October 04, 2003

Seems a Shame

image copyright Fred First

Up the valley, just at the bend where Nameless Creek and its old stone wall disappear from view, is the foundation of an old barn. Nothing remains but the large stacked rocks. Many of them are the angular shaley variety. The sedimentary shale formed from the ancient seas that covered the area in the eons that followed the massive uplift giving rise a billion years ago to the hard quartz and granite core of the Blue Ridge. The more rounded and aged rocks are from the very heart of the Appalachians, stones that have resisted the relentless forces of wind and rain, freeze and thaw, smooth-edged only after millenia of scouring in the rivers and creeks that have come this way since animals with backbones walked here.

You can still see the gaps in the wall where a door used to be. We find odd chunks of metal from old cast iron stoves and farm implements buried in the effluvium of time. There are lives under the leaf litter there, leaves falling to fill the crevice of valley from either ridge and from a massive elm that grows up through the very center of the imaginary roof of the old place. Just outside one of the walls, a small tree with rippling, sensuous legs has sprung up in several twisted trunks and grown to its characteristic smallish size; but it is ancient as lifetimes go for this species. One fork has pulled away in the past month from those still standing alive but elderly, and it lies now severed and dead across the old stacked stone wall.

A relative of the beeches, it is known scientifically as Carpinus carolinianum, and it grows pretty much everywhere across the US, largely unnoticed. But if you want to see it, look along creek and river bottoms for smooth trunks and limbs that resemble the trunks and limbs of a well-ripped athlete. My favorite common name for this tree is very apt: "musclewood". It is also called American Hornbeam (horn=hard and baum=tree), Blue Beech, and Ironwood. It has been used a little in old days for tool handles because of its strength. What little I could find was not encouraging as I wondered what could be done with this wonderfully sculpted bit of dead wood: Hornbeam checks and warps badly in seasoning. The wood dulls wood working tools quickly.

I can leave it for the molds and mushrooms to take. Or I can cut up the sinewy strength in its granitic deltoids and biceps and it will warm us a year from now when all the life is gone out of it, and it is segmented dry and stacked with other fallen comrades. Seems a shame to cremate this wonderful wood without more of a viewing of the body. This picture will have to be its only memorial. It's more than most trees get, I suppose.

Posted by fred1st at October 4, 2003 12:27 PM | TrackBack

Pretty picture. looks like a great place for a picnic.

I've noticed that you've started posting pictures that don't look like they've been through photoshop. I like it. Mixes it up a little. Is that why you have the "Fred First" signature on some, but not all?

Just curious,

Posted by: Jeremiah at October 4, 2003 11:40 PM

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