The most common trees in this region are spruce and jack pine and poplar and birch. Some would add tamarack to that list. And I have observed that they die natural deaths in different ways.
When a spruce or a jack pine is dying, it turns colour. That is, the leaves – the needles – change colour. This can start on any branch of the tree, and spread.
Some people mistake tamarack for an evergreen. It is not. Its needles change colour, to a gorgeous rusty orange, every fall, and come springtime, it may still harbour some orange. Then the feathery new leaves emerge delightfully verdant.
A birch tends to die from the top down. In midsummer the top may flash brilliant yellow, or if you peer upward through the bowers, you may see bare branches poking out where the crown should be. The tree is dying. The papery bark may retain its silvery sheen for years, and its arms wave multiple green flags, but the rot has set in. Then one day the trunk collapses on your greenhouse or your car.
The poplar is a wily survivor. It can look healthy to the very end. Sure, it may have some of the symptoms of conifer and birch, but more often it is green to the end. Because, it is dying from the inside out. The layers beneath the bark – the sapwood – may still be pushing nutrients to the tips of every twig and every leaf, but the heart of the tree is decaying. It is a dead tree standing. And the next gust of wind tosses a limb through your window, or topples the whole she-bang across your shed, or what is worse, pulls down your power line and rips the electrical stack off the cabin.
Because of the treacherous nature of this plant, camp-owners (That’s “cottagers” to you, pilgrim) monitor their poplar very closely.
Lately, though, I’ve noticed owners making pre-emptive strikes on healthy trees. Some go so far as to clear-cut their lots, eradicating every single poplar.
Which brings us to the case of the lost cabin.
(Conclusion in the next post)