The Speed of Trees

If you come down Music Street, and then take a turn to go south along a “certain” dirt road, you cross over Martha’s Vineyard’s only river, the Tiasquam River. Our first photo is of the upper Tiasquam River, in late March.

The Tiasquam originates in the swamps of Chilmark, which collect rain, and release water throughout the year. I have never known the Tiasquam to fail.


February Tiasquam River, just upstream from AB’s house.

The Tiasquam is no Rubicon, but it is the only flowing water on the Martha’s Vineyard that is called a “river”. Almost every other instance of moving water around here is called a brook. There is the Mill Brook, Roaring Brook, and Fulling Mill Brook.  There are at least two Black Brooks, one of which is so tannic it’s often referred to as “Coca-cola Brook”. There are other streamlets, rills and trickles that feed into Vineyard Sound along the North Shore. I suspect many of them once had names, which have now been lost. More moving water may be found springing from seepage at the heads of the Great Pond Coves.

There is only one Island “creek” that I know of. In Chilmark you will find Menemsha Creek. The “Crick”, as they say around here, is salt water, and the flow is tidal.

Remember, if you don’t say “Crick”, then you’re not from Here.

In the recent past, the Vineyard has acquired the author Geraldine “Brooks”, but that’s another story.

Gardens and plantings surround AB’s house. AB is a nurse. Her plantings receive constant doses of TLC, something that AB has dispensed in plenty during her medical career. Bulbs burst out in every bed and corner in the spring, and there’s always something new to see, blooming or growing. Bushes come, bushes go. Trees come, and trees go. Once, for a period of five or six years, there were giant joe pye weeds in the flower beds next to her house.  Their pink flowers reached ten to twelve feet high every fall.

The driveway to her house has a loop that departs from and rejoins the road. The center of this loop was once just grass. AB dug up some tiny red cedars, planted them in that circle, and within five years those cedars were as tall as adult humans. Five years after that, they had become a solid screen between house and road. Now they have grown so much more that they’ve had to be thinned and limbed. And thinned and limbed again. The ones that are left have trunks a up to a foot thick.


On the right, is AB’s grove of cedars. The last big snowstorm broke a few branches.

Every few years, the grove receives truckloads of woodchips, when her “tree guy” has loads of chippings he needs to get rid of. As the chips age, fungi colonize the mulch layer. A few years ago, there were some fine flushes of stinkhorn mushrooms. The stinkhorns are an astonishing group of fungi, but the family name, Phallaceae, is all the description that will be provided here today.

In youth, I didn’t think that trees grew at any speed. The speed of tree growth didn’t even occur to me. Now that I’m older I know better.

Trees grow fast. Plant them and step back. There are sprouts and saplings I once could have destroyed barehanded  that I can no longer encircle with my arms. In the next two photos you will see one of these trees.


This tree, a black oak, a tiny sapling sixty years ago, now encroaches on the traveled way. You can see how the road is starting to curve away from this oak’s presence. Every year the tree’s girth increases. When you’re driving up the road, you ignore this trunk at your peril.

Stand next to the trunk, and look up.


A few years ago I cut down a similarly healthy oak. The tree was adding growth rings of a half inch each year. That’s fast.

Those half inches add up, don’t they?.

What might happen if you get too near a growing tree.

7 responses to “The Speed of Trees

  1. I think I’m going to take a “leaf” from Montaigne, who revised his essays as the years went along. If he revised whenever he wanted to, why can’t I?

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