Tree Project: Winter Follow-Up

The day before New Year’s Eve I visited my trees again to check on them.  There was a short line at the entrance to Middleton Plantation, where the trees are located.  The day was gorgeous, though freezing cold, and I was ready to get started.  I got restless while waiting in line and took a quick look through my camera at the tree canopy above us.

Tree Project 004_1Before getting to the staple yard, I had to walk past a pond with a surface as clear as a mirror.

Tree Project 016_2_1This pond has one lone resident swan. The swan used to have a friend, but I have not seen it in a long time. I wonder if swans get lonely at times, like humans?

Tree Project 028_2_1Once I made it to the trees, to my surprise, I found the Chinaberry tree still full of berries.  Chinaberry trees attract berry-eating birds, such as mockingbirds, robins, and catbirds.  The ones I discovered in the tree that I am following this year are mocking birds.

Tree Project 066_2_1Ingesting as few as six berries or less can be fatal to humans.

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Birds only get intoxicated of the berries.  However, if they eat too many, it can cause paralysis.  Maybe that’s why this little friend was dwelling under the tree, hoping some birds would drop to the ground?

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The Ginkgo tree is completely bare; its fallen leaves are brown and wilted.  Though, the tree’s buds are in ready position, awaiting the ‘go signal’ from the sun.

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I had to keep my time around the trees short, because of a territorial, sentinel swan goose.  It charged at me a few times until I finally gave up and retreated.

Tree Project 059_2_1On the other side of the fence was a water buffalo looking on, probably amused by my defeat.  Meanwhile, its friend was sunning itself, casting an interesting shadow of its enormous body.

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A mother duck and her ducklings were being kept safe in a cage.  (What happened to baby ducks being born in spring?)  The wire mesh of the cage was rather large and an f-stop of 5.6 would not eliminate it from showing up on my photo of this little duckling.

Tree Project 043_2_1I was lucky enough to chance upon the resident carpenter who sported off hand-woven tassels made by Mrs. Carpenter.

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On my way back to the car, I could not resist taking another photo of a gumball.  These fruits of the gumball tree are always attractive looking amid a tangle of twigs and branches.

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I think for now I let the birds finish off the China berries.  Once the days have grown longer and the sun warmer, I will check on the Chinaberry and Ginkgo trees again.

Meanwhile, I have registered with Middleton Plantation for a volunteer orientation session this month.  I may have the opportunity to soon give spinning demonstrations in the staple yard.  It is my secret hope, that they will also let me care for the sheep.

Tree Project: Late Fall Follow-Up

Sunday, December 2, 2012.  Afternoon.

Today, I found my Ginkgo tree virtually bare. Drayton & Middleton 136_2_1

Only a handful of leaves managed to hang on to its branches.  An ocean of withering, golden leaves blanketed the ground beneath.  Their time has come to disintegrate and be reabsorbed into the earth and to support new life.

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One unexpected peculiarity caught my attention:  The Ginkgo tree had something that looked like new leaf buds.  Winter is approaching, and it looks as if the tree is already preparing for new growth.  It will be exciting to see what happens next when I visit it again in a few weeks.

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I definitely expect new leaves to emerge from the Ginkgo in spring. Not one of these leaves will be identical to the old ones, but they’ll still be from the same tree.

There is something to be learned from this observation.  One day, the time will come when our bodies will disintegrate and be reabsorbed into the ground as well. Will we also reemerge in the material world like the new Ginkgo leaves, perhaps in a different form, but still from the same, original source?

The Ginkgo tree has a delicate, little vine with heart-shaped, deep green leaves climbing up its trunk.  So pretty!

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The other interesting thing I’d like to report is that, despite the recent rainfall, the long, white ‘mystery hair’ still hangs off the same Ginkgo branch.  Unfortunately, I have not found out yet who it might belong to.

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Could the hair be Jake’s?  Oh, I have yet to introduce Jake to you …

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His barn and pasture are to the right of my trees.  Today, I was fortunate enough to be able to watch Jake getting groomed.  He deserves every bit of love and attention.  You see, Jake used to be a work horse and had to pull horse carriages.  Now he is retired and can enjoy his days roaming around on the pasture.  The people at Middleton Plantation love and respect him very much and give him lots of TLC.

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Jake’s story reminds me of the elderly.  I wish all elderly would be able to enjoy the same kind of retirement Jake is having now.  They, too, worked as hard as work horses in their lives.  The truth is, however, that many people are impoverished, in lack of needed care and attention, unloved, and forgotten by society in their old age.  At least, this is true for Western culture.  Why does our society not love, respect, and care for our elderly the way we do for animals?  Definitely, something to ponder!

To my surprise, the Chinaberry tree still had all of its berries.

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This means the feast and intoxication of the birds has not taken place yet.  I don’t know why, but I am generally not fond of tree berries.  Maybe it has something to do with the warnings I received as a child that most tree berries are poisonous and I should keep away from them.  But I have to admit, a leafless Chinaberry tree with nothing but clusters of berries looks quite attractive, especially when the light conditions of its background are just right.

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It would have been an almost perfectly quiet afternoon at the stable yards if it had not been for the Guinea birds.

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Their calls can be quite loud and penetrating.  Guineas are also fast runners and, thus difficult to photograph.  I see them as a challenge to improve my motion photography skills. 🙂

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They seem to shed a lot of their feathers which then mix in on the ground with the fallen Ginkgo leaves and berries from the Chinaberry tree.

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Today, my trees had another visitor.  It was an injured goose.  One of the wings of this goose is permanently extending out to the side.  The goose cannot completely retract it and fold it in against its body anymore.

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The caretakers at Middleton Place assured me, though, that this injured goose it just as happy as the rest of the flock.  Is there yet another lesson to be learned here?  Accidents and misfortunes do happen in life.  Can we also uphold a happy disposition even if we are faced with short-term or lasting physical ailments or handicaps?

Tree Project: Ginkgo and Chinaberry

When I decided to start my tree project, I never envisioned how difficult it would be to find suitable trees. For the project to be successful, there are several things that must be taken into consideration. The trees need to be accessible. I need to be able to get close to them so that I can get a more intimate look at their details. To spark sufficient interest, the trees need to go through noticeable changes over the course of a year. For example, a deciduous tree will experience more changes than a coniferous one. The surroundings of the trees are also crucial. They should be attractive or at least neutral. The view should be unobstructed. I will need a nice spot in close proximity where I can sit down and set up for sketching.

After searching for several days, I finally came across a little ginkgo tree (ginkgo biloba) and a Chinaberry tree (melia azedarach) which happen to be side by side. Both trees are located inside the stable yards of Middleton Place, one of my favorite places. These trees don’t meet all of the requirements in that they are not completely unobstructed, but I chose them anyway.

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The ginkgo tree is native to China. Its leaves are turning vibrantly golden this time of the year. I love their distinct shape and, for that reason, have used them in printmaking before. The ginkgo tree which I am now following is around 30 years old. Ginkgos are dioeciously, meaning there are male and female varieties. The tree I selected is male. Male trees will not get any blossoms. People who work in the Middleton Place stable yard are glad for it, because Ginkgo blossoms are rather odorous.Image

Up until now, I never heard of Chinaberry trees before. Though I walked by this tree many times in the past, it is interesting how it never caught my attention before. As added benefit, my tree project seems to teach me to become more mindful. I looked up ‘Chinaberry tree’ in Wikipedia and this is what is says about its origin: [The Chinaberry] is a species of deciduous tree in the mahogany family, meliaceae that is native to Pakistan, India, Indochina, Southeast Asia and Australia. Currently, the Chinaberry tree at Middleton Place is completely leafless. All it has is berries and galls.Image

As I was admiring the Chinaberry tree for the first time, I had the good fortune to run into Bob, a historian with an expanded knowledge of the area’s botany. Bob told me that at first the berries on the tree are hard, but the late fall weather conditions will soften them. As soon as the berries are soft enough, birds will swarm the tree for an intoxicating feast that will probably last no longer than two days. Then the tree will be completely stripped of all of its fruit. Only the galls will remain. A word of caution: The berries are only intoxicating to birds, but they are poisonous to humans. I don’t want to jump ahead in my project, but I think we can expect small, fragrant flowers on this tree in spring.Image

According to Wikipedia, galls are abnormal outgrowths of plant tissues and can be caused by various parasites, from fungi and bacteria, to insects and mites.Image

One of the reasons why I chose the little ginkgo tree and Chinaberry tree is that they are sure to have plenty of visitors. There are ducks, geese, cats, horses, peacocks, Ginny birds and, occasionally, sheep around. Right opposite the trees is a potter’s shop with a bench in front of it.

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This hair, that I found hanging off the ginkgo tree at eye level, holds a mysterious story. Who may it belong to? Who visited this tree? Perhaps I will find the answer during the course of this year-long project.

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