Three months have passed since the remarkable ice storm in December. It is March and there is still about a foot and a half of snow on the ground on the northern side or this forested hill. As I walk around these woods the evidence of damage is still surreal. Trees, snapped off like broken toothpicks, are scattered across the landscape before me. These snags catch the eye. Most trees are broken off about 20 feet above the ground. Where the tree trunk used to separate into branches there is now just a light colored snaggle tooth. It is irregularly shaped, like a fang in many cases, but devoid of any life. The broken tops still lay on the ground, now sticking up out of the snow like the bow of the Titantic just before she sunk into the gray, watery abyss. I am reminded that underneath the overburden of snow that has accumulated this winter, there are countless branches, tree tops, and woody debris that was cascaded to the forest floor during this once in a lifetime event.
Near the base of one hill there are five trees, each toppled over exposing the root balls that reach ten feet high above the surface of the forest floor. One tree is an eastern hemlock, two are sugar maples, the fourth tree is a red maple, and the fifth tree a hop hornbeam. The eastern hemlock, one of the sugar maples, and the red maple were all mature trees. Each of these trees was between sixteen and twenty inches in diameter and about sixty to seventy feet in height. Lying on their sides these trees have crushed many of the shrubs and saplings that were in their path as they crashed to the ground. Above, there are big openings to the sky, on this day bright blue with white cotton-like clouds drifting by on east bound winds. Strong March sunlight finds its way to the ground through the windows in the tree canopy casting big shadows on the snow where the mammoth root balls intercept the rays of sun.
I try to look at this without emotion. I try to see the forest for what it is; an independent living organism that is a small part of a much living organism called Earth. I try to put a different light on all of these observations. New life will begin where old life has perished. Unique plants and animals may find a niche to fill with the forest’s change. A new period of observation and discovery may even begin for this observer of nature with much to learn from this natural weather event and its impacts on the forest. I even try to see the forest as an old friend that has just gone through a tragedy, but will triumph with growth, renewal, and rebirth.
But, despite all of my positive thoughts, I find that I must embrace the great sadness that engulfs my wild spirit. Many of these trees were old friends. Through the years I became familiar with their little idiosyncrasies. One sugar maple tree, now broken in half, had endured a previous storm where less damage was done, and grown a new crown that was shaped like a large “V” pointing to the sky. Another tree, an American Beech, had a huge hole in the trunk where food was stored by squirrels and other animals during the entire 33 years that I have been in these woods. Presently it is split in two. A large leader pulled down by heavy ice forms a bridge between the trunk and the ground. And over there is a tree that I used to sit by. This hemlock had no qualities that separated it from other hemlocks other than the fact that it was located above a trail in the woods utilized by deer, coyote, fox, and occasionally a black bear. Now it is turned over, branches sticking up into the air, its roots exposing a pile of earth that blocks the view. Yes, I have lost some friends. Friends that spoke to me without using a voice. Friends that gave me quiet in a very busy world. Friends that rejuvenated my spirit during times of doubt about my fellow man. And friends that I thought would always be there to comfort me.
I must accept that these dear, dear friends are gone. It is said all good things must come to an end. I will miss these trees, both great and wonderful. I will remember these trees for giving life to a forest that I knew all to well. I will let these trees remain in my mind until the day when it is my turn to return to the earth.
Like all grief, this will come to an end. I will soon remember that death begets life; that saplings grow to trees. And my spirit will soar wildly and freely once again.
Originally written for the Heath Herald in March 2009.