|The entire valley floor was flooded.|
For better or worse, it is early February. The winter has gone through her usual assortment of moods. There has been cold, wet, warmish, and snow, sometimes all within a day or two’s time. At one point the streams were up out of their banks after a day or two of steady light rain. Then a day or two later the temperatures dove to well below zero. The weather has been full surprises.
|The stream chewed away the bank|
The weather has caused changes in the landscape that would have been difficult to imagine. Along the stream below our home a handful of trees fell, the soil around their roots eroded away when the stream swelled up out of her banks. The newly uprooted trees created great caverns, some making craters in a path along the water’s edge that we have used for years.
During the previous two winters a dozen or more trees from our property tumbled across the stream. The recent high water stole a couple of them away and moved others into big knots. It is hard to imagine how some of the trees, which are actually quite large, can disappear downstream without a trace. Chunks of ice have beaten the bark off of others that still lay in the current.
|The fallen trees bridge the stream.|
In a couple of places jammed logs and ice have forced the stream to seek entirely new routes. Water rushes across where last summer a gravel bar forced the stream into a huge U turn. A bank beaver had his den underneath a streamside fir tree that was whisked away creating a cove. A deep hole that always held trout is filled with logs and stumps. An undercut bank, where a big trout loved to hide, has caved in. Next spring it will be an entirely different stream to fish.
Up the hill from the house an early winter storm blew a handful of fir trees across a long abandoned logging road. Every year or two one comes down, but this time a whole cluster fell. That tote road used to make for easy walking and I would often walk it in bird hunting season. Deer, moose, and bears follow it more than humans and now their footprints detour around the fallen trees. If nobody goes up there with a chainsaw to cut those trunks out of the road the new path will be the game trail.
|Woodcock cover going past its prime.|
It is not only weather that changes things. Time does too. Forty years ago a friend shared a favorite woodcock hunting spot with me. To get to it we would walk across a field then hike down railroad tracks before dropping to a flat beside a river. Twenty years ago I went looking for that spot and I could not find that field. After an hour of looking I realized a stand of softwood trees covered what I remembered as an open pasture. There had been a few scattered spruce or fir trees in that field, but now it is a forest. The railroad tracks looked the same and so did the mammoth silver maples along the river.
About twenty miles to the east is a huge alder patch where I have bird hunted for forty-five years. It has always been thick cover and wet underfoot. Seven or ten years ago I noticed wrist sized poplars popping up in clusters, but mostly I followed my dogs and hoped for woodcock and noticed little else. Now there are poplars thirty or forty feet tall in there. I don’t know when they snuck in, but they are shading out the alders. I still refer to the place as the alder patch, but the name isn’t apt anymore.
|The ancient apple tree is being|
crowded out by the forest around it.
Up the hill from our home is an old apple tree in a stand of young hardwoods. A few fir trees are nearby on a small knoll, enough to give the ruffed grouse some shelter, but mostly it is hardwoods about as big around as a bowling ball. There isn’t another apple tree within a mile in any direction, so this lone apple has become something of a landmark. Any observant hunter or hiker is likely to notice and remember it. Competition with the hardwoods trees for sunlight has caused the apple tree to grow quite tall. Its branches really reach for the sky.
This year that apple tree had only two or three apples and the leaves on the branches were few. The taller hardwood trees now steal the sunlight and in a few years that apple tree will die and the landmark will disappear.
The natural world keeps changing even without the hand of man. The forces of nature move streams and blow over trees. Plants and animals compete for resources to live. Nature is restless.
Life goes on.