Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Giving Names to Colors

October 9, 2010
Landis Arboretum, Esperance, NY

October is the month of painted leaves.
Their rich glow now flashes round the world.
HDT, Autumnal Tints

After a splendid day at Pyramid ( and a couple of hours on the highway), I got up at 6 am the next day, in order to drive some more – this time in a southerly direction. I was signed up for a Tree Identification class at Landis Arboretum.

In college, I majored in Fine Arts. Since my only formal science education consists of Biology 101, many moons ago, classes like these are an ideal way to increase my knowledge bit by bit. What I would learn today should at help me in giving names to what I see every day.
I’d heard about this place from Jackie. She told me that Ed Miller, local botanist extraordinaire, had put much time and effort into volunteer work at Landis. When I met him this summer, he spoke of creating a “mini-bog” exhibit there, as a way to show all those unique bog-loving plants together in one place.
That was something I wanted to see!

Well, for once I was able to get up and going early on a Saturday (not having worked late the night before), and by 7 am I was on the Northway, heading south.
It was a pleasant ride, swinging past Albany and heading west along the highlands of New York State.
The fall colors along the roadside faded back to dull greens as I passed through the Hudson and Mohawk river valleys near Albany. Then my route headed west, to higher ground, and bright yellows and oranges covered the hillsides.

Despite the shifted timing of the wildflowers this summer, Fall Foliage season seems to be right on time, although the weather is staying warmer much later in the month than usual. It was a sunny and breezy day, but temperatures were in the high ‘60s.
At Landis, director of horticulture Fred Breglia herded our group indoors. The first part of our class was all about nomenclature – the vocabulary of trees. Laughing as he twirled transparencies around and around in the vintage overhead projector, he said that we were getting “a semester’s worth of information in three hours.” He was certainly up to that task, but I wasn’t sure I was ! Thankfully, he also supplied handouts, upon which I have many scribbled notes.

After being supplied with the rudiments of tree-language, we spilled out of our classroom into the bright sunshine, to meet some of the trees in person.

What’s great about an Arboretum is that most of the plants are labeled.

Some are in their natural settings, others were grouped according to habitat,
others by tree-family.

A few areas looked like zoo exhibits, with the trees in cages (!)

– but unlike a zoo, the cages were for their protection, not ours. Some of the exhibits were tender seedlings, and needed protection from the deer (who must surely watch this place with eager eyes.)

The three hours passed quickly. I hope to have absorbed at least a little of what Fred so kindly (and thoroughly) shared with our group.

It was great to see the cousins of trees that I see at Moreau Park, and to learn a little more about them.

There was another long drive ahead of me, but I decided to stay for lunch, and take a short walk around one of the Arboretum’s many trails.

I bought a sandwich at the local food mart, and returned to Landis. I dined at Willow Pond, sharing a bench with some meadowhawk dragonflies, who, like myself, were soaking up the October sunshine.

There was time for only the briefest exploration of the trails. One of them had signs pointing the way to something called The Great Oak. It seemed proper on my first visit to visit the Queen of the Trees. The trail passed by a lovely little swamp,

complete with basking turtles,

One of them covered with the lemna, or duckweed, that covered the pond like a mosaic

Then up a short hill – and there, on the open crest, stood the Oak !

It is estimated at 400 to 500 years old. How much it has seen and endured!

Behind the tree, and off to one side of the trail, I saw a tiny speck – it was a man, standing and looking. And looking some more.
The tiny speck turned out to be normal-sized Jim Cramer, a painter specializing in plein-air, or outdoor painting.

You can see some of his work here:
Today he was actually working on a commission – doing a portrait of this ancient oaken personality.

It was good to see someone else out enjoying this fine day, and getting inspiration from it, and responding with creativity.

As he worked, I stood there, seeing two kinds of Painted Leaves …

and at once I recalled another passage from Autumnal Tints

I do not see why, since America and her autumn woods have been discovered,
our leaves should not compare with the precious stones
in giving names to colors;

and, indeed, I believe that in course of time
the names of some of our trees and shrubs, as well as flowers,
will get into our popular chromatic nomenclature.

1 comment:

  1. Indeed, there should be a color of paint called Maple-leaved Viburnum Rose.

    Sounds like you had quite a day at Landis, Sue. Ed Miller has worked very hard to establish an extensive exhibit there of native American woody plants, as well as his little bathtub sized bog. I'll be counting on you now to set me straight about trees I puzzle over.