Sunday, July 6, 2014

If a tree falls … ?

We're awakened at 4-ish on the 3rd by a whoosh and a crash which I groggily process as tree-fall. This morning we venture out to find it and discover that a giant old live oak about a quarter mile from the house has yielded about a third of its mass to gravity. The rest of the tree shows no sign of demise any time soon. The severed third will gradually soften and decay, living on in insect, bird, and soil - a gift back to all that nurtured it.

We wonder on the way back why tree- or major limb-fall isn't a more frequent occurrence here, surrounded as we are by oaks. We count this as only the third major incident within a half mile over the past 14 years. That's probably an under-count, but still, why not more frequent? It suggests a young (or relatively young) forest, not yet at the point where annual deaths = annual births.

But it's definitely not a second-growth forest, because there aren't a lot of stumps. There are a few - widely and randomly spaced, very old and decayed like the one pictured to the left - of what had been mid-size valley oaks, but not more than a dozen or so. So what's their story? Selected because they were of a good size for firewood-harvesting, big enough to yield a major return but small enough to be saw-able and transportable in larger segments, and destined for homes to the east? Or are they relict of the time a hundred years ago when oaks were harvested to power the steamboats of the Delta and the Sacramento River? Were these trees dragged by horse team down to the navigable tidal zone, about a half mile to the southwest, and floated from there to docks or depots that served as wood collection and trans-shipment points?