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Sunday, February 28, 2016

Cribbage, Anyone?...

The other day I rounded up the pruning gear and went out to do battle with my summer apple Lodi tree. Despite the fact the old tree is ravished by an apple canker disease that haunts the Valley, some sort of infection that raises arthritic nobs and gnarls on the branches and restricts the flow of sap, it still manages to produce a prodigious amount of new wood every year. Much of the new growth is willowy and withe-like and requires considerable snipping and heading back to keep the tree from becoming one big, interwoven mat. Pruning the tree was particularly challenging this year because I did not prune it last season.

When I leaned my pruning pole against one of the tree's two leaders, I noticed a good half of the trunk riddled with holes a quarter inch deep, not random drillings but repetitive horizontal patterns circling the trunk. The perforations gave the appearance of one large cribbage board. When I first saw these markings, I was reminded of a beetle infestation that killed my two pie cherry trees years ago. Unlike the bored holes dribbling sawdust, these indentations have scabbed over and the tree appeared to be no worse for the poking.

I've seen these holes before on our walnut tree but hadn't noticed the intricate dotted artwork on the apple tree prior to this year's pruning. The holes are the artistic work of a species of woodpecker: the red-breasted sapsucker (Sphyrapicus ruber). With engineer-like precision the bird does its artwork, then returns to slurp the sap and dine off any insects that might be attracted to the syrupy watering holes.
After a bit of research I learned a sapsucker's sap mining can be so aggressive the host tree dies. Even though this stately old apple is a canker victim and now riddled with hundreds upon hundreds of holes, it's a survivor. Come mid-summer I have no doubt the tree will again bear enough fruit to fill this winter's applesauce quota.

This sapsucker business has me puzzled. It must have taken some time for the bird to perforate the bark countless times. I assume the species is not nocturnal, and therefore it seems I should have seen it drilling away as it circumnavigated the trunk row after row. Yet I've never seen its redheaded eminence bobbing about the trunk. In fact I've only seen the species once, and in the attached photo it clings to one of our fir trees out front. One more thing: the bird is a "sapsucker," right? Therefore it must do its work when the sap flow is most abundant, which, I assume is in the spring. Thus the window of time for sapsucker watching must be limited to just a few short weeks in spring and still, I've yet to see the perp.

So now in addition to having a food source growing out back, I also have an entertainment center. If you're up for a game of cribbage, let me know. I'll furnish the cards, but you'll need to bring your own ladder.

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  1. How high up the tree is the cribbage board?

    1. I figure a six foot stepladder would be enough to access the "board." Players would have to wait for a day of sunshine so their cards wouldn't get soggy. And if I were to play, I'd have to learn the rules. Never played the game myself. I understand it's nothing like Chinese checkers. Appreciate your comment. TMJ

  2. If I'd kept up to date on your blog, this would have answered the question I was asking myself the other day.