adj 1: highly skilled or proficient” “a master plumber”; “a master
thief” [syn: master(a)]
I’m the kind of guy who loves to learn new things. And I love the outdoors also. Well, those two facets came together, if facets can do that, a few years ago when the realization struck me that I knew very little about nature. I grew up in the country in east Tennessee [insert banjo music here], and as a matter of fact I was born in a log home that my Grandfather built. This log home, and my Grandfather were firmly situated on a working farm. My Grandfather cut and stripped the logs to build the home from the woods on the farm, so you’d think that I would have at least picked up a little bit from osmosis. But unfortunately all I picked up were some names… Oak, Pawpaw, things like that. I knew the names, but not to which actual tree to apply said name. This was all fine and dandy for lo these many years. Until I happened to have the opportunity to live in a very old house that had about two acres of a park-like setting. Having just narrowly escaped subdivision life with my sanity hanging on by a thin thread, I wanted to …. well I wanted to just hug those trees. But what tree was I hugging? I didn’t know! Perhaps the strike was me running to fast to the tree, or it was the realization of just how lore-less I really was. And with my upbringing, it was a truly deplorable situation. But if the Navy did anything for me, it gave me the confidence in myself that I could do pretty much anything I set my mind to. So being the reader that I am, I went to Amazon, and Barnes and Noble and did some research of which books would do me the best. Originally I ordered the “Peterson Field Guide: Field Guide to Eastern Trees” and started studying. The methods for identifying a tree included many things, the easiest for me were(and still are) the leaves and fruits. But for complete differentiation between say a Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum) and a Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) may be the deepness of the leaf nodes, or the color of the tiny hairs on the underside of the leaf, or perhaps the size and shape of the leaf bud scars and scales. Aha! More tools were in order. So I went in search of a magnifying glass (lighted I might add), a compact ruler, a twig trimmer, and last but not least… My Lore-Master bag! L. L. Bean was the benefactor in this case, a paid benefactor really. I bought a nice thick messenger back sort of thing. And now I was ready.
So, from that point forward I would stroll around my park-like setting and identify all the trees I could find. And there were a good many varieties of trees! I had Maples, Walnuts, Elms, Hackberry, Pines, Cedars, and a couple of Firs. Here’s an interesting tidbit, the Black Walnut tree (Juglans nigra) secretes a chemical into the soil called juglone. So interestingly a walnut tree creates a soil environment that is toxic to a good many other species of trees. The list of trees that are immune pretty much encompassed all the trees I had! I would take time when I went to visit my Mom in east Tennessee to walk around in the “holler” where I grew up. Here I had a… well a forest of trees to identify. And with my keenly tuned analytical mind, I set to the task at hand. I would often go for a mile long hike and sometimes make it two or three hundred yards. But even in those abbreviated journeys I would return with my little notebook full of newly identified trees. But even the sharpest mind, not mine of course, can easily be side tracked. I would often miss the err forest for the trees. My Petersen guide was a valuable asset, but just the fact that the leaves and fruit of the trees in the book were “artists renderings” left much to be desired. So another jaunt to the book store was my new task at hand. This time, I actually went to a real bookstore, not one of those virtual ones. There I found my ultimate resource: “National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees – E: Eastern Region” (Imitation leather). The Audubon book was fantastic, it had a plethora of actual pictures of fruits, leaves, and the bark. Making identification much easier. Since this time I have taken my lore-master bag to Big Ridge State Park, Evangeline Bowie Nature Park, and even Centennial Park in Nashville!
Since I started my lore-master studies, I have felt much more comfortable in my natural surroundings. I have discovered things like: The tree commonly known as the “Box Elder” is actually a maple (Acer negundo). The smallish tree commonly called a “Mimosa” is actually not in the Mimosa genus, it is a Albizia julibrissin the “Persian Silk Tree”. So, I have learned a lot, and am continuing to learn. In the next installment, I’ll channel Euell Gibbons and tell you what parts of a Redbud tree are edible!