The storm came in quickly over the ridge, bringing rain and lightning and strong gusts of wind.
Nine miles above, the sun shone. Below that, darkness and chaos: hurricane-force winds, temperatures a hundred degrees below zero. We are fortunate that most of the drama in a thunderstorm is over our heads; what we see is mostly the violence of catharsis.*
A couple days later, I found a big old red oak, a property-line tree, reduced to a tall, jagged stump. Even from a distance, I could tell this wasn’t the storm’s fault. Wind-thrown red oaks tend to go over roots and all — and it’s a good thing, too. Over the course of millennia, such regular uprooting is one of the few ways a forest soil gets turned, and many native species of plants and animals have come to depend upon the complex, pit-and-mound microtopography that results. Bole snap, as it’s called, is more typical of other species, such as the chestnut oaks that dominate these ridgetops. This, too, serves its purpose: standing dead oak snags are havens and cornucopias for wildlife.
A glance inside the stump confirmed my suspicion: carpenter ants were the true culprits here. Odd, isn’t it, that we refer to such masters of demolition as carpenters? Then again, their homes are no more destructive of forests than our own. And we are no less heedless of coming storms…
*See “Fly Me to the Clouds,” by Paul VanDevelder, in the July-August issue of Audubon magazine.