It’s been a quiet, foggy morning, although for the past week it’s been difficult to tell where the fog ends and the smoke from the British Columbia forest fires takes over. No wind. I was up in the loft writing when I heard a snap, and was quick enough looking out the front window to see my favorite snag crash into a neighboring tree.
This snag had been a Douglas-fir with a twelve-inch diameter at breast height, which means it was probably only 60 years old when it died. Its top half was missing and had been hauled away long before we purchased this lot.
At least half a dozen nest cavities had been drilled into this snag, and it was actively used by breeding nuthatches this past spring. I was careful, when felling trees growing too close to our cabin, to aim them away from the snag so as to preserve it for future generations of nuthatches. Those efforts now prove to have been in vain.
My first job was to get the snag to the ground so that it wouldn’t crash onto someone coming up the front path. It seemed too risky to rig a rope, so I pulled our aluminum flagpole out of its mount, flipped it upside down and used this 30’ tool to push the snag off the tree it was resting on. Former snag crashed over the path and broke into two large logs and a zillion smaller pieces. The wood was thoroughly rotten, far beyond what could be converted into firewood. It took half an hour to cart the smaller pieces out to the community burn pile. The biggest log remains in the yard, honorably.
I liked having a snag with active nests on the lot. It stood out like the memento mori in landscape paintings by the Hudson River School. New life coming from death. And it served its purpose; the more we understand of forest ecology, the more we understand the roles played by logs and snags. In the Cascade Mountains, 39 species of birds build their nests in snags. Nowadays timber companies who log our national forests are required to leave a certain number of snags behind for the benefit of those critters.
There are still two snags standing in the front part of our lot, but that hardly seems sufficient at the moment.
Journal of Natural Hist. Ed.
Natural History Institute
Center for Humans & Nature