Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A forest in a raindrop

A small stream rushes and gurgles through a wooded ravine in Tar Hollow State Forest in southeastern Ohio. I found myself in this woodland recently; a place I seldom get to these days. At 16,000+ acres, Tar Hollow is one of Ohio's great biological hotspots, harboring a vast array of flora and fauna. On this day, steady rains vacillated between mists, sprinkles, and showers, which made finding critters tough. But all that moisture brings its own charms, such as turning this normally dry creek into a showy waterscape.

There is an old school fire tower in Tar Hollow, and visitors are free to climb it. I did, of course - such structures are irresistible lookouts. The boxlike cabin at the summit was locked, so I had to make due with the view from just below.

From the tower's (near) summit, a grand vista of the sprawling forest can be had. As is to be expected in late December, the surrounding deciduous woodlands are leafless and bare, but a couple of towering pitch pines (Pinus rigida) offer a jolt of brightness.

Conifers are always appealing eye candy, and especially so in winter when little else of color can be seen. Pitch pine are, to my eye, especially good looking gymnosperms. I don't understand why they aren't sold more in the nursery trade, unless there is some quirk to them that makes it hard to grow the trees. They are quite valuable to wildlife. Had I been at this spot in April, I'd about guarantee the sweet trills of pine warblers would be heard. The warblers methodically creep through the fascicles of long needles, seeking pine-specializing caterpillars and other entomological morsels.

After returning to earth, I walked around the pines and was struck by glistening raindrops clinging to the ends of the needles. The trees looked bejeweled, and upon inspection I could see the towering trunk of the pines reflected back within the tiny droplets. Eventually the drops will break their connection with the needles and fall to the ground. The tree will sponge them up through its root system, and the water will, in a tiny way, assist the pine with its growth. In time, the water will be carried through the tree and out into the needles where it will be released back into the atmosphere via transpiration.

And thus the cycle goes.



Zippi Kit said...

My Grandparents' farm was in Eastern Ohio, almost to the Pennsylvania border, and there was a woods on its acres. All of my cousins, young aunts and I gathered wild onions and other plants there, and marveled at just such a dry stream that sprang up and slowly rolled through our woods. Thanks for the memories.

Julia said...

I love fire towers! I hope to take a day, or just part of a day, to do a similar hike in my neck of the woods. We're really really wet right now in Iowa, so hopefully we'll get a freeze soon. Thanks for keeping this blog. I enjoy it.