I taught computers for 18 years before going to work at Audubon 9 years ago. When I taught computers, people asked me, “How do you know so much about computers?” Now they ask me, “How do you know so much about nature?”
The truth is, you don’t have to know much more than the average person to appear an expert. If I happen to know one or two more facts or techniques, you might perceive me as knowing everything when really, I’m just a novice – maybe only half a step beyond you. I’ve learned it before you. That’s all. This is is true whether the topic is technology or trees.
In answer to the questions, I do have a method for learning. Obsession! I pick a narrow topic and obsess about it for a while. I put on blinders to minimize distractions. I cover my desk with every available book on the subject. Sometimes I even schedule a class on the topic – forcing myself to learn before I teach! Teaching is the most effective way to learn, don’t you think?
Naturally, I use Audubon as my training ground. I walk the trails and try to learn what I can about everything I pass with the idea of sharing it later with visitors to the Center. A couple of years ago, I obsessed about coniferous trees. I think I can identify every needled tree on the sanctuary now. (Although, for some… I really need a cone. So don’t ask me the species unless you see a pine cone nearby, kay?)
My current obsession is going to be deciduous trees. You may have already figured that out, based on my Sycamore and Tulip Tree posts. Those two trees weren’t too difficult. There aren’t similar species to confuse with them… they are pretty distinctive.
Then there are the maples. This will be a challenge. There are thousands of species of maples worldwide. There is a 500-page book written about maples. I think there are only around seven species, though, that are native to my region. I’ll start with those and hopefully that will be all I find on the Audubon property. Then again… there’s a Douglas Fir on the Audubon property and they are native only to the western part of the continent… And then there are the cultivars and imports and cross-breeds. Oh dear… well… it will be a challenge. I’ll tackle it one tree at a time…
…starting with Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum), the New York State tree. Famous for the high sugar content in its sap from which sugar makers produce delicious syrup, butter, and candy, this tree is common in the northeastern US and southeastern Canada. A long time ago a forester helped me remember Sugar Maple by pointing out a feature of the leaves. Notice the space between the lobes. It is smooth and shaped like the letter U – just like the U in sUgar! Leaf shape is still the easiest way for me to know the trees. With winter coming on, though, I suppose I’ll have to turn my attention to the buds and bark. There’s always something new to learn, isn’t there?
I love maple syrup. If I can’t have the real thing, then I’d prefer not to have pancakes at all. It concerns me that the sap industry appears to be affected by global warming. I googled “maple syrup global warming” and found more than a dozen articles on the link between climate change and reduced sap production. So sad. It’s funny about maple syrup; people either love it or hate it. How about you? Are you a maple syrup lover?
Need to know more? Check out these maple websites: