Friday, March 13, 2015

The Big Red Maple From The Dead End Woods

Bill Collins, Executive Director, Thumb Land Conservancy

In the summer of 2012, the Saint Clair County Drain Commissioner started work on the long-planned improvement and enclosure of the North Branches of the Gossman Drain in Old Farm subdivision in Fort Gratiot. One of the drain branches runs along the north side of our Dead End Woods Sanctuary. We were not opposed to the project because the drain branches are not natural watercourses, but ditches dug in the 1950’s to drain wetland. Enclosure of the drain should help to isolate the drainage from wetland on the Dead End Woods Sanctuary while still providing drainage to the residents of Old Farm.

As this project was getting started, one of the Old Farm residents brought to our attention a very large Red Maple tree that appeared to be on the sanctuary but leaning heavily toward their house. The main trunk of the tree was nearly 3 feet in diameter, which divided into two trunks above that of about 2.5 and 2 feet in diameter. Had the tree fallen, it would have smashed through their second-story bedroom window. We determined that the tree straddled the property line, and that most of the root system was located in their yard where the Drain Commissioner planned to excavate a temporary trench of about 8 feet wide and 8 feet deep to replace an old drain enclosure. After some discussion with Drain Commissioner Bob Wiley, we worked out a deal. The tree would be taken down as part of the drain project and the TLC would get the logs so we could have them sawn into lumber. We didn’t know exactly what we would do with the lumber, but the tree seemed too good for firewood.

For those unfamiliar with Red Maple – Acer rubrum, it’s not Sugar Maple – Acer saccharum and it’s not Silver Maple – Acer saccharinum. It’s what I would call a semi-hardwood, usually harder than Silver Maple but not as hard as Sugar Maple or Black Maple – Acer nigrum. The leaves are toothed, similar to Silver Maple with which it hybridizes. The leaf sinuses are shallower, or the lobes shorter, than Silver Maple. The bark of younger trees is mostly smooth and gray like Silver Maple, but many with a distinctive “bull’s eye” pattern. The bark of older, larger trees becomes flakey or platy. In our region, Red Maple is mostly an upland tree in sandy soils and often associated with northern vegetation like Paper Birch, Bracken Fern, and Wintergreen.  

On August 9, 2012, the tree contractor for the drain project, Timberline Tree Service of Burtchville, cut the tree down, lowering the sections with a large crane. The logs were then hauled to a storage area where they were later hauled to a local sawmill operator, Tim Lamar of Trees Logs Lumber, LLC - . In October, my neighbor, Juan Salazar and I hauled the cut lumber back up to our farm where we stored it inside a barn until we could sell it or otherwise use it. I put several ads on Craig’s List but there the lumber sat for almost a year.

Finally, Dwight answered my ad. He’s from the Lum area in Lapeer County and was remodeling his dining room. He cut our lumber into narrow boards that join together with a tongue and groove pattern and used them to panel his dining room walls. In August 2014, he came out again to buy more wood to continue his remodeling. He brought me a sample of the finished wood and sent photos of his project. Our Red Maple wood looks better than I imagined.

The cool thing about Dwight, besides being a super nice guy, is that each time he came out, he brought one or two mystery boards for me to identify. He was impressed when I guessed the first one was palm wood. Palms don’t have annual rings and the vascular system for transporting water and nutrients is in bundles throughout the wood instead of only at the outer edge of the wood. But after the palm board, I failed pretty miserably. Well, one was American Holly and another was some kind of “cinnamon” tree, so give me a break. Dwight gave me all the boards anyway, so not a bad deal. I gave him what I think are some kind of fir planks from our old corn crib, and he brought me back a set of book ends he made from the wood. I’m happy to know that our Red Maple wood went to such a fine use and it couldn’t have gone to a better guy.