Winter is begrudgingly trudging north, we have had enough snow and cold and it is time to think of warmer things. I don’t burn much wood anymore, but we still have a woodlot behind our house that holds a mixture of pine, oak and aspen. I wrote the following column about that woodlot and the land around it and it is a Classic Last Windrow I wrote around the time of the 2000 Olympics.
There is a world within a world going on in my woodlot. Just a small patch of woods and swamp that surrounds my north country home. A mixture of jack pine, aspen, Norway pine, spruce and tamarack trees provide the ceiling in this little world within a world. Soils that vary from sand to peat bog provide the carpeting.
It is a small world that houses a number of furry, feathered and creeping critters. All live in this little three acre piece of Minnesota. The natural residents in this world go about their daily business without thought of how many medals our Olympians have captured. They don’t tune into the evening news to see the latest human created tragedy in the larger world. The residents of my woodlot are more involved in the daily chores of finding something to eat, finding a place to seek shelter for the night and avoiding being eaten.
There are stories told everyday in this little wooded place. An aged tree has crashed to the earth in a recent windstorm exposing insects, who had sought shelter below the bark, to hungry chickadees and nuthatches. The huge tree lies on the forest floor and will now give its stored energy to the roots of the younger trees standing nearby. The tree’s demise has opened a window through the forest canopy to the sun so that young plants around it can now capture the solar energy and grow.
A large hole is visible under the roots of the giant spruce tree. A mound of dirt provides the threshold to this dark cavern and there is a musky smell emanating from below leading me to believe that I’ve found the den of a red fox that I’ve seen darting through the woodlot. The breeding season has just been completed and I’ll visit this spot again in the spring when there may be long-earred fox kits playing at the entrance.
I find a small pile of feathers in a corner of the woodlot. There is a spot of blood on one of the feathers telling me that the bird did not die a death caused by old age. There is no other trace of the struggle that must have taken place. One bird or animal lived, one died. There are no newspaper reports of the bird’s passing. No trials or judges or juries will decide the guilt or innocence of the perpetrator of this event.
Huge paw prints appear on a deer trail at the edge of the swampland. A full grown timber wolf has been here and I can imagine it standing at the edge of the opening, nose in the air sifting for the scent of an old doe with her yearling fawn who have been my neighbors over the past summer. I wonder if both deer are still running or if they’ve become dinner for the wolf. I’ll know the answer in the coming weeks.
Life in my little woodlot cycles without any interference from me. I have learned that I have virtually no influence on the way in which things happen here. I can enhance the woodlot by planting certain trees and shrubs, making open spaces where clover will grow and keeping an eye out for wild domestic cats and marauding dogs, but this little world within a world in my woodlot will go on with or without me. I’ve learned that sometimes it is just best to stay out of the way and let Nature write the story.
There’s something comforting in knowing that.
See you next time. Okay?