the intricate text in the wood

On our way back from a swim that didn’t happen because someone at the pool let about a third of the water drain overnight (ooops) and the young women life-guarding this weekend were trying to fill it again and to turn away the eager swimmers (just us, at 10 a.m.), anyway, on our way back we stopped at one of the trails running along the slope of Mount Hallowell to gather 7 big bags of leaves from the mature bigleaf maples growing along that part of the trail. Tomorrow if it’s nice we’ll return for another load. We do this most years. The leaves make wonderful garden mulch. I’ve just been spreading a few bags over the raspberry beds and the boxes where I grow mostly perennial greens. The chicory is still lovely and leafy and the kale that the deer ate when they broke into the garden is coming back. Some of the seeds in the long kale pods were sprouting so I potted up a bunch of the pods in a tub for the sunroom. So far the deer haven’t their way into there.


7 years ago on this day I launched my book, Mnemonic: A Book of Trees, a memoir of sorts exploring my life in within the context of my love of all things arboreal. (7 years! I know I’m becoming old because of how I react to time. It hardly seems like 7 years but in that time so much has happened: 2 weddings, 3 more books, 4 grandchildren…) Mnemonic was a book I loved writing, though it took me out of my usual comfort zone. There were things I wanted to find out and the routes I took were strange and (to me) wonderful. I had to harness my impatience as I worked my way through material, puzzling and thinking, and finding a way to structure the book so that a reader might feel as though she or he was in a grove of trees, a memory grove, guided by Cicero. Pliny the Elder, John Evelyn, and the ravens of Merritt, B.C.

In fall, the samaras whirl to the ground: time to be grateful for fire, the woodshed neatly stacked with fir and bigleaf maple. Bringing in logs, I sometimes see areas of spalting within the chunks of maple I carry. This is a bacteria that causes veining in the wood, a kind of scribbling, like pen lines on paper. The bacteria can be introduced to felled maple, and cultured or managed for a time, to create beautiful patters which woodworkers value. We have a cutting board in our kitchen made by a local craftsman, featuring strips of both spalted and clear-grained maple. When I clean and oil the board, I marvel at the intricate text in the wood we use to cut our bread. Like those beetles that wrote obituaries to the ponderosa pines near Kamloops, something lively is at work to leave its story intact for the future to read as loaves are sliced, fish boned or trimmed of their fins.

cutting board

7 years later, the board is well-used, its stories intact, and new ones have been added. The stains of ripe cheeses, apples, tomatoes heavy with seeds, red cabbage partly gnawed by elk or deer trimmed, then shredded, a splash of red wine from a glass too near the cutting knife, lemon juice rubbed in to get rid of the scent of pine mushrooms, garlic.




From the Concise Oxford Dictionary: “Photosynthesis: process by which the energy of sunlight is trapped by the chlorophyll of green plants and used to build up complex materials from carbon dioxide and water.” But I wonder what the term might be for what bigleaf maples (Acer macrophyllum) do in November when they convert their own leaves back to sunlight?

I read the other day that our area received twice the usual amount of rain during October. That, following almost 12 weeks without any rain, when we had intense heat and drought from late July until October 11. That particular weather pattern has resulted in the most intense show of yellow on the mountainside!

We’ve just returned from a walk inbetween showers and I swear that the yellows have never this vivid! And they mimic the sunlight of September, its brilliance and even a sense of its heat!

Lower elevations in fall

Last evening we were out for a walk around the Sakinaw loop, a route that takes us down Sakinaw Lake Road to the lake itself, then along a trail through the woods to our own driveway. It’s a walk I love in all seasons. In spring the bigleaf maples all along the road produce their chartreuse flowers, sweet as honey, and bright with warblers. There’s a section of ditch where masses of maidenhair ferns grow, too, the delicate fronds held aloft by black-laquered stems. In summer the maples create deep and welcome shade. We often gather bags of maple leaves from this area to mulch our garden and often there are rough-skinned newts hiding in the leaves, waiting for the day to warm up enough for them to make the great trek across the road. Sometimes we find them frozen in place if the sun’s vanished before they make it to their destination but holding them in my palms for a few minutes usually revives them. There’s always a day in late fall when I smell fish and know the coho are in the creek that runs down off Mount Hallowell to enter Sakinaw Lake, a long length of water fed by many such creeks, some of which are home streams for coho. There’s also a race of sockeye salmon native to the lake — alas, almost extinct. The coho run is the hinge of the year, beginning in December, usually around the Solstice, and continuing into January.

On our walk last evening, we were just about to take the trail through the woods when we heard loud crashing ahead of us. We stopped, expecting a bear. Instead, we saw a bull elk, maybe the same guy who visited earlier our place earlier in summer. (It’s more usual to see them up the mountain, as we often do when hiking there, but the field guide says they move to lower elevations in fall.) He was as surprised to see us as we were to see him. And he was beautiful. John, who was wearing his glasses, counted five points on each antler. The full complement is six, so he was maybe a three year old. But huge.  Deep brown with a golden rump. He stood absolutely still for a few moments, watching us, and we did the same. We could hear his cows in the woods, moving about. Then he trotted off into the trees and all that was left was his smell, and the smell of his harem, as pungent as horses.