A friend who is quite knowledgeable about wild native plants is hosting monthly hikes for women in our nearby state park. I was able to join them yesterday for a beautiful couple of hours in the woods, looking at trees...
There was a nice rhythm to the walk and to the conversation, with frequent pauses to consider various trees we came across, and to ask questions. S. talked us through how she determines the identity of a tree - what does its bark look like? smooth, rough, blocky, layered, shaggy? looking way up into its branches, how do they grow? are they alternate or opposite? are there any clues in the shapes of the smallest twigs, or in the shapes of the newly formed buds? The beeches reminded us of elephant skin...so smooth, amongst the rougher barks of the oaks.
This was a good tree to "scratch and sniff" - it caught our eye because of the awesome woodpecker holes, but it also smelled so good. Nibbling a bit of the bark, it was easy to identify the taste as sassafrass.
It was lovely to be out, lovely to have someone to put my questions to, who likes to ponder over a leaf poking up out of the debris and will take the time to talk about how to tell chickweed from a kind of cress (hairs along the stem, apparently). It was nice to talk about something other than my wonderful kids, to feel my brain stretch and grow a little, even just in the silent car ride there...