Monthly Archives: February 2012

Lunar Camel Co. field guide to trees, chapter 3

It’s been warm enough for me to continue making observational field trips. I’ve decided to Do Something with my tree photos this spring, health permitting — details will be announced here, naturally, at some point — and I need to keep collecting them in the meantime. This latest batch is from Connecticut.

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I’ve been reading Forest Forensics with great interest and I’ve learned that some of these holes that my camera is so drawn to are basal scars, “scars at the base of tree trunks created by the removal of bark from fire or some form of impact, such as from logging equipment.” That big, stretched out-looking hole above very closely matches the basal scar examples shown in the book, which are somehow presented in a less suggestive manner. I’ve still got a long way to go in learning about trees, though, so many of the things I’m seeing are still just mystery holes and nubbins to me.

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*****

Recommended related reading: “The Man Whom the Trees Loved” by Algernon Blackwood. You can read it in pdf here.

The Man Whom the Trees Loved

It’s not about the painter of trees one meets there on page one, actually; he’s a relatively minor character. It’s about a couple who live in Hampshire, on the edge of the New Forest. The husband is a retired forestry worker and his wife is troubled by the intensity and mysterious nature of his relationship with trees. The painter comes to stay with them for a couple weeks and then he’s gone.

I have some issues with it as a story, but the weird atmosphere and the vivid writing about trees and about being among trees make it worth reading. The character of the wife is a religious nutter who becomes old and pinched and mothering, and the story gets a bit melodramatic, particularly near the end, and its fluttery Victorian punctuation and tense emotional pitch get to be nearly too much. But there is something fascinating going on in it.

Supernatural Tales dust jacket

Supernatural Tales spine

The husband spends more and more time in the woods, at first coming home for lunch, then taking a lunch with him and spending all day with trees.

From morning to night he wandered in the Forest; often he went out after dinner; his mind was charged with trees—their foliage; growth, development; their wonder, beauty, strength; their loneliness in isolation, their power in a herded mass.

The trees eventually become an intrusive force, a sort of psychic presence, in the couple’s home.

*****

Blackwood sounds like an interesting guy. According to his wiki page, he “had a varied career, working as a milk farmer in Canada, operating a hotel, as a newspaper reporter in New York City, bartender, model, journalist for the New York Times, private secretary, businessman, and violin teacher.” He eventually settled in Switzerland and then his native England. From the introduction to my copy of The Best Supernatural Tales of Algernon Blackwood (Causeway Books 1973), which “The Man Whom the Trees Loved” appears in, here is AB when he was seventy, writing about his time in Canada and the U.S.:

During these years my one and only passion was—Nature. I read, of course (from free libraries), with a starving hunger to learn and know. Imaginative literature in French, German, English crammed me; scientific reading came much later. But no desire to write lay in me; in my years of newspaper reporting I betrayed no talent; I had one yearning only; intense and passionate; to get away into the woods or forest by myself. Nature apparently, gave me something that human nature could not give. . . . Meanwhile, fed by my few possible excursions into wild nature, and by tasting something of the bitter dregs of life in the raw as well, I was—presumably—developing. My intense interest in the so-called ‘psychic’ region rushed uppermost. Most of my books deal with imaginative speculation in this debatable region. I have been called the ‘Ghost Man,’ so that when I broadcast it must preferably be a ‘ghost story’ of sorts. My real interest here, however, lay always and still lies in the question of a possible extension of human faculty and the suggestion that the Man in the Street possesses strange powers which never manifest normally.

Ehh. Anyhow, many of the stories in the book focus on nature, either as vividly-described atmosphere — the New Forest (“The Man Whom The Trees Loved”), a storm-lashed bungalow sitting in isolation amidst sand dunes (“The Sea Fit”), lonely moors (“Accessory Before the Fact”) — or as a character itself, like the menacing copse of woods in “Ancient Lights” or the alpine forest surrounding the ski resort in “The Glamour of the Snow.” I’m really enjoying them. A Guardian profile from 2007 reports that while in NYC, Blackwood lived in a boarding house on East 19th St., where he “found his separation from nature in the city intolerable, and the ‘indifference to beauty’ of those about him inexplicable.”

*****

Chapter 2 of my field guide to trees is here.

This and that No. 5

teeth-and-gums plant

Haunting teeth-and-gums plant and other botanical delights at Nothing is New.

The Plant Journal

The Plant Journal “provid[es] botanical contents in a simple, personal and cozy way.” The internet says it comes from Barcelona. There’s also this Plant Journal, which looks informative but less cozy.

Kwangho Lee Cactus No. 47

Kwangho Lee painting, Cactus No. 47, at but does it float.

glowing shrooms kit

Bioluminescent mushroom habitat kit at Black Jungle Terrarium Supply.

Ananas Noir tomatoes

Ananas Noir (Black Pineapple) tomatoes at Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

tub of ladybugs

Tub of ladybugs (approx. 1,500) at Amazon.com.

praying mantis egg cases

Set of two praying mantis egg cases at Amazon.com.
Apparently they will not eat the ladybugs.

Peanut butter fruit (Bunchosia argentea)

Peanut butter fruit (Bunchosia argentea) at Logee’s Plants for Home and Garden. The fruits “have a hint of peanut butter flavor.”

Gardeners' Question Time

In the morning sometimes I listen to BBC Radio 4 Gardeners’ Question Time. Is it the Car Talk of England? I have no idea. I like listening to it while doing things around the apartment because I find people’s ambitions for their plants weirdly touching – little old ladies who want to grow bananas in Dorset, that sort of thing. One of their panelists is Bunny Guinness and another is Bill Flowerdew. When the program started in 1947, it had a panelist called Bill Sowerbutts. I don’t know much about gardening but I like to think that if I were to change my name to Magenta Pistil-Pollenbottom, I might have a future as a radio starlet.

This and That No. 4 is here and contains links to all the rest.

meats are murder

baby bologna

Baby bologna, boy or girl flavor, observed in a Brighton Beach grocery. The photo doesn’t really give you a sense of proportion but the tubes are pretty big, I’d say probably 3 or 4 babies in each one.

Sorry it’s been so quiet around here but I’ve been recovering from surgery on the side where my blogging arm is. Found the baby meats while sorting through old Blackberry photos. On Boxing Day we walked around Coney Island and Brighton Beach, concluding with mushroom soup, vodka shots, dumplings and khachapuri in a moderately gaudy Russian restaurant.

Coney Island, Boxing Day

One photo I wish I’d taken but it would have been intolerably intrusive for me to do so: the guy Putin-ishly sunbathing shirtless at the end of a long row of mismatched chaise lounges stuffed with elderly people bundled in layers of coats and blankets. I tried to find out what is the Russian word for this phenomenon, but to my complete surprise there does not seem to be a way to say “virile” or “manly” in Russian so how does one poke fun in that direction? Babelfish offered me “mужественно” but when I translated it back into English it said that means “with fortitude,” which isn’t the same at all. Google Translate suggested “mужественный,” but that apparently means “courageous.” Which is also not what I mean; sunbathing when it’s 30°F isn’t courageous. How can a culture that gives us vodka, krokodil, and a frequently bare-chested he-man P.M. who wields perpetual power not have a word for what the guy was doing in his lounge chair? If I’d taken the photo you’d know exactly what I mean.

Lunar Camel Co. field guide to trees, chapter 2

I’ve blogged about trees kind of a lot. Some of my favorite specimens are here, here and here. My friend Jim asked if I’d seen any good ones lately and I said yes of course, the woods are full of them, and it is easier than ever to spot vague obscenities in the off-season, when there isn’t so much distracting greenery about.

treehole with stuff in it

We don’t have nearly enough trees in Manhattan so I’m thinking about doing something more public with my collection of them.

trees of Harriman State Park, figure B

I don’t mind showing them to you like this but they’d be much better big, 2′ by 3′ prints or somesuch.

trees of Harriman State Park, figure A

I’m recovering from surgery at the moment but looking forward to adding to my tree collection soon. It’s been a mild winter in my part of the world, so I haven’t really had to take a break from my observational field trips. I keep thinking every hike will be my last for the year, but there’s always another. I thought a November hike in CT would surely be my last until spring. The air smelled like snow, and with the dressing rooms closed for the season the little beach on the lake by the park’s entrance looked lonelier than ever.

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The trees looked lonely too, or maybe just self-conscious about their nudity.

the trees have eyes

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It was the time of year when allegedly pumpkin-flavored donuts come out. They seemed like an ideal post-hike snack but the actual flavor was closer to orange-colored holiday.

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This famous beardo ice-scraping system I admired at a local discount store probably would’ve made a better souvenir. As Mr. Lunar Camel Co. noted, “it looks like he has the ice under control.”

famous beardo heated ice scraping system

There were strangely compelling breakfast systems on offer too. Plastic crap, yes, but if bears could take crap like this back to their caves and have it there when they awaken from hibernation, they probably would. I think that is the idea, to settle in for a very long nap, a nap so long your hands will tingle with pins and needles for days afterward, leaving you unable to prepare breakfast without these contraptions.

outlet shopping breakfast section

Later in the season, when I went for a hike at Harriman State Park, I found an ideal hibernation spot, a small cave protected by icicles.

icicles of Harriman State Park, figure D

There’s all sorts of exciting, twinkly bits like this in the woods in the winter. You just have to wear more layers to go look at it. Here is something I’d never seen before, because — I am guessing — it only happens at very particular temperatures, when the ground is a certain temperature in relation to the air: spindly strands of ice poking out of the dirt. They’re strong enough that I could easily pluck a few out and set them on a nearby rock for looking-at with minimal breakage.

weird ice

mystery ice specimen

I’m going to read up on weird things like this until I can get out into the woods again. In my cart right now:

Winter Tree Finder

Winter Tree Finder: A Manual for Identifying Deciduous Trees in Winter by May T. Watts and Tom Watts. I like leafsnap but one needs a book for leafless moments.

Forest Forensics

Forest Forensics: A Field Guide to Reading the Forested Landscape by Tom Wessels. I always want to know what I’m looking at so I’m excited about this.

Gathering Moss

Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses by Robin Wall Kimmerer. Not winter-specific; I just really like mosses.

Do you go hiking in the winter or do you prefer to look at trees on the internet until it’s warmer outside? Recommend any books or unusually cozy socks for me?