These Indian summer days – mild or even balmy, except for occasional gusty spells – offer a great time to relish the beauties of late fall.
A few flashes of scarlet maple leaves remain, mixing with what’s left of the yellow of the ashes and birches and aspens. But the stars just now are the oaks and the hackmatacks.
With the fading of the brighter colors of early autumn, the oaks have emerged with their glittering, shiny leaves of varying shades of copper and bronze. They should last another week or two. Their somber beauty presents an exciting contrast with the vibrant reds, oranges and yellows that have about gone by.
Oak trees are plentiful in Maine and their lumber valued as a source for boat building and the beams and flooring needed for home construction.
The other stars of this late fall season are the hackmatacks. That’s what Mainers call them. To the rest of the country, they are tamaracks or larch. You can find these needled, coniferous trees in the summer by looking for tall, pointed trees that are often scraggly, with awkward bends and crooks in among the pines and spruces. They differ from other conifers in that they shed all their needles in the late fall.
Before the needles fall is when the hackmatacks stand out. The needles have turned a lovely golden yellow, their trademark this time of year.
Their name is believed to come from a Western Abnaki word akemantek from the Algonquin language of New Hampshire and Vermont, which meant “snowshoe wood.” The wood, hard, heavy and close-grained, is also tough and durable. Cut into thin strips, it was used by the Algonquin people for making snowshoes, baskets and other products.
Resistant to rot, hackmatack lumber often has been used in Maine for the sill plate in house construction. Shipbuilders also value the hackmatack as a source for the “knees” that reinforce corners and support thwarts and deck beams. They are made by slicing the curved branches or roots, so that the grain of the knee will follow its curve. Crafters like hackmatack as a favorite for bonsai, the miniature trees grown in pots.
So when you admire the beauty of these Maine trees, you can know that they play useful parts in our state’s economy by supplying the forest products industry.