A Big Opening in the Forest

February 6, 2014.  This morning is clear with seasonal temperatures. A cardinal is singing its cheery song, reminding us that the days are getting longer and, for the most part, warmer. I see no holly berries on any of the trees I pass. A good number of holly leaves appear munched on and skeletonized by some unknown insect(s). I’m walking on the eastern segment of the Weston Lake Loop Trail, then cross the Cedar Creek bridge, and continue southward on the eastern leg of the Oak Ridge Trail. There is a small, natural clearing on the trail with enough sunlight to give three pine saplings a jumpstart on life. One is four feet tall; one is four and a half feet tall; and the tallest is five feet. The pine saplings are starting to get shaded out by ironwood and pawpaws, and will need to put on a quick growth spurt to beat out the competing hardwoods for sunlight. It will be interesting to see who wins (as of 2015, two of these young pines have died, leaving only one forlorn and ratty-looking survivor).

A little farther down from this pine-hardwood drama, there is a large blow down on the trail, created by a massive, fallen, six-foot-diameter cherrybark oak, a 140-foot-tall loblolly pine, and two three-foot diameter sweetgums. This is one of the largest natural clearings in the swamp I’ve seen since Hurricane Hugo. It appears big enough to allow sweetgums to get started, possibly even some pines, and will be a noteworthy site to monitor in the coming years [Note: the height of the fallen cherrybark oak was measured before it fell by researchers from the Native Tree Society and they came up with 160.2 feet, the tallest oak tree ever measured in North America!].

I turn a few logs and find life underneath – several small earthworms, a few grubs, one snail, and two pill bug-like critters. There is also life stirring under the loose pine bark of the downed pine, primarily numerous, small, pale yellow-white grubs. The logs and bark recall the hidden side of park life not usually seen by visitors but always there, just “beneath the surface.”