RANGER STEVE’S NATURE NICHE
The Sitting Tree
by Ranger Steve Mueller
Where is your special place? It might be distant across the continent or perhaps in your backyard. Hopefully you have many in varied locations. For me I refer to Bryce Canyon National Park as my Eden of Earth. Alternately there are special locations in Northern Minnesota, Northern Michigan, and at Ody Brook.
In our Old Fallow Field, the sitting tree is an apple tree that is perhaps as old as me. One branch that extends south from the trunk low above the ground has a waiting seat. About fifteen feet from the stout trunk, the branch dips down and back up making a comfortable seat to ponder life’s important things.
What is important is the sky, breeze, shades of green in summer or grays and browns in winter. It is a place to avoid the troubles of the world. There are enough troubles right here to deal with. Will rabbits become too abundant and girdle trees and shrubs or are there enough coyotes to keep their numbers within ecological niche carrying capacity? Some people do not appreciate coyotes, but I like the work they do.
Will any of the two dozen polyphemus silk moth caterpillars I released in early August survive to adulthood and show their beautiful wings next summer. Adults have about two weeks as adults to complete their mating and egg laying. Most silk moths have one brood annually. The egg hatches, caterpillars feed in summer, cocoons develop for overwintering, and in spring or early summer the adults emerge for important reproductive work. As adults, their mouth parts are non-functional. The adult life span is limited by how much fat has been stored.
Other important things to contemplate are leaf arrangements. Some plants have leaves directly opposite one another with the set above diverging at a 180º angle from the twig. This allows sunlight to more easily reach the leaf set below. For many plants the leaves come off the stem at lesser angles beginning a spiral pattern for leaves directly above. It is a different way for leaves to allow sunlight to reach leaves lower on the stem.
The sitting tree is one my grandson Walden likes to visit. The branch seat is still too high for him. The tree’s lower branches are at a good height for his climbing access. I can rest in the sitting tree and contemplate what might interest him in coming years while he is busy attending the important business of tree climbing.
Shel Silverstein wrote about an apple giving tree and throughout its life it gave all it could to a man from his boyhood to old age. Finally, when the man was old and needed little, the tree still gave him a place for sitting on its dead stump. I recommend parents read this book to their children. It is a great reason for a family adventure to the local library or a bookstore. Kids like stories read over and over. The Giving Tree is good for that purpose.
At Ody Brook two pines grew at the wood’s edge in the backyard. The deep shade under needled branches provided a great place for our girls to build a fort on a bed of thick needles. It was a special place for them and remains special in their memories even though the two trees no longer stand. In their place are two tall red oaks that have filled the space once occupied by pines.
Special places should be discovered by explorers, and they will be different for each person. One does not need to be young to discover a special place. When I was young a sitting tree was not important. Now with older age and cancer such a tree has gained significance.
I tire quickly but at times have adequate energy to walk longer distances. Sometimes it is a struggle, so I have chairs, benches, and log seats for resting along Ody Brook’s trails. August has been a challenging month and I have not been able to walk to the sitting tree, but I know it is there waiting for me. Please come walk Ody Brook’s trails, enjoy, and find a special place. Interpretive signs line the trails.
Whether you wish to pursue trees, autumn flowers, fall warblers, or gloriously beautiful insects, come enjoy.
Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at [email protected] – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.