Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Adelgids and Goliath

This place is just ridiculous. I am sitting on a small deck on top of a mountain with a cool breeze at my back and wearing a sweater. Hummingbirds are here by the thousands and fly thru the trees and shrubs close by like fighter bombers, and I have gotten a really close look at some of them, their feathers, their eyes, and their very tiny needle shaped beak. I trust their navigational skills are good enough to miss wandering peoples’ faces, like mine. I hope so.
From somewhere down in the valley Goldfinches fly up to the feeders off the front deck of the lodge, looking like the Easter candy “Peeps” on wing, chirping along the way. These finches winter in our area so far south of here and we never get to see these jewel tones lovelies in their full breeding garb of bright, candy yellow, capped off with the dapper black crown and wings. The first time I remember being shown these birds I was blown away at their coloring, and that, for some reason I had never noticed these garishly feathered critters. They had been there and for some reason, I had not seen.
I remember as a kid being aware of several types of birds that were around our yard, Mockingbird, Cardinals, Robins, Sparrows, and very few more beyond this realm of awareness. I had read about hawks in falconry stories, but never figured them to be so close and so prevalent. My eyes were opened in college when my future husband showed me a birding identification book and it opened my eyes to how many bird types there were if I only looked and saw. Once my curiosity was opened to birds, this spread to trees, and bugs, and butterflies, and anything that I could learn more about. Our shelves at home are full of well worn field guides.
I bought another book the other day on the geology of this mountain area I am presently visiting and I am really enjoying studying the rock formations and being able to read their history in the patterns they reveal. These smoky peaks have been lovely green lumps to me before, but now I see them differently, to know that they are among some of the oldest rocks on the planet. Four and half billion years ago the bedrock was formed. Then about halfway between then and now, they were under an ocean, and layered upon another layer of sand covered this rock, finally building pressure from all of this weight until some metamorphic changes occurred to make this sand more rock than sand. At some point later, fissures developed on the ocean floor and the continental plates moved apart, some drifting far away and others collided with others creating giant peaks of exposed raw rock. Millions of years of erosion left fertile valleys below. Such is the story of these lovely green lumps in front of me now, ancient as the time of this planet, majestic and beautiful, and constantly in change.  
Yesterday after Mark had finished his morning lessons with his photo students and had sent them on their ways to play with their cameras to use the things he had taught them, we sat on my favorite little deck overlooking the valley below the lodge and ate our lunches. There was nice cool breeze again at our backs and the air was clean and clear and just felt so good to breathe deeply. The usual tension in my shoulders was melting further and further away.
Our dear friends we had met here at this lodge two years ago are here again, and after lunch was done, we decided to go venture out on a trail for a good hike. We quickly decided on heading to Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, which is not far, and has long been known for its ancient huge yellow poplar trees and hemlocks, huge trees with enormous bases with tops that reach the heavens. We had read somewhere recently that these hemlocks had also been succumbed to the ravages of tiny bugs that were killing them off and that for the safety of the visitors to this forest, they needed to be felled. We were curious to see if this was true and, if so, to see the effect. 
Our initial steps were met with the ravages of a huge stump, splintered and twisted, and beside it lay a giant of a dead tree. There were no signs of chain saws for this damage and it appeared as if a tornado had been the culprit, for this tree and the many many others laying in similar repose. The fallen trees were only along the paths and it made us really wonder at how these giants had been taken down, as it did not look man made. It was too controlled to have been a storm and yet...
We continued our walk around this forest and admired the still standing enormous poplars, whose canopies continue to shade the floor below them. There were gaps in the canopy now where the fallen hemlocks had been, and already the understory was filling in with brambles and soft woods. It will take another several hundred years for these canopy gaps to be filled, and it will not be with hemlocks, but these scars will heal given time. The forest, just like the mountains, are a work in progress, ever changing with the life and death that is the natural course of time. It is sad to see the death part and feel the loss, but the greenery that is already covering these fallen giants will give way to future trees to enhance this lovely forest, and such is the continuing cycle.
As we were wandering along the trail on the way out of the forest we came upon an old friend of mine, who I had hoped to see again in these woods. There it was, still smiling, perhaps not quite as brightly as when first we had met two years ago, but still showing a happy face. Two years ago on Mark's first workshop here we had been wandering through these trees with a bunch of students, and had happened upon this spirit in a fallen tree log. Finding the magic is sometimes allowing it to find you, if you just look and see. It was so good yesterday to see this friend, still smiling among the carnage of his fellow trees, with optimism and hope. I wonder how many pass this image in the tree rings of this log and never see the smile. I hope the smile remains a long time in this wonderful forest.  

Back to the lodge, dinner eaten, and a game of dominoes to kill the evening, we hit the sack for a good night sleep. 
First thing this morning we went to Robert, the owner of the lodge for the answer to the felling of these hemlocks. We were handed a news clipping which revealed that the bug in question, was an aphid like critter, the wooly hemlock adelgid, which had made the tiny holes and tunnels in the bark that we had seen yesterday and which were responsible for these deaths. It was like the small stone that killed Goliath.

The felling was indeed man made, but not by saw. Instead, to make a more natural looking occurrence, the forestry service had used belts of dynamite charges to blow the trunks, making the trees twist and fall, exactly were they wanted them to land. It was a best solution to a sad demise of the end of a species in this forest. 
Mark is now behind me on the front porch of the lodge, patiently teaching the hungry students, repeating, over and over, giving example and explanation. Some will no doubt have sensory overload, but some of it will be caught and used, and make the want-to-be photographers happier with their pictures. The adventure for the day is open, no decisions have been made as to how to spend another day in paradise. It is like being a leaf in the flow of the thousands of mountain streams, we drift without course.       

Below are some more shots of these fabulous poplars still standing.

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