Wednesday, December 31, 2008

An Ancient Broken Giant:

When Bobby took me across the branch to see the new calves, I also saw this remnant of a giant tulip poplar, contemporary of the enormous oak on Dutton Hill, cut down in the 80s, and believed to be 400+ years old. This is the only "old growth" tree left for many miles in any direction. Bob Vaught, a family friend who used to come and help us strip tobacco, told me that he was in the timber crew that cut down a forest of giant trees that stretched for over a mile, from the oak on Dutton Hill to Holtzclaw knob on the northern horizon. This tree would have been in that woods, and may have been spared for already having a hollow in it.

The white barrel holds a salt block for the cattle.


Cathy said...

It looks as though the tree lost part of its trunk at some point and sent out new branches from the wound.

Awesome photos. I can't stop looking at the middle one.

Dan Dutton said...

The middle one is looking up from inside the tree. I like that too!

And yes, what you see of the tree is just re-growth (except for the bottom right hand limb) - the top 3/4 of the tree (which must have been very tall!) is broken off. Tulip Polars are tall, rather than broad, trees.

Dan Dutton said...

Poplars ~ that should be!

Mary Beth said...

You read my mind. I was wondering what the white plastic thingie was!

Cathy's right about that middle photo. It has the same eerie spiritual qualities as photos taken in the slot canyons of the 4 corners area. It's as if one is being reborn out of the depths up into the freedom and vastness of the light.

Up in Nelson County, poplar was used to make floors. Restoration buffs love it as they say that insects "don't get into it." I stayed in a Federal style house last summer that was built c. 1820. The floors had taken on incredible deep honey hues. Only two of the boards have required replacement. Both of the boards were on the upper floor in a room that has sat without a roof for over ten year. After so much rain and snow, and so many visits from birds, squirrels and bats, it's amazing that any of those boards survived.

Now my mind will play with how the old tree might have been injured. Wind storm? Ice storm? Summer lightening?

When I was just a young child in Louisville, there was a Tulip Poplar in the back yard. How I loved that tree! Each spring there were tea cup size green flowers with a shock of orange splashed at the inner bottom. Had the fairies been drinking Orange Spice tea? The flowers became seed pods, odd thing that were sort of like pine cones with slender elongated scales. The scales would break free in the wind, twirling down to the earth in maple seed "helicopter” fashion. The color of its autumn leaves has departed my memory, but their shape remains. There were four points on the leaf, like a hand with the thumb and pinkie extended. By late autumn all the leaves were down and once in a while Gail and I would find the needle like cores of the seed pods. They made wonderful awls poking designs in leaves and mud pies.

I've saved the most magnificent memory of the Tulip Poplar for last. Each year, in the dead heat of summer, Lightening bugs would rest on the leaves of the tree turning it into a living, flashing, radiant Christmas tree taller than the house. My Californian husband was certain this was a childhood fantasy until Gail and her parents confirmed my story. We were calling to 'coons in her backyard as we recounted the lightening bug tale. (A mama had three little ones up in an old Penn Oak.) My husband now believes every Kentucky story I tell!

Dan Dutton said...

If your hubby believes EVERY KY story he must be good and gullible!

Poplar leaves turn lemon yellow in the fall.

The sap of the tulip poplar is a powerful medicine, and called "balm" for that reason.

The floors and some of the walls of my studio are poplar - salvaged, as all of the wood is (the rest is oak and chestnut) from a funeral home carriage barn built some time before 1840. Some of the boards are over 30" wide - it takes a big tree for those!

Dan Dutton said...

Oh ~ 4 corners slot canyons, eh? I trekked in that area (Valley of the Gods, Grand Gulch, Comb Ridge) every spring for 9 years - the last two I was a guide. This was part of The Road project ~ part II of The Secret Commonwealth opera project. The Road was written on the way to and through Road Canyon, on the western side of the Valley of the Gods.

Mary Beth said...

Now Dan, my dear husband Rico is anything but gullible. I merely refer to the differences between the two worlds being nearly incomprehensible.

I mean, how often one get to teach a San Francisco boy how to call 'coons? That lesson came during the painful visit when my father, known to thank people by saying, “that was awful white of ya.” took us to hear a band at his favorite red neck bar. Talk about eyes boring holes in the back of our heads! The last straw snapped as we took cover from a tornado at 3:00 A. M. on the morning before our flight home. For some odd reason, my big city boy hasn't wanted to come home with me again. Imagine that!

Thank you for the yellow of the leaves!