Posts Tagged With: nature

The special trees in our American landscape

In the Berkshires, 1850 – By George Inness – Colección Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza en depósito en el Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21148368

A belated Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you. There seemed to be green everywhere yesterday, and speaking of green, today I have trees on my mind, not all trees, just a certain kind of tree…

Have you ever looked out on fields and seen a tree that was just massive? You can tell it has been there for a very long time. Was it standing alone like a lone sentry or providing vast swathes of shade to a centuries-old farmhouse? If the answer is yes, you may well have come upon what is known as a “first-growth tree,” a tree that is described so beautifully in Our Vanishing Landscape, a 1955 book by Eric Sloane.

Such trees provide first-growth timber, the strongest and best timber of all, timber that our American ancestors were blessed with in abundance as they took to settling the land and harnessing its natural resources. Per Sloan, this was “wood grown from untouched earth with the humus and peat and the natural rot of age-old forests.” He describes how, today, seemingly dilapidated centuries-old barns made of chestnut may actually still be in exceptionally good shape, the wood in even better condition than any new wood that could ever be found to replace it.

Morning by George Inness – Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11006350

As you can imagine, in many parts of America today, first-growth timber is quite rare. Certainly that’s true in the East. Many of America’s forests and woods were cleared to make way for agriculture. But, says Sloane, America’s first farmers would leave some first-growth trees dotting the landscape to serve as navigational markers, and often they would choose their home sites based on the fact that a first-growth tree stood nearby, for shade, and as a reminder, he says, that “into that tree went the memory of all the forests of great trees that had disappeared around it.”

I grew up in a farmhouse that was built in 1774, and I often think of that place and its beautiful surroundings, and my mind always wanders to a maple tree—a gigantic maple tree—that stood to the rear of the house on the left, alongside a babbling brook. It’s only after reading Sloan’s book that I realized a first-growth tree in the form of that maple had quite possibly been in our midst all those years ago, and perhaps that is why, subconsciously, my mind, without fail, wanders back to that tree… There is something about nature that pulls us, captivates us, calms us, and has the power to make us feel whole. That tree was magnificent. I’ve been searching for a photograph of it, and I’m sure we have one somewhere. The closest I’ve gotten so far, however, is an image with just part of the tree in the background.

Landscape by George Inness, 1878; Public domain, Wikimedia Commons

It’s hard for me to imagine what it would be like to be in a place where the majority of maples were that size. Unfortunately, history and human circumstances have denied us of the possibility to see such trees en masse in many parts of the country. We have to seek out our sequoias and redwoods and travel to mountain and forest places left largely untouched by human hands and natural disasters. We can dig into historical records to find traces of giant trees, and examine paintings by artists of previous centuries to catch glimpses of past American landscapes. As I look at paintings by 19th-century American artist George Inness (1825-1894), for instance, I see what I think must be at least the occasional first-growth tree dotting his landscapes. Whether they were there in reality or his imagination conjured them up, I don’t know. But, for instance, go back to the top of this post and look at the tree hiding in the background on the right in his painting In the Berkshires. That tree looks absolutely gigantic.

Credit: Flickr user Rocor, Hackensack Meadows, Sunset, 1859, by George Inness. Oil on canvas NY Historical Society. LACMA – Creative Commons non-commercial 2.0 generic license – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

Interestingly, Sloane points out that it is documented that trees the size of California’s redwoods once existed in the East. He cites an 1841 record of a walnut tree that once stood in Forestville, New York, a mile above the mouth of a creek, named Walnut Creek after this tree. The giant tree was “36 feet in circumference at its base, gradually tapering 80 feet to the first limb. Its entire height was nearly 200 feet, and was estimated to contain 150 cords of wood, or 50,000 feet of inch boards. The bark was a foot thick. The tree was entirely sound when blown down in 1822…”

When I went on the Fulton History website to look into the existence of other giant trees reported in the press, I discovered an article in The Album of Rochester, New York, dated December 1, 1825: “An Elm in Hatfield, Mass. is supposed the largest tree in New England, It measures in circumference 34 feet at two feet from the ground; at the height of five feet, the smallest place in the trunk, the circumference is 24 feet 6 inches. There is a cut in the tree four feet from the ground, which tradition says was made by the Indians, for the highest rise of water in Connecticut river.”

By George Inness – The AMICA Library, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20146490

The December 12, 1826, issue of the Franklin Herald and Public Advertiser (Greenfield, Mass.) contained an article on large trees. Some excerpts include: “The Charter Oak in Connecticut — From the best information that we can obtain, says a Hartford paper, this tree is no less than four hundred years old; it is 23 feet in circumference near the ground, and at the height of 7 feet, it is 17 feet in circumference; the height of the tree, is about 70 feet; some of its branches extend 20 feet. […] In May, 1826, there was an Elm blown down in Wells, (Maine,) which measured 27 feet and 4 inches in circumference, making the diameter something over 9 feet; and was 40 feet from the foot to a crotch; from thence it was 20 feet to the first limb, running to the height of 60 feet from bottom before it had any limbs, when it expanded to an immense size. The exact height of the tree could not be accurately obtained, as the top was much broken, but was computed to be upwards of 100 feet. […] The Lexington, Ky. Public Advertiser says, that there now stands on the bank of the Ohio river, in the State of Indiana, opposite the mouth of Salt river, a Sycamore tree, which has stabled fourteen head of horses at one time, with ample room. It takes 75 long paces to go round its trunk, and you may with perfect ease turn a fourteen foot pole in the inside of its cavity.”

By George Inness – ArtDaily.com, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49327263

The New Jersey Fredonian on April 11, 1827, reported that a giant poplar in perfect health had [very sadly] been felled by a Mr. Moser on his land in Berks County, Pennsylvania. It was 117 feet high with a circumference at the base of 20 feet 7 inches. The first limb appeared at 64 feet off the ground. It was estimated to be at least 300 years old by those who examined it’s circles. The article’s author, lamenting the poplar’s demise, referred to it as the “largest solid tree” ever seen or heard of, and a “giant of the forest.”

Painting by George Inness; image uploaded by Noroton at en.wikipedia – Originally from en.wikipedia; description page is/was here., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3051470

The Onondaga Register of Onondaga Hollow, New York, on 28 July 1827 included an article originally reported by the Allegany [sic.] Democrat of a massive sycamore tree that had provided a winter residence to a family of seven: “There is now on the farm of Mr. Andrew Beggs (painter) of Pittsburgh, a sycamore tree, in which a family of seven persons, resided all winter, having been detained by the freezing over of the river while ascending it. In this tree they found a comfortable asylum from the storms of a severe winter, with room for all the necessary furniture and cooking utensils, having a fire in the centre Indian style), the smoke of which ascended through a whole in the trunk occasioned by the breaking off of a large limb from the tree. This giant of the forest is about fourteen miles below Pittsburgh, and directly on the Ohio River.”

Then I came across this 1842 article (page 72 of the Farmer’s Monthly Visitor, Vol. 3-4) describing a gigantic maple, a tree very dear to my heart, as you know ;-). Perhaps, best of all, at the end it contains a list of the largest trees known to exist in the US at the time. (Bear in mind that at this point in history, the United States had only 26 states.) Scroll down for an image of what was probably the giant sycamore in Ohio with the 60-foot circumference, and an article that may refer to the New York sycamore.

One thing is for sure: if you see a BIG tree, it always leaves a BIG impression. And it’s clear that big trees made a big impression on our ancestors too!

So as you go about your travels, keep an eye out for any first-growth trees—elm, maple, sycamore, poplar, chestnut, oak, hickory, pine, etc.—you see (or think you see) in your neck of the woods. Feel free to report back here in the Comments box. Better yet, email me a photo, and I’ll post it here for others to enjoy and try to imagine the glorious age-old forests that greeted our early American ancestors. And/Or consider posting your find on the Monumental Trees website so that even more people can learn of your discovery. Let us treasure those giant trees in our midst and do everything we can to assure their survival.

Some amazing and memorable trees I’ve seen down here in the south:
The Big Oak, Thomasville, GA – 329 years old
The Angel Oak Tree, Charleston, SC – 400-500+ years old

The New York Herald, November 17, 1901 (Credit: FultonHistory dot com)

The Bolivar Breeze, December 21, 1922 (Credit: FultonHistory dot com)

Categories: Miscellaneous, Nature, Trees, United States | Tags: , , , , , , | 7 Comments

A Florida Friday: Enjoying our painted buntings’ return and treasuring Mom’s childhood Christmas decorations

Well, I have been laid low with a nasty cold this past week and haven’t had the energy to do much of anything. So this will be a quick post. First, I’m happy to say that “our” painted buntings have returned from the Carolinas to winter with us. They are elusive little critters, but I catch them pretty regularly coming to the feeder. They always wait for all the other birds to disappear before making their dash to the seeds. Sometimes they try to compete with the cardinals but the latter usually swat them away.  Below is a little video of one of the males. And, second, I’m posting some photos of Mom’s surviving childhood Christmas decorations. They must be from the 1920s and 1930s. Her father used to build a little village out of them every Christmas that went up a ‘mountainside’ to the family Christmas tree in the house’s big bay window. Too bad no photos exist of that scene, but at lease some of the decorations have survived. Mom is enjoying seeing them on display again all these years later. Have a great weekend, all!

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Categories: Christmas, Miscellaneous, Nature | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

A Florida Friday: Mangrove tunnels

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Cropped from Colton’s United States of America. Published in 1865 by J. H. Colton. No. 172 William St. New York. Credit: http://www.davidrumsey.com

We recently took a canoe ride along a portion of the Blackwater River which starts at the 7,271-acre Collier Seminole State Park on the western edge of the Everglades and takes you out several miles through a vast mangrove swamp until you reach the Ten Thousand Islands. Were it not for the fact that the mangroves produce tannin, the water would be crystal clear (which would be much more comforting for the purpose of alligator spotting!). It’s an incredibly peaceful experience; just remember your bug spray and sunscreen and to stay in your canoe so you don’t bring home any physical souvenirs (or lose a limb!). We’ve done this trip several times, and the mangrove tunnels where the river narrows are (for me) the most special part of the journey. The water is like glass and the reflection of the mangroves on the water makes for some heavenly scenes. In winter there’s the added benefit of seeing lots of birds.

When you go through such uninhabitable terrain, it is easy to see why the Seminole Indians were never defeated, and also easy to see why the author of the below small article on the Ten Thousand Islands, published in 1886, found this part of Florida “desolate” and “gloomy” in comparison with the northern part of the state, which was fairly well inhabited and offered comforts that clearly would have been absent in south Florida at that time. Coming here in the hot and humid months of the year especially, one can be eaten alive by no-see-ums and mosquitoes and burnt to a crisp by a relentless and unforgiving sun. The article was printed in November, so hopefully the author escaped the worst of the bugs and weather—in any case, he lived to tell his tale!

Thankfully, we 21st-century South Floridians are able to enjoy these wild  environments by day and return to the comforts of our homes at night.

Have a tranquil weekend, all.

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Blackwater River mangrove tunnel, November 2016

Starting point for the Blackwater River with canoe/kayak launch area in distance

Starting point for the Blackwater River with canoe/kayak launch area in distance

ten_thousand_islands1Daily Alta California, Friday, November 12, 1886 (Credit: California Digital Newspaper Collection, Center for Bibliographic Studies and Research, University of California, Riverside - . All newspapers published before January 1, 1923 are in the public domain and therefore have no restrictions on use.)

Daily Alta California, Friday, November 12, 1886 (Credit: California Digital Newspaper Collection, Center for Bibliographic Studies and Research, University of California, Riverside – . All newspapers published before January 1, 1923 are in the public domain and therefore have no restrictions on use.)

Mango [sic] trees on the jungle trail, Palm Beach, Fla. - Detroit Publishing Company, 1910-1920 Credit: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.

Mango [sic] trees on the jungle trail, Palm Beach, Fla. – Detroit Publishing Company, 1910-1920 Credit: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.

Categories: Florida, Ten Thousand Islands | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

A Florida Friday: Birdhouse welcomes new tenant

After being vacant for almost three years, our bird house finally has a new tenant… he’s not what we were expecting, but we’ll take him. Rumor has it that he thinks his new digs are toadly awesome!

birdhouse(P. S. Apologies for the lack of ‘family history’/history-related posts in recent weeks. Things have been quite hectic here, and I am flying in a holding pattern at the moment!)

Categories: Florida, Nature | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments

A Florida Friday: Birds of a feather…

ibis copyI pulled back the blinds one morning last weekend and instantly felt that kind of ‘wow’ kids feel when they wake up in the morning and catch their first sight of an overnight winter snowfall. But instead of a blanket of white snow, I saw a preserve dotted in white—a patchwork quilt of white ibis, palms, and cypress trees. And for every white ibis I could see, there was a brown ibis blending in with the debris and dark waters on the cypress preserve floor.

ibis2 copyI guess we can thank El Niño for this unusual winter sight. Record rainfall has filled swamp areas back up to summer levels, and these ‘gals’ and ‘guys’ have come to scour the grounds for bugs and other edible critters. And throughout the past week, they have continued to turn up daily to put on their show. Greedy for more, I am now hoping some egrets, herons, woodstorks and roseate spoonbills decide to join them!

ibis3 copyWhen one sees ibis in such abundance, it’s hard (and sickening) to imagine that there was a time 100-odd-years ago when ibis and many other of Florida’s beautiful birds were hunted down and slaughtered for their plumage with populations being decimated as a result. The author of the accompanying article from the Rome Daily Sentinel, published on 18 August 1896, attests to the fact that hunting for the birds had gotten way out of control and measures were desperately needed to protect them. Thankfully, that eventually happened, and hence, sights such as the one in my backyard are not uncommon in Florida today (they are just uncommon in my backyard!).

"Eudocimus ruber -Cubatao, Sao Paulo, Brazil -flying-8a" by Dario Sanches - Flickr: GUARA (Eudocimus ruber). Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Eudocimus_ruber_-Cubatao,_Sao_Paulo,_Brazil_-flying-8a.jpg#/media/File:Eudocimus_ruber_-Cubatao,_Sao_Paulo,_Brazil_-flying-8a.jpg

Eudocimus ruber -Cubatao, Sao Paulo, Brazil -flying-8a” by Dario Sanches – Flickr: GUARA (Eudocimus ruber). Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The 1896 article mentions the scarlet ibis (Eudocimus ruber) as particularly being singled out by hunters (image right) along with herons and snowy egrets, and song birds like mockingbirds and cardinals. (The American flamingo, mentioned in the article as being abundant in South Florida in the 1800s, has all but disappeared in the wild. If you happen to see one in Florida today, it is likely an escapee from an area attraction.)

I’ve never seen scarlet ibis in the wild in Florida, but apparently they are occasionally spotted. Their native range today appears to be along the northern and eastern coastlines of northern South America, down to São Paolo. They can appear as vagrants in Florida, Ecuador, and a number of countries in the Caribbean.

The current IUCN Red List of Endangered Species lists the scarlet ibis as a species of ‘Least Concern’, which would please the article’s author, no doubt, if he were alive today, as would knowing that all of Florida’s birds became legally protected in 1913.

The Smithsonian article “How Two Women Ended the Deadly Feather Trade” describes how this hideous trade ultimately came to an end:

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Snowy Egret

Egrets and other wading birds were being decimated until two crusading Boston socialites, Harriet Hemenway and her cousin, Minna Hall, set off a revolt. Their boycott of the trade would culminate in formation of the National Audubon Society and passage of the Weeks-McLean Law, also known as the Migratory Bird Act, by Congress on March 4, 1913. The law, a landmark in American conservation history, outlawed market hunting and forbade interstate transport of birds.

One hundred years later, we are blessed to have these birds in our midst, but the picture is far from 100% rosy as Florida’s current list of threatened and endangered species attests. Thirty-six species of birds are on the list, including the snowy egret, brown pelican, and white ibis, which are classified as ‘species of special concern’, so if they were ever completely ‘out of the woods’ after 1913, they are back in them now…something to keep in mind and let others know about, if they don’t know already.

Well, enough said—time to take another look out the back window.

Have a great weekend, all, and thanks for stopping by.

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Rome Daily Sentinel, 18 August 1896 (Credit: Fultonhistory.com):

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Museum of Natural History Guide leaflet, 1901. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons from Flickr, no known copyright restrictions

Museum of Natural History Guide leaflet, 1901. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons from Flickr, no known copyright restrictions

littleblueheronpelican_fishwhitepelican

 

Categories: Florida, Nature | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Florida Friday: Backyard wildlife — painted buntings and not one, but two (!) bobcats

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Some painted buntings (multi-colored male and green female/juvenile) at one of our feeders recently; they and some of their other family members arrive annually in late November and depart by late March.

As some longtime readers of this blog know, occasionally I post Florida-related items, usually on a Friday. For example, one backyard wildlife post from two summers ago featured a bobcat—a very rare sight for folks in this area. Another featured some of the spring and summer critters who live in these here parts; another featured the resident short-tailed hawk getting scolded royally by a feisty mockingbird; and yet another the sight of two great-horned owls atop some nearby trees at dusk.

Unfortunately, with all the construction going on in this area, we’ve made fewer and fewer interesting sightings in the last year. However, two Sundays ago, we were shocked to see not one, but two bobcats playing out back in the woods across the water run-off ditch. As luck would have it, my camera was not immediately available, so I took the below images with my cellphone, zooming in as best as I could. Unfortunately, I missed the initial action of the two of them playing in the grass, and the glass in the sliding door and the screen on the lanai made for some less than ideal images. Still, they are worth a look (I think), so have a scroll through the below if you want to see more.

Perhaps this was the same bobcat from two summers ago, but this time she was with one of her offspring (the one in the distance with the darker coat)?

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Categories: Florida, Nature | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

A Florida Friday: Summer’s spectacular sunsets

It’s been a busy week, and I had little time to devote to family history, so I will leave you with some images of last night’s sunset–always a special treat at this time of year—and wish you all a good weekend.

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Categories: Florida, Nature | Tags: , , | 5 Comments

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