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Oyler: Walk in woods mutes negative musings

Usually, when Brandy and I take our walks in the woods, I think about something I have to do in the near future – my next university lecture or perhaps my next column.

This week I had started a column dedicated to pet peeves – a collection of trivial things that annoy me. Today we encountered a near-perfect autumn morning with bright sunshine, a lovely blue sky, and weather cool enough to make my flannel shirt and fleece jacket feel especially comfortable. The fact that we had gained an hour of sleep due to the time change added to the pleasure of the experience. I soon found myself incapable of thinking about negative things, even trivial ones.

Certain places in our woods are dominated by sugar maples. In these areas we regularly experience a thick carpet of bright yellow leaves in the fall; areas that seem to be radiating a golden haze in every direction. Elsewhere the red maples intermingle with their sugar cousins. Each of their leaves is a mixture of red and yellow. The carpet they produce immediately exudes warmth; the temperature there appears to be at least ten degrees warmer than elsewhere.

A number of other trees produce leaves that range from yellow to maroon in the fall – beech, hickory, sassafras, black cherry, and tulip tree, to name a few. Similarly we can depend upon sweet gum, red oak, dogwood, and serviceberry to provide us with brilliant red hues.

Tulip trees are special favorites of mine. We planted four seedlings around the deck of our Conneaut Lake cottage thirty years ago; they quickly grew into attractive mature trees providing a welcome canopy over the cottage. I have been watching tulip seedlings at four or five places in our woods, rooting for them to mature rapidly and cease to be attractive fodder for deer.

Our community discourages us from feeding the deer, but looks the other way when we plant tasty things in our front yard. We planted about two dozen chrysanthemums a few weeks ago. They looked great initially, but we know such transplants quickly wither and turn brown. Not to worry – the deer are happily harvesting the flowers before they have a chance to die. Our neighborhood is blessed with numerous massive oak trees whose age is measured in centuries. Our one-sided street runs along a hillside that is dominated by these remarkable natural specimens. We have a black oak in our backyard that has three trunks, separating three or four feet above the ground, each with a girth of about eight feet at breast height. Its leaves turn yellow briefly, then to a deep brown before falling.

A few years ago I knew of a place in the woods where bittersweet grew, and regularly took cuttings in the fall for my wife to use in flower arrangements. Today I went back to that site and found only one small vine, intermingled with a large bush filled with bright red berries. I have tried to identify this bush for several years without success, hoping to prove it was serviceberry, this despite my awareness that the fruit of the serviceberry is purple, not red.

I found a website for lonicera maackii (bush honeysuckle) which seems to be a pretty good fit for my “red berry bush.” It has a checkered history – an endangered species in Japan, a naturalized citizen in New Zealand, and an invasive species in this country. At least it is an attractive invasive plant. Once most of the leaves are down, identifying the trees depends upon their bark. We have no difficulty with oaks, black cherries, beeches, and sycamores; the others, especially maples, are more difficult.

I suspect my enjoyment of our walks in the woods is positively influenced by the rapidity with which things change in the fall (and in the spring as well). Every day is a new adventure in an environment that is continually changing. I am grateful to be living in a place where the change of the seasons is so evident and to be healthy enough to enjoy it.

Let me add an aside: A group of rail-fans interested in the Chartiers Branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad will meet Nov. 20, 2014, to trade stories. Contact me if you are interested.

John Oyler is a columnist for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-343-1652 or [email protected].


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