Monday, May 12, 2008

Old Trees and Forests, and No Human Whine

I like old trees. Frankly, I like old trees a lot better than I like people. When I'm in an old growth forest I generally know that I'm a good distance from crowds, and that pleases me. It pleases me a lot. Call me a misanthrope if you must; I really don't care.

Whenever my wife and I go on vacation, I'm always on the lookout for groves of old trees or exceptional individuals trees in what are called "remnant" or "relic" positions. The rest of their siblings were felled or paved under long ago, but these lone (or few) trees remain to let us know what we've lost.

On our latest vacation I knew that there were a few such trees in the neighborhood, and so we made plans to visit them. These were classic remnant trees. Just huge old giants surrounded by patches of young forest which, in turn, were surrounded by urban sprawl. The parks I visited in Florida were prime examples of Mankind, at long last, turning rural and wilderness lands into suburban parks. (And even urban parks.) Long gone are the forests which formerly stood. Gone even are the farmlands that, until the last few decades, lay as a kind of buffer for these individual trees against the onslaught of human waves.

Our first visit was to see a pair of trees in a place near Longwood Florida called, appropriately and bluntly, "Big Tree Park". The trees here are The Senator, considered to be the largest (and possibly oldest) living cypress tree. A few yards away from that tree stands "Lady Liberty", its companion. If there is a larger tree than The Senator on the east coast, I've yet to hear of it, and would much like to see it (if it exists). Until then, this one boggles the mind. I first saw it when my dad and his older brother took me to see it when I was a kid. Then, the tree was protected by a flimsy bit of chain link leaning against the trunk. I was able then to walk right up to it and touch the bark. Now, though, one is led to the tree via a long and very well-constructed boardwalk and the tree is behind a substantial steel fence. It's still an impressive sight.

The Senator (3,500 years old)

A few yards farther down the boardwalk is Lady Liberty, another remnant tree. I'm sure the lumber companies would have loved to have taken both of these down and sold the lumber for a tidy profit. But some folk got together and protected these bits of "Old Florida" and here they still stand, after 3,500 years (in the case of The Senator). Cypress trees grow very slowly, so it takes a very long time for them to achieve impressive stature, as trees go. But because they just keep on growing, given time, the cypress tree can reach truly phenomenal sizes. One of the rangers at Blue Springs State Park told me that there was a stump from a logged giant that was 31 feet in diameter. Such a tree! Gone forever, or until such time as Mankind can go away and leave Mother Nature alone.

Lady Liberty (Jove, I hate that name)

A couple of days later we visited De Leon Springs State Park some miles father north of Longwood. I'd heard that there was a big cypress tree in that park, also, and so I hiked to see it. Indeed, there is a nice old tree there. Called "Old Methusala", it's a mere 400-500 years old and, while impressive, is not nearly so huge as its fellows at Big Tree Park. Still and all, it's worth the short stroll into the woods to view this grand old cypress tree.

Old Methusala

After viewing the monster trees, I made many hikes into the woods and several float trips into the St. Johns River where I was able to view groves of various broadleaf and evergreen trees. None of them were particularly old or large, but given time, and a lack of molestation from my own species, they'll once more sport vast stands of trees like The Senator, Lady Liberty, and Old Methusala.

I hope our ancestors are around to see such a thing.

But I rather doubt it.

Waiting For You To Go

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