I seem to be a magnet for unintended consequences.

It was a simple assignment — answer several questions about fox vocalizations. I thought I did a decent job, covering both species in this area and all their various noises. Not really expecting much comment, it surprised me to find 11 messages in the email the morning after the column ran. The first three of these were thanking me for responding to their questions. Numbers 4 through 11 were all on the same topic, albeit one I never expected.

It seems I have once again angered the Yeti community. For a few years now, it has been my practice to scrupulously avoid mention of Sasquatch, given the propensity of some local aficionados to threaten my life and/or appeal to the editor to fire me if I appear to be making light of the topic. I should have edited out that single sentence for I have now been told, in no uncertain terms, that I have once again crossed the Yeti line. One person provided a comment that pretty much summed up the rest. “Listen Pinhead, I have been over all those bogus ‘fox calls’ on (the internet) and anyone but the most unintelligent (like you) would immediately realize that was just a shallow attempt to put people at ease. Every one of those ‘fox calls’ is clearly native Sasquatch calls. Don’t you SEE A PATTERN???”

I sure do, but apart from recommending everyone search “Sasquatch Sounds” and listen to some of the commentary that goes along with it, I shall eschew further comment. The last time I got into one of these contests, it ended with a note made of words cut out of magazines and taped to a piece of cardboard. This message advised me that my name had been sent to a particular celebrity and she would be the handler of my demise at some unspecified time in the future unless I told the “truth about Sasquatch.”

This only bears mention because the next topic I have been working on involves a particular tree which, among other attributes, I am coincidentally just now informed makes up a large percentage of Sasquatch’s diet. I shall only comment on this attribute if space permits.

The tree in question, the mountain ash, generates quite a lot of interest at this time of year because of the clusters of dramatic red berries. Discussing it is a bit problematic because it is found circumpolar in the northern hemisphere at higher altitudes. All the subspecies are quite similar and may be interbred which further muddies the water. In general, those found growing wild in the USA are the American subspecies while most of those that have been planted as ornamentals are one of the several European and Asian varieties — although this is not a universal.

Not a true ash, it got that moniker because its compound leaves are similar to the various ash species. Upon closer inspection, the leaves are seen to be alternate along the stem not parallel as with the true ashes. However, the real eye-catching feature of the mountain ash is its fruit. Bright red, in most species, and borne in large clusters, it remains after the leaves are shed in the fall, making the trees extremely eye-catching.

In this area, true wild stands of mountain ash are found, unsurprisingly, on the mountains — generally beginning to truly flourish at about 3,000 feet in elevation. A good place nearby to observe this effect is along the road up Equinox Mountain near Manchester, Vermont. At about 3,000 feet, the first trees are seen and, as you continue climbing, the roadway becomes lined with the brilliant red berries.

Since the trees seldom grow higher than 20 or 30 feet, there is not much use made of the wood. In the times before metal bands were readily available, strips of mountain ash were used extensively by coopers as barrel hoops. Some of the common names, rowan and witchwood, refer to the supposed power of the tree to protect against witchcraft — a fact well-known to Harry Potter fans. For this reason, it became a common planting on either side of an entryway. Nowadays, this is still common practice, the difference being we think we are doing it for aesthetic reasons.

The berries are seriously tart, owing to large amounts of malic acid in the flesh. Freezing opens the cell walls and allows some chemical changes that reduce the acidity and increases the sugar content. In the days when people relied more heavily on native plants, much use was made of mountain ash berries. Generally harvested after a freeze, the predominant use was to make jellies and preserves. In this, the very high pectin levels were of great use to make things jell properly. High-class urban restaurants always served mountain ash jelly with wild meats. Mountain ash was also considered medicinal with all manner of poultices and decoctions used to treat everything from hemorrhoids to tonsillitis to athlete’s foot to feminine hygiene issues.

Our wild neighbors, from birds to bears, very much appreciate the great bounty of mountain ash berries. In some areas, homeowners are told to pick their trees clean as soon as the berries begin to get red in order to avoid luring black bears into suburban areas to feed. In addition to bears, snowshoe hares, squirrels, small woodland rodents, the ruffed grouse, ptarmigans, sharp-tailed grouse, blue grouse, American robins, thrushes, waxwings and jays are the primary foragers.

In some areas, fishers and marten have been documented eating mountain ash berries as an energy boost in late winter. It is, however, not just the berries that are attractive to wildlife. White-tailed deer and moose preferentially browse on the stems and bark. In some areas, mountain ash makes up as much as 50 percent of the moose browse from fall through mid-winter.

Allegedly, the berry clusters are also highly attractive to another more secretive member of the wild community but, unfortunately, I am out of space and cannot comment on that. Sorry. ...

Bob Henke writes a weekly outdoors column for The Post-Star.


Load comments