It’s astonishing how few local residents are aware of the fall foliage display of black gum, which begins a month or more in advance of most other trees. The oblong pointed leaves go from green to yellow to orange to red, different trees and sometimes even different branches turning on different schedules. But you have to get out of your car to see it: black gum tends to grow either in swamps and bogs or on dry, acidic, heath-oak forests. In Plummer’s Hollow we have plenty of the latter, and black gum is a major understory tree for a couple miles along our Laurel Ridge. About 15 years ago, we built a footpath paralleling the Plummer’s Hollow Road about two-thirds of the way up the ridge-side to afford maximum access to the black gum, following existing animal trails wherever possible. Today we led a small group of fellow nature enthusiasts up Plummer’s Hollow Road and back along Black Gum Trail, trying to spread the word about this under-appreciated tree.
A dry high blew in right at dawn — the temperature dropped five degrees Fahrenheit while I was sitting outside drinking my coffee and watching the harvest moon. First the moon was threading holes in the cloud cover, and the next thing I knew the whole western sky was clear. By the time we met the group at 10:00 o’clock, the sky was cloudless. Cars streamed northeastward past our bridge en route to a Penn State football game. It was a great day for — well, just about anything.
Juniata Valley Audubon members are nature nerds and proud of it. We do call outings like this one “hikes,” but in practice they are usually slow rambles, with lots of field-guide consulting and peering through binoculars. We take joy in learning the difference between beech drops and dropped beech nut shells.
I wish I could take credit for the idea of placing that shell on that leaf in a patch of sun, but this is exactly the way I found it. My art, if you can call it that, consists mainly of noticing things and placing a frame around them. I’m not even flexible enough to talk and snap pictures at the same time, so I had to take most of the photos in this set by dropping behind the rest of the group for a few seconds. And it never occurred to me to take a picture of the group itself.
After the “hike” was over, I went back to the beginning section of the Black Gum Trail — about 300 feet from my house — to shoot a few more pictures of the foliage, and found supper waiting on a log ten feet off the trail. How had all of us missed the fat yellow fans of chicken mushroom when we walked by two hours earlier?
Maybe we were just too busy looking up.
Be sure to send all tree-related blog post links to the Festival of the Trees by Tuesday (September 28). The October 1 edition of this four-year-old blog carnival is the science and nature blog Kind of Curious. Here are the details on how to participate.