american beech wajoimizi leaf sapling

American Beech

…Known to the Western Abenaki quite simply as the mountain tree: wajoimizi, from wajo (mountain) + i (connector) + mizi (tree). The moist, well-drained slopes of eastern North America are where you will find the American Beech, an unmistakably familiar inhabitant of the forest. No other tree has bark so smooth and imposing.  Its preference for rich soil was an indicator to early settlers of fertile ground but by the same token, its hard, heavy, tough wood meant a large beech was often left standing, being too difficult to work into lumber.

Wajoimizi is a stalwart, handsome member of the northeastern climax community; its sleek gray muscled trunks rise, twist, and spread into a fine-twigged crown. Though quite tolerant of shade itself, very little grows beneath its broad canopy other than perhaps its own slender offspring, since the beech will spread through root sprouts as well as reseeding with its bristly nuts. Beechnuts are an important food to the woodland creatures that travel beneath its shelter; turkey, bear, squirrel, deer, and grouse enjoy the bountiful crops that fall every autumn after frost. They were perfectly edible for the Aln8bak as well. Sometimes tracking a four-footed harvester to its cache or collecting them from the leaf litter, the Sokwakiak would gather them for winter storage, pound them into flour, roast them fresh, or boil them to extract the oil – over half of the content is fat. A slow grower, a beech will not begin to bear nuts until it is 40 years old, gaining in strength ’til it reaches 60, and then producing heavy crops every 2-8 years; if it is fortunate, it may live a full life of up to three centuries. Sadly, many of today’s beeches are succumbing to bark disease and entire stands are slowly dying. But not all…

american beech wajoimizi

A simple way to estimate a tree’s age is to multiply its diameter by its specific factor, a multiplier which reflects its rate of growth. Wajoimizi, being one of the slowest growing trees of N’dakinna, has a growth factor of 6; by comparison, white oak and white pine are both a slightly faster 5 and cottonwood is a downright speedy 2. As I was circling around a river terrace above the Wantastekw the other day, scouting out the site of a proposed solar farm and thinking it may likely have been a past encampment, I came upon a giant beech in the treeline. I stopped in awe… perfectly healthy and thriving, this monarch (surrounded by its children) rose majestically from a tangle of roots, to a multi-branched trunk and vast crown, just beginning to leaf out. I came back the next day to take its measure: 144 inches around gave a diameter of 46 inches, with an estimated age of 276 years. I was stunned, again. This chief of the wajoimiziak was born around 1740; it is older than the town of Brattleboro. It may very well have seen Abenaki war parties stealing down the River to raid Fort Dummer, built just 16 years before and only 3 miles south on the Kwanitekw. What changes this ancient one has seen! Its wise spirit speaks quietly to those who will stop and listen beneath the broad arms and green cloak of centuries. Wligen – it is good.


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4 thoughts on “American Beech”

  1. Wliwni! I’ll bet She is a beautiful tree! Trees are not “it”, they are feminine, especially to Native Americans. If she’s 276 years old she is probably the Mother tree, nourishing all the other trees (and the communities beneath them) around her. May she live many more years! Nialach!

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