Spent more time in the woods ‘across the creek’ this morning. Set out with my first feelings of doubt about this project, not sure if, here in the doldrums of winter, I would see anything new or noteworthy in the drab brown-and-gray forest. But I want to keep making myself walk, see, write, explore, and so across the creek I hopped. The water flowed, the sun shone, and I walked some more.
One thing I notice in this part of the woods is the absence of forestry activity. Most of the Twin Oaks property is overlaid with a network of forestry trails, tractor paths that the crew uses to get to pull logs out of the woods. They don’t cut many live trees; most of the work is in cutting up and removing blowdowns and standing dead wood. Which means that most of our forest has a relatively open and spacious look, a contrast with the more cluttered, natural, look of the forest on the opposite side of the creek.
We don’t have a lot of extreme weather in Virginia; it’s mostly pretty moderate year-round. But (usually) in late spring/early summer and (rarely) during hurricane season, there can be some pretty impressive wind-and-rain storms, capable of doing a lot of damage in the woods in a short amount of time. Last June’s ‘derecho’ was one such tempest, which dropped dozens (hundreds?) of big old trees throughout the property. In fact, most of the cutting that has been done in the woods this year has been cleanup from that one storm, and there are still 7-month old downed trees all over the land.
When you see trees like this on the ground, especially if you’re used to thinking of trees and forests as resources as well as ecological entities, it can be a bit disoncerting– so many board feet! so much firewood! It seems like a shame to let it rot, and at the same time, it’s a good contrast to have some of our acreage left in a more ‘natural’ state, where the cycle of growth, death, and decomposition can occur undisturbed.
This long leaner could provide a lot of domestic lumber, but instead, it’s going to provide food for a bunch of mushrooms and microorganisms and whatnot.
As I walked around the woods, I thought a lot about rot, and the aesthetics of decomposition. Nature, as she breaks matter down, ultimately turning it all back into dirt, often does so in ways that are quite pretty and often overlooked. The patterns of insect and exposure on a dead trunk, the gradations of color and texture on a rotting log, the final crumbling of ‘wood’ into ‘soil…’
You’d think that with all this rotting wood around, it would be a paradise for mushrooms. And maybe it is, at other times of year, but I just didn’t see a whole lot of anything growing. Despite warm afternoons, we’re still getting a blanket of frost on most mornings, and I think that most of the mycelium has just shut down for the season, awaiting more reliable warmth. I did see this one white, puffy, furry, odd little fungus on a dead branch. I don’t know what it is, and I only saw one this morning, but I don’t recall having seen anything like it before.