Monday, February 7, 2011


I live on creek-land acreage; the trees grow close around me; I feel like I'm living in a tree house, and I love it.

But when we built this house and moved here years ago, it took me time to understand the unkempt nature of this valley woodland. Then day by day it dawned on me that weathered trees and logs, stricken to the forest floor by nature's hand, could serve some worthy purposes. They could be a home for wildlife; decaying nourishment for the forest; a spot for me to sit and contemplate; a bench for man and wife to rest upon while walking in the woodland...

My husband still reminds me that, when we first occupied this place, I stewed about the danger of a driftwood-polished locust snag outside our bedroom window. "Take it down," I begged my husband. Country-born and reared, he told me firmly that the snag would fall when it was ready--and then would fall AWAY from us into the woods.

For a time, I woke up every morning and eyed that tree with apprehension; but then I realized it had become a cafeteria for birds who ate a lot of pesky bugs; and it was also an apartment house for little mammals.

I began to view that snag appreciately in the nights when moonlight spread its honey on its skinless surface; and I just as much appreciated how the sunlight moved along its silken trunk by day, in endless patterns. The snag was now a work of art my eyes took pleasure in. I wrote about it in my journal. Now it was me, not just my husband, who wanted it to stand.

In November 1996, as the deep-snow storms piled high upon themselves, the snag fell quietly upon the forest floor, exactly where my husband always said it would. It disintegrated slowly, mixing with the leaves and soil on the forest floor and becoming part of nature.

I mourned its loss. I missed the comfort of its presence at my bedroom window. True, its absence opened up a space for other trees and shrubs, and that drew many birds we hadn't seen before. They nested, sang and flittered there among the branches. We could awake each morning to the lively sight and sound of all those birds that seemed to be performing solely for our eyes and ears.

Yet despite these charms, it seemed I would forever miss the old dead snag that at first had so distressed me.

Now, on this cold and dreary February day, I sit alone at my west window, watching the airborne track of a pileated woodpecker---that interesting bird whose profile, in my mind, has always born an odd resemblance to the pterydactyl, the "flying dinosaur" that lived when Earth was young.

Settling down into the leafless trees along the creek, the big bird sets to work. I look more closely and discover he is drilling holes in a dead tree that has lost its bark and now resembles standing driftwood. Oh joy! I have another snag that I can (and will) appreciate!

It will provide the same fine entertainment for me as did the snag outside our bedroom window to the north, when our house was new. I will make a point of watching it evolve, and I will miss it when it finally falls, just as I have missed the other snag.

There's just one thing... It won't be quite so visible in summer, behind a screen of woodland greenery. How nice if I could transfer it to where the old snag stood. Then I could see it any time in any season, at any time of day or nite... outside my bedroom window.