Prerogative Fall 2020 - Page 7

FROM THE EDITOR by Samantha Perry Funeral for a friend: Death of nature’s giant an opportunity for reflection There was no obituary. No hymns. No one standing at an altar sharing stories of his majestic life. He passed out of this world with no fanfare. Standing proud one minute; then taken down by the ravages of time and nature. He was one of thousands gracing southern West Virginia’s woodlands. A proud, majestic oak whose 50-foot-plus tall trunk bore evidence of his advanced age. Some 20 years ago, the last time I’d hiked through this particular section of woods, he was still standing — his giant branching limbs casting shadows and shade on the forest floor. I didn’t remember him specifically, as the large section of land is an abundant old-growth forest — home to squirrels, deer, birds, bear, wild turkeys, other wildlife and, for the past 50 years, a family whose kids and adults have enjoyed hiking and exploring all the nooks and crannies of this wonderful world of nature. Veering off the beaten path while hiking with the dogs on a recent weekend, I noticed the oak’s demise from a vantage point on top of the ridge. He lay on the side of the mountain; his large body and branches having crunched several smaller trees when he crashed to the leaf littered hillside. It was a scene of destruction. The crash to the ground was obviously quick, but who knew what had caused its fall. A quick bolt of lightning? A slow death from disease or injury? Two quick whistles and the dogs ceased their roaming. They’d been intent on following the scent of any and all creatures that had tread the mountaintop in the days before, but now they fell into step beside me as we walked toward the fallen steward of our forest. I couldn’t help but wonder if the tree made a sound when it fell. Normally, I would have had a grin for the appropriateness of the age-old question in this situation, yet the sight of the grandiose oak sprawled and splintered on the ground gave me nothing to smile about. • • • We reached the scene in just a few minutes. With each step closer the full scope of the devastation became more apparent. The oak’s large frame rested atop another tree almost as large. At one time they probably stood a mere five to 10 feet apart. Now, their lifeless bodies were intertwined in a juxtaposition of rotting wood and flaking, decaying bark. With no wildlife biology degree or studies under my belt, I had no idea whether the trees had fallen separately or at the same time during one tragic act. Then I realized it really didn’t matter. No matter how strong and infallible they may appear, these giants in our forests can be as frail as their human neighbors. Destroyed by a single blow or slowly devastated by internal or external factors — some within our control, some not. The dogs, in a constant state of hyper-excitement, reached the trees well before me and began jumping over the trunks and through the branches in an impromptu canine obstacle course. Quickly, I gave the signal for them to go play and chase scent. The sight of their jubilant, tail-wagging dance around the trees didn’t seem appropriate. Taking a seat on a moss-covered rock beside Prerogative Magazine 5