Author's Note: The tone of the book vacillates between naturalist and philosopher, mostly leaning towards the naturalist. Here is a rough excerpt from the naturalist perspective.
JUNE 24, 2008
ON GAPS IN THE FOREST
The ice storm of 1998 that left large portions of the northeastern North American continent without power for weeks also left indelible marks on the forest here. Large gaps in the forest cover where individual trees and in some cases whole stands of trees were toppled. In the upland mixed woods, an explosion of saplings and ground vegetation fills the forest floor. Within the cedar swamp, what was once an unbroken bare floor is tangled with ferns and grasses and sedges and countless maple seedlings. Unlike other forest communities, the near monospecific cedar swamp takes decades to form and does not quickly recover from such perturbations, natural or otherwise. Cedar clearings do not quickly sprout new cedar forests, in part due to the slow growth of the tree and in part due to the incessant browsing of deer. In its interior, the undisturbed cedar forest is bare beneath its canopy and, except for the tangle of dead lower branches, walking through the cedar forest is like walking through a shaded stand of telephone poles, albeit crooked and bent poles. In the absence of undergrowth, one can see great distances, limited only by the cumulative effect of the standing trunks and uneven lay of the land. It is a magical forest, with its soft ground springy from underlying roots and the sometimes heard gurgle of subterranean streams. All that changed in the January 1998. The cedar swamp is now a tangle of toppled and leaning trees, its unbroken paths strewn with the tops of trees that came crashing down under the inexorable weight of ice. Slow to rot and slow to sprout anew, it may be a century before others might walk these woods as I did pre-ice storm, marveling at the unobstructed nature of acres of cedar forest.