By Charlie Feldhake
I have left the 12-foot bole of a dead scarlet oak standing about 20 feet from the back of my house. Leaving it stand is not a popular decision since I live on the edge of a housing development and some sanitized version of healthy ecosystems is expected. However, my back yard includes the edge of a steep hill that starts the 400-foot elevation drop to Beaver Creek and that hill is largely wooded with few homes.
When alive, this tree had a well-placed branch from which I hung a couple of bird feeders that provided much enjoyment during winter months with the feeding activity viewed through the large windows in my back room. I have even seen hawks pounce on birds feeding on the bird seed. Grey and Red Squirrels sometimes frequented my back yard by the dozens.
So, this ragged rotting eyesore is an ecological resource, even though it can no longer support bird feeders. On the back side overlooking the hill there must be a couple of holes because I see Flickers and Robins disappearing from the air, presumably to feed young in nests. This rotting stump is a rare resource in my neighborhood.
It has been interesting to observe the ecology of my neighborhood during the nearly 30 years of my residence. One thing I thought was good was that Raleigh County enacted a leash law for dogs and there were a lot roaming the neighborhood that were sometimes a nuisance. However, with the dogs gone people thought it was safe for cats so we now have cats out the wazoo.
With a neighborhood plagued with cats I no longer have bunny nests in my yard to mow around. I don’t see garter snakes, salamanders, or wood frogs. Without dogs to keep the cats under control the neighborhood has become a wildlife desert. Most people probably don’t notice this unintended consequence of the leash law but we do have some coyotes around that may restore the balance.
I had my dead tree topped a few years ago so it wouldn’t lose branches that would fall on my house. It has a big open gash facing my house that is ragged and shows rotted red wood within. There are remnants of dark bark with bright green lichens still growing that give an interesting contrast in color. Most people think it is unsightly but I think it is beautiful.