poetry and prose about place

Posts Tagged ‘canopy

hidden in the hollow heart of an oak

with 7 comments

Hollow trees create mysterious spaces in the woods. 

When I was young, a hollow in a tree was a secret hiding place for treasures, and one of my favourite books was a Nancy Drew mystery –  “The Message in the Hollow Oak”.   In the story, a hollow tree is used as a secret mailbox between long lost lovers.

Carolyn Keene 1935 The Message in the Hollow Oak   (a later edition, probably around 1965)
The best use of cavities in trees or logs is as habitat for insects, bats, owls and other small animals.  Hollows are good locations for foraging.  They also create shelter, and provide a place for nesting.  Animals who use hollow trees or logs for habitat are called “hollow-dependant”.

a hollow log in the woods

Cavities are usually found in mature trees.  Their importance as habitat is a good reason for protecting older, mature trees in the woodlot.  When my son was young, we made wooden signs saying “DEN TREE” for the older hollow trees in our woods, so we would remember not to cut them down. 

Do you know a hollow tree and would you reach into the cavity to retrieve a letter???



requesting the favour of a reply


these leafless trees

brush against

a linen sky

ink strokes

on rice paper


penned at midnight


hidden in the hollow

heart of an oak

afraid to reach in

to feel only

curls of bark

desiccated leaves


these trees

all seem the same

empty envelopes

parchment ghosts


branches tangled




black spruce scribbled on sky



Published as: ‘an answer in silence’, Spring 1995, The Cormorant XI (2)


© Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

August 19, 2011 at 6:54 am

competing with the squirrels #2

with 7 comments

We watched our hazelnuts carefully every day until August 11, certain the squirrels would not get them ahead of us.

our hazelnuts, almost ready to pick

Then, as humans do, we went on a small vacation, and returned on August 14, only three days later.

As soon as I was out of the car, I went to have a look at my hazelnuts.

And not one remained.

no hazelnuts

The squirrels got the hazelnuts.

No poem can express my dismay.

Next year…

1. never eat any plant if you are not absolutely certain of the identification;
2. never eat any plant if you have personal sensitivities, including allergies, to certain plants or their derivatives;
3. never eat any plant unless you have checked several sources to verify the edibility of the plant.
©  Jane Tims   2012

in the apple orchard

with 5 comments

One of the spaces I loved the best on my grandfather’s farm was the apple orchard.  It was a small orchard, perhaps twenty trees.  I have never seen it in spring when the apple blossoms are in bloom, in fall when the trees are laden with fruit, or in winter when the stark bones of the trees are visible.  But I knew the orchard in summer, when the green canopies of the trees shed thick shade over the meadow grasses beneath.

an apple orchard in August


In summer, the orchard was usually a private space.  The farm yard could be bustling with people and animals, but the orchard was set apart.  It was a still room of dark and dapple. 

At the edge of the orchard was a green swing chair.  It was a braced frame with two benches, facing one another and suspended for swinging.  Four people could sit in comfort and sway genteelly to and fro.  Or a lone child could pump vigorously back and forth until one side of the frame lifted high with each upward swing and gave a satisfying lurch on its return.  I, of course, would never have done such a thing.

When I wasn’t pushing the swing to its limits, I was climbing apple trees, one in particular.  Its main side branch was as thick as its trunk and jutted out parallel to the ground.  A little jump and you could sit on it like a chair.  Swing a leg across and you had a horse.  Stand on it and you were in the crow’s nest of a sailing ship.  Sit down again, lean against the trunk and you had the ideal perch for reading the afternoon away.

an apple orchard in spring (photo by G. Tims)

The orchard was usually a private space.  But on Family Reunion Day, it was the focus of the festivities.  Big tables covered with white cloths were assembled in a line.  Enough chairs were unfolded for every person in our very large family.  Cars turned in at the driveway and claimed a spot in the farm yard.  Cousins rolled from the cars and were soon climbing and swinging in the orchard.  The table gradually filled with a conundrum of casseroles, bean pots, roasters and platters. 

After the eating was done, wire hoops went up for a game of croquet.  My Dad loved croquet and would show me all the tricks – how to get through the starting hoops in a single turn and how to ricochet off the goal post.  He also showed me how to bump up against the ball of another player and send their ball flying out of bounds on the next turn.  Armed with my learning, I gripped my croquet mallet, certain to win.  And realised my brothers and sister and some of the cousins had some strategies of their own!

After the Reunion was over and the last car was waved from the driveway, I was left alone in the orchard and it seemed more empty and silent than before.

I would love to return to the apple orchard on my grandfather’s farm and read a book in my tree one more time.  Are you ever too old to climb an apple tree?




the worn blanket flung

over the bough

of the apple tree

is an old woman

she hugs the limb

reaches for a branch

or an apple

barely beyond

the crook

of her fingers

she would dare

to set her foot

on the branch

and the next

step up

put the orchard

below her

rise above

the canopy

the valley

the meander of the river


she waits

in the dapple

clings to the branch

endures the tremble

delays the fall


Published as:  ‘dapple’, 1998, Green’s magazine (Autumn 1998) XXXVII (1)


© Jane Tims

competing with the squirrels #1

leave a comment »

The squirrels and I have issues.  I say squirrels, because we have at least two species of squirrel (Sciurus sp.) on our property, reds and greys.

The red squirrels were here before we arrived, about 31 years ago.  The red squirrels I see here today must be the great-great-great… grandchildren of the little fellow who used to shimmy down a copper wire to get to our feeder.  The grey squirrel arrived only a couple of years ago and is as big as a small cat.  Both reds and greys compete with the birds for the sunflower seeds and other food we put in the feeder.  The two species of squirrels compete with one another for roughly the same ‘niche’ and my reading tells me that the grey squirrels will eventually displace the red.

grey squirrel cleans out feeder

I overlap with the squirrels’ ‘niche’ in one repect: we all love hazelnuts.  I have two large shrubs of Beaked Hazelnut (Corylus cornuta Marsh.) in our woods.   Beaked Hazelnut is a wiry shrub with large serrated leaves.  Its fruit is contained in bristly beaked husks and the nut is edible, to both me and the squirrels.

Beaked Hazelnut shrub with hazelnuts in beaked husks

The question is, when do I pick my hazelnuts?  It has to be the day before the squirrels pick their hazelnuts.  I ask my husband every day and he says he doesn’t know…..

hazelnuts viewed from the underside of the shrub canopy

1. never eat any plant if you are not absolutely certain of the identification;
2. never eat any plant if you have personal sensitivities, including allergies, to certain plants or their derivatives;
3. never eat any plant unless you have checked several sources to verify the edibility of the plant.

© Jane Tims

‘niche’ above the ground

with one comment

Around us are spaces so familiar, we don’t pay attention to them anymore.  I remember this when I walk in the woods near our house.  On the ground, at my feet, are layers of leaves from last autumn, the carpet of mosses, the plants of the understory. 

And then I remember to look up and see the space above me. 

This space is the realm of the trees.  It is a space shaped by their canopies, the needles of the Balsam Fir and White Pine, the leaves of Red Maple, and the dead branches and twigs of the spruce.  Most of the trees reach upward, roughly perpendicular to the ground.  They stand together, parallel, the masts and rigging of a sailing ship.  Others have succumbed to decay and gravity and wind, and have fallen.  Their trunks make diagonal slashes through the spaces above and leave gaps in the canopy.

snowshoe trail and sap bucket on maple

These are spaces I cannot access, since my tree-climbing days are over.  But I can move there, briefly, in winter.  When the snow builds on the ground, it lifts me into the trees.  I am reminded of this when I see the empty tap holes in the trunks of the maples along the trail.  These are the holes left behind when we pull the taps at the end of maple syrup production in the spring.  When we collected the sap, the taps were about three feet above the surface of the snow, so we could access them easily.  Now, snow gone, the tap holes are above my head.  Our snowshoe paths were elevated into the space above the ground.  One winter the snows were so high, we had to trim the branches along the trail.  Next summer we could look up and see our winter path, traced by the absence of branches in the space above our heads. 

There is no soil up there in the above ground space, but there are many species who occupy this challenging ‘niche’.  White-throat sparrows sing “I love Canada, Canada, Canada” from the tree tops, ghostly grey spruce budworm moths flicker through the canopy, and the lichen Old Man’s Beard (Usnea subfloridana) droops from the dead branches of the older conifers. 

Usnea subfloridana Stirt. is a lichen often found growing on old and stressed trees in coniferous woods. The common name, Old Man's Beard, refers to the matted, stringy appearance of the lichen, hanging in clumps from tree branches. Lichens are made up of two species, an algae and a fungus, living together symbiotically.

Old Man’s Beard is my favourite space-maker in the canopy.  It hangs, light as thistledown, gathering the moisture it needs from the fog and rain, absorbing nutrients from the air, creating a home for insects and tiny spiders in need of shelter.  It paints the spaces with strokes of palest green.   
Old Man’s Beard transforms the spaces it occupies.  On the road between Saint John and Fredericton (New Brunswick, Canada) is a well-known picnic site and escarpment, called Eagle Rock.  The climb above the parking area  is steep, but at the top of the cliff the terrain flattens in an old growth of spruce and fir.  The ground is thick with reindeer lichen, Cladina rangiferina and Cladina arbuscula, and the trees are draped in Old Man’s Beard.  The effect is a frosted forest, as though these spaces were eternally in winter.  And I am lifted into the ‘niche’ above the ground.
Next time you are outside, look up.  What is in the space above you?  What are its qualities?  How does it shape your life?


Old Man’s Beard     

             Usnea subfloridana Stirt.

you and I

years ago

            forced our ways

            bent through the thicket

            of lichen and spruce


                        caught in your beard

                        and we laughed


                                    us with stooped backs

                                    and grey hair?

            found a game trail

                        a strawberry marsh

                                    wild berries 

                                                crushed into sedge

                                                stained shirts


                                    and fingers


                                    dusted with sugar

                                                washed down with cold tea

                                                warmed by rum


an old woman


lost her way in the spruce

found beard

            caught in the branches

and cried


Published as: ‘Old Man’s Beard’, Summer 1994, the Fiddlehead 180

© Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

August 2, 2011 at 5:19 pm

%d bloggers like this: