Maples and More. Otter Heaven. Mill Brook.

Who welcomed me into the swamp as I started my quest for the Stepping Stones?


 Acer rubrum.

A big swamp maple.

Some call them red maples.

The brook – and too many briars – were between me and the tree. I went around to see the tree better, and to find a less difficult place to start my trek. Nice tree. Getting on in years, for a red maple. Some of it was rotted. So rotten there were roots in the rot. The tree was long in the tooth.

Not that maples have teeth…

The swamp maple might be the most common tree on Martha’s Vineyard. They’re up in the dry clay hills, you can find them in the sand plains, and of course they love we places. They don’t live long. A fully mature swamp maple is less than a century old. They rot easily, and can fall apart even from the weight of a snow or from a small blow. If you look at the first photo again, you’ll see rotten stems in the center of the clump of trunks.

They say you can make a decent violin from red maple.  When I’m splitting firewood and am opening up bolts of this tree, I often see some pretty grain and figure. The beauty makes me think, “Wouldn’t it be nice to use this for a fiddle?” But I’m never going to make a fiddle, so the chunks all go under cover in the woodshed. I’ll likely admire the wood again in a year. Just as the chunk goes into the woodstove on a cold winter day.

Maple’s a decent wood for heating a house. When dry, it will yield about nineteen million btus per cord. The best hardwoods – hickory and locust – yield up to 23 million or so. The pitch pine and spruce I sometimes burn are between fifteen and seventeen.

I moved on into the swamp, following an old waterway. I came across a gangly, leaning-over willow. They live even less long than the swamp maples, rot faster, and fall apart of their own weight. This one has quite a list.



Does it look better in black and white?



As I moved into the swamp I kept seeing blueberry “bushes”. We have some really old blueberry bushes around here. This one was really fine. It’s at least a hundred years old, and could easily be a hundred and fifty or more. One of these days I’ll borrow a corer, and see if I can determine how old some of our blueberries actually are.


The ancient blueberry. 

I moved on through thick brush on soggy ground. .


Deer will rub their antlers on small trunks. I found several well-scraped examples during this walk. 

Crossed over ditch…


Old cranberry bog ditch.  Some one or someones have place branches and stones to ease crossing at this spot. 

From time to time I’d encounter and have to cross Mill Brook or one of its branches.

Detours were needed to avoid the deeper parts.


Mill Brook, seen from midstream. Almost deep enough to overtop my boots. 

Deer droppings were everywhere to be seen. Every two or three feet there was more.


Deer doo-doo.

Brookside, there was otter scat, rain-eroded, revealing its cargo of scales and bones.


Scaly scat. 

These acres must be heaven for the deer and the otter. Humans like me seldom intrude here. If you were an otter, you’d love being here. This is an otter’s playground.


The otters’ playground. 

Following ditches, and the sound of water, I encountered this swamp maple.

It spread many feet in every direction.

The base was massive.


This entire clump is one “individual” tree.


The massive swamp maple clump.

The sound of the water was stronger, and I realized the main brook was near. As I leaned over one of the trees many stems to take a photo of the brook, I suddenly got my first sight of the stepping stones, and knew that my search was completed.


The Stepping Stones at last! I crossed over to the field beyond, and walked back to my truck.



There were other things in the heart of that swamp.

About which there is more to come…

5 responses to “Maples and More. Otter Heaven. Mill Brook.

  1. Ha! My kids built that “bridge” over the cranberry ditch several years ago! They were very pleased to see the photo.

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