The temperature has risen 30 degrees to a balmy 23 degrees Fahrenheit, perfect for outdoor recreation. The snow in the woods behind a friend's house is thigh deep, so I strap on snow shoes and head out with the dogs. The little one makes me laugh sometimes disappearing up to her ears as she bounds through the sparkling white stuff. The first 15 to 20 minutes is fast-paced to get the blood pumping. After that, I'm warm and toasty for the rest of the walk and even feel the need to stop and cool down - frequently.
To speed the cooling I remove my gloves and unzip my jacket. While I catch my breath I marvel at the trees, reflecting on the time I lived in Phoenix, Ariz., where the only native trees seemed to be Saguaro cacti and the imported palms looked out of place. How can people live without trees? I only made it for a couple of years in the desert and had to return to the forested landscapes of my upbringing. I never feel more at home than when I'm in the woods. I just love trees. The beech still clinging to dry shriveled leaves, the big old maples and oaks gnarly and majestic, and the hemlocks - by far my favorite tree.
Not a fan of sun, the deep shade provided by hemlocks draws me in no matter the season. I trudge a little ways off the trail to sit beneath the boughs for a few minutes. I can just barely hear a little trickle of water in the creek under the thick ice. Chickadees, nuthatches and kinglets jump from branch to branch above me chattering their social calls, foraging for winter insects. I scan the landscape and notice that this woods is relatively new. The trees are young and dense. Down here by the creek, the species of trees are all native. Up on the hill, there are stands of White Spruce, Scot's Pine, European Larch and others that were planted by the landowners many years ago. None of the trees are really old, though.
There are places nearby where I can commune with really old trees. I'd love to know the age of the big Sugar Maple on the hill next to the Nature Center building at Audubon. And do you know the massive oaks on the far side of Spatterdock Pond? How about the really nice stand of old growth in Allegany State Park off the East Meadow trail, or the forest at Heart's Content? There is a feeling you get in the presence of these old trees that you don't get anywhere else. You begin to wonder how many people have walked by this spot and what stories the tree could tell if it could talk. You begin to question the significance of your relatively short life.
We'd like to give you a chance to meet a few old geezers in Chautauqua County in March.
Jamestown Audubon's 2014 "Bucket List" calendar features 12 must-do, must-see nature phenomena to experience before you "kick the bucket." The March 15 event focuses on old trees. Restaurant proprietor Chris Merchant is passionate about old growth forests. He and Audubon program director Jennifer Schlick will lead a chat about trees over lunch at Mariner's Pier Express in downtown Jamestown before heading out to see some of Chautauqua County's oldest trees. The regular price of $43, or Friends of the Nature Center price of $34, includes lunch and transportation. Prepaid reservations are required by March 10 and can be made by calling the Audubon Center at 569-2345 or by visiting jamestownaudubon.weebly.com. The trip begins at 11 a.m. and we expect to be back in Jamestown by 4 p.m.
Another opportunity to learn about trees will be offered on Saturday, March 8, from 1-3 p.m. After a classroom program to learn about the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid, an insect that threatens Eastern and Carolina Hemlock trees, we will take a walk to Audubon's hemlock grove to search for signs - and hopefully find none! The fee for this program is $16, or $12 for Friends of the Nature Center and can be paid at the door. Registration is requested by Friday, March 7, and can be done by phone, or at our website.
The Audubon Center & Sanctuary is located at 1600 Riverside Road, one quarter mile east of Route 62 between Jamestown and Warren, Pa. Learn more about the activities at the Center by visiting jamestownaudubon.org or calling 569-2345.
Jennifer Schlick is program director at Jamestown Audubon.