Not Your Average Cookie

In the world of forestry, a cross section of a tree’s trunk is called a “cookie”. So this wouldn’t be the type of maple cookie you would want to eat, but if you did want to eat it you’ve better have a big appetite because this is a big one! In mid January we were in touch with Brian Stowe from the Proctor Maple Research Center at UVM in Burlington, VT. He let us know that there was a family in Springfield, VT that was looking to donate a tree cookie of a recently cut tree (terrible wind damage) to the university for ring study. Unfortunately the cookie was so large that they really didn’t have a way to deal with it, so they put us in touch with the Fenton family.

We contacted Dick Fenton and let him know that we were looking for a large cookie to put on display so that kids and families that come for tours could see and learn about nature and how resilient and long lasting trees are. When they heard about our dedication to education and sharing with the community, the Fenton’s were eager to share it with us.

Paul and Kaleigh took the 2.5 hour trip to Springfield in our 1 ton pickup truck and loaded this special cookie on Saturday Feb. 2, 2008 from the Fenton Family (Dick Fenton in pictures).

It is really hard to put into perspective how large this specimen really is but if you look at the size of Mr. Fenton or the tractor as compared to the piece of wood you can start to appreciate how special this is.

Some basic stats on our”maple cookie”

  • It is a sugar maple (acer saccharum)
  • We estimate it is between 250 and 350 years old
  • Approximately 48″ x 52″ (not quite a perfect circle) by about 14″ thick
  • Weighs about 1,000 pounds
  • The bark is in almost perfect condition
  • There is a tiny bit of rot (about the size of a quarter) that appears to be from some sort of damage about 75 years ago

Knowing that we had something special, we contacted the Environmental Studies department at Merrimack College to get their opinion. Jonathan Lyon (co-director of the department and professor of Biology) said this piece was indeed a rare specimen. He suggested we contact the Museum of Natural History at Harvard University. The staff there agreed that this should have special attention and suggested that I contact Don Williams at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC. Don is in charge of museum artifact conservation of wooden antiquities. Don was impressed with what we had and was eager to help. Although there are many methods to preserving wood, the most reliable is using a substance called Polyethylene Glycol (PEG). He said that we need to soak the wood for 15 days for every 1 inch of depth. He gave some additional information and instructed us to take care of this piece of history. We then contacted Steve Theberge who is the co-director of the Environmental Studies department at Merrimack College and professor of Chemistry. Steve agreed to help us as part of a class project to take the knowledge from the Smithsonian and apply it to our cookie.

As I understand from Steve we will be using a mix of PEG and water (I can’t remember the solution percentage) and will need to soak the cookie for about 6 months. He estimates it will take about 200 gallons of PEG in order to fully saturate the cookie. He also says that if we can keep a temperature of about 100 degrees that we will get a much better application. (FYI, as you may know Ethylene Glycol is anti-freeze, so this is a variation that is more jelly like.)

We are now looking for some assistance from a few companies to help us complete this project. We need a tank/container to place the cookie in to soak, we need an immersion heater to warm the liquid, and we need some warehouse space to put this in. We have some leads but if anyone can offer some assistance, please contact us at info@turtlelanemaplefarm.com. As far as timing, we are looking to do that as soon as possible. We picked it up on Saturday afternoon (recently cut) and it was in perfect condition. Already it is starting to get hairline cracks with the warmer weather we are having. This is due to it starting to dry out. So we are very concerned that the quality of the specimen is diminishing every day.

When this project is done, we really think this will be something special to share with the community. This really proves how spectacular mother nature really is. We will be tagging the rings to highlight different events in our history including; the Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Great Depression, man landing on the moon and so on.

In this cross section you can also clearly see two other things; tap holes and tap stains. There are several tap holes, and we are estimating that these are from about 40 – 50 years ago. It is pure luck that the chainsaw cut exactly where there was a tap hole. So this is something very rare to see. By seeing these tap holes, you can understand how a tree deals with tapping. The tree doesn’t fill in the hole, it simply scabs over and keeps growing outside layers. You can also see many many tap stains. Tap stains are the discoloration above and below a tap hole (about 10 or so inches above and below). So these stains indicate that there was a tap hole somewhere in proximity of the chainsaw cut. It also proves that this tree was tapped for about 100 years. From looking at the rings and with confirmation from the Fenton Family, this tree has not been tapped for about 25 years. But for the 100 years before that, people harvested the sweet sap and the tree still flourished, proving that good harvesting practices (tapping within guidelines) does not hurt the trees.

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It is unlikely that we will be able to show off this piece of history during the 2008 maple season as we are hoping that it will have a long rest soaking in a tank of PEG. But next year we expect that everyone will be able to come to the sugar house and see this wonder of nature.

And, in case you are wondering… when we can no longer share maple sugaring with the community, we will be donating this “maple cookie” to a museum or university so that generations to come and enjoy and learn more about nature. We have already been notified by two museums that they would be interested in taking it off our hands. But we expect that you will be able to enjoy it at our farm for some time to come.