Many old faces

Many old faces

By Rod Myers, Naturalist

I recently strolled along a river in a Winnebago County forest preserve where I saw a lot of old faces. The old faces were on the elderly trees along the river banks, backwaters and other low areas adjacent to the river. No two old faces were alike, except for the similarity that most were silver maples with bulging reddish buds.

There were young faces around, but it looked like most had been tended by beaver. Several birds called tufted titmice were laughing for the old trees because the old faces knew most of them were safe as long as there were young trees around. To the young trees, tufted titmice can only laugh sadly.

The wind wasn’t moving that day, but the water was; some of it was filling the crooks and nannies of the backwater areas. I’m sure the fish following the trespassing extra water were finding the roots of the elder trees. The fish will feed in the new liquid spaces, gleaning but not harming the few exposed roots as they, the fish, eat things big and things too small to be seen. The mere metabolism and excrement eliminated by the fish will pay the trees back with food. Some say this is what helps give the old faces their spring smile.

The woodpeckers know the meaning of an old face on a tree because they work hard on them. The old face is the tree’s exterior including the cavities. The woodpeckers are attracted to the older trees as they have more insects. The woodpeckers peck, drill and use their tongues searching for food. The old faces relish insect removal by woodpeckers, but more than 100 other species of birds remove insects at one time of the year or another. Even on the outermost surface of the old faces where you would think insects could not hide or escape the cold, small larvae freeze only to thaw out alive in the spring to consume part of the tree before changing into an adult insect. Many frozen larvae, however, do not escape the eyes of certain wintering birds who eat them. In the duality of life, the old faces know there are good bugs, too, and with those they have good relations.

In an old, established native environment, the mature and older trees dominate the land. In a river system, one of their chief attributes is securing the soil along the river banks with their immense root systems. But in extreme floods, the intense force of water plus dislodged objects may sometimes take the life of an old face by sweeping it away. Ironically, a big tree uprooted becomes a crashing threat to other trees and manmade structures. The uprooting of trees is much more likely in areas where man has altered the river banks. Good river ecology goes way beyond the water’s edge.

When in the midst of the old faces, a warm, lifelong familiar feeling embraces. It’s an old security, an ancient family. The old faces tell you by their expressions that you are in their home and question you if you want it as yours. They are our old friends as sure as they stand among each other as friends with common purpose. And we can feel their purpose when we read their old faces through our emotion, their expression, and, if you can see this picture, with nothing wrong. It’s the old faces holding, holding and holding on, each with a different, yet familiar, warm expression. Each with the intention of serving his Earth and Earth’s life.

In the drawing, a peachleaf willow frames a river fisherman; though the old face is extremely bent and suffered a massive trunk split, it is still alive as evidenced by dozens of fresh shoot branches sprouted like so many pins in a cushion. This old face, despite its challenges, still serves its community well.

Rod Myers is a local resident with an interest in the environment and disability issues. He has an associate’s degree in science and a bachelor’s in fine arts. Rod is a member of the Audubon Society, the Wild Ones Natural Landscapers and Rockford Amateur Astronomers, Inc.

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