Thursday, May 23, 2024
backyardbackyard wildlife habitatmimi

A New View

black cat in fallen tree
Mimi wants to know just exactly what this tree is doing in her yard.

Mimi wants to know what this tree is doing lying atop her savannah of grasses and wildflowers where she can prowl like the panther she is, but she’ll just have to make due with the rest of the yard for now. A quick and powerful spring storm moved through yesterday afternoon, and a few trees have been rearranged in our back yards, and this is literally just the “tip” of the problem!

Below is what Mimi looked like in about the same spot in the grasses the other day.

black cat walking through grass
Mimi stalks the mountain meadow.

I was actually not home when the storm hit—I was stuck in Pittsburgh where all the lights were out and driving was impossible. When I finally got home after passing downed trees and lawn chairs in the streets, I saw my trees were okay and all my cats were okay, and even though I’d left my windows open nothing was soaked–including my drafting table and easel up in my studio. But at the kitchen sink I glanced out the window and thought…something looked a little different. Here is an overall view of our new view.

view out window
My new view out the bathroom window.

And what it looked like about two weeks ago.

spring morning.
The same view from about two weeks ago.

If a 70-foot mature maple had to fall, this one chose the best way to do it. In the photo above, you can see there are two trunks shaped in a “V”, and there are actually two trees like this side by side next to the blue house, at the edge of the neighbor’s yard at the top of a steep little slop between the yards. A V-shaped connection for a tree is a very weak connection, whether it’s a branch or a single tree that split, or two trees growing next to each other. As trees grow rings the rings tend to surround whatever is connected to them and the more open the angle the more wood grows over the connection to the new branch, but a “V” never completely fills in and that branch or trunk can actually peel away even with a mature hardwood tree like a maple. A deep angle like that holds moisture and often becomes a squirrel storage spot or even a nesting spot and the collection of natural debris tends to rot in the “V” and rots the tree in the process. That’s what actually happened with Cookie’s big branch that fell in a snow storm—the end of the branch became weighted down with snow and ice and the weight pulled it right off the tree.

tortoiseshell cat on branch
Cookie climbs her big branch after the snow melted in spring 2010.

In this case, both sides of the double trunk had common roots, but leaned away from each other from the beginning to gain enough sunlight to grow. The trees were connected but in this shady area rarely got enough sun to dry out the trunks and they were rotted. What makes the fall lucky is that the two portions of the tree had houses on three sides, but fell instead, the larger portion into my hard where it hurt nothing by my fence, and into an empty lot where a house was taken down decades ago. In the photo below you can see the portion of trunk that’s left and is quite rotted, the portion you see is in the empty lot, above it you can see the top edge of the horizontal trunk that’s reaching into my yard..

fallen tree
The stump and trunk of the tree that fell taken from the empty lot.

The blue house, incidentally, is a four-unit apartment building, and that back window is where my neighbor kitty watches birds and squirrels from—and he’s observing operations in the photo below—and where “Witness to a Rescue” took place; I’ve been looking at these trees for that long! But the blue building also has another kitty downstairs, the yellow house behind it has three dogs, and the orange brick house next to it has two dogs downstairs and a kitty upstairs. The wind during the storm was actually blowing the trees in the direction of those houses, and perhaps it was the tree behind that kept it from falling in that direction, but sometimes I think there’s another force at work when a big disaster is averted like this!

The neighbor kitty in his window watching the operation.
The neighbor kitty in his window watching the operation.

In my yard it’s largely covering the “natural” area with my compost pile and my brush piles for small critters. My native honeysuckle is down as is my crabapple sapling in the corner of the yard, and my wiegela isn’t too happy. The tips of the branches reach to the very last two wide rows in my garden, and I’ll have to trim them off so my cayenne peppers and eggplants can grow.

tree branch
The tips of the branches just cover the edge of my garden.

I’m not sure who will cut the tree apart—it’s to big for me and my pruning saw—but I have a friend with a chain saw, and oddly enough we’d just had a conversation about my two maples in the front which, sadly, need to be taken down. One has dropped three huge branches already, and they are hollow to the ground. When this storm came up, and all other storms, I fearfully watch these trees.

car with branch on roof
My pink Escort with the branch on the roof.

But my neighbors were already out there looking over the trees and say they’ll take care of it quickly. I can tell they can’t wait to get started—and I’m not kidding!

fallen tree
The kitty is in the upper back window of the blue house–you can see a bit of red in all the greenery where my neighbor is standing next to the fallen trunk.

I may clean up my yard anyway because the tree is actually covering a heck of a lot of memories in that area of the yard, including the picnic table—plus I’d draped a rug I’d washed over the table and benches to let it air dry, and it was just about ready to go.

fallen tree
What the yard looks like now.
black cat
Mimi wants to know what I’m going to do about this mess!

Today a number of birds are hopping around on the downed tree, and I can’t tell if the cardinals and sparrows and wrens are exploring the changes or looking for their nests. I know a number of cavity-nesting birds had nests in that trunk because I regularly observed the nuthatches and woodpeckers hopping in and out of the holes, and all the trees around have nests tucked into them. I’ll save my eggplant and pepper seedlings and the newborn dancing beans are safe, and I can only hope all is well with all the wildlife who live out here too.

And Mimi wants her yard back. She looks demanding in the photos I took of her this morning, but she’s actually concerned. Felines are sensitive to change, and Mimi is especially sensitive to noises so when the tree fell she probably thought the world was ending. In fact, when I came in the door all the cats were there to greet me where typically there is only one who has been appointed to keep watch for me.

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