Friday, August 14, 2009

SNAP, POP, CRASH!

The new downstream view…
When I heard the first sharp double-crack, I immediately and correctly identified the sound of breaking wood—but mistakenly figured it was kids on the island across from the cottage.
Same view only hours earlier…
Young guys infrequently wade over from the public property on the opposite shore, looking to see what sort of adventurous mischief they can get themselves into. They sometimes pick up large fallen limbs or other half-rotted chunks and swing them like a baseball bat against the trunk of a nearby tree, just for the sheer pleasure of seeing and hearing them break. Since I was once of such an age and mindset, I'm familiar with both the urge and the sound.
It was about 8:00 p.m. and I was enjoying a comfortable sprawl on the chaise longue after a morning of work at the desk and an afternoon spent poking around and photographing at a nearby prairie.
My misreading of the situation was further abetted by Moon the dog, who immediately leapt up from her snooze on the rug just inside the cottage’s open front doorway, ran to the edge of the bank a few yards from my chair, and began barking furiously—tail up, nape hair bristled, ears and eyes aimed toward area from which the loud snap had emanated. The perfect picture of a guard dog warding off real or imagined trespassers.
The broken stump on the island side of the channel…
I thought it rather odd when such childish horseplay wasn’t also accompanied by gleeful shouts and laughter. However, I didn’t pay this much real mind, and simply went back to relaxing and watching twilight steal over the river.
During the next twenty minutes I heard several similar cracks and pops, though none nearly as loud. Each time, Moon resumed her barking. I was too blissed out and didn't question what I was hearing.
The downed hackberry temporarily spans the river…
Finally, there was another loud crack, a second, then a third, plus several lesser pops and snaps, all sort of strung together within the space of a couple of seconds. I realized immediately that what I’d earlier misinterpreted as kids messing around, was actually time and gravity having their way with one of the islands trees. I jumped up to see if I could locate the goings-on.
Suddenly there was a loud snap, a multitude of pops and cracks, and the unmistakable sound of a tree crashing its way through other timber. I saw one of the big hackberries on the edge of the island’s bank start to topple. After tilting perhaps thirty degrees, the tree abruptly stopped—caught by the limbs of several adjacent sycamores.
That’s not good, I thought. Such a tree becomes nothing more than a deadfall trap for the unwary or unlucky who might happen to be underneath when it completes the rest of its fall. I knew a young fly fishing guide and writer who was killed instantly when a tree on the bank of a trout stream he was fishing fell without warning. That’s why loggers refer to a half-fallen tree lodged in such a way a “widow-maker.”
As I stood considering the potential widow-maker, the big tree’s ponderous weight instantaneously took care of the issue. With a loud rending of snapping branches, the hackberry tore through the trees that had momentarily cradled it—ripping through the sycamore limbs and pitching over the low bank into the river. The crashing hackberry slammed into the water with a great roaring keerrr-whack! Shaking the earth and sending up a huge splash.
The hackberry shook and shuddered as lesser branches on the under-water side, unable to support the weight above, gave way over the space of a few seconds. The great tree rolled slightly, twisting as it settled. Finally, death throes over, it lay still, its leaves yet green and full, but arrayed in the horizontal instead of vertical, disturbingly incongruous…dead in the water.
The fallen hackberry spanned the channel straight across, from bank-to-bank. It will stay there only until the next sufficient high water rise relocates it to it final resting place.
It isn’t the first tree I’ve watched fall naturally, though all the others fell amid a storm or sudden wind.
On two separate occasions while camping, I’ve been awakened in my tent by the loud and chilling sound of a huge tree crashing nearby—once so close the earth beneath my sleeping bag shook at the impact. While neither of these incidents took place during any sort of precipitous weather—both times it was the middle of the night, and had I had sufficient warning to scramble from the tent in time, I still wouldn’t have been able to see them come down.
The island hackberry's final crash disturbed the turkey vultures off their nearby roost. They’d been snug at home and taking it easy for more than two hours. Now they all had to make several flap-glide inspections of the crash site before returning to their night limbs.
By then it was 8:30, almost dark. I made a couple of photographs, and while doing so remembered that just about fourteen hours earlier, I taken a several photos of this same stretch gilded by dawn’s golden light.
As a lifelong stream fisherman, there have been many times when I’ve waded around a bend and found a recently-fallen tree had fundamentally altered the landscape. Often, such downed trees change a pool (and the stretch’s fishing possibilities) by causing water to scour out a new or deeper hole, or perhaps filling a good spot up with silt. Under the right circumstances, a big in-stream tree can even cause the flow to resculpt a river’s course, redirecting current so it cuts across and eats away at an opposite bank.
I don’t think anything like that is apt to happen here—but who knows? I didn’t think I’d ever witness a tree falling all on its own in my own back yard. With nature, its always wise to expect the unexpected.

16 comments:

Rita said...

That sound is a very distinctive one isn't it. We had an bad ice storm this past winter and listened to branches and trees all night, snap , crackle, pop. And that great thud when they hit the ground.
It was a bit strange and at the same time beautiful to wake up in the morning and see a whole new ice covered landscape of fallen frozen ghosts.
But what a mess to clean up.
Rita

Jayne said...

It is still sort of sad that it finally fell. Do you think it will be there permanently, or will you try and "help it along?" Must have been quite the sound.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Rita…

Well. seeing as how this big hackberry is in the river's corridor, it's the river's mess to clean up and not mine—thank God!

But last year, after Hurricane Ike hit Texas and the Gulf Coast, the winds made it here a day or so later—and they actually caused about as much damage in this corner of Ohio as you saw in Texas. I was doing some yard work when they arrived. In the space of perhaps 5 minutes the winds came roaring through, almost at a deafening scream, snapping trees along the way. You could hear electrical transformers and switch boxes blowing and exploding all over the place.

Being smack on the water, I'm sort of down below the usual wind level, and so I lost not a single tree. But the neighbor next to me, slightly up the hill, lost two huge trees (I watched both come down) and the higher up the road you went, the more trees were blown over.

Winds of over 70 mph, which lasted about 30 minutes at their worst, took down literally tens of thousands trees, many of them huge trees, 50–100 or even several hundred years old. It literally changed the landscape in many places. Some fine old neighborhoods had homes with 100 trees down in their yards and hundreds more along their road.

Of course the power went out everywhere. Hundreds of out-of-state workers came in to assist, though help was hard to come by since power companies had already sent crews to Texas. Several hundred thousand homes were without power for 4–6 days, many for more than a week, and thousands for upwards of a month. I didn't have power for 6 days— which wasn't that much of a hardship after I drove north 40 miles and found bags of ice to preserve my food from the freezer. I just cooked on my camp stove and used the camp lantern. Kind of fun, almost. But local grocery stores ran out of bottled water, and a lot of food items. You couldn't buy ice in the county. Many people could get out of their neighborhoods because of all the downed trees and power lines.

Barns blew down, roofs came off, siding on houses, etc. But the most incredible, awful part was the thousands and thousands of fallen trees. The reason was that all were fully leafed out and so, unlike a severe winter storm whistling through bare branches, these winds had something to push against. As a guess, I'd say I watched fifty big trees topple that afternoon—and it's a sound (and sight) I won't ever forget.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Jayne…

No, it won't stay there long, just 'til the next high water comes along. It will resist, for a while, perhaps. But high water always brings loads of stuff down the river, especially if it has been a while since the previous one…which would be the case now. Whatever has fallen close to the water or been left there in the interim, will be washed downstream as the water rises. Logs by the hundreds, sticks and brush, toys, picnic tables, boats, tires, pieces of docks, dog houses—more junk and natural refuse than you'd believe. That will begin piling up against the fallen tree, and the blocking tree will eventually give way, sweeping around to lie parallel to the far bank. That's my prediction as the crown, on this side of the river, being lighter and "bushier" and thus offering more surface area for the water to push against, will give way and swing downstream first, so my guess is the tree will end up across the stream, along the bank from whence it came.

It was quite a sound. And a thud. And a splash.

Gail said...

Hi Grizz-
Great pictures and detailed telling of the hackberry's fall. I could see and hear it all through your descriptive words and great pictures.
I am fascinated by your world on the river - fascinated indeed.

Love to you
Gail
peace.....

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Gail…

This riverbank is a good place—at least for me. It is fascinating, endlessly interesting, and peaceful. A good fit for who I am and what I need.

I hope you do enjoy it with me, if only vicariously. I want to share this place and the gifts it offers. That's one of the reasons why I keep plugging along at this blog.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Expect the unexpected - yes Scribe - that is what makes nature so wonderful. But there is always something so sad about a fallen tree isn't there - I suppose they are so big and often old and their fall means the end of an era for them - but then I remind myself that fallen trees make wonderful homes for all kinds of creatures, so they haven't disappeared they have just changed their role in nature. Have a peaceful weekend.

Bonnie, Original Art Studio said...

Referring back to your comment to Gail, I have to say you have succeeded! I check in often, and have a picture in my head, based on your vivid descriptions, of your perch on the deck and your lovely river.

I, too, know that ripping sound and how the earth shudders as it receives the branch. Everything about nature so sacred - even its decay.

Bernie said...

Grizz, this is an excellent descriptive post and I often think of falling trees whenever I am walking through the woods, I hear every sound while walking and usually enjoy all of them, but the popping and snapping will and has put me on edge. The sounds of nature is an orchestra in itself but when it gives us warning we should listen....Have a wonderful weekend my friend.....:-) Hugs

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Weaver…

I'll tell you something quite sincerely…I could never be a logger. I can and do hunt and fish; I gather wild edibles; I cut down a Christmas tree every December, and occasionally smaller (under a foot in diameter) trees for firewood. But I could no more saw down a 300 year old oak than I could take a knife and cut out my own kidney. I can't stand to be around when others do it. I can't even watch it being done on a TV show without feeling sad.

There have been times in the woods when I've sat upon the bole of a fallen beech or a sycamore along the river—a tree whose diameter easily attests that its age must extend back into other centuries—and I've thought about all that old tree must have been through, the storms and winds, summer droughts and winter snows; I've found myself patting its ancient bark, almost as though I were hoping to reassure that downed giant that it okay, and we all must one day fall to time—and that such giving way was not defeat, or lacking in courage and honor, but simply part of life. Sometimes, if my own troubles are a bit too close to the surface, I almost feel like weeping.

I'm sure this sounds silly. It sure sounds silly when I write it, and more than a bit embarrassing. But it is true.

And in spite of all the positive things a fallen tree offers—shelter, food, soil enrichment, an opening in the canopy so that others might have a bit more life-giving light…I'm nonetheless saddened by the tree's demise.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Bonnie…

There is a sacredness about nature…about all life. There is spirit in life, something holy. Not in the animistic sense, but in the notion that living things are under God's watch, that they deserve our utmost respect and care; that they are of us and we of them.

Thank you for visiting regularly, and for such a nice comment. I hope your vision of the riverbank continues…

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Bernie…

Nature does provide the occasional warning sound. But I sure missed it this time around! In my defense (or excuse) I'd have known and understood instantly if I'd have been on the island itself. But it was my assumption (and you know what they say about "assumption!") that got me off on the wrong track.

I will do my best to have a good weekend. I baked two loaves of Wanda's zucchini bread, so it's already starting out great. The sun is shining. The cicadas singing. And all I have to do is find a comfortable place to stretch out on the deck, listen to the hummingbirds fight, watch the river, munch on zucchini bread…and possibly snooze. Yup, I'd say there's a better-than-even chance I'll have at least a good Saturday.

You have a good weekend, too!

Wanda said...

Anyone needing a spiritual lift need only come here to your blog...Your thoughts and sentiments along with the comments of visitors and your replies to them are so rewarding...your replies could be a post in themselves and your appreciation of all things nature is inspiring...
plus you can even bake...Enjoy your zucchini bread...I just baked 2 loaves myself.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Wanda…

Don't know about the spiritual lift part, but I appreciate the thoughts and words. As to that zucchini bread, I'm now down to one loaf (I had eating help) so it's already being enjoyed. I'm going to do a couple more loaves as soon as I can latch onto another zucchini.

KGMom said...

Scribe--I hate to see trees come down for any reason, but they do sometimes.
Quite an adventure for you & Moon.
Your story did bring one back to me, which I will write about soon.
Glad all is well.
Nature always reclaims its own, right?

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

KGMom…

Earth to earth it is for all, sooner or later. It was quite amazing, really. And it will be equally interesting to see what the river does with this temporary weir.

I did hate to see it come down, though.