The old beech tree stands in a stony pull off area in front of the farm manager’s office, just off the farm road. Decades ago her office may have been a creamery, judging by the cream separators bolted to the floor. Now the old machines stand as witnesses to the past, to the former ways and means of a family dairy in times gone by. The tree may have been a sapling then, planted intentionally or perhaps the offspring of one of the many beeches that dot the woodlands and pastures here. Many of those ancient trees have fallen or are filled with decay but they are older than this tree. This tree may well be their progeny and have many years left to live and bear beechnuts.
I think of this tree as female. She is strong and sturdy of trunk, with arms that grow horizontally and then bend down, as if reaching to welcome all who come near. Though her lower limbs are thick and burly, her outermost twigs are as fine as lace and dance in the slightest breeze. How she can stand so strong puzzles me, given the many cars that have driven over her roots day in and day out for these many long years. The entrance to the barnyard would not be the same without her.
This has been prolific year for beechnuts in most of the eastern states and reports coming from as far north as New Hampshire and as far south as Georgia report an outstanding beech nut crop. Our barnyard beech tree is no exception. Wave after wave of birds have been eating from her for months, beginning back when her bronzed leaves hid her tiny, spiny nuts. At times, mature and immature red-headed woodpeckers chatter and swoop in a seemingly non-stop parade, plucking nuts and flying elsewhere to open them. Blue jays and downy woodpeckers also frequent her branches and cardinals, juncos, and white-throated sparrows pick through the rocks beneath, foraging and finding nuts whose shells have already opened. Squirrels are ever-present and when the goats are fortunate enough to break out of the pasture, it is to the beech nuts that they head.
Wherever I look into the trees on this farm I see abundance…food for birds and mammals almost without end. Come spring, these trees’ blossoms will provide the vital early nectar and pollen for our native pollinators and draw insects that will become food for our returning warblers, thrushes, orioles and other neo-tropical migrants. Those insects will pollinate the flowers that will become next autumn’s nuts and berries and the cycle of abundance will begin once again. Just as I should be and, I pray, will be for many seasons to come.