dog and Cranberry Lakes Association Newsletter, Summer 2021 (well worth reading), though with some additional photos added for my blog.