After a few days of mild frustration, the sampling of potentially old umbrella pine lifted our spirits and put us in a good frame of mind to conduct our last day of research in the temperate rainforest region of northeastern Turkey. We headed out of Borçka and met with a forest officer in charge of forests in the Murgul Mountains. He seemed pleased with our research goals and supplied an extra jeep and a forest ranger to assist with our work. As often happens in fieldwork, highs like the discovery of great trees or the donation of free assistants get intermixed with unforeseen issues. On our last day of fieldwork in Turkey, we experienced all of that.
We headed up into the Murgul Mountains in a two-rig caravan. We stopped at a few places to take in the view and study slope forests. It was turning out to be a lovely day. During this slow journey on a narrow, mountain road, it became clear that even the steep slopes had been harvested. After about 30 minutes of driving up the mountain, we met up with loggers cutting oak logs on the side of the road. We stopped and talked with the loggers for a few minutes and inspected their bounty. The oaks were not big, but as regular readers of this blog might understand, size doesn’t equal age. The smallish oaks looked to have at least 150 rings. The loggers gave us a sample, we shook hands, and continued up the mountain.
As we continued to see evidence of recent logging over the next 10-20 minutes up the road on steeper slopes, it became apparent that we would have to travel deep into the forest to find old trees. Alas, the heavy snowfall of Winter 2011-2012 soon stopped our vehicles’ progress: the road was still clogged with nearly a meter of snow. Thus, it was time to do one thing that humans do quite well: hoof it.
As we walked up the road, Nesibe’s cell phone rang (side note: why can people in Bhutan or Turkey get cell reception in deep forest in rural regions, but we cannot get it in places within 30 miles of NYC, like on the Lamont campus? Can you hear me now?). High-level forestry officials called to say that the core samples collected on this trip could not leave the country….ugh…This was almost deadening news. We had overcome many obstacles on this trip, but this one was serious. We had previously made plans to split the samples between the two labs for analysis, and we really wanted to bring some samples back to our lab.
See, the joys of research do not end in the field. The process of tree-ring analysis for me is almost Pavlovian: at every step of the game discoveries can be made that make me drool. First, we head into a wild area and soak in the gorgeous scenery – ding! Next, we hike into the forest seeking old trees – ding! Once found, we begin coring old-looking trees. When the first cores reveal many rings – ding, ding! I am notoriously bad at estimating the number of cores on a sample in the field. It seems I consistently underestimate age by 50-100 years. Knowing this, why do I not automatically adjust my estimate? One, it keeps us looking for older trees. Two, I’d rather be wrong on the lower side so that when the first samples are sanded so that we can clearly see the rings, there is much thrill in the lab – ding, ding, ding!! Don’t get me started about how wonderful it is to see beautiful rings pass under my eyes as rings are measured – seeing the highs and lows of tree life over the centuries is truly joyous. Yes, I enjoy this process very much. In fact, I stash a mop outside my office on high Pavolvian days.
The most frustrating aspect of the denial to export samples is that we had anticipated the bureaucracy of getting governmental permissions: we started the permit process approximately 4-5 months before our trip. And, poor Nesibe had to shoulder the necessary mountain of paperwork. It was only two weeks before we left the US that we thought we had permission to export samples (BTW, this is not a knock on Turkish governmental efficiency. Permission to sample in the US or import samples into the US can often require at least 4-6 weeks, just like shipping times of yore). Anyhow, we paused and pondered this heavy news. Nesibe said her lab could analyze the additional samples and we proceeded forth.
We continued on foot and spied some potentially interesting trees.
We scrambled up a beech-leaf slickened slope and cored two Oriental beech trees. Like previous samples on this trip, they turned out to be fast growing/not very old. We continued deeper into the forest and realized many of the older-looking trees along the road ‘hid’ that the forest was recovering from a significant amount of logging decades ago. Soon after entering the second-growth portion of the forest, however, I spied an omen.
In the eastern US, the pileated woodpecker makes large foraging holes similar to that above. Pileated woodpeckers tend to be associated with mature woods. When I’m in an old forest, I often hear the call of this old friend. So, it was this sign that lifted my spirit. I suspect the species that made this hole is the black woodpecker, the largest woodpecker in Europe. We continued along the edge of the slope when one of us spotted an oak.
Not only were we thrilled to find another potentially old species, this tree had some of the charismatic megaflora chacteristics of being fairly old for its size. The first core indicated decent age (decent age for a dendrochronologist is roughly 200 years). We then found an oak that had recently fallen and cored it. It too had decent age.
We continued along this slope coring nearly ten oaks before the local distribution of decently-aged oaks ran out (they were clustered with spruce on and near south-facing rock outcrops). We headed back to our rig for lunch – it was now about 4 pm. While gathering food, we noticed similar topography and forest downslope. Dario and I begged off our fine lunch to explore this area. We were thrilled we did. This is where the forest became mighty tasty.
Not more than a soccer field from our rig did we find stunted, aged oaks. We had found our Turkish Delight – truly old trees growing along a cliffline. Forget nourishment. These sessile oaks provided all we would need.
Some scenes of Murgul Mountain forests in northeastern Turkey.
We were in a truly wild forest. No, Dario didn’t go wild and claw that beech tree. The marks were likely made by a brown bear.
The best identifier of beech the world round? “Emir (John, Wei, etc.) loves Tayla (Sue, Xue, etc.) 1978”.
Tea derived from Tilia (basswood).