Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Dead, But Not Down


The sandy drive that brings you from the paved road to the house snakes past the pond, lots of oaks, palms, a sweet clump of palmettos, and this triple trunked dead tree.

When we bought this land, there were no driveways, just a cow maintained mix of woods and grassy areas. We chose this pathway in because it was away from the wet, future pond area and nicely off center.
There was only minimal road clearing to do since we curved the drive to avoid cutting trees or those beautiful palmettos.

The years of driving in and out have changed the drive from a grassy path to a sandy track. The one thing that has not changed is the triple trunked dead oak to the left of Feather. It was dead then, and like Francisco Franco...is still dead.

It looked just like that in 1986 when we bought this land. It's been through hurricanes and tropical storms during those 20 years. Living oaks of the same size have snapped off or been tipped over in those powerful storms.

Other oaks here have gone from living to lightning struck death to soil humus in that time. This subtropical environment is the land of rot and recycling...and this is oak, not cypress, cedar, or heart pine. Here oak rots fast. A crib stack of oak logs I made last year as a critter shelter is already a collapsing pile of sawdust and bark. With no freezing winters, it's a year 'round process. Unrelenting decay.

So why does this dead oak persevere?



I don't know the answer to that question.

The wood is very hard, not punky rotten. Even the pileateds leave it alone. I had to exert pretty hard just to make that little scrape above. It is definitely an oak. There's a little patch of rough bark clinging to the back of it like a name tag.That bark tells me it was a live oak.

In the end, it doesn't matter why this dead oak has such staying power. I'm just glad it does. I think it adds some nice contrast and character to the overwhelming green of the driveway.

Feather thinks it doesn't throw much shade. Posted by Picasa


Rurality said...

Interesting. Dead cedars last a long time around here, but not much else.

Hurricane Teen said...

Nice. That poor live oak didn't last too long by the looks of it. I wonder what got to it. Disease, maybe? And dang I wish I had a driveway like that

Hick said...

Seems like you would want to take it down versus waiting for it to fall in its own time and place...could be inconvenient for you.

With all the rain we had out here this past season I saw quite a few of those giant California Live Oaks take a tumble...roots and all. One day they were up and the next day they were down...into the road, or onto somebody's house. I wouldn't want to be around when those things go down. (she says while looking warily out the backdoor at the large oak tree that is growing in her deck.)

robin andrea said...

That is such a cool, dead tree. I'm glad it continues to stand, although I have no idea why it does. Great driveway. It looks very inviting.

Cathy S. said...

At a historical village here in our community, on display behind one of the historic buildings, there is a pine log that was struck by lightening decades ago. It was called a "lightered" pine by some of the old timers who placed it here. Something about the heat and electricity changed the wood so that it will never rot and is so hard it is almost petrified. Could that be the same with an oak? Perhaps the cause of death was lightening strike?

Mrs. S said...

There aren't really any dead trees around here - the city maintains all the trees that are on public property and won't allow such an unsightly thing to remain long, and most people just don't want a dead tree on their own property, I guess.

Your post reminded me of a dream I had last night about a dead-house (old, rotting, etc) but it had my favorite climbing tree from childhood outside.

Floridacracker said...

Same here. This is one tough oak.

Hurricane Teen,
When you get your meteorology degree you can buy a driveway like this...not mine of course.

This one couldn't hurt anything if it fell. It's not your typical weakened dead tree.

I think it's gracefully grey.

Cathy S,
That is very interesting, because I was wondering if lightning might have some effect. I have another oak that was killed by lightning about 4 years ago and it too doesn't seem to be rotting the way other oaks do.

Mrs. S,
I leave all dead trees that are not a threat to home and cars.

pablo said...

I love that "off center" drive! I'm trying to avoid straight lines for paths and such in my woods just so there is always a chance of surprise and discovery along the journey.

I have several standing dead trees that seem to defy rot. Even some that have fallen to the ground just seem to sit still and mind their own business.

I'd leave that tree up unless it begins to threaten your driveway.

Floridacracker said...

Yeah, I thought you might like this post :)

Betsy said...

"Lightered" is how some people pronounce "lighterwood." That is the heart of old-growth pine that is saturated with resin and hard as stone. The resin prevents the wood from rotting, and also makes slivers of this wood very useful for starting fires (they sizzle like they have been dipped in turpentine, which, in a sense, they have).

That's why the name, lighterwood or lightwood or lighterd. My family always called it "fatwood."

It's very, very, very hard to split this wood. We found an old fatwood stump in the woods once. All of the pine tree had rotted away except the fatwood heart inside. We wanted some of it for firestarter, but were barely able to bust a few pieces off, even with a wedge and mallet and all that.

The resin is just a natural part of old-growth pine and has nothing to do with lightning, at least as far as I am aware.

Betsy said...

oh! ... while I am on this subject, there is an absolutely wonderful book about longleaf pine, which I am sure anyone who enjoys Mr. FC's blog will love! It is called "Looking for Longleaf" by Lawrence Earley (Early?). A fascinating account of the long-vanished longleaf pine forests of the South, their ecology, and cultural history alongside.

Ava said...

I like the dead tree. It adds to the suroundings.

OldHorsetailSnake said...

Ha! That last sentence was worth the price of admission.

You rock, Cracker.

Not Stephen King said...

It's a Signature Tree, that's why. At night it comes alive and runs around the property, harassing all the other trees. That's why the dogs bark and when you look out the window, it stands very still until you go back and sit down again.
In the morning, it goes back to its usual spot and even the pileateds are afraid of it.

Be careful out there....

Deb said...

I like the whole effect: the curved driveway, the palms, and the stark lines of the dead tree. And the dog.

I have seen trees that were killed by rising water levels in lakes, and you would think the water would eventually rot them away, but the bare trunks seem to harden much like your tree and stay standing.

Floridacracker said...

Everything you said is true, old growth pines do develop that resin concentration on their own. (I still wonder (and that's all it is..wonder) if a strike could change wood's composition.

You are right about the hardness of lighter wood. I grew up calling it fatwood too. I have stumps of it here and on another piece of property and we salvage them for kindling. They are amazingly flammable and a sharp axe will often bounce right off.
Thanks for the book tip!

My feelings exactly.

The wisdom of dogs...

Not S.King,
Well, now that explains everything. Thanks for the warning. That explains why the dead oak was missing when I pulled into the driveway a few evenings ago...thought I was imagining it.

I had not thought of the bare trunk angle...hmmm. That is a characteristic shared by both of the nonrotting oaks here. Hmmmm...

roger said...

isn't it nice to have enough space so that you can leave this and other trees be. that is one very nice driveway.

Floridacracker said...

yes, it is.thank you.