The Song Of The Forest Changes Not Only By The Hour, But Also By The Season. In Winter, This Forest Would Be Nearly Silent; In Spring, Frogs, Toads, And Birds Would Be Singing. Only In Summer And Early Autumn Would I Be Able To Hear The Full Insect Chorus. Most Singing Insects Start The Year As Eggs. In Spring, They Hatch Into Tiny Nymphs, And They Must Eat, Grow, And Shed Before Becoming Sexually Mature. Only Then Do They Sing.
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In Ancient Asian Cultures, City Dwellers Took Vacations To Remote Areas Of The Country In Autumn To Appreciate Particular Insect Songs Or Choruses Renowned For Their Beauty. Although Ecotourism Is Catching On In The States, I Have Yet To See Any Place Advertise Its Insect Concerts. As In Many Things, The Asians Were Ahead Of Us In Recognizing Aesthetic Beauty. We Know That Trees Clean The Air And Water, But The Forest’S Songs May Be A Service We Have Forgotten.
Unfortunately, This Forest Is Quite Small, So Natural Sounds Must Compete With The Din Of Human Industry. In The Middle Distance, I Could Hear A Factory Roar: Big Conveyor Belts, Perhaps, Large Ventilation Fans, And The Beep-Beep- Beep Of A Backup Warning. Cars. And The Sounds Of The Animals That Humans Keep: A Rooster Crowing, Dogs Barking. This Forest Is A Good Thing To Have Saved, And It Is Convenient For Those Who Live Nearby, But It Will Never Have The Auditory Quality Of A Forest Large Enough Or Remote Enough To Be Beyond The Sounds Of Manufactured Things.
Walking On This Hillside Path So Close To Town, I Wondered If The Average Visitor Would Even Recognize It As An Old-Growth Forest. Knowledge About Old Forests Seems To Have Been Left Out Of Most Easterners’ Education. People Who Have Heard Of Old-Growth Forests But Have Never Been In One Knowingly Imagine They Are Going To See Nothing But Redwood-Sized Giants And Heavenly Light Streaming In From The Tall Canopy. They May Even Imagine Their Hearts Opening In An Epiphany Of Love And Instantly Knowing They Are In A Special Place.
The Danger With This Way Of Thinking Is That Any Forest That Causes A Lesser Reaction Is At Risk Considered “Ordinary” And Therefore Fair Game For Clearing Or Whatever Else One Wants To Do To It. In Reality, Eastern Old Growth Often Appears Very Ordinary At First Glance.
Once, While I Was Giving A Talk At Another University, And Going On At Length About Old Growth, A Student Raised His Hand And Asked Candidly, “What Is Old-Growth Forest?”
I Took A Deep Breath. This Student Didn’T Care About The Semantics Of A Bunch Of Bean-Counting Scientists Still Arguing About The Definition Of Old Growth. He Wanted To Know What Old-Growth Forests Looked Like, What Made Them Different From The Forests He Passed Every Day, What It Felt Like To Walk Through One.
“That Is A Wonderful Question, Thank You For Asking It,” I Began. “Some People Imagine That Eastern Old-Growth Forests Are Filled With Very, Very Large Trees, But In Reality Large Trees Are The Exception. Yes, There Are Some Very Large, Old Trees, But There Are Also Many Young Trees. The Trees Are Likely To Be Of Many Different Species. There Are Also Many Dead Trees, Some Still Standing, And Others Fallen Over On The Forest Floor. Some Of The Fallen Trees Will Be Quite Large. The Forest Floor Is Likely To Be Undulating With Pits And Mounds From Where Trees Have Fallen Over Long Ago. The Ground Layer Will Usually Be Quite Open Because Of The Dense Shade Cast By The Large Trees. In Other Words There Will Not Be Much Brush; You Will Feel Like You Could Walk In Any Direction Without Much Trouble. You Will Usually Notice The Birdsong, And There May Be Many Different Species Of Fungi Growing Out Of The Trees Or The Ground.” I Paused.
He Was Completely Engaged In My Description, And At The End Said Earnestly, “I Think We Have Some Forest Like That On Our Farm. It Is A Section In The Back. I Don’T Know If It Has Ever Been Logged, But It Looks Just The Way You Describe It.”
I Urged Him To Find A Way To Protect It. Maybe Together We Had Found, And Will Save, An Old-Growth Forest.
True To My Description, There Were Trees Of All Sizes In This Forest. The Largest Were Not Just Of One, Or Two, Or Even Three Species; There Were Big Trees Of Many Kinds, Including Maples, Oaks, Hickories, And Beeches. I Was Starting To Recognize (As I Was Starting To Appreciate The Insect Songs) That The Oldest Trees Were Not The Most Remarkable Just Because Of Their Size, But Also Because They Were So Interesting As Individuals. With Ancient Trees, The Unique Character Of Each Is Revealed, Even In Two Of The Same Species Growing Side By Side. Young Trees Differ From Each Other, Too, But The Disparities Are Much Easier To See In Old Trees. Many Have A Ridge Of Callus Bark In A Line Down The Trunk A Scar From A Long-Ago Lightning Strike. Many Ancients Also Have Large Bumps, Like Tumors, Bulging From Their Trunks. Although We Might Be Repelled At The Sight Of A Tumor Bulging From The Skin Of An Elderly Person, On These Old Trees I Was Beginning To See Them As Interesting Or Unusual, Not Ugly. The Trees Were Teaching Me To View A Human Tumor The Same Way, Without Judgment. Most Of The Elderly Trees Will Live For Many More Years With Their Bumps, Bulges, And Scars. Although They Are Considered Overmature By Forestry Standards, They Will Probably Grow New Leaves Next Year And The Year After That And The Year After That. In Fact, Many Will Outlive Not Only Me, But Also Most Of The Young Trees Growing Beneath Them. And The Energy They Continue To Harvest From The Sun Will Nourish The Cicada Nymphs Sucking On Their Roots And The Katydids And Tree Crickets Feeding On Their Leaves. The Old Trees Were Teaching Me That Victory Does Not Go To The Swiftest, But To Those With The Most Endurance. They Were Teaching Me That We Will Not Look Perfect When We Get To Old Growth, But Will Be Most Perfectly Ourselves. Most Women In The Pioneer Mothers Group Who Raised Money To Save This Forest Have Grown Old, Developed Tumors Of Their Own, And Passed On. But Many Of The Trees They Loved Still Stand, And The Chorus They Preserved Sings On.
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