Monday, December 21, 2009


I remember my first visit, as a 9 year old more than 30 years ago, to the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) like it was yesterday. I desperately wanted to be an archeologist and search for dinosaurs around the planet and visiting the Museum was like going to a candy store. For every fossilized dinosaur I saw that day I imagined two more that I could have discovered. I imagined going back in time to what the Earth could have been like during the time of the dinosaurs and in my mind’s eye I could stand and watch an amazing clash of these titans.

I also have another very distinct memory of that day. It was the day that I first became awed by any member of the plant world, and more specifically, the day that I began to love trees.

If you haven’t visited the museum and you love trees, or if you just have a general neutrality about trees you will want to visit the display of a cross-section of a Giant Sequoia tree cut down in 1891 that lived to be more than 1,300 years old. This specimen, that once stood more than 300 feet tall, inspired words like “proud,” and “majestic,” but it also inspired an overwhelming sense of humility. This specimen reminded me of what a big, beautiful, and wondrous planet we live on and it led me to perspective on the significance of a species that lives for 10 to 20 times or more than that of man. Humility wasn’t a word that I was familiar with then, but on that day I discovered what it meant. (see:
I also remember being saddened by the demise of this tree, but even more I remember being elated that there were several more specimens still alive that were older and taller. I have not yet visited California to see these amazing wonders, but it is on the top of my list of places to go and soon.

As I stared in awed reverence at the display I quickly realized the impossibility of trying to count the rings of this tree. Fortunately, the museum marked significant dates in human history with their corresponding chronologic ring along the cross sectional girth. To think that this tree stood serenely on the western coast of this “new” land when Christopher Columbus set foot for the first time on its soil is fascinating and even at this point in time, this tree was nearly 1,000 years old.

I was deeply moved for reasons that I couldn’t understand (after all, I was only 9). I tried to imagine what it must be like to be an organism that witnessed 1,300 years of history. How many snow storms, lightning strikes, new and extinct species of animal and plant, and human events had this organism been present to observe? Even at 9 I had a concept of trees not being sentient in the sense of being able to make observations, but knowing and imagining are two different things. In my imagination, this tree was like a wise elder friend silently, but positively ‘there’ whenever one would want to, or need to visit. I imagined myself lying by myself in a forest of these quiet giants simply staring at their majesty and the sky through their branches. It’s hard to imagine what stress feels in this context. One simply goes to a place where stressors just don’t seem important.

After a few minutes I came to realize the conspicuous quiet of the display despite the ten or so other visitors who, like me, were simply in awe. I was comforted in knowing that I was not alone in this quiet celebration of a species that wasn’t ‘us.’

Today, some 32 or so years later, I still love trees. Among some of my favorites are many trees who I would guess remain largely inconspicuous to most. The love that I have for trees has an additional dimension now though. As much as I still find peace and calm when I walk among trees, I also revere trees for the interdependence that we humans have with them.


As I write this, leaders from around the world (119 countries to be precise) have gathered in Copenhagen for the United Nations Climate Change Conference ( and all hopes from around the world point to interventions that will have a dynamic impact on our entire planet.

Among these is the preservation of trees. The photo to the right demonstrates deforestation in Brazil. This entire region was once covered with rainforest, but as a result of the different
governmental policies and lack of protections it is now all too evident where deforestation exists. Let this picture serve as an indication of what irresponsible actions look like. Let this picture also serve as cause for hope that we all can recognize how responsible action can inform policy and cause positive change that reaches far into the future.

Closer to Home

For lovers of trees who would like to celebrate and enjoy a prime example of how we can live responsibly and celebrate our interdependence with trees I would encourage a visit to the Pine Hollow Arboretum. With nearly 3,000 plantings of trees and shrubs that are zoned for this region the Arboretum is a place that I find inspirational. Dr. John Abbuhl’s effort to cultivate the Arboretum enters its 45th year and if one isn’t inspired by the level of detail of the site, s/he will be after talking with John about any of the species planted here.

Among my favorites are the Metasequoia, cousin to the Giant Sequoia. John has several planted that, although nearly 30 years old and almost 75 feet tall, are in their infancy! One can’t help but wonder what historical events these great trees will witness. Oh, and they aren’t even the tallest trees in the Arboretum…yet!

For readers who would like more information on subjects like this one please read the words of E.O. Wilson ( ), and Wangari Maathai (

Michael Klugman
K-12 Science Supervisor
Bethlehem Central School District

Photos in the left hand column can be enlarged by clicking on the photo. Photo credits for this post (from top of column) Metasequoia at Pine Hollow, Giant Sequoia from and

Monday, December 7, 2009


View at Maple Avenue Trail
Tao of Pine Hollow (see the ying and yang symbol in this photo?)

"All Dressed Up With No Place To Go"

Cherry Tree on Japanese Hill

Snow Top Hats On Seedheads

Translucent Snow Branch

The first snow, a moist enmeshing cover, came to Pine Hollow on December 5th. These photos were taken on December 6, 2009 around 10 am to 10:30 am Sunday morning. (all photos in lefthand column can be enlarged by clicking on them)

Thursday, December 3, 2009


Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus) an evergreen of straight-grained soft wood with little resin. The tree is most prominent on our arboretum landscape. They can live upwards of 450 years but none of our specimens approach that age. Unlike so many imported species we have here, the Eastern White Pines are native, what I call volunteers, and the north section of the arboretum is a natural forest area of approximately five acres with numerous 90-100 year-old trees forming an impressive overstory. Underneath is found a forest floor environment which suits many other native plants, scrubs and second growth trees. Contrast the neat even rows of a pine tree plantation with the multi-trunked organic forms of the pines of our Natural Forest Area. Common names for these trees are northern white pine, soft pine and Weymouth pine. They range through-out eastern North America from Ontario, around the whole Great Lakes and down the Appalachian mountain range to northern Georgia. A variety grows in the mountains of southern Mexico and Guatemala. White pine is now naturalizing along the mountain slopes of the Czech Republic and southern Poland.

The Weymouth pine name for our native (I better say American) tree is an interesting story. The large straight trees that greeted the European settlers were considered "vital" military and commerical resources to the English Government. They were used as masts and keel of sailing ships. In 1620, Captain Weymouth planted the white pine species in England without success. The white pine blister rust disease did not allow their usable growth. England by necessity remained dependent on our native trees. Forests of white pines were declared to be "Kingtrees" and even individual trees were selected with the "broad arrow" axe mark reserving them for the British Royal Navy. This reserving of the best trees fed into the growing resentment of American settlers of their Colonial status. The first flag of the American Revolutionary War had a white pine emblem. During the actual war period the patriots use to challenge each other to see how many Kingtrees a single man could axe and haul.

The white pine has an older sacred history as the Great Tree of Peace for the Haudenosaunne. These native peoples include those who lived in the region where Pine Hollow Arboretum now exists. Legend has it that the Haudenosaunne were living in a dark violent period with war among their five nations. A messager of peace was sent by the creator to bring a way for people to find a Great Law of Peace. The Eastern White Pine became known as The Great Tree of Peace. It was a symbol because being very tall it could be seen from afar. Needles were in clusters of five like the five nations bound together as one. The needles stayed green. Even as seasons change the tree stays green and so shall the Great Peace stay. The white pine was uprooted and into the hole made by the roots were cast down weapons. Buried were greed, hate and jealousy. The tree was placed up again and as tree roots spread in all four directions so was the Great Law of Peace to be spread. On top of the tree sits an eagle. The eagle a watcher to warn of any approaching danger.

I thought the white pine forest here might have been a product of the wave of Conservation Corps seedling tree plantings which were prevalent in New York State in the 1920s-1940s. Not so, according to John Abbuhl. He told me they are first growth, natural seeded in abandoned farm fields. There are a few white pines found in different border areas of the arboretum that are a bit older, from 100 to 120 years old. White pine are scattered through-out the arboretum and observation shows mixed results based on how wet one finds the soil. When the soil is too wet the white pine grow stunted, size limited. Intermediate wet soil allows large tree growth however these trees get wind thrown in spring. A whole tree will be blown down. You see them lying sideways with the whole root section lifted up and away from the land. The hills and drained land are suited to long term growth. John Abbuhl envisions the day when Pine Hollow Arboretum is known as home to a Virgin Forest of White Pine. In talking with John I was surprised to learn a Virgin Forest is defined as one of trees at least 200 years-old. I thought Virgin meant before the coming of the Norman and his sawmill to Albany County and the cutting down of all the big trees to built ships and houses. So John is right, someday there will be a white pine forest here of 200 year-old trees. A baby born this year might see it. Pines grow in open fields, fire areas and where there are landslides and blowdowns. In a deep forest cover there is not enough light for pine seedlings. A White Pine forest is not a climax forest. In tree succession oaks come in under it and in northern environs maples. yellow birch and ash. In the Albany Pine Bush pitchpine is climax because of fire. So imagine you could have a 200 year-old forest of white pine tress that is not a climax forest, that is not permanent, that is going to be replaced.

---Alan Casline