I fell in love with hazel the first time I stumbled upon it in our forest. That was a few years ago, so my plant eyes were just developing. My father and I were cutting a trail and I said to myself, hey this isn't just another alder. No offense, I like alders too.
The leaves of hazel are downy soft, especially in early spring, are more finely toothed than alder, and more ovular. I also really like their arrangement on the skinny flexible stems. Hazels also have very attractive catkins in spring. I think I've seen some female flowers too (they may have just been buds), but I haven't seen any nuts. Never.
In fall, it's especially apparent that our sweet little hazel tree is really a gargantuan thicket probably many hundred of years old. Here's a look at one of it's "stools":
I say "stool" because it is a term associated with coppicing, a woodland management strategy where you cut a shrub or tree to the ground every so often to encourage new vigorous sprouts from the base. Here, I have to put it in quotation marks. Or maybe it should have been a question mark because this may have infact been a thicket coppiced by the Wiyot people at one time. I couldn't find any evidence of burning, but I doubt ashes would still be around because the soil is a mass of compost and moss. How can I tell? And the stools(?) are covered in moss themselves so I just don't know. But because of our land's closeness to the Bay, I think it is very likely their people lived here at one time.
As you can see above, the thicket is pretty extensive and there are at least four or five main stools, and they may be connected (it's difficult to tell because it's a real jungle in there). Which brings me to expressing a quandry I've had since reading Before the Wilderness. I confess that I am a bit on the romantic side about old, mysterious, "dark forest" things, and yet over the last few months, especially after reading BTW, Wendell Berry, and Noel Perry, I'm becoming more and more swayed to the management side. The solution, I know, is to manage some of it and to hang onto some of the truly amazing old things in the forest. Should I do something with this thicket or just enjoy the jungle?.