Christmas Gift from Mohawk   Robert Leverett
  Dec 26, 2006 06:42 PST 


What does a dedicated Ent do on Christmas? Why, commune with the trees,
of course. So, that is what we did. Monica and I spent both the 24th and
25th communing with the forest. The fragrance of the forest was our
yuletide elixir. Christmas Eve was spent walking the bed of the old
Hoosac Tunnel and Wilmington Railway in the township of Monroe, MA and
Christmas Day was spent, appropriately enough, in our forest Mecca,

Our Christmas Eve walk on the remains of the old railroad, lovingly
called the “Hoot Toot and Whistle”, was scenic, but I must report that
the trees are un-inspiring. Past railroad-caused fires has left the
ridges above the tracks populated with birch, aspen, and oak. White
ashes grow in the more fertile spots, but there are no champions. A
scattering of cottonwoods proved to be a surprise for me, although most
are nothing to write home about. Our 3-mile roundtrip walk netted me
only 2 cottonwoods worthy of entering into our database. But their mere
existence is interesting. The cottonwoods grow on the ridge above the
railroad instead of down nearer the Deerfield River, where there is
annual flooding. I'm wondering if the railroad was the vector for their
introduction. Perhaps cottonwood seeds from far down river became
hitchhikers on trains to blow off and onto the hillsides. Does anyone
have theories about that? Oh yes, the December 24th weather was idyllic
– hardly typical of December in northern Massachusetts, but most
enjoyable. The lulling sounds of the rushing waters of the Deerfield,
augmented by the gentler trickles of numerous small streams flowing down
Hoosac Tunnel Mountain, provided us with all the Christmas carolling we
needed. Put Monica next to a rushing stream of water and the sounds
quickly put her into a transcendental state that equals, for this
professor of music and accomplished concert pianist, the effects of any
sonata, concerto, or etude.

Monica and I spent Sunday in the northern end of MTSF and how sweet it
was. With Monica communing with Negus Mountain from a vantage point
visited by very, very few, I entered the forest in search of over-looked
tree treasures. And, wow, did I ever get a real Christmas present - a
new 150-foot white pine, using a liberal interpretation for the base of
the tree. The “Northern Sentinel” becomes number 82 for MTSF. The new
pine is a loner and it is picture perfect. It becomes the northern most
150 in Mohawk. That distinction previously went to the Joseph Brant
Tree. The coordinates of the Northern Sentinel are 42.65 degrees
latitude and 72.96 degrees longitude. It grows at an altitude of 885
feet. The tree is not far from the route up Clark Ridge called the
Shunpike – a historic late 1700s route up the Deerfield River Gorge used
to avoid tolls on the toll road.

A second important tree was a stately hemlock growing just down hill
from the white pine. The tree’s height was a surprise. At 125.6 feet
tall, it becomes the 16th hemlock in MTSF that we have measured to over
120 feet and our third tallest in Mohawk. John Eichholz has taken the
mission on to document them all. I am happy to assist. John, we have

The third surprise was a drop dead gorgeous red maple – as pretty as
I’ve ever seen. Talk about aesthetics! This tree defines the concept as
it relates to that much maligned species. We’ll get images. The maple’s
dimensions are quite respectable (113.3, 8.1). However, it is its form
that wins the maple its prize. The tree is not far from a walk that I
once did with the late Karl Davies, forester extraordinaire. When he saw
the red maples in the area, Karl mentioned to me that he had not seen
their equal. I wish Karl had seen the “Magic Maple”. He would have
marveled at it. Karl was a forester who was intensely proud of his
profession and who concentrated on building value in the stands he
managed. In fact, value growth was his Clarion Call. He could not
tolerate the liquidation mentality of landowners who often deal directly
with loggers – an almost guaranteed way of getting taken. However, Karl
had a pretty dim view of red maple, as most timber specialists do. I
wonder what his attitude might have become had he seen the Magic Maple –
not that a single tree should be expected to have that much of an
impact. But this is no ordinary red maple. I realize that red maple may
not make the most ideal timber tree, but it can do a lot better in areas
that are selectively harvested. What Karl objected to are the numerous
over-cut and high graded stands that become populated with unsightly
coppiced red maples. Since the area with the beautiful red maple saw an
“improvement cut” in the past, perhaps in the 60s, there are lessons to
be learned by all sides of debates on the best way to manage our state
forests. However, the north end of Mohawk is past that debate. It is now
part of one of the 9 large-scale forest reserves in Massachusetts.

The full catch of the two days follows.

Species Tree Name Height Girth DOM
Cottonwood 95.1 8.3 24-Dec-06
Cottonwood 90.2 6.1 24-Dec-06
White pine Northern Sentinel 150.2 9.3 25-Dec-06
White ash 124.3 9.1 25-Dec-06
Striped Maple 53.7 2.0 25-Dec-06
Red maple Magic Maple 113.3 8.1 25-Dec-06
Northern red oak 109.2 9.1 25-Dec-06
Hemlock Northern Surprise 125.6 9.1 25-Dec-06
Hemlock 114.9 5.7 25-Dec-06
Black cherry 100.8 6.4 25-Dec-06

Before passing on, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the area of
the Berkshires that Monica drove across going to MTSF. The upland
Berkshire plateau contains most of the forested lands of the Berkshires,
and as a whole, large areas of these woodlands are pretty unproductive.
Small to stunted forms dominate acre after acre. Driving across the
Berkshire Plateau, a person reading one of my accounts of MTSF or MSF
might wonder what I put into my coffee. In truth, most of the Berkshire
forests run from average to uninspiring to downright depressing. Local
folks who grow up with them often don’t know the difference, but those
of us in ENTS clearly do. It is in the protected river gorges and on the
toe slopes of ridges that one encounters woodlands of a far higher
quality in the Berkshires. But even in the ravines, trees often only
make it into the average category. But then there are the forests of the
Deerfield River and its tributaries and finally the incomparable section
that runs from just west of Charlemont to the Vermont border. It is in
this corridor that we see the best of the best in terms of tall trees in
Massachusetts. MTSF is clearly the tall tree capital of New England and
jewel in the belt buckle of the Mahican-Mohawk Recreational Trail. Yes,
Christmas spent among Mohawk’s splendid trees was a great day.


Robert T. Leverett
Cofounder, Eastern Native Tree Society