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Tamarack Candles Nov 7 08

When I was in my twenties, I penned the following lyrics to a song:

The tamarack trees are luminous gold

And the heath is purple upon the moorland.

Old corn, withered and brown, in straight rows waits to be blown down.

Cold breeze in fiery trees

Sends waves over the far hills.

Sky blue lake water hue;

Wild geese flying away.

Set to a Celtic-sounding melody, the words were my attempt to capture the feel of a northern autumn. Still today, years later, I think I didn’t do half bad. I certainly got the part about the tamaracks right.

Now, from late October through early November, is the time when these larches of the northwoods light the wetlands like golden candle flames.

The tamarack is an anomaly, the only needle-leaf tree in Michigan that turns color and sheds its needles in the fall. It is, if you will, both coniferous and deciduous, a distinction shared by no other tree except the cypress, which doesn’t grow this far north.

In the lower peninsula, the tamarack is strictly a wetland tree, a denizen of the swamps, bogs, and fens. Across the bridge, however, it becomes much less selective about its habitat, and you’ll find it growing everywhere from soggy muskegs to rocky roadsides. With soft, pliable needles sprouting in tufts, tamarack’s feathery appearance is a model of truth in packaging. Hug a spruce tree and you’ll get poked and pricked; hug a tamarack and you’ll get tickled. It is a delicate tree, sensuous, beautiful in both looks and attitude.

In the spring, the tamarack groves don a faint wash of sea green as the first sprigs of needles begin to emerge. Tiny, round, reddish cones follow as the trees fluff out into the full foliage of the growing season. But it is in the fall, when their needles turn golden, that the tamaracks emerge into resplendence, painting the marshes with sunlit gold—luminous trees burning with an inner light, crescendoing into a blaze and then fading, dropping their needles, and settling into the skeletal silhouettes of winter.

Yesterday I found myself hiking through an archway of tamaracks that spanned a fen trail in Middleville. The day was as blue and warm an Indian Summer gift as one could hope for, particularly in November, but the wind was doing its business and the air was filled with leaves. Amid the aerial dance of maple, sassafras, and oak, tamarack needles glinted like specks of gold. I stopped, looked up through a weave of gilded larch branches toward a sunny treetop, and was rewarded with a faceful of needles. The tamaracks were still yellow, but fading, past their prime and ready to molt. The merest touch triggered a cascade of needles.

In another week, perhaps two, the glory of the tamaracks will have become Ichabod. But only for a time. Five months from now, as the sun climbs higher into the heavens of April, the tamaracks will once again clad themselves in feathery green. And in the broad, wild wetlands of this state that I love, a new circle of the seasons will commence.






Written by Dave.