Last night the ESSP students and I attended a talk given by Tom Wessels, the author of Reading the Forested Landscape and other books. The talk focused on reading and understanding the history of the woods of New England for signs of farming and logging. Having heard him speak before I was prepared for the incredible depth of knowledge he shares, but the students were thoroughly amazed. The highlight of his talk for me was giving evidence of a major hurricane that hit New England in the 1400s through analyzing several American chestnut stumps in western Massachusetts. He identified the stumps from the rot patterns, determined when they were cut based on when the chestnut blight hit, determined that they were stump sprouts based on how they were growing closely together in the remains of an old stump, aged the old stump at 300 years, and because the stump was growing on a pillow next to a cradle that was just southeast of it, determined that the original tree had been blown over before from the southeast which is where hurricanes come from in this part of the world. Based on this evidence he figured that a major hurricane hit the region in the late 1400′s. It was fascinating.
Something that I hadn’t heard before was that American chestnut trees were known to grow to heights of 300 feet, with trunk diameters of 14 feet!
He also explained that the eastern hemlock was nearly eradicated several thousand years ago, but returned to its current healthy state, and voiced his belief that the American chestnut will return to its former glory.
If you haven’t read his book Reading the Forested Landscape, you should.