Mariton: A Bittersweet Farewell

March 7, 2018

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager

After last Friday’s wind and snow storm, I knew there would be a few trees down on the trails. Bob, Eileen and Ike were out early on Saturday morning for their hike, and I went to talk to them as they came off the trail.  I was dealing with the power outage at the house and nature center, and knew I wouldn’t be able to check trails for a while.

The Sentinel lays down.

I knew immediately which tree when they said there was a big one down near the top of the Turnpike Trail near the benches. What a flood of memories hit me when they left.  This was a big Tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera) that was struck by lightning several years ago.  (In trying to recall when it died, I would have to say it has been at least 15 years and maybe even 20.)  For years, every time we walked into the meadow, birders’ binoculars would go to that snag.  It was a great place to see woodpeckers, but we also saw Great-crested Flycatchers, Bluebirds, Indigo Buntings, Tree Swallows, various hawks, vultures and even Turkeys using it for a perch.  When we examined the tree during Nature Camp, Virginia Derbyshire would often talk about lightning and what children should do if they were ever caught outside in a storm.  We would also use the tree to talk about cycles and how even though it was dead it was providing food and shelter for wildlife.  We said eventually it would fall and return nutrients to the soil.  What a wondrous tree, even in death.

Photo by Marilyn Hessinger

But my fondest memory of this tree is of a Pileated Woodpecker sighting for Marilyn. Marilyn had joined our birding group, and Pileated Woodpeckers were her nemesis.  Even when we did see them on walks she “looked left, when the woodpecker dodged right.”  Finally in 2016, we were on a fall hike and a Pileated Woodpecker was looking for food on the Tuliptree.  It stayed there for a long time and Marilyn had time to study it in her binoculars, and even put them down to take a photo with her camera!  I was so happy for her that I could have cried.

On Monday, Tom and I went up to move the tree out of the little side trails around the benches. I put the 24” bar on the chainsaw and had to go to the other side of the trunk to get through.  Once we had it cut into several long logs, I pushed them off to the side with the tractor.  It bothered me to move such an old acquaintance so ingloriously.

Even the sky looks lonely.

Later that day, Jim came for his hike and I told him about the tree.  “You mean the Sentinel of the Meadows?” was his immediate response.  Then I knew that the tree was important to more people than just me.  I saw him again at the end of his walk.  I told him I felt poorly about how I had treated the snag.  His immediate response was, “I was thinking what great habitat you provided for all sorts of wildlife by piling up the logs the way you did!”  That really helped cheer me.  The tree will continue to give me great memories for years to come.

So this is in memory of a great snag that was noticed by thousands of visitors (both wild and human) as they explored Mariton. Thank you for those memories.