Thursday, February 25, 2010

Old Soldiers Never (really) Die

Ours is an old homestead, dating back to the 1800's.  As such, we have many old trees here which give us shade and cooling in the summer, and artistry in the winter.  I especially love the big old gnarly ones, standing like sentinels which have, for one reason or another died.  Despite their leafless form, they continue, year after year to give of themselves.   
There's a Butternut that still stands despite its having lost its top years ago. It's riddled with woodpecker holes and crumbling bark, just right for more woodpeckers!

Two old maples guard the outer yard-- their interiors carved out by time but which continue to produce modest tops each year.

A Catalpa has been the centerpiece of our yard, but  sadly, died a couple of years ago, traumatized by  late hard freeze.

A locust with a top that is now mostly grapevines, giving it the look of having had some kind of haircut that went wildly awry.

And one-half of a mulberry trunk which, while still living, has dropped to the ground and now provides us with a curved, leafy arch as it continues its life in this new form.

Most people probably would regard these old soldiers as having long passed their prime with the message that they should be cut down, dragged off to the tree graveyard or used for firewood and the yard "cleaned up."

But, no.  I am not a subscriber to the "neat yard" philosophy.  Instead I treasure these fallen-but-still-standing, once-living beings, as much (but in a different way) as I do the living trees that so generously shade us in the summer.  These old soldiers provide an artistic backdrop for squirrels, birds, and other animals.  Each tree continues to give in its own quiet way, now providing holes for bird nests, perches for preening, shelter from the storms and in the case of the mulberry, which continues to grow, tasty fruit that brings more birds in from surrounding edges.  Nesting space is widely available here, with food and water close at hand.  Each tree becomes a complete habitat, not just for songbirds, but for hawks in search of a meal and yes, for the odd black snake which must eat, too, and, in season, hunts through the upper stories for eggs, tree frogs and insects.  The trunks become platforms upon which the Virginia Creeper climbs, and artful structures upon which grow all manner of interesting fungus.  Insects make their homes within the rotting wood, providing food for the growing baby birds.  Each old tree is a food web top to bottom.

The souls of these trees are still with us, serving a purpose beyond their original life.  They offer a humble structure for countless other lives well beyond what most would call their "useful" and "productive" period.  But to prune them out would be to curtail an important phase in the natural progression.  Instead, we value the contributions of the old guard for their beauty, their functionality, and for the comfort we find simply looking at them and realizing all they've witnessed.  When we do cut them out, as will be necessary at some point, they will have lived a full cycle, as their tiny seedlings beneath, grow to take their place.


  1. What a beautiful, poetic ode to your trees. Like us, we grow through the seasons of our life and when reaching near the end still have contributions to make.-- barbara