A sweet-sounding child, a boy maybe 7 or 8 dressed in a snowsuit, stands in the crotch of a mountain hemlock tree. He is trying to break off a six-inch-thick branch from the tree for use as firewood. His mother tells him to stop because they never break branches off of living trees. It’s a good lesson, especially given how long it took for the tree to grow the branch he has targeted.
Unlike regular hemlocks that can grow relatively quickly in the good ground of an old growth forest, mountain hemlocks eek out a life on the edge of poorly drained meadows. Hundreds of their thin growth rings can fit in the branch that the boy wanted to turn into firewood. The thicker tree probably predates the founding of the United States.
The family follows Aki and I across a muskeg meadow and into old growth forest. The ground is littered with burnable branches and twigs broken off by storms or snow loads. The forest’s tight canopy has kept the debris relatively dry. I hope they stop here to harvest what the forest offers for their family fire.