When you’re walking among 200-year-old trees and see one lying on the ground dead, your first response is instinctively one of sadness. But in dying, that tree is being reborn in a host of ways.
When you’re walking among 200-year-old trees and see one lying on the ground dead, freshly killed by a windstorm the previous day, your first response is instinctively one of sadness. Here’s this once-proud pine, which lived more than twice as long as you ever will, brought down by a puff of air.
On closer inspection the sadness only deepens. Not only did the tree itself fall down, but in falling it crushed several smaller trees that were in its path.
So much death. A true tragedy. Isn’t it?
Well, it depends on your perspective. Yes, those trees have died, but in dying, they’re being reborn in a host of ways. As their wood decays, it softens, inviting insects to come and get a meal. In turn, those insects attract larger animals, including songbirds like the house wren, to feed on them.
The fallen trees don’t just provide food. They’re also a valuable source of cover for many animals. Red-backed salamanders may hide under the log as they seek a cool, moist place to live. The big tree’s upturned roots can house winter wrens, rabbits, and foxes. And the dense piles of brush created by all those fallen branches can shelter an astonishing variety of creatures: chipmunks, lizards, snakes, squirrels, and toads name just a few.
Finally, it’s not only wildlife that will find a home in this fallen tree. The next generation of trees will rise from the opening the tree once lived in. With more sunlight reaching the ground, seedlings that previously wouldn’t have been able to survive can now grow up and start making their way toward the canopy.
This rebirth in the woods all but requires death in order to happen. Take a look at the photo above. Notice on the left, where trees haven’t fallen, there’s little sun and thus no undergrowth. But on the right, where a big tree came down, the next generation is bathed in sunlight and shooting for the canopy.
Is it tough to see a mighty giant fall? You bet. But in the history of the woods, it’s another step in a long, slow cycle of renewal. (Go ahead. Start singing “Circle of Life.” You know you want to.)