TREE HAS A STORY
tree has a story, and sometimes you can figure out what it is. Story-telling
trees can be seen in the wake of hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and
fires. Humans and other animals can also leave messages. Like flipping
through the pages of a book, walking through the woods can offer glimpses
into the past.
of long-ago floods or fires can often be seen on large trees years after
the event. A forest fire will leave its mark at the base of trees in
the form of charred bark. Careful scrutiny of surrounding trees, particularly
older ones, can reveal that a fire came through, sometimes many years
before. Likewise, watermarks indicate water levels during extreme flooding.
Trees in a swamp forest or alongside a river may have a faintly darker
base below lighter colored areas higher on the trunks. Watermarks tell
of floods and standing water that might be beyond the memory of people
in the area.
my son noted that many of the taller trees on Kiawah Island, had grown
with a bend toward the mainland several feet from their top. Trees continue
to grow upward but the distinct curves in many tell the sharp-eyed observer
that they survived Hurricane Hugo in 1989. In Tuscaloosa, Ala., oak
trees in some areas are reminders of the devastation wrought by the
April 27, 2011, tornado. Although their massive trunks remain, their
upper parts tell the story of the powerful winds. Small branches stick
straight up giving the trees the look of a punk-rocker with a particularly
spikey haircut. The first leaves of spring promise renewal and the hope
that the majesty of huge oaks will once again grace the landscape. Years
from now, a keen observer will be able to read the story of the tornado
in the shape and size of the trees' branches.
drove down a country road in South Carolina where the ravages of a destructive
ice storm in the winter of 2014 can be readily observed. Stands of tall
pines are interspersed with topless trees that look like giant, broken
toothpicks. Pines do not recover in the stately fashion of oaks when
they lose their top branches, but while they last they will tell the
ice storm's story. A future chapter may unfold when the dead limbs on
the ground fuel forest fires that could be more devastating than the
speak of man-made tragedy. In New Orleans I watched a car careen off
another at a busy intersection and smash into a large live oak. The
intersection was a hazardous one, the scene of many wrecks. After the
drama of the accident subsided, I saw a large, fresh gash that had been
cut into the tree by the car bumper. Looking more carefully, I noticed
an old scar several inches from the first. Then a couple of inches higher
up, another scar that was even older. Missing branches high above disclose
that the tree survived Hurricane Katrina. The scars on the trunk tell
of human tragedies from an earlier time.
phenomena not as devastating as extreme weather provide their own narratives.
Old, scarred areas on large trees near a stream often indicate that
beavers ate the bark off a young tree all the way to the ground, yet
the tree survived. Years later the chewed-off area will go no higher,
but as the tree grows in diameter, so will the scar tissue, leaving
the history of what happened. Likewise, woodpeckers write their own
story in the bark of trees. Sapsuckers leave a horizontal line of small
holes whereas the pileated woodpecker cuts large rectangular openings.
Myriad insects make tiny scribblings on trees both large and small.
Fallen trees can offer numerous stories from woodpeckers and insects.
walk through your neighborhood or local woods and see if you can decipher
what the trees have to say. I promise you they all have a story to tell.
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