Friday, November 18, 2005

Golden November

You might think that late October and early November is a bleak season in the U.P., after the leaves have come off the trees but before the snow falls. Sometimes it feels that way. But then, there's the tamarack.

The tamarack is among my favorite trees. (It's also known as larch, but I don't like the word 'larch', it sounds ugly, and this is a beautiful, if somewhat strange, tree. The Abenaki (Native American) name 'hackmatack' (meaning 'wood used for snowshoes') suits it even better.)

The tamarack manages to look spiny and soft at the same time. The needles come in tufts along the larger branches and singly on the first-year growth. It grows in swamps and needs plenty of sunshine. It's often the first tree to re-cultivate an area after a forest fire.

The whole tree was useful to many tribes of Native Americans: needles were used for pillow-stuffing, spring shoots were nutritious, twigs for decoys, branches for arrow-shafts, inner bark scraped for a flour, bark used for tanning or made into tonic for various illnesses, resin for chewing gum and boat patches, wood for snowshoes and dogsled runners, roots for rope. It's a utilitarian tree, still used today for house frames, railroad rails and fence posts. It largely goes unnoticed among the cedars, pines and spruces -- except for in the fall.

Tamarack is the only conifer which loses its needles in the fall. Before the needles fall they turn a brilliant yellow. I've had these photos sitting on my desktop for awhile, waiting to be blogged about. Now the tamarack trees have lost almost all their needles, and snow has been falling steadily today - and this snow looks like it could be here to stay.

The tamaracks this year, as many years, are the single beautiful thing outdoors that tided me through between the last brilliant red leaf and the first magical snowfalls.


Anonymous kim said...

What beautiful pictures! Enjoy the snow! Moog and the Big 4 are headed out into ours now.

11/18/2005 1:17 PM  
Blogger Wool Winder said...

Lovely tree! I just read your wonder I enjoy your blog so much.

11/21/2005 9:22 AM  

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