Three Stories From the Forest Floor

The forest floor is a mosaic.  Learn to read the language of the tiles and you’ll start to understand a bit of what transpires in the woods. It’s mid-winter, wet and windy but that’s not dampened the story-telling spirit of the forest. There’s no shortage of yarns being spun in this upland forest. Let me transcribe a few for you.

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A strong wind has cleaned the branches of the big-leaf maple (Acer macrophyllum) and pruned the limbs of the mature Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii). Despite being smack in the middle of winter,  we can see just a hint of herbaceous bright green emerging from below the windfall. Underneath the recent litter, needles and leaves from fall’s foliage shed are dark in their decomposing repose.  Nearby, there’s another story:

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Some of the Douglas fir cones (can you see the little mouse-shaped tails sticking out from the cones’ bracts; those are unique to the Dougie) are pruned by the wind, others drop to the floor with a little help from the native squirrel population.  First, high in the branches of the fir, the squirrel harvests the cones, cutting them from the limbs and dropping them to the ground below.  Then, he descends the tree to his food court, collects the cones and commences snacking, peeling the bracts off of the cones one at a time to access the seeds. Eventually, the snack bar is littered with nubby cone  stalks  ringed by seedless bracts. Reminds me of some ballgames and bars I’ve been to – peanut shells discarded by patrons and dropped directly onto the floor.

Just a spell farther down the trail, there’s a neon sign advertising the impending end of this cold, dark season. A native perennial (Bleeding heart?) pushes through the maple leaf and cedar frond humus to announce that the world’s orbit of the sun continues, tilted axis and all.

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4 thoughts on “Three Stories From the Forest Floor

  1. White fir — You’ll know you’ve moved into spruce-fir forest when you start tripping over deadfall and running into low branches. One of the more common trees in this high-alpine forest, the white fir has smooth, gray bark. Its cones grow upright to about 4 inches long, and its 2-inch-long needles curve on two sides. The white fir closely resembles the subalpine fir. But the subalpine fir’s branches, unlike those of the white fir, grow to ground level, and its needles are about an inch shorter.

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