Sky and snowpack are two kinds of white, and the pale skin of arboreal fungi makes a third. Within a year or two after death, a log or snag has already become an extension of the ground in one respect: it is shot through with networks of fungal hyphae, the mycelium. This is not a root structure — remember that fungi are more closely related to animals than to plants. Rather, it is like a skilled miner who has adapted to the job so well that he has become almost indistinguishable from the ore.
Wood so mined becomes lighter than paper: punk wood. It breaks easily, but does not yet crumble between the fingers. It makes an excellent tinder, burning with a green flame.
Other miners of dead trees include ants and termites and the pale grubs of beetles: stag beetles, longhorn beetles, scarabs and more. Such xylophagous insects contribute at least as much to the decomposition of trees as the fungi — indeed, some species of the latter require the openings of the former before they can begin their own infiltrations.
Various species of bees and wasps and the maggots of flies, midges and mosquitoes also make their homes in the tunnels of beetle grubs, and feed on their dried-out excrement. Though there’s very little insect activity this time of year, a half-rotted snag preserves a record as visually rich and intriguing as a Dead Sea scroll. And of course the woodpeckers also come knocking, drilling doors into larder, shelter, and sounding board. The winter woods echoes with their stacatto taps and calls.
If after all this the dead still stand, it is often at odd angles. The sun is no longer of any interest to them. They alone try the embrace of other trees, and when the wind blows, they are vociferous in their complaint.
Don’t forget to send tree-related links to Lorianne — zenmama at gmail dot com — by December 30 for inclusion on the next Festival of the Trees. And be sure to visit the Insecta issue of qarrtsiluni, which is still in progress with a number of posts yet to come.