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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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From My Window

Issue Date: May 2, 2019

The Giving Tree

By Jane Thibodeau Martin,

**********

If you look out my living room window, you have a pleasant view of a small woods between our home and Hank Lake. When we first began settling in on our land, I mentally added an item to my "WhenIgetaroundtoit" checklist " because there were numerous dead limbs and fallen tree trunks in the woodlot. I was thinking this needed to be cleaned up as an improvement to the view and the property.

I've been watching the woodlot for six months now, and the cleanup item has come off my list " not because it is done, but because now I don't want to do it. And I am grateful I didn't rush into a cleanup, because it would have been a big mistake.

What I have observed is those fallen tree trunks are very important to my much-loved woodlot neighbors.

Squirrels use the elevated horizontal trunks as runways when the snow is deep or the ground is wet. Chipmunks use them as cover as they dash from place to place. The local Ruffled Grouse uses them for drumming, and I love watching him and hearing his wingbeat song. The last several mornings I have been lucky enough to see a sight new to me " a spectacular Pileated Woodpecker, hopping awkwardly along the ground, chiseling down the side of one of these fallen trees. I see them frequently on vertical dead trees, but I've never seen one using a trunk that has fallen before. Their feet and legs are totally evolved for vertical work, and moving on the ground is inefficient and difficult for them. These birds are all big, but this particular bird is a brawny monster of the kind. The hammering on the trunk leaves big holes and a pile of chips and bark. No wonder woodpeckers are being studied to see if something about their skull design prevents them from having brain damage from their powerful hammering. Maybe someday football players and soldiers will have better head protection as a result of Mother Nature's ingenious design for the skulls of these birds.

The dead logs are host to colonies of plants. Some are totally covered in thick, soft green moss, making them look like pictures I've seen of the downfalls in old-growth Pacific Northwest forests. Others host colonies of fungus, in a variety of shapes, colors and sizes, including mushrooms.

If you roll over one of the fallen logs, you will find dozens more creatures using the dead tree. There will be grubs, earthworms, centipedes. Sometimes there are ant colonies, and hordes of beetles. Small salamanders lurk under damp logs, while snakes prefer to hide under drier trunks. Bears roll these logs looking for tidbits, happily eating grubs or small animals they find.

And then there are the mammals. Ground squirrels, mice and chipmunks are common, but bigger critters den beneath the shelter of the logs, too " skunks, raccoons, and foxes.

After many years, often decades, the tree totally returns to the earth, enriching the soil in its final deterioration.

When I was young I spent hours pretending I was riding a horse as I trotted through the woods around my childhood home. I loved fallen trees then, because they were "jumps" for my imaginary horse. I valued the downed trees and limbs then, but somehow lost my way in middle age and began to think of them as "messy" or ugly. I have now come full circle again, as I enjoy hopping over these obstacles with the dogs; and see the valuable asset they are to the woodlot.

The ongoing gifts of the dead trees reminds me of the Shel Silverstein book "The Giving Tree." The book has drawings that make you think it is a children's book " and it is, in a way. But as an adult you can see it is a story about endless giving " a tree gives and gives through its entire life cycle as it cleans our air, provides food like fruit, nuts and buds for animals and birds, sap for our syrup, shelter for the woodland creatures, shade on a hot day for light-sensitive plants or humans, blossoms for nectar gatherers. In death the trees share firewood or lumber; as a fallen log; shelter and food for other life forms.

But the book can also be imagined as the story of the way a loving parent continually sacrifices for their children, as long as the parent lives, and even unto death. And I can even see the story interpreted as the endless love and forgiveness of God for mankind.

The fallen logs and limbs must stay. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder; and I see the splendor of Mother Nature's perfect and beautiful creation in the woodlot, just the way she intended it to be. There is no need for any "improvement" on my part.

Song stuck in my head: "Blue Bayou" by Linda Ronstadt. One of the most gorgeous women's voices of my youth; while she is still alive, she can no longer sing at all, silenced by Parkinson's Disease.



You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.


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