For the past week, I've been teaching jazz piano at the New York Summer Music Festival in Oneonta, NY. While my teaching schedule has been quite intense, I've been able to appreciate the landscape and scenery on a daily basis. SUNY Oneonta is surrounded by green forested hills, a lovely contrast to life in Brooklyn. This morning I was able to go on a more extensive hike following trails that lead from the main campus up to a lodge and observatory, I'm guessing about one and a half to two miles up, over, and through the forest.
I had never taken these trails before, so I didn't know what to expect. I was also ill-equipped for any serious hiking, only having brought some canvas sneakers and dress socks. I'm sure I looked lovely. Luckily the hike wasn't too treacherous, although according to the topographic map there was an ascent of about 200 feet. I saw a doe (as in do(e) a deer, a female deer), several chipmunks, and was pestered nearly the whole time by a bouquet of gnats and deer flies. The deer flies seemed super attracted to the back of my head for some odd reason. All I could do was keep moving.
The most remarkable thing about this hike was the differing atmospheres of the forest. Different patches of trees created drastically different vibes. I've been interested in identifying trees lately for two reasons. First, I have begun reading Andrea Wulf's book, Founding Gardeners, and learned that George Washington was mad into trees, and was impatiently eager to get native species planted at his estate, Mount Vernon. Second, Washington brought to mind my own brother, Jake Stacken, who lives on an organic farm in southern Minnesota. Jake and his family literally live off of forest. They build things out of trees found their woods and use them for heating their home and cooking their food. Jake can identify most any species of tree just by how the wood grain looks, he knows what kinds of wood are best for making various things and he knows comparatively how hot and fast they burn. Meanwhile, I'm sitting at home in Brooklyn not even knowing what kind of trees we have in our yard. So I've taken it upon myself to learn more about trees, at the very least know enough to identify the trees around where I live. I've always been able to identify the basic trees, maple, oak, etcetera. But I have recently figured out with the help of a tree identification app that we have four Japanese Zelkova trees in our yard in Brooklyn. I know that the City of New York sites Zelkovas as "good median trees", but I'm sorry to say I can't tell you how they burn. I've enjoyed discovering that we have many Sycamores, Pin Oaks, and Lindens in the neighborhood.
Back to the hike now. In the woods here in Oneonta there are sizable stands of Red Pines, which happen to be the Minnesota State Tree (I was born and raised in MN). The Red Pine stands allow for plenty of sunlight and breeze and the fallen needles create a very soft bed and appear to thwart new growth - perhaps due to acidity? When I first happened upon a patch of them, I actually took a comfortable rest, laying down on my back and watching them sway in the breeze. They only have green foliage near the top. Later on the hike I found myself into a thick patch of a different evergreen tree which I later identified as Canadian or Eastern Hemlock. Totally different vibe there - much darker. The foliage began only about six feet above the ground, and the flattened pattern of the needles allowed less sunlight through. The bark was darker in color, and there was less airflow around the Hemlocks. The fallen needles didn't create a soft bed, but rather provided beautiful speckled green patterns on the dark ground. The feeling around the Hemlocks was eerie.
I enjoyed noticing the difference between these two stands of trees. I would classify the area of Red Pines as yang, and the Hemlocks as yin, when compared to one another. The red pines had an active, drier, brighter vibe and the wood seemed harder, while the hemlocks seemed comparatively inactive, darker, softer, and damp. But what has a front has a back, and nothing is fully yang or fully yin, so I would classify the softness of the the ground under the Red Pines as yin, and the hardness ond under the Hemlocks as yang.
Further along the hike I discovered some fantastically beautiful orange-red mushrooms. They were tiny but very vibrant in color. A quick search on the Internet has brought me to the conclusion that mushrooms are quite a bit more complicated to classify and that I'll stick with identifying trees for the moment. But I snapped a photo of these beautiues, whatever variety they may be:
On my way back to campus I noticed a particularly loud and pretty birdsong coming from high in the trees. I also can't tell you what kind of bird it was, but I managed to capture some of it's song in a Vine.
Rain is falling now, the final game of the World Cup has started, and I'm happy to be inside and dry. I'm thankful that I was able to take this hike this morning, and thankful to notice the beautiful variety and contrasts of the forested hills of Oneonta, NY.