Wednesday, October 21, 2009
When a tree falls in the forest..
As this past weekend’s nor’easter was letting up, I was out with the dogs when I suddenly heard a loud crack just up the hill from the cabin, and a medium-sized tree came crashing down, eventually coming to rest perhaps 30 feet away. The tree was already dead and rotten, so it broke into many pieces when it fell.
Perhaps 10 minutes later, the same thing happened. This time it was a large branch or perhaps half of a rotted tree that fell in the middle of the driveway. As it also broke into many pieces, it was easy to clean up the remains.
I figure that 3.5 days of a hard rain, though with little wind, soaked through both dead and rotted trees, weighed them down and eventually caused them to fall. That I was outside to see and hear it happen was unusual, but it got me to thinking about how old trees turn into new forest soil.
When I see fallen trees in the forest, most don’t look as though rotted before they fell. The wood typically seems to be in decent shape, and the cause for the tree’s demise isn’t immediately obvious. Likely, it’s something as simple as not being well-rooted in the stony soil or perhaps a windstorm. Fungus of one kind or several soon takes hold and begins years of work to disintegrate the tree.
Some rotted trees remain standing long after they are dead. I have several in my front forest. Each seems to get a bit smaller each year, the work of woodpeckers or fungus. The standing rotted trees appear to be less fungus-covered than the trees that fall with the wood still in good shape. I have no idea why. Every so often I’ll go out and push on one of the dead rotted trees, hoping I can convince it to fall somewhere other than my driveway (I don’t think I have any that threatens the cabin).
As to why a tree will die and then remain standing long enough to rot where it stands, I have no answers. Trees of the same species often thrive around the dead one, so I can’t blame it on a tree species that took root where it wouldn’t do well. I do know that it takes a long time for a tree to die and rot and then fall. The ones I keep an eye on in my front forest have been dead for over 10 years now, and I still can’t push them over.