Across the two roads that run parallel to each other and my front porch, there is a patch of woods about a mile long and more or less 150 yards wide — more in some places and less in others — but with trees enough throughout its length that it qualifies as “woods” or at least the closest thing to “woods” within walking distance of my house.
Nobody is going to get lost in the Lowell Branch woods, at least not for very long, because sooner or later, even if they lay down and died, a local dog would find them and commence barking its fool head off, which is not to imply that anybody pays much attention to barking dogs in our neighborhood. Even I, about 20 years ago, developed the ability to sleep right through the incessant barking of dogs and way too many coyotes. Sometimes it seems that they are in a form of canine competition to see which can be the most aggravating.
Both used to worry me at night, but now I’d worry if I didn’t hear something barking in the background of my dreams.
Anyway, the terrible ice storms that hit central and southeastern Kentucky in the late 1990s and right after the turn of the century wreaked havoc on the Lowell Branch woods such that many, if not most, of the trees suffered injuries from which they may never fully recover. In fact, I can sit on my porch and count more than a dozen that are either dead already or so badly crippled that they will be dead long before they make full utility of the seeds from which they sprouted.
It is not uncommon for me to be sitting on the porch soaking up the stillness of the day with not even the faintest of breezes astir nor a single dog barking when all of a sudden I will hear a very loud crash in the woods across the way that was caused by a heavy, dead oak, poplar, sycamore, wild cherry, ash, elm or hickory limb falling, from on high, to the very roots of its raising.
Just last week, before the weather changed from balm to bluster, I was sitting out there trying to spot, through a set of those little racetrack binoculars, the northern flicker I had earlier glimpsed bare eyed when it flew into the woods.
I could hear it loudly hammering on a tree trunk and even hear small chunks, the residue of its industry, falling into the leaves on our mini-forest floor. I supposed it to be somewhere on a dead, limbless, poplar sapling standing as naked and three times taller than a power line pole at the very edge of the woods and right beside the little creek we call Lowell Branch.
About the same time I lowered the tiny field glasses, the sapling toppled with a cracking crash and tremendous splash into the creek despite the fact that not even the faintest of breezes was in evidence.
To put this phenomenon into proper perspective, the night before it happened we’d had one of those peculiar late December thunderstorms, replete with howling wind and blowing rain so fiercely against the house that I feared for the siding which had been ripped off once before in a gale of seemingly less ferocity.
However, both our house and the rotten poplar sapling withstood the fury.
But, apparently, the sapling had been so shaken by the storm that it could be and was, in fact, toppled over for eternity by the antics of a hungry woodpecker.
Okay, when I sat down, at the keyboard, to write this column it was going to be about three hawks that compete for chipmunks and other table fare in the Lowell Branch Woods, but, for some strange reason I never quite made it to that subject. Now I am hours beyond The Mountain Eagle’s deadline and that one will have to wait until next week.
Here’s hoping that The Eagle editor, Ben Gish, is sitting at his desk, twiddling his thumbs in Whitesburg and betting on the come.
Reach longtime Enterprise columnist Ike Adams at [email protected] or on Facebook or 249 Charlie Brown Road, Paint Lick, KY 40461.