Friday, December 14, 2007

Tree spotting

"He climbed the ridge to high ground and scanned the tamarack trees that grew in profusion along the edges of the wetland."

Sometimes words need a little help. You read a description, no matter how effective, of a city, or a river, or some remote place, and you want to get hold of a picture to help enrich and extend the reading experience. I recently felt compelled to do this while reading William Kent Krueger’s Thunder Bay. In this case, I was after a tree. It’s the tamarack larch. The novel’s hero, Cork O’Connor was once the sheriff of Tamarack County where he lives in northern Minnesota, and Krueger evokes the tamarack several times in the story, which is set mostly in the lush wilderness of Canada and northern Minnesota.

I had an idea of what the tamarack looks like, but wasn’t sure, so I searched the net for a good image of these stately, cold-tolerant trees that grace the countryside of northern North America, Canada and Alaska. In the process I learned that the wood of the tamarack is tough and versatile. It is prized as firewood, but since it is durable and flexible, it has also been employed for years by the Algonquin tribes to make snowshoes and other artifacts useful for life in the wild. The bark and roots of the tamarack are also said to have medicinal uses. The stately deciduous, coniferous tree, which loses its needle-like leaves each autumn in a blaze of yellow and can reach a height of nearly sixty feet, is an indelible part of the experience of the northern wilderness.


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