Bock's Woods, a privately-owned woodlot, is a tiny sylvan sanctuary—only 15 acres—but its holds a special energy and atmosphere within which delicate associations of botany, entomology and zoology occur. The trees themselves are almost pure sugar maple, with a bit of beech and a few red maple and ash. The architecture of its canopied space is wonderfully open and gentle, creating ideal habitat for tree nesting birds, invertebrates in the leaf litter and generous, lush stands of herbs. Much of the Woods is carpeted with blue cohosh, but other fragile woodland ephemerals rise and fade from the soil.
Bock's Woods is due west of Robert Tremain State Park, and is on the Finger Lakes Hiking Trail, which passes through the woods. The Woods is a tiny island of undisturbed forest surrounded by farmfields and woodlots.
Sunday morning, May 10, at 11am, a thunderstorm with high winds whipped through Ithaca. Shortly after midday, the rain stopped. At 1pm, Becca Harber, David Yarrow and Mike DeMunn met at the lower entrance to Robert Tremain State Park. The park was closed due to hazardous weather conditions.
Mike DeMunn had been out in the forest all week doing forestry work, and had to finish his book on ecological forestry. Mike couldn't go in the forest with the old growth team, but he did get permission from Mr. Bock to visit his woods, and met the survey team at Tremain Park to tell how to get to Bock's Woods. Mike also gave us a sketch map, and described the woods' characteristics and history. Ten years ago, Mike removed a few maples infected with nectaria disease, and counted 250 rings on one stump. Mike left to work on the chapter on old growth forests in his book.
Bock's Woods is only a few miles west of Tremain State Park—a brief drive up the ridge. We parked on Porter Hill Road, then hiked east and downhill across an open field, and through a young beech forest. Beyond the beeches, we crossed Finger Lakes Hiking Trail, which angles southeast across Bock's Woods. We came to a rutted, muddy ATV track, and beyond it, the trail enters Bock's Woods near the northwest corner.
In a few minutes, we decided Bock's Woods is the loveliest ancient forest we have seen in New York. Fifteen acres of mostly sugar maples, with some red maple and beech. Scattered widely are larger, older maple reaching nearly 100 feet, to form a high, dense canopy. Even in early spring, with leaf buds barely opened, the canopy shades the ground.
In the understory, few tall shrubs or small saplings create a tangle. The result is an open, airy, spacious space under the canopy—a very lovely, enchanting, cathedral-like space. This open, park-like, sheltered space is an ideal habitat for a variety of songbirds, including warblers, orioles, tanagers. Unfortunately, the windy, cloudy day with frequent sprinkles was not conducive to bird watching; most were silent, securely anchored to ride out the storms. In one calm interlude, we heard the songs of at least three species, and the peeping of tree frogs.
The maples kept me blinking and guessing, until I realized their unusual bark color—nearly white—was due to a lichen or fungus—a thin film spread over the bark scales. The resulting whitish color enhanced the color values of light in the understory, suggesting stone pillars rather than tall timbers were holding up the high canopy. The white trunks are also a bit ghostly.
What's most exciting is the understory. Most of the woods is carpeted by a knee-high pasture of blue cohosh, a valuable, powerful healing herb. Lightly blue-green fronds of this stately, smooth-stemmed herb blanket the soil in thick stands to add an emerald hue to the atmosphere.
Also emerging in the understory are many jack-in-the-pulpits. Their strange-shaped flowers and their leaves look like alien lifeforms amid broad-leaved plants. We observed good sized specimens in every stage of emergence, unfolding and bloom.
There are few tall shrubs or small saplings in the understory to create a tangle. The result is an open, airy, space under the canopy—a lovely, enchanting, cathedral-like space. This open, park-like, shelter is an ideal habitat for a host of songbirds, including warblers, orioles, and tanagers.
Unfortunately, a windy, cloudy day with thunderstorms and frequent sprinkles is not conducive to bird watching. Most were silent, securely anchored to ride out the waves of storm. In calm interludes, we heard songs of at least three species, and peeping tree frogs.
We hiked the Finger Lakes Trail across the Woods, measuring larger maples and beech (80-132 inch dbh), and snapping photos. A heavy, scudding sky trickled raindrops now and then, but storm showers skirted around us, while the woodlands deflected the winds. At the Woods' far edge, cohosh gave way to a diversity of other delicate woodland herbs: mayapple, toothwort, bellflower, trout lily, white trillium, baneberry, etc. All delightful; most in bloom. Three deer stood their ground only 30 feet from us, inspecting us, eventually bounding away bobbing white tails.
On the south and east edges, the Woods has a few other tree species; we recognized red oak, butternut, ash, linden. The butternut was a double trunk, each alone a respectable tree. The linden (basswood to a forester) was a thick trunk leaning over at 20 degrees. We suspected a few hickory, ash and one smooth-barked species that stumped us. And yes, more maple stumps—quite large, almost four feet across. But other than this minimal diversity in the fringe, Bock's Woods is almost pure sugar maple, with some beech.
We hiked along the east edge, then back west to the Finger Lakes Trail. By then, rain was falling, heavily at times. I was soaking wet, but Becca had her poncho. We followed the trail all the way back to the road, passing through areas of very disturbed forests. Those woodlands' condition contrasted sharply with the order and beauty of Bock's Woods.
All in all, Becca and I fell in love with Bock's Woods. We want to buy it ourselves to build and live on, or arrange it's sale to Finger Lakes Land Trust. The owner is in his 70's, and is reluctant to sell. Although not threatened by logging in the near future, we have to consider this a forest at risk, since it's owner is elderly and it's future is uncertain. Mike DeMunn is urging him to sell to the Finger Lakes Land Trust.
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