I walk through the woods differently than I used to. Now I pay special attention to the color and texture of the bark on the trees.
I’m beginning to see the subtle distinctions between them, even if I still can’t identify them. Just from noticing the tree trunks, I can see there are so many more species than I ever imagined.
It reminds me of when I first realized that all my sheep had their own personalities.
This time of year, without leaves or buds or fruit to help with identification, the bark is sometimes the only information I have. So I’m getting to know the trees with the most distinctive bark first.
That’s why when I followed Fate and Zinnia over the crumbled stone wall and slouching barbed wire fence into the old pasture and saw the towering tree with the thick grooved bark, I thought I’d be able to figure out what it was.
In the past, I would have just assumed the tree was some kind of Oak. Mostly because it was one of the few trees I knew. But after looking through my Audubon Field Guide To Trees, I don’t make those kinds of assumptions anymore.
And then, as if to give me another clue, there were two leaves frozen onto a bare patch of ice at the foot of the tree.
Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean the leaves belong to that tree. But when I looked at photos online and read the description of the tree and leaf, it led me to believe that the tree is an Eastern Cottonwood.
Although the photo of the bark in my Field Guide doesn’t look so much like the bark on this tree, I’ve learned that a single photo of tree bark isn’t really helpful. The bark can change in appearance so much depending on the size and age of the tree.
But the description of the tree as being a “Large tree with a massive trunk often forked…open crown… and slightly dropping branches” fit. Also, Cottonwoods border streams and this one is on a pond.
And I was able to find pictures of the bark online of bigger trees, that looked like the bark on this tree.
The tree isn’t easy to get to in the spring and summer, the pasture will be overgrown and loaded with ticks that time of year. But seeing the seeds which look like cotton, and where the tree gets its name from, would make its identification certain.
Although I did get a feeling when I saw the two leaves in the ice that it was a gift. As if the Cottonwood wanted to be known.