Into the woods and through the trees

I love to walk through the woods on any occasion, but especially with my daughter Molly because she knows things.

Yesterday, we went foraging — she for morel mushrooms, garlic mustard and stinging nettles and me for stories.

While she came up empty handed, which is good, she said, because garlic mustard and stinging nettles are both invasive species, I ended up with a headful of knowledge.

As we walked through one area of the land, I pointed to the messy woods closer to our cabin and vaguely wondered if we should tidy it up. Molly assured me that all those mossy stumps and fallen logs play a necessary role in both the ecosystem and the history of Wisconsin.

“There are very few areas of old growth in Wisconsin and that’s why the swampy area by the river with all those cedar trees is so cool,” she explained. 

Apparently, Wisconsin settlers in the 1800s clearcut large swaths of primary growth during the lumber boom. The Civilian Conservation Corps came along in the 1930s and replanted 265,631,000 trees in the North Woods and, together with the Trees for Tomorrow program that started during World War II, they rebuilt the woods.

But, the old growth, the trees that really tell the history of this old world (including the oldest tree in Wisconsin, which is said to be a 1,290-year-old cedar located in the Greenleaf area), are rare.

Due to its seasonal swampiness, an area of our land that runs along the river contains old growth.

I have a new respect for the veiny path of tree roots that snake through it, and an explanation for its almost prehistoric look. Those trees are the real story tellers in this state and it’s up to us to take the time to listen.

Molly also explained the differences in the various trees:

  • Birch trees have papery bark and fragile wood because they grow so fast and don’t have time to develop the denseness slower growers, like oak trees, enjoy.
  • Only pine trees have long needles, hemlock needles are flat.
  • White pines have five needles per bundle.
  • Cedar pine needles are rich in vitamin C, which may be why deer love them.
  • Some trees naturally prune themselves, that’s why you see a line of foliage starting halfway up the trunk in a dense forest. Sunlight can’t reach the lower branches so the tree sheds them to direct the energy up.

I could go on but my brain is old growth and I think we’ve all learned enough for one day. Thank you for heading into the woods and through the trees with Molly and me.

I enjoyed strolling through the forest with Molly because she has become quite the botanist.
She told me cedar branches, like this one, are full of Vitamin C.
And that this area of our land, located near the river, is full of old, or original growth. I love the way the roots snake along the ground like veins of history.
I learned a lot about the secret life of trees.
Woodpeckers love these old trees as well.
It looked a little dark, but color is on its way. Just look at these baby maple leaves!
And this bloodroot (I think? Not at all sure of my wildflower identification skills, but Molly agreed with me on this one.)
Kind of a cool juxtaposition of a papery white birch and a sturdy red pine. (I think).
Along with preserving Wisconsin history, trees do a lot to protect its rivers.
Trees are natural silos (and this was the sunset outside our cabin Friday night. )
They’re dressed for tick season, which is in full swing so be careful out there, but here are two of my favorite tree lovers coming out of the woods.

7 thoughts on “Into the woods and through the trees

  1. Laura I appreciate Molly’s knowledge and your lovely pictures on this Monday morning 🤗.
    My Mom was a tree lover!
    Thank you

  2. We’d teach Girl Scouts to count the needles on a pine — five needles, five letters; it’s a white pine! Knowing a simple thing like that is often enough to spark interest in observing much more.

  3. When I was young, my father and I spent allot of time walking through woods. He taught me how to walk quietly, listen carefully, look closely. I love the woods. When my daughter was small I started the same journey with her, often carrying her on my shoulders. Every Autumn for nearly 20 years, we hiked Kettle Moraine and Horicon Marsh, taking photos by our favorite trees, our friends. Thanks for your story.

    1. How special for you and your daughter to make similar memories to the ones you made with your dad!

  4. Thank you for the interesting nature lesson! Love the picture of the tree with the woodpecker holes. We have one that “drills” on a pine across the street from us but it stays too high to see the work.

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