Mainewhile: Autumn magnificence is within the eye of the beholder
Gracious, it’s pretty much out there!
The last few days have been absolute perfection. The kind of weather that makes you grateful to be alive and to live in a place like this.
Since I also have a soft spot for gray and rainy days, I enjoyed the slow starts and rainy mornings, but the afternoons we had with the bright blue skies and the soft sunlight falling through the leaves are exploding in color … wow.
The highlight is of course the sugar maple.
When autumn comes and the leaves turn from deciduous green to bright scarlet, there is simply nothing like it. It’s breathtaking every year.
When we think of fall in Maine, it’s these edgy, deciduous beauties that come to mind. However, let’s all pause for a moment to admire my personal favorite tree, the Hackmatack.
Also known as the tamarack, or better known as the larch (Larix laricinia if you really want it formal), the hackmatack is an iconic Maine tree.
According to the Maine Guide to Forest Trees on maine.gov, the hackmatack can be found in scattered stands of varying sizes across our state. It grows quite large, up to a height of 50-60 feet, and is “most commonly found in cool, boggy locations, although it also grows in well-drained soil”. It’s adaptable, that’s my point. A necessary trait to thrive in Maine.
The Hackmatack also has strong ties to Maine culture. The coarse-grained, heavy wood is less used for interiors or furniture. However, due to its natural resistance to rot, it is often used for the necessary and practical things like posts, railway sleepers, dog sleds, and pots.
Also, because it often grows in swampy areas, it has a tendency to form shallow roots, resulting in really strong knees, the part of the root that takes a right angle from the tree. These knees have been used in traditional wooden boat building for centuries.
However, what really sets the Hackmatack apart is its own autumn display. Unlike most conifers, which keep their needles and stay evergreen all year round, Hackmatack color a deep mustard gold in the fall and drop their needles for the winter, only to grow new, soft, delicate needles in the spring. It is one of only three conifers – and the only one native to Maine – that does this.
Every fall, when the maples start to flicker, metaphors emerge about the beauty of embracing change and letting go. I enjoy them all. But in my opinion, these lessons take an extra layer when the tree in question is one that, while perhaps not as breathtakingly alive, is bucking the trend and going its own way. This is a tree that I admire.
The Hackmatack is a solid, resourceful, and beautiful tree. This fall, I suggest you pour yourself a cup of hot apple cider, put on your favorite sweater (and maybe a bright orange), and head out into the woods to admire it in all its glory.