Along The Trail 2-21-13


Work over the past week had been trying, so when I saw an opportunity to duck out a little early on Friday afternoon, I peeled out of the office and headed for the peace and quiet of my favorite hunting spot.

A couple hours of shed hunting was just what the doctor ordered!

I pulled in next to the grain bin and hopped out and made my way across the edge of the bean field under an on again-off again sunny sky. I trod along to one of my lucky spots and something caught my attention. Off in the distance, the distinct high pitch whine of a chainsaw working hard. The saw revved and bogged down, as I struggled in the wind to find its direction. A loud crack followed by an earth shaking boom as a behemoth slammed to the forest floor.

I snuck along an old fence row, drawn to the noise of the loggers like a moth to a porch light. More saws chimed in along with the constant “beeping” of heavy equipment moving forward and backing up. I pushed my way through the overgrown pasture, snagging myself on the rose bushes and briars. I made it to the edge of the woods and found a high spot to get a better look.

Across the creek, a handful of men in hardhats were making quick work of the red oaks and hickories in what I’d always known as the “open woods”.

A couple of the guys acted as “fellers” and another worker went to work limbing up the fallen giants. A skidder and other heavy equipment gingerly worked their way around the labyrinth of fallen trees and limbs.

I found myself a seat on the remains of a long dead cedar log and watched the show. The boy in me enjoyed the sounds of the two-cycle saws screaming through the large trees. The awesome power of four- and five-story oaks crashing to the ground creating a mini-earthquake in their wake.

The tremendous cracking and popping of the trunks as they splinter before falling off the stump.

I had a front row seat from a couple hundred yards away.

The harvest of mature hardwoods is necessary and in this case, probably long overdue. To the best of my knowledge, this woods was last logged in 1974 or 1975. By taking some of the big, old trees, it opens the canopy and gives the saplings their turn in the sun and a chance to grow and mature. It creates new habitat for the wildlife – nesting areas for the turkeys and songbirds and browse for the whitetails. The scars left behind heal and the woods takes care of itself.

But, part of me couldn’t help but feel some sadness.

I’m not a “tree hugger” or a bleeding heart and I’m all for responsible logging of timber. I know the landowner well and the logging crew and have complete faith in both. Part of the sadness for me comes from seeing these ancient trees meet their demise. I can only imagine how old a red oak, 3- or 4-feet in diameter is. How many storms, how many woodpeckers, how many insects have they survived?

But the real lump in my throat comes from change. I’d been connected to this spot for over 20 years. I’ve sat countless hours under the shade of these trees waiting on squirrels to show themselves or listening to a Tom in the pre-dawn darkness gobble, as he readies to fly off the roost.

I’ve perched myself among the limbs in hopes of catching a buck as he feasted on the white oak acorns that littered the ground each fall.

My kids and I have camped under the leaves and the stars in those very woods. I’ve been witness to them becoming hunters and creating their own story, their own memories. We cobbled together a log cabin years ago, never quite finished, but full of life from a dad and his young daughter and toddler son.

If I close my eyes and listen hard enough, I can still hear their young voices and laughter as they played in the tree house just over the hill from my vantage point. I sit here and try to remember how many times I’ve walked through the “open woods” and no number I could come up with would even come close.

I watched a few more minutes and then silently slipped out and left the fellows to their work. I picked my way through some cedars hoping to find a cast antler. As I made my way back to the grain bin, the sky had darkened and sleet began to fall.

Just like Southeastern Indiana weather, everything changes.