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Confessions From a Tree Hugger
Have you ever heard a tree talk?
They do you know. Sometimes it’s just a whisper, or a groan; they announce an imminent storm with squeaks, creeks and squawks. If you should happen to be listening, there is an amazing array of swishing, whooshing and sighing as well. When winter sets in, the trees pop like aging joints, scolding against the bitter cold. It is music to this old country gal’s ears.
Have you ever noticed that the trees signal us when rain and thunderstorms are on the horizon? They turn their leaves backwards, and present the gray side en masse. Pay attention to the leaves. They talk, too.
Trees Talk to Us in All Seasons
Of course we all know about the changing hues of autumn, ushering in the bleak months. It’s as if the spectacular show is presented in order to take the sting out of the coldest and bleakest time of our year. The leaves are saying, “buck up; this too shall pass”. “But in the meantime, here’s some wonderful bright color to help sustain you”.
How Many Acorns Have Fallen?
The trees tell me whether it will be a mild winter or one ‘for the books’. One year there were so many acorns on the ground, it was like walking on ball bearings to step outside; and you needed a hard hat as well! That winter we had record snowfall, and record low temperatures. Last year there were very few acorns, and this year the same is true. The trees are letting me know that it will be a mild winter.
The Cycle Begins
Winged seeds, flowers and catkins herald the return of our migrating birds, and a promise of growth and rebirth after a season of sleepy hibernation.
An explosion of green leaves tells me there will be an explosion of insects, caterpillars, bees and woodland babies. Celebrate the sunshine and absorb its energy!
From spring through wintertime, trees are home to millions of animals. Every chance I get to observe not only birds, but raccoons, bugs, butterflies, squirrels, bears, and yes, even snakes, using the superhighways and underground tunnels of the trees is a treat to my senses. All these animals and more depend upon the maples, poplars, oaks, birch, pine and beech trees for shelter from predators and storms, sustenance and family housing.
Did You Know?
- Fungi contain no chlorophyll, so they do not need sunshine to grow, just moisture and warm temperatures.
- Many toxic varieties of mushrooms look very much like their non-toxic cousins. Never eat a wild mushroom, unless you know absolutely that it is safe. It’s best to ask an expert.
Trees Serve Many Purposes in the Woods
The roughness of the tree bark acts like a scrub brush as the deer rub the velvet from their newly-born antlers. Mushrooms and morels live and die as they hasten the decomposition process, releasing elements that will nourish new trees. Drilling beetles and chewing caterpillars ingest nutrients from leaves and bark, to be passed on to the next in the food chain.
Trees Are Highways
complete with on and off ramps, roadside cafes, housing developments and single family detached dwellings. There are apartment complexes and seasonal hotels boasting million-dollar views.
As I contemplate the myriad shades and textures of the tree trunks marching across my view of the woods, the sudden ‘crack’ of an acorn dropping and hitting an old branch on the ground turns my attention immediately upward.
On a limb high in the crown of an oak tree a grey squirrel scampers gingerly. The bushy-tailed rodent busily dislodges nuts with fierce agility. As the wind brushes the dense crowns of the trees, a sound starts faintly and begins to build. More acorns hit the grown like hailstones. The rodent is working its day job, cleaning the branches of accumulated air pollutants and dust that may have originated halfway around the world, while shopping for its winter stock of food.
Its actions stir up all sorts of flying insects, spiders and caterpillars. Birds enter the arena to scoop up an easy meal, courtesy of the ‘nut gatherer’. Acorns, hickory nuts and insects are in high demand this time of the year. The fall season means migration and winter storage preparations. The trees are telling me that we have again come full circle.
A chain of memories takes me to a place I have not visited in a while.
On the path out to the woods stands a grand old oak tree. I think of it as a sentinel allowing only the faithful to pass by unscathed. Some years ago, an industrious downy woodpecker deftly drilled out a place for its family in one of the sentinel’s gracefully outstretched limbs, which was connected at the tree in a ‘Y’ shape, about 15 feet off the ground.
Approaching the sentinel one day, I could see a fuzzy little head popping in and out of the cavity. Stopping dead in my tracks, I waited patiently while mama woodpecker flew in and poked her beak into the hole where the baby birds were nestled. I could tell by her movements that she was feeding them some tasty morsels she had found. She was soon off again searching for more baby food under the bark of nearby trees .
Watch as they seem to multiply! Video from 'srcampsite', entitled "Squirrels Playing in Tree"
The days passed, and Mama Downy and her offspring stayed close by, gleaning all sorts of bugs and crawlies from tree trunks.
My bird feeders are not far from the old sentinel, so the woodpeckers also enjoyed partaking of the seed and suet buffet I placed before them. I want them to stay, you see, to police and keep my trees healthy.
Several years flew by, and upon glancing at the old sentinel one early spring morning, out from the hole in the ‘Y’ branch scrambled 5 baby squirrels, one right after the other!
The nesting hole had been re-sized to comfortably house the energetic bunch I was now watching with a smile. Up and down the tree they spiraled, occasionally hopping back into the hole in the branch where they had their nest.
Have you ever observed the joyful antics of tiny squirrel babies circling the trunk of a tree? There’s nothing like the carefree agility of a woodland animal for supercharging a spring day!
Chasing each other became a game of tag as they took turns at the lead position. Practicing jumps from thick to thin branches, occasionally one would falter. Maneuvering deftly while one or two feet were dangling in mid air, the critters contorted and quickly clawed their way back to four-footed stability without missing a beat. I could hear the sounds of their sharp claws skittering along as they grabbed at the bark for traction; little muscles and sinews stretching and growing strong.
The following year, while working in my herb garden underneath that same tree limb, I distinctly heard loud buzzing. Pausing to locate the source, I realized it was directly overhead. Very carefully and quietly I departed the area, pleased to observe a honeybee hive in the former woodpecker/squirrel cavity. Honeybees called this their home for several more years, busying themselves in my gardens. But I could tell that the underside of the limb where the hive was located was becoming decayed. No doubt the cumulative moisture from the honeycomb, combined with many years of animal residency, was taking its toll.
If you could live in any environment, which would you choose:
That winter was especially snowy,
and the elegant old bough succumbed to the weight of the millions of snowflakes that had collected along its length. It was a heavy, wet snow that melted and dripped with the heat of the bright afternoon sun. My heart seemed equally heavy when I found that limb on the ground. After all, it had been home to so many for so long.
Because most of the limb was still solid, it was not left to decay, but cut into pieces that would fit into our wood stove. I am always mindful of the Native American practice of taking from the land, but giving back in kind and in thankfulness. Very often we leave fallen branches and trees to decompose, thereby returning to Nature the elements that were used in their growth.
Old snags are left to stand, allowing many more to share their last vestiges before crumbling back into the soil. Millions of bugs, caterpillars, mammals and birds rely on such resources. Then bacteria, fungus and mold spores hasten the decomposition process, keeping our planet in balance.
Learn to Identify Trees the Easy Way
Food Sources For Animals From Trees
Pine Cone Seeds
Pine Branch Buds
Spiders and Spider Mites
Whiteflies and Ants
Caterpillars and Insect Larva
According to Saveatree.com
- A healthy mature tree can have a value of $10,000!
- Two mature trees can supply enough oxygen annually to support a family of four!
- Each average-sized tree provides an estimated $7 savings in annual environmental benefits, including energy conservation and reduced pollution.
The size of the tree matters not. From saplings to mature specimens, every one serves a vital purpose in all our lives. The swaying tree tops filter pollutants; and photosynthesis provides carbohydrates from the breakdown of chlorophyll by sunlight, emitting oxygen as a by-product. In fact, according to en.wikipedia.org,”today, the average rate of energy capture by photosynthesis globally is approximately 130 terawatts, which is about six times larger than the current power consumption of human civilization.” That’s a lot of power!
I’m a tree hugger, and darned proud of it! I cannot imagine life without the green of the woodlands, and all the fascinating creatures living there. Some people just love the ocean, seaside vistas and sand; or the dry heat of the deserts; others could not fathom life outside of the big city. Still others enjoy life above the tree line in the snow-covered mountains. And that’s just fine with me: to each his own. But I’ll keep listening to my forest, and bask in all its glory in all seasons.