Wednesday, October 17, 2012



My wife Mary and I set off for a walk when I got home from work yesterday (Tuesday) evening.  The weather was perfect for a walk in the Pennypack Preserve; we couldn't waste a classic autumn day.  Now that the sun is setting early, the light is perfect for photography in the late afternoon and early evening.  Last evening was no exception.

Just outside our door, we met a friend, Janet, who was walking the trails and birding.  We don't see Janet as often as we like, so we all set off together across the grasslands.

In a hollow along the Raytharn Trail, we came upon a pignut hickory (Carya glabra) in perfect fall color.

This hickory is a "wolf tree" wanna-be.  Wolf trees typically are mature, broad-crowned trees embedded within a younger woodland.  They originated when farmers left large trees in pastures to afford their cattle respite from the summer sun.  Becaue the trees were open-grown (i.e., not grown in a woodland where all trees grow tall and straight as they compete with their neighbors for light), these pasture shade trees developed expansive, broad crowns. Then, when farmers abandoned their pastures and natural succession turned the fields back into forest, the wolf trees became a part of the new woods, but always retained their distinctive form.  This hickory is not yet a true wolf tree since it still dominates a field that is fairly open, but invisible in the image, obscured by the russett grasses, are many, many saplings that Pennypack has planted to return this field to forest.  So, it's a future wolf tree.  (incidentally, since I know someone will wonder about the original of the term, these trees were so designated because, like proud wolves, they stand alone.)

Further along, we came to a popular viewpoint.  Across the creek, perched on the edge of the valley, is the Bryn Athyn Cathedral built during the Depression with an odd mixture of Gothic and Romaneque features.  In the setting sun, it was glorious.

And, as we were admiring the view of the cathedral across the valley, Janet noticed rustling at our feet.  There, she spotted a young American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) casually gleaning seeds from the native grasses.  All in all, a wonderful walk and a great way to top off the day.

Posted by David Robertson
Executive Director

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