Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Woodpecker Tree Has Fallen.

The woodpecker tree has fallen. I never could get a good photo of it while it was standing because there are, there were, so many other trees around it, but now that it’s on the ground I can explore it at my leisure. It was tall enough to hit the trail and I didn’t think it was, but about two meters of it slammed into the dogs’ path late last night or sometime today. We’ve gotten over four inches of rain here in the last twenty-four hours and I suspect that had something to do with it. It’s a little sad to see it down. The damn thing had stood up there, dead as a hammer, for years.

I remember when it first died, and started losing limbs, I started to cut it down then because of the threat to the dogs, but the woodpeckers need such trees. They find their food in rotted trees and they build their nests there, too. Most people will take dead trees down very quickly and this is a good thing from a human point of view, or even a dog point of view, but from the point of view of the woodpeckers it’s a death sentence. So the tree stood there and did what trees do when they die yet die standing.

Most people do not realize that trees simply die. They get hit by lightning or they get a disease and some trees aren’t long lived to begin with. But this was an Oak tree and I suspect it was lightning or bugs but not lightning bugs. Whatever killed it did so quickly and after a while the woodpeckers discovered the vacancy sign was lit.

Before the woodpeckers moved in there had to be a transition between life and death. We humans couldn’t produce anything similar to a tree to save our lives, and we might want to think about that. This is a structure that stands upright with nearly all of its mass above its center of gravity. It withstands hurricanes and storms yet it still stands. It carries a bough full of leaves and limbs and branches high into the sky yet even never fails. Even in death, the limbs and branches fall, yet there is the trunk, ten meters tall, standing as if death itself must wait on trees to fully die.

The very top of the tree and a couple of limb broke off last year and one piece was driven deeply into the ground. This is a real hazard, but I’ll take photos of the tree and you might be amazed; there is no sign the dogs have traveled around this tree in a couple of years. That’s right, the dogs, all of them, have avoided getting near the dead tree. Do they know? I think they do. What this does is keep my mutts safe, certainly, but it also allows underbrush to grow near the tree which means saplings have risen up near the tree. A parent tree, even in death, protects its young.

So seasons have come and gone, years have come and gone, dogs have come and gone, yet there’s this dead tree, a condo for wood peckers, hanging in there and standing like a wooden obelisk waiting for this day to arrive. A couple of months ago I noticed a lean to it and too some pictures of it. I know full well that once a dead tree starts leaning the end isn’t too far away at all. Now, the home of wood peckers becomes the home for all the land dwelling wood eaters and eventually, this tree will become soil.

I’m very likely to line my compost pile with the corpse of this tree. It’s perfect for the job and there’s very few things that go a compost pile as good as those things that are already eating away at the dead tree. There’s a virtual soup of living creatures in that wood, large and small, and the compost pile needs the residents. Compost kickstarter ex woodpecker condo; it sounds like an alternate rock band from Colorado.

Yet with all of this comes some sadness. A tree has died and finally fallen. Part of my daily routine in walking with the dogs was to try and spot wood peckers on that tree, to see if it was still there, and wonder if and when it would finally go. It was, and still is, a testament of how perfectly well evolution has shaped trees to be the sky reachers and sunlight drinkers that they are. Nature has perfected the tree so that even as it dies it becomes useful to other creatures and when it falls it feeds many more. In life and in death, trees are some of the most versatile and certainly the most beautiful beings that have ever inhabited this earth. Unlike most organisms, and certainly unlike humans, as they reach their full maturity they serve a vast number of other species, with shade, food, homes, as a travel way for squirrels, a rest stop for birds, and for an oxygen pump for everything that breathes on this planet.

As the compost pile is blessed by the parts of the tree that decompose, my garden will issue forth peppers and tomatoes and yes, flowers, that will feed upon what was once this tree. There will be no waste, there will be no remnants except those that are alive because of what the tree gave. There will be insects that come to feed on my garden and there will be birds who capture them and eat them, and all of this because of a tree, because of all trees, and because this is the way that nature has always been, if we allow Her.

The tree has fallen; its reign in that part of the sky is now over. My world is a little less than what it was when that tree lived and when it stood. Yet I will follow my obligation to see that which stood in the sky will return to the earth, again.

Take Care,



  1. Your essay reminded me that when I was little, maybe 4 or 5, my Grandaddy asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I told him, confidently, that I wanted to be a tree. He picked me up, gave me a huge bear hug and a kiss, and said, "You will be a good one!" I loved my Grandaddy.

    Thank you.

  2. Is it legal to feed you mulch pile peckerwood?