Oaks and pines
Midsummer in Michigan, cooler than many years and mostly rainy enough to keep established trees healthy. The Bluecircle’s older pines now close the rows between them and briars thrive in their shade. It will be a few years before you could lose yourself here, but even now you could stay out of sight in the Scotch pines.
The mixed planting of spruce, fir and pines is susceptible to the white pine weevil. Especially in the sunniest areas this pest has infected some topmost branches leaving then brown, dead and soon broken by the wind. New branches form below this crude amputation but the crooked trunk of affected trees marks the damage.
Both oaks and conifers continue to develop new leaves or needles, often with transient immature colors that contrast with established growth.
Spruce tip on a July afternoon
Bright October afternoons of oak and maple leaves swirling in the wind are gone for another year. The last red raspberries and tomatoes have frosted away so only b’sprouts, tiny broccoli and milkweed pods persist in the garden beds.
A few yellowed needles drop from the Bluecircle pines but it will be many years before they make a layer of mulch under a mature canopy. On a recent hike near Gun Lake fallen needles from the tall pines decorated the still-green maples.
But now the first gusts of lake-effect snow have brought shivers to the hilltop. Bronzed leaves that evaded the mulch pile blow randomly between the trees, finding company in the piles that grow by fences and shrubs. And the sun sets low in the almost-winter sky.
The Solstice approaches and long shadows are everywhere.
Where weeds grew taller than kindergarten trees their seed pods and frost-ravenged skeletal remains no longer hide the progress of the conifers. What snow had accumulated was rained away and green grass remains a significant part of the landscape, albeit peppered with faded oak and maple leaves. The annual inventory of surviving pines and poplars came to just over a thousand. Overall success this year was very good except in a planned windbreak of red cedars. This planting at the crest of a hill suffered from being in heavy clay and too far from a water source. So far only hybrid poplars appear to thrive just about anywhere.
Pines, either Scotch, red or white now outnumber the short-needled spruces and firs. A few that were planted as “3-yr transplants” instead of seedlings now stand chest high or better. The 5″ pine seedling on the left took root in the shadow of grasses but should rise above them next year.
A dawn redwood after the frost
New this year were a few Dawn redwood transplants. They grew well but it’s too soon to say how they will handle a snowy winter.
In 1907 W.H. Nichols and E.F. Nichols gave an arboretum to the University of Michigan that extends from Hill Street to the river below. Almost seventy years later a grove of stately pines on the western edge of this land provided the inspiration for the pine seedlings now finding root in the Bluecircle. A recent visit to the Nichols Arboretum showed that much has not changed with the passing of time – students still share sports on the meadows and wine, snacks and companionship in the shady nooks. The pine grove remains stately in the evening sky, albeit taller than I remembered. But after more than 100 years the pines share a lesson not evident in their (and my) youth, since a few stand only as soaring grey monuments to lives lived at the top of a hill.