I, like most of you, have a list of blogs I like to read regularly. Two of my favorites are sectionhiker, by a fellow hiker from the Boston area named Philip Werner (on the boards he goes by Earlylite), and Ozark Highlands of Missouri, by an ecologist named Allison Vaughn. A few months ago Earlylite posted an entry about a book he had read called Reading the Forested Landscape: A Natural History of New England. I haven't read the book but it sounds facinating. Often as I'm hiking in the Ozarks I will look around at the forest and wonder "what happened here? why does it look different than it did a few miles back?" By reading Allison's blog I'm learning more about the ecology of the Ozarks and I'm learning to understand what I see better.
Here's a sight that I often see along the trail. A fallen forest giant that has had it's very roots ripped out of the ground.
This was a pretty common sight on my Middle Fork section hike. In fact in that post I showed a picture of my camp that just showed my bivy and tarp. But zooming back a bit you see that I was camped right next to one of these fallen giants.
In fact I was in between two of them. Here was the view looking out from my camp.
Natalie and I saw lots of fallen trees on our Buford Mountain hike also. At first I didn't know what to make of it. But after reading Allison's blog recently it hit me.
Here in Missouri (and all over the Midwest really) we occasionally have winter ice storms. An ice storm is where rain falls and freezes immediately on the first object it touches. The ice build up on limbs can be pretty heavy. In the city that means power outages. But within a few days the repairmen have come with chainsaws to remove the fallen limbs and trees and fix the lines. In the forest the trees just stay where they fall.
I think that's what has happened in these pictures. That would explain why it's the biggest trees that fell (even though they appeared to be healthy and not diseased). They tower over their neighbors and so collect the most ice. Then, if they are leaning slightly, that weight uses the long trunk of the tree as a lever and rips the roots out of the ground. That's how the forest removes the tall trees and makes room for new ones.
There's one more thing I wonder about though. Often these trees fall across the trail and then the trail maintainer comes through and cuts a chunk out of the fallen trunk so a hiker can get through. Often the trunk is hollow at the time. At least I guess this must be true because these cuts don't look very old.
I wonder what this means. Are all tree trunks hollow? Or does this indicate some weakening of the tree due to age or disease? I still have lots to learn about the forest before I really understand what I'm seeing.