By Debbie Bullington
For Rural Life Today
MEIGS COUNTY — Hello, my name is Manlee. I am a Musclewood Tree. Dendrologists prefer to call me“Carpinus caroliniana”. The saplings around my neighborhood call me “American Hornbeam,” or “Blue Beech” or “Water Beech” and our Latino neighbors call me “Lechillo.” But considering their families are Oaks, Maples, Sycamores and Black Cherries, I wouldn’t think they would have the sap to call me names… I just flex my dark, gray exterior and you can see how big my muscles really are.
I’ve been standing in this same spot in Meigs County for some 40 years.
My great-grandparents migrated here a long time ago and you can still find pure strands of them, aunts and uncles included, in oil fields, pastures and hilltops from here to Canada. I have some relatives who live high in the Smoky Mountains, as much as 3,000 feet up. We’re all members of the Birch Family and I have an Aunt who makes a lot of Birch Beer, but Mom doesn’t like to talk about her much.
My father arrived here by means of a bird “dropping” him and my Mother got here on a puff of wind. They grew up in the same ravine that I live in today, and have a “monoecious” relationship. Which means they are unisex. But they love each other just the same.They both produce catkins that show up in the Spring, while their leaves are coming out. I’ve never seen such a competitive set of parents, though. Mom and dad make flowers during the busy season from April through May. The rest of the year they are producing the little fruits they love to make, called “nutkins.”
Mom had an exceptionally large seed crop last year. It’s been 3-5 years since I have seen her so busy. We think she’s averaging 65,000 nutkins per pound. No wonder she hasn’t had time to do anything else. It’s a shame for all her hard work that only 60% of the nutkins she is working so hard to make will ever germinate. I’m hoping for another little sister.
Once, we had a Dogwood, but all it did was bark, so we gave it to another family to raise.
We live in a very shady neighborhood. The house at the bottom of the hill, where the humans live, was built 165 years ago, from some of the older trees that used to live near here. I’ve heard other trees in the woods say that the people living in the old house now are what they call “Tree Huggers.” I’m not sure what that is. But every year at this time, when the weather turns cold, I see the humans take a small evergreen tree into their house and then bring it back out a few weeks later. Only it doesn’t look as good as it did when it went in. Maybe they hugged it too much.
And, just the other day, a human wearing bright orange clothes sat at the base of me (on my roots) and promptly fell asleep with a metal stick on his lap. I tried to shudder a little, but there wasn’t any wind. Anything to wake him up so he could move on to somewhere else. Heck, the six deer that walked right past him didn’t even wake him up.
The weather has been really odd since I’ve germinated and grown. I think the humans blame it on El Nino or La Nina or something like that. In 1999 there was a terrible flood, but since we can tolerate a bit of flooding, that helped us to survive. In 1994, it snowed 24 inches here in one night and dipped to minus 40 below zero. We don’t like it much beyond minus 13, so the extra snow helped keep our roots warm. The snow was so heavy that lots of trees lost their branches, but being a Musclewood, I kept all of mine.
Mom really gets fretful when the songbirds, pheasants, foxes and gray squirrels start eating the seeds, buds and catkins that she works so hard to make all year. Dad has his fits too, when deer, rabbits and beavers start munching his leaves, twigs and stems. I just stand around making leaf litter that is higher in concentrations of potassium, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorous than any other species of trees. Not bad for just standing around.
When this hillside was logged in the 1980’s, the loggers took nothing but the Juglandacea Family (The Black Walnuts). I was sorry to see them all go, but it left more room for us Musclewoods to grow. The understory here grows thick sometimes and it gets scary when there is a fire, because we are very susceptible to fire.
The humans don’t consider us very important, actually they consider us weeds! They think that because we are usually small ( mom and dad are only 20 feet tall), twisted and multi-stemmed, that we can’t make suitable timber. But, I’ve had friends that were tough, dense and close-grained that made excellent tool handles and mallets. I have an uncle in New York State that is 65 feet tall! We’re very proud of him!
I really love my family and enjoy living where I do. I mean, after all, it’s not like I can pull up my roots and live just anywhere, now is it?