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Solstice skies

Long, lazy days, just right for paddling about in a quiet pool (lower left),

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dining in relaxed comfort with loved ones

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… afloat ‘twixt earth and firmament …

and reflecting on transitions vast and local:

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(Aerial images courtesy of Dante and Daddy. Quote courtesy of William Tennant.)

Windthrow

This sensuous tangle is not a strangler fig, nor yet any other alien monster:

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~ ~ ~

Flying Squirrel Hollow, as sometime known, lies at the extreme southern point of Farrar Pond, indenting an edge of the glacial outwash plain forming the high ground to the south and west. A minor source of water inflow (nutrient runoff perhaps not so minor?),  it may be located as waypoint 11 on the map here opposite the former Pickman stables. From above, in late spring, the connection looks about like this,

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while winter draws back the canopy:

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(Quadcopter photography courtesy of Dante and Daddy, who are creating beautiful and informative aerial video tours of Town conservation lands.)

Steep banks with superb percolation feed subsurface water year-round to almost two acres of rich, black bottomland, supporting a dense community of ferns, skunk cabbage and other shady wetland vegetation. On slopes and flats higher up, well-drained A and B horizons protect buried wood (like dead tree roots) from dry-rot. This allows upland snags to remain upright for the perching,

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dining

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and denning

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pleasure of diverse birds, mammals and insects. This oak

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was killed but not felled by an alarming lightning strike in the early 1990s; this 30-foot chestnut leader—despite the multiplying sail area of a Virginia creeper

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has stood at least a decade longer, roots yet viable and new growth productive in the phoenix-like way of its kind, as a testament to Castanea‘s desirability for fenceposts and other outdoor construction.

In the damp valley floor, though, death more briefly precedes destruction. Roots of many species may not “want” to penetrate deeply into waterlogged, anoxic muck, and may also have no need to reach far to satisfy nutritional requirements. Structural support against lateral wind loads is important, as blowdowns are a primary natural determinant of New England forest seniority.  But the Hollow provides good shelter, as well as the collective windbreak of other trees. Comparing exposed roots from blowdowns in the valley and above, these sheltered trees often seem more delicately rooted. So when a deciduous tree here does die standing—from drowning, disease or other misadventure—it is likely to lose its footing in just a few years. This image, of the flatter part of the valley floor, illustrates the point:

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Most trees stay attached to their root balls. (–Easier to see at ground level). The three large trunks at center right are from one very big white pine: the two with mossy growth fell decades ago, the third recently’ and the resinous stump still stands. And once down, when trunks are not propped out of the wet on side-branch stilts (as with that pine), rot is rapid.

Massachusetts does experience rare tornadoes (a minor one, or possibly a strong microburst, cleared an arable patch in the woods south of the dam half a century back), and the tail end of a hurricane might dump a lot of sideways rain from time to time. But the big winds here are the dread nor’easters, which augment high peak speeds—and strong gusts that dislodge roots and can induce extreme swaying oscillations—with heavy lateral snow loads. So it is not surprising that nearly all of these blowdowns point (yellow arrows) roughly to the southwest. A notable exception is indicated by the red arrow, which crosses the public footpath.

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Probably made more vulnerable by entangled-root damage and soil dislocation when its west-pointing neighbor fell several years earlier, this tree—here at right, from direction of orange arrow—

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had been struggling for a long time, and had probably lost much of its substructure by the time it fell. But given its previously symmetrical and balanced trunk and branching pattern, why in that direction?

Strong south winds are uncommon here. But there are dramatic exceptions, like the odd extratropical cyclone spinning up the Connecticut Valley. Soaked ground, violent east-side winds freighted with rain… An irresistible force against an inadequately braced object. That underside view, and this lateral one (green arrow),

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show the limited reach of major roots. (For comparison, a quick stroll eastward along the pond-side trail shows, via footfall erosion, the length and strength of roots in more exposed locations.)

Also visible is a large vine, which probably had little to do with the tree’s death (unless its clinging opened a path for some pathogen), but was carried down with it. What kind of vine? Exposed masses of hairy rootlets, visible even in dull winter,

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are already indicative. But vines are more adaptable than trees, so patience as usual reveals all, and further up the downed trunk—

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further still—

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and now eighty feet away, on drier ground, with less confusion from the background jungle of June,

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we see the recrudescing former top of a healthy Toxicodendron radicans displaying its venomouly glossy moisture barrier as it feeds from the decaying oak. New life from old, and so repeats the cycle.

Timing is everything

Small pond above a larger:

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Permanent rather than vernal, but amphibians don’t know that. –Nor that, as a human artifact with no direct connection to any natural pool or stream, it is free of egg-devouring fish. (Tadpoles, snakes, salamanders, dragonfly nymphs and other predators… Well, it’s tough world, even submerged.)

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Through the winter, melted and refrozen repeatedly, most years with the roof open often and long enough to sustain respiration by torpid residents, especially with a leaf net to reduce biological oxygen demand.

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Frogs here typically migrate up from Farrar Pond on the first late-winter or early-spring night that meets three conditions: open water at the edges of source and destination, damp ground and a largely snow-free path between, and air temperature above about 40ºF. (Bright moon and rain are apparently helpful but not necessary.)

This was an exceptionally warm late winter and early spring—enough so to trick many trees and shrubs into early flowering, leading to destructions of a year’s bloom and seed when late frosts snickered at hopeful gardeners. This spring, there was also a shortage of rain at the appropriate time. So even with water and ground clear, travel was apparently too parching for skin-breathers until a week or so later than normal. By March 17th, however, wood frogs were noisily engaged and married, then in the still consummation of amplexus both afloat as usual

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and (less commonly) ashore nearby:

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Both techniques proved productive, quickly delivering a considerable number of embryonic offspring:

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Afternoon of the 18th brought a gloomy front,

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and then sharp cold. By the morning of the 20th, the top inch or so of each high-laid egg mass was frozen solid

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while parents rested safely beneath the blurry crust:

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The next day it warmed on snowed—insult to injury, where snow or heavy rain earlier might have left the precious deposits safely insulated.

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The mushy thawed eggs provided welcome early food for a hundred or so over-wintering bullfrog tadpoles, and probably other creatures as well. But half a myriad is still thousands, and when warmth returned, hatching seemed to occur all the more quickly, carrying forward the next cycle of life:

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