I am strolling along the property line of our little homestead the morning after last night’s rainstorm. The aftermath of the front is still blowing through, as the sky is overcast with white and grey clouds, and the trees still sway in the breeze, tossing their heads and waving to one another. I can see why Tolkien portrayed them as sentient.
All is wet, and the flotsam and jetsam of the storm is scattered all across the glade – branches and leaves everywhere, and tall grass pushed down flat. No major damage, though.
The birds are unaffected. They sing in the tall grass or along the forest edge as if nothing happened last night. Rain came down in sheets as the sky flickered and thundered, making sleep difficult. I would expect to see nests and dead birds lying about this morning, but no – they have weathered it well, as they always do.
Now I come to a large old oak lying on its side, having taken out a few yards of barbed wire fence as it went down. It is an ancient, dead fellow with no leaves and most of its branches long gone. He is a skeleton of himself, but his trunk is still 20 feet long and so thick I cannot step over it; I must vault one-handed to the other side.
He must have been a glorious giant in his prime, whose leafed branches shaded a quarter of an acre. He escaped the logging that nearly decimated the Ozarks for some 100+ years, when the nation moved by rail and the railroad companies where ravenous for oak railroad ties. Nearly every old-growth oak was harvested in the Ozarks and chopped into ties. This old fellow escaped the logger’s axe, to live out his 200 year life in peace.
It is a myth that early country folk were stewards of the land. So far as they were concerned, it was an exploitable resource to support the family. When it was exhausted of its resources, they moved on. Here in Missouri, they hunted white-tail deer to near-extinction; at one point in the late 1920’s, the white-tail population was down to barely 400 head. It prompted the state government to ban deer hunting for 30+ years, and restock the herd with deer transported from western states.
It was the same with old growth forests. Locals chopped down much of the old growth forest in Missouri to feed the railroad and their families. It was only the rise of the national highway system after WWII and modern land management practices in the 1950’s that kept the Ozark forest from becoming the Ozark savanna.
The oak population is vital to the rest of the forest. A single oak can produce 5,000 acorns a year, supplying deer and other nut-eating wildlife with a food source. I could imagine some opportunist trying to kill off both the old-growth forest and the deer population in one stroke – harvest the tree, starve the deer – but that would be cynical of me.
Taking a walk after a storm is always a good idea. It helps assess the damage or lack of it, as well as figure out what to do next to maintain and nurture the homestead. I wish we would do that after other storms – storms in our families, storms in our communities, storms in our own personal lives. What damage, or lack of damage, has been done? Have I over-harvested something to the point of gluttony, or driven someone to near-extinction in my life? Have I exploited, rather than nurtured? What do I need to do about that?
Pause, walk, talk with God, look with open eyes. Taking inventory of the after-storm is good self-care.