There is no such thing as a dead tree

Guest post by Harry Glasgow

In the forest, in autumn, an acorn drops from an oak.  Soon, a bushy-tailed squirrel finds it and obeys an ageless urge to bury it to be dug up later during the spare oncoming winter. Soon forgotten by the squirrel, it remains buried through the winter, and begins to germinate the following spring.

In several years, the acorn develops into a sapling, and begins the struggle for survival. It must compete with other trees for its share of sunlight, nutrients from the soil, and water. Its leaves are bigger than those of its parents so that it can devote more energy to absorbing the necessary light and carbon dioxide than the adult trees, thus promoting faster growth.

As it grows, more branches sprout with more leaves, and it is steadily gaining in the struggle for space.  Soon, birds begin to explore the sapling for insects, and for nesting sites. 

Other creatures use the growing oak for food and shelter – deer nibble at the berries of the vines which grow up the tree – woodpeckers and creepers hop around on the oak finding insects in the bark crevices – the great-great-great-great-great-great-granddaughter of the squirrel that buried the acorn sleeps curled up in a soft leafy nest at the very top of the tree.

The tree continues its growth and expands its role in the natural web of life.  It continues to provide sources of food and shelter for more and more forest creatures.

But additionally its annual deposit of autumn leaves to the forest floor supplies eventual nutrients for itself and for the other growing plants nearby.  Its broad canopy shades the earth beneath and helps cool the forest.  Its massive root system anchors the soil preventing both water and wind erosion. Decades pass as the oak faithfully stands sentry to the well being of the forest and those who live in it.

As the great oak ages, strange changes begin to occur in it. Its center begins to crumble away and becomes hollow. A full assortment of creatures such as foxes, and opossums, and snakes, and owls, and bats begin to explore the hollowed tree.  There they find shelter and nesting sites, and as the tree decays, an increasing larder of tasty insects, grubs and worms grows.  

As time passes, the oak becomes weaker and weaker, and soon a particularly fierce snowstorm with howling winds was too much, and down she comes.  A tremendous BOOM echoes through the forest, and then all that is heard is the continuing storm.  

Seasons came and seasons go, and she lay under winter’s snow, spring’s rain, summer’s heat, and autumn’s leaves.  She is joined by living things of the forest. Moss, lichen, mushrooms, molds, and who knows what else pop up all over the oak tree.  

Carpenter ants, beetles, and salamanders make their way through her soft moist wood. Decay advances, and she continues to be a source of shelter and food for the forests citizens.  She becomes softer and softer until she is more like dirt than wood.   And nestled in her rich dark earth, hidden by a bushy-tailed squirrel, a tiny acorn lays.

The great conservationist Aldo Leopold wrote, “…The land is one organism. Its parts, like our own parts, compete with each other and co-operate with each other. . . Harmony with land is like harmony with a friend; you cannot cherish his right hand and chop off his left. . .”  The poignancy of the acorns becoming trees to nurture the next acorns is an illustration of the completeness Leopold describes.

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