Sep 17 2009
The Expert looked at his watch, and gave his companion a thumbs-up. The job wouldn’t take long. A flight of finches exploding into the air. Neither man noticed. The Expert eyeballed the old pine. He didn’t see the red squirrel clinging to the trunk. He saw only the brown needles and the bare limbs.
“What good is a dead tree?” the Expert asked, not expecting an answer. His companion knew the question was purely rhetorical. And he marked the pine for removal.
The two men thought they were alone. But they were wrong. And the Others who were present did their best to answer the Expert’s question. He wasn’t listening, though. Perhaps he never had. In any case, his companion was anxious to get going. Time is money, after all, and the Expert had more trees to condemn. Jays would have told him that they took shelter in the pine whenever an icy norther blew down from Canada. As so would a Nashville warbler who often found a meal among the dead and dying branches, too. Nor were they alone. The Others included red-breasted and white-breasted nuthatches, hairy and downy woodpeckers, rose-breasted and pine grosbeaks, black-capped chickadees, common redpolls, and yellow-bellied sapsuckers. Not to mention a chipmunk, and the red squirrel—the same red squirrel the Expert didn’t see. The roots of the pine offered shelter, too. Just ask a shrew who’s snatching a quick drink from the remains of an old flowerpot.
What good is a dead tree? The Others know, even if the Expert does not. Their pine is a home to some and a source of food to many. It offers a refuge in storms and a vantage point in all weathers. And as it decays, it returns nutrients to the soil, nourishing the young pines that will shelter and feed generation upon generation of Others. Another dead pine, not far away from the Others’ tree, give turtles a place to sun themselves after the spring has freed them from their icy prison. They tunnel up from the black ooze into the light.
What good is a dead tree? Now you, too, can answer this question. The Others won’t be heard. You will, though. But only if you choose to speak.