By Isaac Lorton
Have you ever walked in the woods and a tree flexed at you?
You know, when a tree is growing its own way. At a right angle, looking like a flexing arm. Really standing out.
Yeah, like this:
On a recent hike up Bald Top Mountain in Fairlee, I saw so many trees like this geometric beauty, or bent in some wacky configuration like this chaotic eye-catcher that I decided to catalog them by how they flex.
For those of you who are curious about the science behind why a tree looks like one half of an NFL referee signalling a good field goal — or a car dealership inflatable tube dude whipping in the wind — these trees are known as “dog-legged” by loggers and foresters.
The flexing trees in Fairlee Forest are caused by a combination of erosion, a process called soil creep, and other natural conditions. Ice and snow slush down the hill; the weight and movement of the deluge bends or breaks the leader branch — or main trunk — of the tree. Either the same leader corrects itself and continues to grow straight upward, as trees are wont to do, creating an “L” shape, or a different branch attempts to become the new leader branch and springs up with aspiration. After the snow, the hillside swells and shrinks, due to frost heaves and ice melt, and then the slippage of sloppy-wet soil we call mud season continues to drag the tree downhill. Northern hardwood forest trees are resilient, though.
Kit Leckerling, President of the Rivendell Trail Association and a history and forestry teacher at the Mountain School in Vershire, explains the “dog-legged” tree further, “What's happened is that the tree was blown over or otherwise damaged (often in an ice storm, when the leader of the tree breaks under the weight of the ice),” Leckerling said. “When the leader is compromised, one or more of the upper branches turn upwards to become a new leader. I was looking at a dog-legged ash tree recently that had over eight branches turned upwards, all competing to become the new leader. I notice this phenomenon most over with ash, maple, paper birch, beech, so hardwoods. Softwoods tend to snap off more dramatically, and lower down, and therefore catastrophically, though white pines have a similar upper-branch-replacing leader strategy when their leaders are killed by pine weevil beetles.”
As for why there are so many examples of a “dog-legged” tree in the Fairlee Forest, Leckerling adds that the phenomena is so prevalent probably due to its unique geographic location.
“I think it has to do with being a higher elevation site that is exposed to the prevailing wind/weather direction (northwest),” Leckerling said. “What makes the view also makes those woods vulnerable to the conditions that lead to dog-legging.”
When I go on a hike and see a tree doing its thing, I do not think of soil creep, frost heaves, or erosion. I usually imagine fanciful scenarios that would make a gnarly tree look so gnarly.
And right now, in my pandemic state-of-mind, every hike becomes a Rorschach test of what I see in the trees. Here are the results:
The Classic Flex
Feelin' on top and flexin'. Plain, simple vanilla ice cream. Gets the job done.
The Cross Guard Flex
Stepping in front of those hikers' paths like the yellow-vested, stop sign-wielding cross guard who jumps in front of over-eager drivers champing at the bit to get through the school zone speed limit.
Instagram Model Flex
Worked really hard on its base, and it shows.
Similar to the insta-model flex in terms of base, but it looks like a slug crossing a sidewalk. Calm, cool, and taking its time.
Blowin' Those Trees Away Flex
One burn so devastating that three trees do the ooh-aah lean. With a bonus angle of the tree who repeats the burn immediately after because it is that good.
Winning An Uphill Battle Flex
Against all odds, you are still climbing and thriving. Bring it on.
Only Bicep Flex
Also known as the one-trick pony, only the bicep of the dominant arm is getting flexed.
The Old Timey Fighter Flex
Put 'em up bucko. My hands are facing the wrong way, but with my mustache and gung-ho spirit, nothing can stop me. Also can be seen as the Fighting Irish Leprechaun flex.
Lending a Helping Hand Flex
The Lean On Me flex. The I Gotchu flex. The I'll Hold You Up flex. This casual flexer is holding up two fallen trees. Count it, two.
Flyin' Under the Radar Flex
Low going... then a sudden blast off.
The Hallelujah Flex
Throw your limbs up in exaltation, something amazing just happened. Go preach the good news about tree flexin'.
The What Are the Odds of Being Struck by Lightning? Flex
It looks like there is a face petrified in shock just below the intense bend in the tree, astounded that it was unlucky enough to be struck by lightning.
The Flying V Flex
If it's good enough for the Mighty Ducks, it's good enough for you. Trunks fly together.
The I Used to be Flexible Flex
But now I'm just going to lie here because that time has passed.
The Wave Flex
Going around and around flexin'.
Busting Out of the Shirt Flex
Hulk-like and even more impressive that it was able to flex in a barber pole pattern.
The "I Coulda Been a Contender!" Flex
Also known as the I Was Cut Short Before My Prime flex. Common of the Uncle Rico types or the person who had potential but was always injured.
A Lil' Flex
Subtle, but flexin' nonetheless.
Seeing 15 years out that another tree will be falling on you, so you circumvent it. That's some foresight.
One joined at the hip, one movin' their hips in dance, both solid flexes.
Special F Flex
Because it looks like an F.
I Don't Know, I'm Stumped