Ode to a Snag Tree: True Story
I’ve had a major crush on this snag tree for going on ten years now. Ten years is nothing in the life of a wise old tree, but for me, having only moved to the area in 2014, I count him as one of my first and oldest Ozark friends.
For me, it was love at first sight.
I spent my growing-up years over by the Mississippi River and most of my adult life in central Texas. Now, I live in Fayetteville, Arkansas, not too far from Mr. Snag. He, of course, has never moved from his birthplace in a field near Clifty. And despite his inability to travel or pick up and relocate to an altogether different growing zone, I imagine his life has been a full and busy one.
Can’t you imagine it too?
Through the years, he has selflessly sheltered generations of birds and squirrels and mask-wearing raccoons. All sorts of critters have feasted on his leaves and the insects they attract. Hawks perch on his uppermost branches, and a few bats have sought refuge within the folds of his bark. Perhaps, once upon a time, lovers picnicked on a quilt beneath his dense shade. And maybe a weary traveler rested against his trunk on a starry night.
Each time I travel to Eureka Springs and home again, I notice him standing tall in his field. And although I feel I know his stories by heart, I doubt the snag has ever noticed me.
Until next time, Mr. Snag, I say, waving through my bug-splattered window and hurrying on down the highway toward home.
BUT last week when I saw him, I didn’t rush past. Instead, I pulled over to the side of the road, walked through spongy grass to the cattle gate, and got a good, long look at him. Still, we could only stare at each other from afar. We were separated by yards and yards of grassland not to mention a rude no trespassing sign.
He’s a very handsome snag, a centenarian, if I had to guess. And while he posed for several iPhone pictures, I wished to get close enough to touch his bark. Maybe next time, I thought, when his field was not saturated with recent rainwater and my shoe choice proved better for a trek in deep grass. Of course there will still be the matter of the unwelcoming sign.
I worry he is being held against his will…
Definition of a Snag
If you have a snag tree on your property and it isn’t at risk of falling on a structure or electrical line, why not be a good naturalist and leave it to decompose as mother nature intended?
After all, it makes sense for all God’s creatures. We therefore commit this body to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust…
The Benefits of a Snag
In case you skimmed over my love story above (no judgment from me), here’s a handy list summarizing the benefits of a snag tree.
- habitat for so many animals including bats, woodpeckers & other birds, raccoons, and squirrels;
- a food source (i.e. moss, lichen, fungi, insects);
- a lookout point for hawks and eagles;
- storage for nuts;
- a boost to the soil by returning nutrients as they decay.
Eventually, a Snag Falls
Susceptible to both weather and time, as a snag further decays it will become more hollow and brittle with each passing season. Eventually a snag falls (and yes, even if you aren’t there to hear the crashing sound it makes, plenty of forest creatures do).
It’s bound to happen to any snag left standing. And really, that’s the goal.
If left in place, the snag will continue to provide benefits to nature as a nurse log.
There are several key things that make nurse logs important to seedlings.
- A seedling growing on decaying wood has easier access to fungus and other nutrients;
- Because the seedling begins to grow on top of a log, it likely gets more sunlight than a seedling that falls directly onto the ground and is hidden beneath leaf litter and fern fronds;
- Seedlings that root in decaying wood draw moisture from the wood, even in times of drought; and,
- Seedlings growing on a nurse log may be subject to less pathogens than those growing in soil.
(I learned about nurse logs during a hike around Cane Hill last December. You can read about my experience HERE.)
The Moral of the Story
Every good story has a moral, doesn’t it? And whether or not my story is ‘good’, there are at least two in this one.
Nature knows what she’s doing, so perhaps we should trust her?
Stop and take the picture. There may not be another chance.
Grace Grits and Gardening
Farm. Food. Garden. Life.
If you have acreage, consider leaving snags for nature. According to the National Wildlife Federation, three snags per acre of land is ideal for supporting a variety of wildlife. You can even create artificial snags by trimming limbs of live trees various heights or by using nesting boxes.