Tamarack tinge to autumn’s last act


The swamps that surround Minnesota’s Iron Range are turning gold with the tamarack. Photo: Patricia Hensch, Creative Commons

I don’t know why, but every year I briefly forget the way tamarack trees change color in the fall. “Oh, wait. That’s right!” Tamaracks are larches, one of the few coniferous trees which change color and shed their needles every year. Perhaps that’s why it’s always a surprise when the tamarack’s dark green needles turn gold, before falling off and leaving the shoots behind like winter skeletons.

I grew up in the Sax Zim Peat Bog south of Eveleth, Minnesota, a sort of drainage field for the Mesabi Iron Range. There are so many tamaracks there that they blend utterly with the surroundings. They are unusual coniferous trees and yet, because of my familiarity, I only notice them when a landscape doesn’t have them, and then when I see them again. They are like family that way.

Places like Zim were winter hunting grounds for Dakota and Ojibwe people centuries ago and became a sort of refuge settlement for Finnish-Americans blacklisted from Iron Range mines in the early 20th Century. These Finns, among them my ancestors, would build ramshackle houses and outbuildings out of whatever they could find, which in many cases were tamaracks. A while back I heard a guy describing an old house built from tamaracks. He said that he took down some tamarack boughs that were used in a roof and that, despite being bent and braced for 100 years, the trees were still flexible and could easily be bent back into shape for reuse.

These trees are not just suited for their landscape, they are their landscape. There is cold. There is snow. There is the tamarack. Easy to see, hard to reach. Formidable. Irremovable. Flexible limbs and sensitive roots. The trees, and the people.

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.