Monday, April 29, 2013

Our Alaska Forest Refuge

Our house is nestled against an island of forest in a town starved for sun. Many a tree has fallen to the chainsaw as local residents battle to garnish more of that elusive “substance” when it makes an appearance.  Karen and I, too, savor the need to slather on spf 30 sunscreen when we step onto our deck.  Alas, our little woodland blocks that golden orb from descending on us way too often.   On the other side, without our tiny refuge, would we have seen that black bear slip through the trees out our kitchen window, those porcupines nibbling on our prickly salmonberry bushes, or that Sitka black-tailed deer hide her new-born fawn just outside our bedroom window?  In the grand scheme of nature, are they really our woods?

When we moved to Petersburg I occasionally trudged into our woodland acre with my rusty hand saw determined to open up the canopy.  I’d stare up into the limbs of those Sitka spruce, western hemlock, shore pine and yellow cedar, reflecting on how sheltering they feel -- how much warmer it is on the forest floor on a cold winter day-- how much drier during an outflow of liquid from low hanging clouds.  Then I’d walk back inside and put the saw away.  Maybe another time. 

One tree in particular is the worst offender -- a mountain hemlock on the south side of our house.  Years ago I climbed close to the top -- where I got dizzy peering at our red metal roof far below.  My objective --   shorten the specimen.  It grew back thicker than ever.  More recently we pruned several branches, but still the hemlock’s mass stands tall -- a sylvan Dr. Jeckle and Mr. Hyde -- sheltering us from rain and snow and yet capturing too much of our limited sun.

        A Pine Siskin naps on a moss and lichen-covered limb of our Western Hemlock

Karen and I have decided it’s the red squirrel’s tree -- it is the route of several of these feisty rodents to our bird feeders.  It’s the Pine Siskin’s tree.  The Stellers Jays, the Varied Thrushes.  There’s a whole ecosystem on the branches.  Mosses, lichens, ferns, who knows how many species of insects.  There are hatches of moths in early winter, another insect hatch that emerges when winter days creep above freezing -- proving that even bugs can warm our spirits.  I suspect they’re coming from our hemlock.  The rufous hummingbirds that dart around our feeders may well nest somewhere in it’s heights.  It collects many a snow flake every winter to shelter deer that bed down among it’s roots.  And when the raindrops are falling, that pocket of needle strewn ground at it’s base is so much more welcoming than our soggy lawn

                A Sitka Black-tailed Deer with her fawn outside our bedroom window

                           A female Red Crossbill on a hemlock in our "forest"

Yes, as long as Karen and I call this place home, we’ll share our little acre with that hemlock, it’s neighboring forest and the critters that depend on them.  In return they give us a measure of privacy, peace, and our own private refuge from the stresses of life.

An immature Bald Eagle out another bedroom window.  Eagles sometimes fly into our woods with a salmon from Wrangell Narrows, often pursued by another eagle or two intent on stealing it's meal.  During the ensuing squabble the fish crashes to the forest floor where Niko (our dog) finds a pleasing object to roll in.


Cindi said...

I've been hearing hooters too! We think the same thing. The other concern, of course, is windthrow if we open up our stands but it sure is nice to have a world of wildlife right outside the door (or window)!

Don and Karen Cornelius Artwork said...

Yes, I've been hearing those elusive hooters too. We've even had them in our woods a couple of times. Good point about the windthrow.

Di said...

Such lovely pictures, the nature and the wildlife is truly majestic! Alaska seems like paradise!

Don and Karen Cornelius Artwork said...

Thanks, Di: This town was settled by Norwegians supposedly because the scenery reminded them of home. Our biggest celebration of the year is Syttende Mai

Di said...

Hah, I did not know, that's interesting and amusing :). Have a fantastic Sunday you two!