Northeastern Part Of State, Wayne County. Closest Town: Orrville. Four Miles North Of Orrville On State Road 57, Turn East Onto Fox Lake Road. In One Mile, You Will See The Parking Area.
I Was On The Back Roads Again, This Time Driving Through The Wide-Open Agricultural Countryside Of Ohio, Only A Few Miles From My Destination. When I Made The Next Turn, The Speed Limit Dropped And I Entered A Town.
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Passing The Library, The School, The Video Store, And A Handful Of Fast Food Franchises, It Was Hard To Imagine An Old-Growth Forest Nearby. It Was Even Harder To Imagine That 95 Percent Of This State Was Once Covered In Forest. After Passing Through The Small Town, I Found Myself In Cornfields Again, Until My Truck Was Suddenly Enveloped In Shade From The Forest On Both Sides Of The Road. This Was It; I Had Arrived At An Old-Growth Oasis In The Landscape. A Few Other Cars Sat In The Small Parking Area.
The Only Trail Was A Nicely Designed Boardwalk. Just To Be Different, I Decided To Go The “Wrong” Way Around The Loop To See Who Else Was In The Forest With Me. At First I Saw Only A Few Power Walkers And A Couple Who Apparently Wanted To Get Their Overactive Children Out Of The House. They Would Have Been Amazed Had They Known I Drove 650 Miles To Reach This Forest, But Other Than A Quick Hello, I Kept To Myself.
Finally, Near The End Of The Loop, I Passed An Elderly Man Moving Slowly Through The Forest. He Seemed Ill, And I Could See A Clear Plastic Tube Poking Out From Between His Shirt Buttons. I Imagined Him At Home On His Bed Thinking Of One Last Walk In The Forest Perhaps The Last He Would Ever Take. I Imagined Him Making The Extreme Effort To Be Among These Trees. Perhaps He Would Die In This Very Place On This Very Day. It’S Not Such A Bad Place To Die, I Thought.
Dying In Nature Does Not Seem To Be A Goal For Many Americans, But Philosopher Arne Naess Noted That A Dignified Death In Nature Is Important To Many Norwegians. A Poet Who Calls Himself “Antler” Wrote A Poem That Begins, “I Want To Lie Down In Dappled Leaf-Shade, In Quivering Shadows Of Quivering Leaves,” And Ends, “After All Is Said, After All Is Done, This Is The Way I Would Die.”
A Great Deal Of Death Was Happening Here Anyway, As In Any Old-Growth Forest. Johnson Woods Has Impressively Large Specimens Of Oak, Hickory, Beech, And Maple, But Many Of The Big, Old White Oaks Were Reaching The End Of Their Life Spans, And Dead Trees Standing And Fallen Were Everywhere. These Are Indicators Of An Old-Growth Forest. Standing Dead Trees And Large Fallen Limbs And Trunks Mean That The Forest Has Been Left Alone Long Enough For The Natural Processes Of Life And Death To Occur. The Largest, Most Ancient Trees Must Have Witnessed Many Deaths.
My Grandmother Lived To Be A Hundred Years Old, Which Seems Enviable Until You Realize That By The Time She Died She Had Witnessed The Deaths Of Most Of Her Friends And Family Members. I Suppose That As We Get To Old Growth, We Will Experience The Deaths Of Others At Accelerating Rates, Too. When Death Becomes More Commonplace, Does It Become Easier To Accept? Or More Difficult?
Some Of The Dead Trees Here Were Still Standing, And I Was Pleased To See That The Parks Department Had Not Made The Mistake Of Cutting Them Out Of Fear For Visitors’ Safety. Standing Dead Trees Called “Snags” Play An Important Ecological Role In The Forest, Providing Safe Nesting And Resting Places For Many Creatures. In A Standing Dead Tree, There Are Many Cavities And Hollows Up Away From The Forest Floor, Away From The Rain And From Predators. Once A Snag Has Been Cut And Rests On The Soil, It No Longer Provides The Same Type Of Protection. On The Forest Floor, The Cavities Are Exposed To Flooding From Rainwater, To All Sorts Of Crawling Insects, And To Ground-Dwelling Animals That Would Eagerly Feast On Eggs Or Young. Deadwood On The Ground Has Its Own, Equally Important Role In The Forest Ecosystem, But It Is Very Different From The Role That Standing Deadwood Plays. If You Cut The Standing Deadwood In A Forest, You Are Removing Critical Habitat; The Living Trees May Still Be “Old Growth,” But The Forest Won’T Function As A Healthy Old-Growth Forest.
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