Sunday, January 30, 2011

One Tree, in Close-Up

It feels like Spring in the Not-So-Big Woods. We're topping out around 68 F (20 C) today. Yesterday was even warmer. Three days from now, we aren't expected to get above freezing. Knowing that the cold front is coming is a push to go outside while I don't have to bundle up.

On our west side, there's a little worn slope that leads down into the riverbed. Just to the left of the slope I found a tiny path leading into the trees. That's one of those head-scratchers, because WE certainly didn't put it there.  It drops off into a river-eroded hillside, straight into a tangle of tree roots. My best guess is that it's a raccoon highway.

I walked down to the riverbed (NOT on the mysterious trail) to check out some of the trees that grow in precarious areas. The river is usually placid, but when we got a big rainfall, it fills up its banks with a roar of churning water. Soil is swept away from the trees lining the edges of the stream, exposing their roots. Eventually they tilt at crazy acrobat angles, then one day, they tumble, squealing and crashing.

Digging in with all their strength. So far, they stand.
The darkest tree in the middle is the one that caught my attention today. It's a little awkward to get close to it. The leaf-covered slope is slick, and stems of poison ivy stick up here and there.  Scores of small spiders dashed out of the way of my footsteps, probably screaming little arachnid versions of "AAAUUUGGGHH!"

Up closer, it's easy to see the top of the enormous taproot, plunging straight down into the earth, providing a tenacious grip that gives way only under tremendous strain.

This looks like a branch, but it's actually a horizontal root. There's evidence that a bird uses it as a dining hall, munching the poison ivy berries that are abundant in that area, leaving little crumbs behind.
That same root provides meals for birds like woodpeckers and sapsuckers. Little holes drilled cleanly into the wood hint at the enjoyment of past meals. you notice a couple of orange blobs?

Two bright orange fungi add a little cheer, peeking out from the underside of the roots. The color is like pumpkin flesh. They're hard, like homemade biscuits left out on the counter for a few days. Soft velvet covers them, reminding me of the velvet on a deer's fresh antlers.

Countering the orange fungus, there's a miniature forest of green moss. Yes, as a matter of fact, it IS on the north side of the tree.  The craggy bark looks like the tortured twistings of mountain ranges when seen from an airplane, with tiny mossy trees adorning them.

A funnel-web spider was peering out from her silky tube. When I jostled the bark a little, she retreated. Apparently, I didn't send out "come and eat me, I'm just a little innocent bug" vibes.


  1. What a superb story & exploration of this micro world! Much appreciated!

  2. Great post! Feb in Michigan is just the start of Winter. We're expecting at least a foot of snow Tues. I love snow! But posts like yours make me anxious to get out there in a couple months and discover bunches of Nature's secrets.


  3. A lovely post into the minutiae of nature.

  4. As always, a wonderful read! I loved the line: "scores of small spiders dashed out of the way of my footsteps, probably screaming little arachnid versions of "AAAUUUGGGHH!" It painted such a great picture. Thanks for sharing this little part of your woods with us!

  5. so many details in one tree (&post). a micro-cosmos, indeed. thanks for sharing!

  6. thank you for this lovely lyrical post which was a joy to read. All the microcosm of life around this high and dry tree beautifully captured in words and images. Awesome is the taproot

  7. A jewel of a post. Lovely to read and reread. i learned at Windhorse Farm that dead trees were the life of the forest, and thus should not be cut down. Your piece shows why.


  8. Love the photo of the moss on the bark!

    In answer to your question on my blog regarding the contorted hazel:
    haha.. contortionist ;)
    Well, I thought it was a tree, it's meant to grow to about 20 feet tall. But it's very slow growing, so might take a while before it becomes that large.
    My hazel is about as tall as me right now, it's maybe 5 years old. You could probably treat it as a shrub.

  9. Your post reminds me that in times past folks had more time to stop and notice things. Whizzing by in our trucks and cars, we seem to have lost that connection to things growing "along the way".
    When the first snow fell, people tended to stop, reflect,and enjoy the fruit of their labors. Now..well we just keep pressing on in the insanity of progress!

  10. Thanks for the tour of your tree. It's amazing what all one can find when she/he takes the time to look.