hemlock, n. [ME. hemlok < OE. hemlic, hymlik, akin? to hymele, hop]
Just thirty Eastern Hemlock trees in a cluster on a steep ledgy bank can seem like a whole forest. After a day’s work among the maple trees in the sugarbush, I seldom choose to walk home through the hemlock forest just below the knob that Lew, Chief of Operations, calls The Plaza; I prefer to stay in the light.
By intention only do I step over its hem of bright green ferns onto the mat of leaf and needle mold. Then the hemlock forest enfolds me in its hush, particularly at dusk, demanding my attention, knocking me out of day-dreaming or planning dinner.
“Teacher, Teacher, TEACHER” —- the oven birds in the hemlock forest
Looking up into an old hemlock, the sheer number and mass of the limbs blots out the sun. Branches ram out every which way; many are straight, criss-crossing like pick-up sticks, but a fair number are crooked.
A limb will start to grow in one direction, reverse itself, wrap around the tree, and then head off the other way, snarling up the traffic. Further out, the limbs spread into graceful green boughs of small flat needles.
It is close to the trunk that the conflicts are the strongest.
My old friends Ann and Clive were childhood sweethearts and married in 1957.
Here are a mature hemlock and a mature yellow birch growing together!
One with dark rough vertical bark,
One with shiny horizontal bark;
One with needles,
One with pretty leaves;
One absorbing the light,
The other reflecting the light.
Their toes lock and their torsos touch.
These trees are of equal stature – two feet in diameter – and somehow the yellow birch has managed to penetrate the hemlock’s bulk to reach the sun.
A strip of vine, green as pea shoots, embellishes the bit of soil between these intimate neighbors.
“Each sugaring day, the Cotys burn one or two cords of wood in their evaporator to boil down the sap into maple syrup.” —from the Nebraska Knoll brochure
The trees Lew cuts for firewood need to be growing close to our woods road so we can roll or push the chunks over to the truck. He cuts spruce, hemlock, yellow birch, beech, red maple and the occasional sugar maple.
It can take the better part of an afternoon to buck up a big hemlock and get it down the hill in Old Blue, our 1964 International truck. When a hemlock falls, its trunk does not touch the ground because its bulky limbs cushion it.
After Lew lops off the limbs and trims them, I haul the boughs off into the woods, piling a few here, a few there, laying them as flat as I can so they will rot quickly into the forest floor. I throw or carry the firewood to Old Blue.
It is good work except for the whine of the chain saw: The boughs smell Christmassy, my body feels alive, I like how the exertion clears my mind.