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COLUMN: Diseased beech part of forest's circle of life

Beware false prophets when it comes to the trees and wildlife of the forest and its life cycle, warns nature columnist
A beech tree bears the evidence of the ravages of a disease.

Good morning everyone. Let us now turn to the Book of Nature and, using our sense of humour to sate our quest for knowledge, read the following passage:

Chapter I

1. In the beginning (or shortly thereafter) there was the forest, and it was good. The trees, the flowers, the birds, the insects, indeed every living thing, lived in a balanced harmony within the eternal cycle of birth, death and birth again;

2. Yea, the soil gave life to the trees and the trees gave forth fruits to the animals. And lo, when the trees died, they were replaced by more trees — younger, stronger and full of new life;

3. And it would come to pass that even these young trees would eventually become old and diseased, and be able no longer to provide shade and oxygen. But within their rotting bodies they gave shelter to legions of creatures, many of which were multi-legged;

4. And as the wood boring creatures grew and multiplied they became confined and would set forth to create new and extended tunnels within the decay of the tree. There was much munching and crunching and creating of saw dust as they moved forth;

5. Verily, this munching and creating of saw dust attracted the attention of the passing woodpecker, who, being hungry and in want, tore asunder the protective bark of the dying tree. And he feasted mightily;

6. Day became night, then day again, this cycle repeating for many revolutions of the Earth; and still the giant woodpecker of the red cap, for Pileated was his name, returned to the tree which gave up its tenants as the bark and wood were rent deeper and deeper;

7. And the day came on which the tree could no longer hold itself upwards of its own accord, and with a crack and a swoosh, lay down in a heap most tangled;

8. Henceforth the sun shone mightily, and the hole in the forest soon became filled with new life. And the rotted tree, whose falling had caused such a hole, became soil and food for this new life.

Chapter II

1. And lo, it came to pass that this forest became a place of dwelling for many people. They came from areas of cititude and urbanage, fleeing the social pressures and sickening air, the cry of the unattended car alarm, and the wail of police sirens.

2. They came to escape, to live in the country, for they heard it was good.

3. And it was good, so they called to their brethren to come and join with them, so that all could experience the solitude and quietness together. And their brethren heeded the call, and brought with them their baggage;

4. Leading these crowds to the new land were the Developers, called forth by the people to create rural dwellings suitable to their urban desires. And lo, the developers rubbed their hands together and offered their services, at a fee, to meet the desires of the city people;

5. And it came to pass that bulldozers and dump trucks preceded the coming of the crowds, and much earth was moved and many trees taken or destroyed;

6. Under the dark cloud of diesel exhaust, many of the forest animals escaped, they themselves now seeking new homes in other lands that no longer existed;

7. But the trees could not move and thus were forced to stay and made to suffer the indignities of chafed bark and severed roots. Many which survived the blade and backhoe soon became festooned with advertising signs of many gay and bright colours.

Chapter III

1. And it came to pass that one day a resident emerged from his dwelling and noticed a change had occurred within the beech tree which grew upon his own front yard;

2. Lo, large holes had appeared, and a woodpecker of large proportions was renting the tree asunder;

3. Woe unto me, the resident moaned, for he saw his abode was well within the reach of the old tree. When the bird of destruction weakens the tree too far, he lamented loudly to all who would hear, my roof shall be in desperate need of repair, woe unto me indeed;

4. That night he had a dream, and in his dream he heard the woodpecker talk, and it said unto him, I shall make it come to pass that the large beech of your own front yard shall rush earthwards and crush your roof asunder;

5. The next day the resident told many of his dream and asked not for an interpretation of it, for he was already a learned man, and knew that he must destroy the woodpecker. For to rid the forest of the bird would be to make him a hero to all others who have chosen live beneath large tree branches;

6. On the appointed day, a crowd of some proportion gathered to witness the slaying of the woodpecker, for they too had abodes within the forest and feared greatly the chiselling prowess of the woodpecker;

7. And by chance there passed by a birdwatcher of quiet voice and large binoculars. Upon hearing the purpose of the gathering, he spoke out in a clear voice:

8. Slay not the woodpecker, he pleaded, for tis not the bird which causes your fear and sorrow. Yonder tree has become afflicted with diseases, and has been so for some time passed;

9. Verily, as the crowd watched, their eyes were opened, for they saw dead branches in great multitude, fungus thick upon the rotting bark, and signs of wood boring insects within the wounds of the bark;

10. Your dream was a false one, they cried to the resident, the woodpecker kills not your tree, for the tree was already in a state of dying, the woodpecker is but cleansing the wood of carpenter ants;

11. And then the resident, who was much ashamed, sent forth a message to a goodly tree surgeon, pleading for the removal of the offending tree. And it came to pass that this was done, with much ado as to the fee charged for this act;

12. And it came to pass that the cycle of life, death and life again continued. For when the large and diseased beech was removed, its clearing let the sun beat down mightily upon the ground, and dormant seeds took root, and soon the area was alive with many sons of the beech.

Thus endeth today's story.