Stick shadows in the moonlight

The moon the past few nights has been amazingly bright, like a humongous LED spotlight angling down through the trees, casting stick shadows on the grass and across my desk.

A couple hundred yards away, an owl hoots, perhaps celebrating his having found dinner scurrying among the shadows. Bats, as soon as the night air warms toward summer, will cling to the trees by day, to come among the shadows in the evening and feast on bugs that have been feasting on me. Payback is heck, I’ve heard said.

When I was a kid, big trucks hauled huge trees to the IP — the coloquial name for the International Paper Co. mill about 30 miles from my home. Directly or indirectly, that mill was responsible for a truckload of jobs, from the shops that supplied chainsaws and tractor parts, to the men who went into the woods to cut the trees into logs. To the truck drivers – often the same men who had cut the trees – who hauled the wood to the mill.

Where it was chopped into chips, stirred into water and chemicals, and rolled out to dry as paper for newsprint, magazines and other merchandise.

Did I mention the trees were huge? A full load, often overweight and over height, would have only four or five trees chained down between the side stakes.

By the time I graduated from high school, the same trucks carried the same loads in weight, but the harvest, instead of logs 18 inches or more in diameter, comprised tree trunks maybe 6 inches thick.

Twenty years farther on, I retired from the Navy and returned to my childhood stomping grounds to find loggers driving farther from the mill in search of wood made of even the skinny trees. On the other hand, technology has many of us reading newspapers and magazines on smartphones and tablets and passing business notes in email, and paper-making mills are closing down, putting those loggers and chainsaw sellers out of work.

One tends to become used to the home surroundings, so the size of trees in my youth were, while sort of impressive, not nearly as important as they have become in my chronological seniority. Now, for instance, I realize the reason for harvesting skinny trees is we have cut down all the ones that had, for hundreds of unmolested years prior to chainsaws, been allowed to grow.

Gifford Pinchot’s father noticed, when the youngster was on his way to becoming the nation’s first head forester and two-time governor of Pennsylvania, that it was quite possible to cut down trees and clear-cut mountainsides much faster than new trees could grow replacements. The elder Pinchot had made much of his wealth cutting trees, and he had discovered he was having to move train tracks farther and farther from market if he were to continue cutting trees worth selling.

Trees filter water at a much lower cost than a new wastewater treatment plant. They store huge amounts of carbon, collect dust, and provide shade for young lovers and old rememberers. They become furniture for humans and home to, depending on where on the planet they grow, large cats, tiny frogs, elephants and Panda bears. Birds live in their branches and trunks, and so do bugs – which fall from the branches to feed the fish of Marsh Creek, and thus, indirectly, the Osprey nesting 80 to 100 feet above the rippled waterway.

Trees, it turns out, also are great instigators of mental sightseeing, as they cast their moonlit stick shadows on my backyard stage and across my desk.

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