January 12, 2012

A Walk in the Woods: The Character of Bark

Without the complex distraction of green leafy layers, the physical facts of the trunks of trees attract my eye in winter. They stand, resolute, tall, expressing in their patterns their species and their individual history. A large sugar maple is embraced by a plastic tube, ready to collect sap in the spring, and wrapped by old barbed wire, long since overwhelmed by the sturdy growth of bark.

Some trees have their inner layers exposed in an animal's search for sustenance.

And some have patterns that might be created by disease.

The natural peeling of birch bark catches the sun in shiny curlicues, smooth and glossy alongside rough striations.

A close look at some tree trunks is like a satellite view of a vast landscape, with mountain ranges sinking into valleys.

Yesterday, when I walked through the woods, I had a sudden rush of tender feeling for the grays of winter trees; as I passed them, their spacial relationships changed, yet each remained itself, young or old, thick or thin, damaged or whole: a crowd of life, dormant. Today I was dipping in Thoreau's Journals and found this entry from January 11th, 1857, in which he eloquently describes his reasons for rambling, which touch a chord with me, (although I don't subscribe to his tendency to belittle his fellow men):
I was describing the other day my success in solitary and distant woodland walking outside the town. I do not go there to get my dinner, but to get that sustenance which dinners only preserve me to enjoy, without which dinners are a vain repetition. but how little men can help me in this! only by having a kindred experience. Of what use to tell them of my happiness?


  1. Lovely post, Altoon. I feel the same way about trees, especially in winter. Thank you for putting it into words.

  2. Thank you, Diane. I was happy to be helped along by Thoreau.

  3. Wonderful bark study...gave me a rush of tender feelings too, Altoon. Your posts are special.

  4. Living in a hemlock forest as I do, winters allow the conifers to shine. I love the play of the bare branched deciduous with the fully leafed hemlocks.
    I have a lot of beech, and that image for which you write "some have patterns that might be created by disease." looks very much to me like the beech blight. Is it?

  5. Thanks, Maggie.
    Valerianna, I'm not sure about the blight, since I got my information from doing a google search. But what I've seen in the local woods looked a lot like the disease called Beech bark disease, caused by a fungus, a very sad development. Here is a blog post that describes the disease: http://whitemountainsojourn.blogspot.com/2009/04/beech-bark-disease-archaic-forests-of.html

  6. Yes, that's it... beech bark disease, got it everywhere here. I am cutting the diseased ones little by little. Beech makes a good firewood and since I heat with wood, I try to take a bunch of those when I can. I didn't go to the link, but I have studied it a lot and had a forester here as well. Sadly, one large beech right outside my house has it. Its probably just a matter of time before I have to cut it. I love when it leafs out in spring - such joyful green leaves it has, and then wonderful coppers in fall!

  7. i enjoyed this post. the bark of the trees are a world unto themselves...the close-ups isolate the images of textures into a kind of beautiful abstraction-thank you for sharing them

  8. Aaahhhh yes, I quite agree that a walk in the woods is a balm for the soul. I love to read when you express yourself about nature. I find that often you can put into words things I feel when I am looking close at nature.