Monday, June 04, 2007

Soggy Subtropical Hike

This weekend, as the rains from Tropical Storm Barry subsided, I headed out to look for changes due to the storm. There had been no rain for months, so even the 4 or 5 inches dropped by Barry would be a dramatic change.

I considered turning right and heading out to Cedar Key, but Barry was a minor wind storm. There probably wasn't any dramatic angry sea to photograph, so I turned left and headed to nearby Devil's Hammock ... a favorite spot.

The Hammock, which had been so dusty dry the day before, was nicely soggy, but certainly not flooded. I cruised the dirtroads for a while, but the air was so cool, a chilly 70 degrees, that I parked the JEEP and set off into the woods. I carried the tripod just in case, and it came in handy on this solo walk.
The soggy track (closed to vehicular traffic) that I followed twisted and turned as it headed toward the Waccasassa River flowing somewhere ahead. Being an old logging road, it was deeply rutted and the depressions were full of water from good ol' Barry.
I considered slipping my sneakers off and just wading through the puddles, but an abundance of poison ivy and smilax made that idea unappealing. So I walked the track when I could and skirted puddles as they appeared by slipping off the track and into the woods.
It was on one of these puddle avoiding side trips that I glimpsed a massive pine off in the distance. It was too big to ignore so I left the track completely and bushwhacked towards it.

When I got closer, I could see that the pine was dead, but still held branches high above the hardwoods, so it appeared to have not been dead very long. How it escaped being logged, I can't imagine. It's a magnificent straight tree.
Devil's Hammock has only been public lands for a few years and was a working timber land before it's purchase by the state, so it really is remarkable that this tree survived the sawyer.

When I actually arrived at the tree, there was a story to interpret. A massive hardwood tree had fallen so that it's V-shaped trunk straddled the enormous pine shaving off a huge chunk of bark. The impact split the main trunk of the hardwood, so it must have whacked the pine pretty hard.
Yet, it doesn't seem that such a blow or this relatively minor bark damage would kill a pine of this size, so the cause of death is still a mystery. No obvious lightning damage was visible on the pine but there must have been a heck of a storm to snap off the huge hardwood. (This was not a Barry downfall, the leaves were brown and mostly off the hardwood) It was snapped off high up the trunk and the fallen section was still perched atop the break. In the picture above right, I've walked up the angled hardwood tree and am looking back and down at the pine.
So the jury's still out on this mysterious forest scene. Did the hardwood kill the pine? Did a lightning strike kill the pine and then a windstorm slam the hardwood into it? Did the pinebark beetles kill this old pine?

I don't know, but I know this, I'm glad I parked the JEEP and took a hike into a soggy forest and ...
... I will be back.

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threecollie said...

That is an amazing tree. We were really glad to see that you finally got some rain. Barry is here now, and although it would be nice to see the planting juggernaut continue, it is nice to take a break too.

roger said...

nice t-shirt dude. always on the job.

that is a mighty fine pine tree too.

Doug Taron said...

Good news on the rain. I was thinking of some of the Florida bloggers that I've gotten to know when I heard the forcast.

Devil's Hammock looks like a really interesting spot. I wish I had known about it the last time I was down that way.

robin andrea said...

I'm trying to imagine Florida with its original forests. They must have been magnificent, because that old tree is really beautiful.

Cathy said...

"Soggy." Now 'that's' a beautiful word, eh?

I love a mystery tree and I particularly love the smell of a damp woods.

I'm so glad you've got puddles.

scott said...

My money is on pinebark beetles, but trees do die of old age. In the sandy soil of Florida, I'd guess a pine that large was pretty old.

Apparently the rain stayed east of Alabama.

Deb said...

70 degrees and you're not wearing a jacket? :)

I think one of my huge white pines died some time between last summer and now. I'm guessing it was old age.

mockinbird said...

You're inspiring me to go to Guana State Park! I mean right now!

Woops, almost forgot my hat and bug

Mockinbird, gone.

Floridacracker said...

Just what you folks need, more rain.

it's a 24/7 thing.

Devil's Hammock is 6,000 acres of beautiful river bottom hardwoods and cypress/palm hammocks. It's only been public land for about 5 years.

Me too. It's a scene like the 3rd photo that makes me wistful for what was here. We need these reminders so we can imagine what we never had a chance to see.

We are enjoying our puddles while they last.

Could be beetles, but this pine was far from any beetle attracting monoculture pine plantations. The rain did run east.

True, a chilly 70, but lucky me, I'm half Yankee DNA. Whew!

When I was a kid, I was lucky enough to get to camp in Guana (prepark days) with my uncle and cousins. It's a favorite spot still.

SophieMae said...

I just love big ol' trees like that! Megadittoes re the third photo eliciting wistfulness. That 2nd one is pretty awesome, too.

I have to aadmit, though, when I saw pic #4, the mother in me wanted to call out a warning re pine gum. 8-]

Dug that mama gator pic yesterday, as well. And cool shot of the 'rooster tail' behind the JEEP.

( RATS! It won't let me colour the JEEP red. >8\ )

Floridacracker said...

Regarding picture 4, I had not thought about it until your comment, but I never did get any pine gum on me. Makes me think that tree had been dead longer than I originally thought.

Glad you liked the gator momma. I love seeing the two sizes together.

As for picture 3, don't you expect to see Johnny W. come swinging by on a liana?

... that was a test since you passed the Palladin test last week.

SophieMae said...

*heh* You're right! Bet Johnny'd be right at home in there. He swung on some of those vines just up the road a piece here.

We used to play Tarzan over a creek near my grandmother's house. I wasn't the most athletic in the bunch, but I always won the yell contest. 8-]

Floridacracker said...

You passed!
Johnny was the one true Tarzan. Nobody else came close.