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ON THE VIRTUES OF DEAD WOOD BY CRAIG THOMPSON • ARTWORK BY MARY THOMPSON

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mmediate occupancy, five stories, wood siding, great view, lovely neighborhood, although a couple neighbors are squirrely. That’s how an ad would read for the large, dead oak down the road. Years have passed since spring dappled its branches with olive green buds. Now leafless, it stands with ashen limbs outstretched as if paying homage to the sun that formerly gave it life. It’s a good bet this silent giant witnessed skies heavy with passenger pigeons, the Earth’s most abundant bird prior to their sudden, tragic extinction. We can only imagine what transpired under acornladen boughs as decades passed. Oh, that trees could whisper their secrets. Even now, more than two centuries after filamentous roots first tethered it to soil, several winters since the last curled leaf was whisked away by arctic winds, the tree gives life. Dead trees, it turns out, are one of nature’s most valuable commodities. Any conservationist worth his or her weight in cicadas knows the importance of dead trees. A wellspring of life, a large “snag” in the parlance of biologists, supports myriad creature large and small. They are nature’s condominiums. It’s no surprise dead trees, much like their living counterparts, go through stages that over time support a variety of wild creatures. Shortly after a tree’s demise, fine twigs at the ends of branches are broken off by Chimney Swifts (a.k.a. “the flying cigar” birds) during dare devil fly-bys. Twigs are then cemented together and attached to the inside of chimneys with swift saliva, a durable avian glue that will support the weight of little swifts until fledging. Twigless branches quickly become prime real estate, providing ideal perches for a procession of birds. Hungry hawks, high-speed hummingbirds and flitting flycatchers take advantage of unobstructed views. Within a year, bark begins to loosen, providing hiding places for insects and roosting bats. It’s also a favored location for hardy butterflies that overwinter as adults – the beautifully patterned Tortoiseshells, Commas, Question Marks, and even the regal Mourning Cloak find refuge under bark blankets. As insects gather, woodpeckers follow. No group of birds has a greater fondness for dead wood. Seven species inhabit the Driftless, ranging in size from the diminutive Downy, smartly attired in crisp black and white, to the crow-sized Pileated, a breathtaking behemoth of a bird, with a fire red crest. Its resonant laughter echoes across valleys, conjuring images of forests primeval. Bark flies hither and yon as they search for beetle and ant larvae, re-sculpting the tree’s exterior. Small bark flakes that escape the woodpecker’s chisel may be collected by resourceful White-breasted Nuthatches for nest lining.

iloveinspired.com \ Fall 2021

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Profile for Inspire(d) Media

Inspire(d) Fall 2021  

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Inspire(d) Fall 2021  

Change is Good! Inspire(d)’s 14th Anniversary Issue! • Decorah Prairie • Community Builders: Craig & Sara Neuzil • Melissa Wray • Josh Herte...

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