As faithful readers know, I have a deep interest (obsession?) with experiencing and photographing, eastern old growth forests. I have written about the topic several times in the recent past.
In March of this year, while spending time in Lake Placid NY, I became aware of a group of old growth trees called The 1675 Grove, near the town of Brighton approximately 30 minutes away. Snow was deep this year, but still I was interested in visiting the somewhat remote site. I found directions on the web, drove to the access point described in the article, strapped on my snowshoes, and trudged along the small packed track that lead into the forest.
There was a point in the directions, when I was expected to climb a moderately steep powerline. Unfortunately there was no track there, and the snow was very deep. A short way beyond the pipeline was the conifer forest within which the grove was said to be located. Between the trees the snow was not nearly so deep. I decided to bushwhack into the site, dead reckoning its location from the directions.
The woods were tight with a lot of downed snags, and somewhat tricky to negotiate, particularly with a large camera bag and tripod. I finally reached a site where there were multiple large white pines,somewhat congruent with the description I had . The trees were not overly large, particularly compared to “old growth” in Pennsylvania. I wondered whether the shorter growing season in the Adirondacks might explain the discrepancy. I photographed the trees and picked my way back to the trail, and ultimately to my truck.
5 or 6 months ago, I acquired a fascinating book, called Reading the Forested Landscape by Thomas Wessel. The book’s author attempts to instruct the reader on how to read the history of a woodland, through visible signs in the vegetation, trees, and the land forms. This has been a longtime interest of mine. I read both the book , and then a companion handbook meant to be stuffed in a backpack for use in the field. I then picked up a variety of other publications on roughly the same topic. At any rate, I felt that my studies had given me new insight into the forest and fields where I routinely recreate.
One subject covered is how to determine the age of a tree based on its appearance. There is a lot more to this than size, as similar age trees grow much differently depending on the site, the available sunlight, etc. A powerful indicator of age is the character of the bark which appears quite differently in large trees that are younger, versus those that are truly old.
Several weeks ago, we were again in the Adirondacks, and I was looking through past photographs, when I came upon the photos I had captured of this “old growth”. Based on my recent study of the subject, I could easily determine that these were not particularly old trees, at least not trees reportedly germinated in 1675. I realized would need to visit the site again.
Thinking that I had probably already photographed the grove, I took only my Sony RX 100 Mark III, but with a tripod. It being summer, this time I followed the directions exactly as given. Walking up the power line, I noted a foot path that had been worn into the soil. At the point the directions suggested I should turn into the woods, the foot path turned, and I continued to follow it down slope through a young northern hardwood forest.
After a distance, I noted several large and old looking hickory trees, and a few big pines. There was a large erratic to my left which distracted me briefly as I walked, but when I turned my gaze forward, I saw a large shape among the smaller trees. Approaching it, it became identifiable as a massive White Pine,, with deeply corrugated bark of an old growth tree. At about 7 feet off the ground, a small silver round tag was attached to the tree by a nail. The tag read “101”. Walking further I began to notice multiple huge forms among the smaller trunks.
From my reading, I knew that number 103 was the largest of the trees. At 13 feet in circumference, and 160 feet tall, it is somewhat shorter (160 vs. 189 feet), but broader of girth than the Longfellow Pine at Cook’s Forest.
This is a dramatic place, both because of the age disparity of the forest, and an almost complete lack of any sign of human intrusion. In fact, I understand that it was only discovered ( at least by someone with knowledge of forestry) in the 1970s. There were however tree stands in the surrounding forest, suggesting to me, that locals have probably been aware of the big trees for a long time.
Walking a little further into the grove, one encounters another massive tree, this one snapped off apparently by a micro-burst in 2012. Both the huge standing “stump” and the massive downed trunk, bear witness to the incredible power of these weather events.
Sadly if one looks closely, it appears that many of these trees have areas of peeling bark, or large basilar scars with rot of the interior wood. This, plus the age disparity in the grove suggest that a fire may have occurred on the site 60-100 years ago, sparing only the larger, older trees.
At roughly 340 years old, the massive white pines may be nearing the end of their normal life span, and certainly within 50-100 years, few if any will be left alive. All that will be left are huge gray standing “snags” among the new generation of much younger trees who will take centuries to reach the size of these ancient sentinels.
As I walked out, I lost the faint footpath and drifted slightly to the north. There I encountered the grove of trees that I had mistakenly identified last winter
. Given the characteristics of the bark as I understand it, these trees may be 150-200 years old. Several seem to rise quite high into the Adirondacks sky.
Perhaps the giants will return sooner than I had anticipated.