Have you ever wandered through the woods behind your house? In a time fraught with development and clear-cutting of old-growth forests, this land is pretty remarkable. Before large-scale logging came along, forests across the US held a great diversity of ecological communities. The canopy trees were well over 300 years old, and on the forest floor were scattered huge fallen logs. These downed logs sprouted mosses and saplings, returned nutrients to the soil and provided shelter for the animals. In such a forest, many vegetative layers existed between the floor and tops of the trees, supporting a wide variety of flora and fauna. Today, however, such lush forests are extremely rare in most of this country.We along Jocelyn Hollow are lucky enough to live in the midst of some of the only remaining old growth forests.
Click here to see the rings of a Chestnut Oak tree from the top of the hill between Wayside Court and Rolling Fork. This long, pencil-width section was extracted using a forestry tool to age trees. The dark and light bands show the seasonal growth of the tree, with each pair of dark and light bands representing one year's growth. The tree is over three feet in diameter, but we were only able to drill in 2/3 of the way to the center. We know that the tree was growing at least as far back in time as the 1700s, before our Constitution was written, maybe as far back as the 1600’s.
In our woods, this tree is not unique. The other surrounding Chestnut Oaks are of similar ages. This forest was present back when eastern cougars, black bears, and red wolves were still abundant, before being hunted to the brink of extinction. Native hunter-gathering people likely feasted off of the acorns that fell from these very trees. Chestnut Oak acorns are perhaps the choicest acorns to eat (once you have properly soaked out the tannins). They are the big fat acorns that fall every couple of years from the trees at the tops of the hills where the soil is relatively dry. These hilltops are the oldest part of our forests, the parts that loggers never reached. But lower down the hill, the woods are no less remarkable. Most of the large trees in our forests are well over 100 years old, having sprouted back in the mid 1800s.
Our woods boast of scrumptious Paw-Paw and Persimmon fruits, giant Tulip Poplars, Shagbark Hickories and Sweetgums. Typically, Sassafras trees grow to a maximum height of about 50 feet, with the "largest" recorded individual (factoring in both diameter and height) being 90 feet tall. Yet, right here on Wayside Court, there is a Sassafras that has reached the exceptional height of over 110 feet. This is not to mention the high-quality creek, and various native birds, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and ancient fossils here, or the rich cultural artifacts remaining on the landscape. As forests are cleared and animals are displaced, all of this is lost.
Take a look at the maps. Large portions of the property maps are currently owned by private companies that have planned much denser housing for our area. You can see the beginnings of this development on the satellite photos. As our population grows and people spread out across the landscape, we have the opportunity to choose which ecosystems we will let be destroyed, and which we wish to preserve.
What can we do? If you want to get involved, email NatureNoah@gmail.com.