On Saturday morning, we drove into Skowhegan to do some errands. The “city” of Skowhegan isn’t especially beautiful, and the drive to town, passing through mixed farm and forest country, isn’t especially dramatic. This field, studded with bales of hay, bounded by old farmhouses and piney woods, is pretty typical of the region.
We made it home in the early afternoon; with a few hours of daylight left, I set out to explore my family’s 100 acre woods, to check in on the current state of our forest, and the various wood-cutting operations we’ve got going on.
For the past five years, we’ve been working with local woodcutters to thin our woods, with an eye towards harvesting mature fir and poplar, and thinning around some of our healthier and more valuable pines and hardwoods. As I walked through the recently cut land, I was glad to see that the forest had been harvested in such a way as to leave plenty of healthy trees standing.
In 1973, just before my family bought this land, the previous owners had all of the mature sugar maples cut, which I’m sure had something to do with the low price that my parents paid for the hundred acres. Even forty years later, we have stands of skinny sugar maples, but not many big ones.
This pine tree, a gnarled, twisted, multi-trunked beast of a tree, is the largest single tree on our property. The way that the trunk is split again and again is probably what makes it of limited economic or timber value, and is also probably the reason that it has been allowed to grow so big and old.
When I was a kid, our property was a patchwork of fields and forest. The fields were all ringed with low rock walls, painstakingly hand-built many generations ago. Even in these days of modern convenience and communication, it is still quite an undertaking to get through a Maine winter in an old farmhouse. It’s incredible to think about how difficult it must have been for the folks who, on top of everything else, were dragging these rocks out of the fields.
Crazy curved tree at the edge of the creek. So many places in Maine, you see trees grabbing onto the slightest bits of soil at the edges of water or rock, and curving their way into whatever bit of sunlight they can reach.
Over the past ten years or so, I’ve been doing my own small-scale forest thinning project at the edge of the clearing in front of the house. I’ve been trying to create a more gradual transition into the forest, with an intermediate semi-forest zone. It’s been a year and a half since I have worked on it, but I’m pretty happy with how it looks now.
Another project from a few years back was our attempt to dig a “pond” (more like a large puddle) in a low swampy area. It looks like “Lake Anna” will need some maintenance, probably during a warmer time of year.
Along the edges of the old field stand a handful of enormous old white pines. I think this particular tree is the largest of them. I’ve thought at times about having this tree cut and milled right on the spot, and making an entire small building out of wood from this one individual. For now, though, I think we’ll let this one grow, and see just how big it will get.