Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Val de re, Val de ra

Oh, I love to go a-wandering, etc., etc.  As I participate in my daily treks through the neighboring foothills, I'm constantly amazed by the ever-changing topography of our forests and mountains.  Sometimes, these changes take place over an elapsed period of time, from season to season, for years at a time.  Sometimes they take place in the blink of an eye. Each Autumn, we fret over the falling leaves that clutter up our yards, and go about the chore of raking and burning (if your state allows such activity), or turning them into mulch, etc.  Each day, as I walk the dogs in the forest near our house, I can't help but notice the accumulation of leaves around me.  Literally tons and tons of leaves, yet the next Spring and Summer, these leaves are gone, decomposed into the food that feeds the forest.  So, raking seems like a lot of wasted work to me, but then, we must keep up the over-all appearance of our properties, so rake on home owners.  The forest that I hike in was once used for logging, and I like to look for traces of that enterprise from decades ago, and the changes since then. Along the many spur roads which branch out from the main road, I'll see the stumps of these fallen trees from long ago. What I find interesting is the newer, more recent growth of trees sprouting up from the rotten stumps.  I mean, there are some stumps that easily measure 6 feet  or more across, which now have 75 - 100 ft. tall trees sprouting from them, and their trunks may only measure 1 - 2 ft. across.   I can only imagine how tall these previous trees were.  In fact, along one of the spurs that I hike each day, there is a dead giant of a tree that shoots up about 250-300 ft.  For the past 7 years, I've wondered what would happen if that thing ever came down.  Well, earlier this week, we had a fairly violent wind storm sweep through, and I got my answer.  Now, the whole tree didn't come crashing down, but about 25 ft or so of rotten wood from the top was ripped off and thrown down onto the trail, impacting somewhat the surrounding trees at the base of this behemoth.  Glad I wasn't in the vicinity at the time!  For the past year or so, the Forest Service has been working on a project to thin out the trees from around the main road and some of the spurs, to let more sunlight in and aid in the growth of the rest of the forest. 

I noticed one tree that had been cut down a couple of years ago just as Spring blossoms were starting to show up.  Talk about dead tree walking.  This tree went through the whole seasonal cycle, as if it were still attached to the base of the trunk!  The blossoms turned into beautiful blooms, which were then replaced by a full growth of leaves which lasted through the Summer, only to turn into striking reds and golds as Autumn returned.  Sadly, that tree is now just fodder for the rest of the surrounding plant life.  If I didn't know where it was, I would not be able to see it beneath the wild vinca that has taken over and covered it up. 

Unfortunately, some of the aspects of the ever-changing forest are not especially appealing.  For years, I used to take the dogs up there and let them run around off-leash, exploring their surroundings.  About a year ago, as we were heading back to the 4-Runner at the end of our daily trek, I heard this awful howling and screeching, and knew it was Addie, our Chesapeake Bay Retriever.  She had stepped into a trap of some sort, and was crying out in pain and in panic.  It took me about 20 minutes or so to be able to finally pry the damn thing open and release her.  Thankfully, those old saw tooth traps have been outlawed, so this had flat edges, but there still would have been enough force behind the spring to break her leg nonetheless if it hadn't closed on the fleshy part of her paw.  I used the hook part of the anchor chain to pry open the trap enough to get her foot out, then hurled that trap as deep into the woods as I could so the poacher would not be able to use it again. So now, I keep the dogs on leash on our daily treks.  May not be as much fun for them, but I'm not going to take any more chances.

Naturally, another aspect of hiking in the foothills which I really appreciate is the abundance of wildlife. Sometimes this was problematic, as when we suddenly came upon a couple of young deer that ran right in front of our path, and Addie and Cooper took off in hot pursuit (this was prior to the trap incident).  Boots gave chase for a while, but then quickly returned and waited out their return with me. In addition to the deer, we'll see elk and, on occasion the bear that roams the woods.  I know there is a cougar up there also, but so far, I haven't spotted him.  I'm sure he has seen us, but hopefully, having three dogs as my hiking companions has discouraged any close encounters of the cougar kind.  One of my neighbors up there who has a cabin on the edge of the Forest Service land, once awoke to see the cougar lounging on his deck.  Another time, he saw the cougar sitting there along the road to his place with a young elk that he had just felled. Perhaps the cougar is what those poachers were after, who knows?  Anyway, such is life on the mountain trails in the foothills by my house.  Val de ra ha ha ha ha ha!

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