Northwestern Part Of State, Litchfield County. Closest Town: Cornwall (Not West Cornwall). In Cornwall, From The Junction Of Route 4 And Route 125, Turn South Onto Pine Street. After 0.3 Miles, Turn Left Onto Valley Road. After A Sharp Right Bend In The Road, Bear Left Onto Essex Hill Road. In 0.2 Miles You Will See A Blue Blaze On A Tall Tree On The Right Side Of The Road, And Across From That There Will Be A Large Boulder Next To A Two-Car Parking Area Marked With A Sign.
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I Entered The Grove On A Very Chilly Early-Fall Morning. Right Away, Towering White Pines And Hemlocks Surrounded Me. The Forest Was Very Quiet; It Was Too Cold For The Insects To Sing, And The Dew-Dampened Duff On The Ground Muffled My Footsteps. On The Tops Of The Ridges, The Shade Was So Dense That There Was Almost No Undergrowth, Just Soft, Brown Forest Floor. In The Low Depressions, Where Cool Air Gets Trapped And The Rainwater Flows, Ferns Covered The Forest Floor. Crows Cawed Back And Forth To One Another, Breaking The Silence.
Crows Are Extremely Smart And Can Recognize Individual Humans. Perhaps They Knew The Regulars In This Forest And Were Warning Each Other About The Presence Of A Stranger. Crows Eat Almost Anything, Including Gypsy Moth Caterpillars, And I Wondered What They Were Finding Among The Trees On This Cool, Still Morning. Crows, Like Deer, Roaches, Robins, And Coyotes, Are Among The Few Animals That Benefit From Our Changes To The Land. Where Humans Go, Crows Follow.
On My Travels To Various Forests, I Often Saw Crows Standing Along The Shoulders Of The Roads. It Took Me A While To Figure Out What They Were Doing There, But I Put It All Together One Dawn In Tennessee. The Road Passed Through A Vast Forest Where There Had Been A Big Moth Hatch That Morning. As The Moths Fluttered Across The Road, I Tried To Swerve Around Them But Wasn’T Always Successful. In My Rearview Mirror, I Could See The Stunned Insects Tumble Onto The Road, And There A Crow, Patiently Waiting. Our Deadly Cars Have Harmed Many Creatures, But Crows And Vultures And A Few Others Have Benefited.
The Cathedral Pines Story Started Out With Hope And Foresight. It Was One Of The Forests Purposefully Saved By A Caring Family. In 1883, During The Logging Boom, The Calhoun Family Bought And Protected Forty-Two Acres Of Forest. As Everything Around It Was Cut Away, The Family Held Fast To Its Towering Trees. The Calhouns Held It Through Multiple Generations For Eighty-Four Years Before Donating The Land To The Nature Conservancy In 1967. At That Time, The Tract Was Considered The Best Old-Growth Forest In New England. It Was Dedicated As A National Natural Landmark In 1982 And Seemed Securely Protected For All Time. In Fact, Other Old Connecticut Forests Were Likely Allowed To Be Logged During Those Years Because This One Was Already Protected. But In 1989, The Unexpected Happened; A Storm Blew Over All But Eight Acres Of Cathedral Pines.
Many, Many Natural Events Can Destroy Ancient Forests: Fires Ignited By Lightning Strikes, Tornadoes, Landslides, Ice Storms, And You-Name-It. The Big, Old Trees Are Laid Low, And The Smallest Saplings, Offspring Of The Ancients, Must Grow For Centuries Before The Forest Looks The Way It Once Did. The Natural Disturbances Come More Frequently In Some Places Than In Others. For Instance, Between 1620 And 1950, Five Different Hurricanes Hit Parts Of Massachusetts, But Only One Hurricane Struck Vermont. By Determining The Average Interval Between Disturbances And The Average Amount Of Forest Destroyed By Each, One Can Calculate The Number Of Years A Given Forest Is Expected To Survive Before Experiencing A Natural Stand-Replacing Event. This Is Called The Estimate Of Natural Rotation. For Various Eastern Forests, Estimates Of Natural Rotation Due To Fire Range From Seventy To Three Thousand Years, And Estimates Due To Wind, From Eight Hundred To Twelve Hundred Years. Because These Figures Are Averages, Some Spots Within A Region Will Be Disturbed More Frequently And Others Less Frequently. The Trees In Cathedral Pines Had Escaped Disturbance For Many Years, But Time Was Finally Up For Most Of The Stand. This Would Be A Commonplace Natural Event If We Had Many Old-Growth Forests, But When There Is Only One It Becomes A Tragedy Like Dropping Your Basket Of Eggs.