It wasn’t that long ago that I was predicting the future of the deeper forest beyond my clearing: by looking at the trees and guessing their approximate age, I can guess that many of them, the bigleaf maples anyway, are getting toward the end of their lifespan. Again, it is much easier to make that assertion when you can see the warrens of holes and tunnels (rabbits? MOUNTAIN BEAVERS?) that pock the trees’ root structures, when you can see the broken, liverwort-covered branches, when you are standing in the woods and a two-foot thick branch falls off a tree and lands in the swamp fifty feet away from you (STARTLING).
I was sitting next to the Tableau del Diablo just a couple weeks after prognosticating the eventual death and renewal of the forest, and just about jumped out of my Loll chair at the sudden explosion that ripped through my clearing. At first I thought some local ne’er-do-wells had snuck into the woods to light off some leftover Independence Day ordnance: it sounded like at least an M-80, possibly even a full stick of dynamite. But after the initial pop-and-reverb shattered the stillness, there continued a series of smaller pops and cracks that eventually became recognizable as a falling tree. A really, REALLY, big falling tree, one that seemed to be taking several others down with it directly behind my home, and not very far away.
The next day I went to investigate. My property extends some 500 feet beyond the house but becomes virtually impassable for the vine maple and alder scrub about 350 feet back. I looked up into the canopy for a patch of sky that wasn’t there before, even climbed out onto a decaying log extending into the swamp. I never did see what fell, or where; whatever it was wasn’t as close as I thought and quite possibly larger than I imagined. Did I mention it was frighteningly loud?
Back in the civilized world I look up at the bigleaf maples which ring the clearing. There are 13 of them, multi-trunked forest giants of seventy to ninety or so feet high within a 75 foot radius of my home. Five of them are less than twenty feet away.
They rest atop a root system that resembles a bald cypress knee more than anything else: imagine a
slightly unclenched fist resting fingers-flat on a table. Each of these pedestals displays holes and voids and little piles of throwback soil from the small animals taking advantage of the easy cover. The trees are festooned with mosses and liverworts and an impressive
number of licorice fern as a complement to the thousands of massive leaves that give the tree its name. These are grand trees that carry more weight than just themselves. I don’t like the look of them at all, and the sound of that tree falling in the forest is one I don’t want to hear closer to me in any way. The stillborn summer has given way to unseasonably warm weather, but I have lived here my entire life and know that means nothing. Fall could be pleasant or brutal, and the maples are ready for their biggest show; I too am ready with rakes, mulching bins, and a brand new chipper/shredder. I just can’t help feeling like I am bringing a knife to a gunfight. I look around warily at my trees; I am pretty sure I saw one eyeballing me, too.