The winter just past brought Blue Jay Barrens more than average rainfall and an abnormally high number of windy days. These conditions brought down several dead trees that were no longer strong enough to support the added weight of waterlogged wood. This tree on the high ground overlooking the creek has been dead for several years. When I first spotted its fallen mass from the vantage point of the creek, I felt grateful that it had not fallen into the creek itself. So many trees fall across my trails each year that I am almost convinced of some botanical consciousness willfully directing the tree’s descent. This specimen obligingly came to rest in an out of the way location where it could quietly decompose.
When I climbed the bank to view the point of landing, I found that the tree had exhibited another type of odd behavior. Most falling trees tend to flatten as many small trees as possible. This tree appeared to have magically lowered itself to the ground and settled around the young trees in its path without causing any damage. One sapling was cradled in the fork of the downed tree, while others were just fractions of an inch from the dead trunk. After settling down, the tree broke into pieces that laid themselves flat to the ground, in a perfect position to decompose rapidly and give shelter to salamanders and other rotten log dwelling creatures.
The branches were riddled with woodpecker holes. Many generations of young birds must have fledged from this tree.
I think the profusion of woodpecker holes aided in the tree’s deconstruction upon impact.
Fortunately, there’s a newly dead tree just a couple of hundred feet further up the creek. Woodpeckers looking for their old nesting site only have to move a short way to a suitable replacement. Many of the prior owner’s land use activities caused damage to the trees from which they could not recover. Most of the damage was inflicted to the tree’s roots by grazing cattle. Compaction of the ground and damage to shallow feeder roots does not result in a quick death. Trees may survive the assault for decades, but in a weakened condition that makes them susceptible to insect damage, disease and other environmental factors. Eventually, their life force gives out and the trees die. New trees arise to take the place of these fallen old timers. Given another hundred years or so, the visible damage to the trees of the Blue Jay Barrens woodland should be much less pronounced and the large trees should show signs of having had an easier early life.