Most people know that trees in our region have annual rings. But last winter, a woman asked me whether the ring was formed on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. Oh, my.
As trees grow, they form two different kinds of wood. In spring and early summer, when leaves are new, moisture plentiful, and days are long, the tree grows “early wood”, characterized by large cells with thin cell walls. Early wood appears light to us. In late summer and fall (or during droughts) smaller cells with thicker cell walls form a narrow ring. This “late wood” has greater density and appears darker. So actually, when we count the dark rings in the cross-section of a tree trunk, we are counting the autumns in that tree’s life.
In the tropics or in regions which experience more than one rainy season in a year, counting rings doesn’t work to figure the age of tree, but here it does. In fact, we can even determine which years had good or bad weather based on the width of the early wood of that year.
Much like tree trunks, fish scales have rings. Turtles shells have individual plates called scutes–and yes, each scute has annual rings. These rings show up pretty well in young turtles, but as turtels age, their shells tend to smooth out. Still, even in a mature turtle, if you look closely (something I do not recommend with the snappers which live in Big Creek) you could count the number of winters the creature survived.
Mushrooms? That’s a bit harder to answer. Some mushrooms (shaggy manes come to mind) deliquesce–become a slimy liquid within a couple days of popping up, but perennail mushrooms grow over a period of years with new layers of tissue forming over the existing fruiting bodies. Clearly they had growth, but annual rings? Scientists are not willing to commit. After all, mushrooms are not dependent on sunlight or seasons.
But our Council Ring most definitely is a ring of massive dolomite boulders and we plan to use it for many years and in all seasons for campfires, concerts, storytelling and educational programs. Crossroads received grant funding from the Door County Community Foundation, the Raibrook Foundation, Breakfast Rotary, Herb H. Kohl Charities and Zion United Methodist Church, but (as always seems to be the case) the dream grew during the project planning phase. Fortunately, a generous local couple offered to match individual contributions, and donors came through to complete the funding. The firepit in the center of the ring received special gifts, as the family of the late Pat Olson designated her memorial gifts for this project. Friends of Crossroads added a generous gift to this memorial in hopes that many future campfires would remind them of the warmth Pat brought into their volunteer efforts.
This project also includes a Hidden Classroom, tucked into the cedar grove overlooking Big Creek. Rings of smaller boulders create intimate group study and conversations areas, several of which are wheelchair assessable. These smaller rings will now be available to school and youth groups and families.