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Fallen Cottonwood

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Strong winds howled as I sat by a window at midnight in my writing room. Though I should have felt secure, I was uneasy. No trees were near that would crush the roof and me. A few weeks previous, a large black cherry tree leaned toward the house and I was troubled it might deliver a crushing blow. I hired a tree service to remove that tree before it could crush the carport and enter the house uninvited above my writing chair. 

The tree inspector showed me three holes at the base of the tree and agreed, “Yes, this tree should be removed.” That week two workers brought a truck with a lift bucket that carried one man with a chainsaw to the tree top where he brought down branches and finally the main trunk in sections. They safely prevented damage to our home before frightening winds did more than caress forest trees. 

The workers removed several trees along the power line that stretched through the woods to the neighbors from our front yard utility pole. The neighbors told me they frequently experienced power outages and the utility company said the wire to their house only had a three-foot right of way unlike the wire from the road to the pole in our yard that had a 15-foot right of way for tree clearing. 

It was good fortune I hired the tree clearing before the end of spring when storm activity is prone to increase. Two large sugar maples stand fast and strong near the house. Neither has given us reason to anguish because we are not in an area prone to tornados or hurricanes but people killing storms have occurred in nearby communities during past decades. We maintain an open yard so other trees are a safe distance from the house. 

Living with nature’s temperamental behavior is something we prepared for and anticipated. During the 22 inches of rain received during a short period in the fall 1986, we discovered our foresight was correct regarding whether it was safe to purchase our home. I looked at what I thought would be the streams water level if the 100-year deluge arrived. Within a decade after our home purchase the flood came. We incurred no long-lasting damage.

Flooded driveway at Ranger Steve’s home in 1986.

Outside I waded the stream and stood chest deep in flowing water that during fall was normally two inches deep in a narrow stream channel. The stream had become about 200 feet wide and the driveway near the road was under water. Patrolling police attempted to drive up the drive to check on us but stopped when they thought the water might flood their engine. They wisely backed to safety. 

During a recent wild windy night, a storm front passed and was followed by five inches of rain. The floodplain confined the torrent that moved downstream from Little Cedar Creek to join Cedar Creek, the Rogue River, and the Grand River where floodwater would inundate homes built within the flood zone. Whether those people retained high school earth science lessons about 100-year floods or anticipated safe purchase is obscure. 

After the storm, I walked Ody Brook trails to check for fallen trees. Some of the ash trees killed by the emerald ash borers a few years ago were down and required chainsaw removal from paths. We named a pond Walden’s Pond after our grandson. He is now almost three and has not been to grandpa and grandmas to inspect his pond because of the stay-at-home order to protect his life from COVID-19. Soon he will walk around Walden’s Pond.

There he will discover a large cottonwood tree with a Wood Duck nest box that is no longer standing. The tree fell across the pond and Pond Loop Trail. The winds laid the tree over the south end of the pond near the dam that holds water for slow release into the brook trout stream. The powerful tree crash dislodged the nest box where it remains in the pond. Soon it will be retrieved to determine if ducklings were killed by the spring storm. The nest box appears mostly in tack and when repaired will be erected again. This time it will be placed on a post in the pond to prevent squirrel nesting. When the house was affixed to the tree three years ago, squirrels claimed it. In the pond, use will be restricted for tree cavity duck nesting. 

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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