Afterlife of a Black Oak

As I sat by the woodstove reading this afternoon, the corner of my eye caught movement outside the window. Strangely, this movement coalesced in my mind as an antlered buck, though on second glance nothing was outside out all.

I felt impelled to go out looking for this buck. It's two in the afternoon - how long will it take me to find a buck in the woods?

It's silly to ignore a tug at the heels from the world outside, so I headed out back - into the young woods of red maple and tulip poplar and multiflora rose.

It only took me until I got to the first witch hazel (entering the old woods, I thought to myself) to see the buck. He didn't have quite the majestic antlers I had envisioned, and he bounded away and over the gentle ridge in seconds. So: it takes about five minutes to find a buck in the Sourlands. (Note to hunters, and to NJ Fish & Wildlife, too.)

So what was that "tug at the heels" all about?

Out of the corner of my eye (again), I saw movement. This time, a red fox. Lanky, searching, tiptoes across a fallen tree.

When I lost the red fox in the distant zigzag of large trunks, I walked over to that fallen tree.

It was a black oak. It fell in the winter, about two years ago. The fox had left a communique - a perfectly formed little scat, inexplicably topped (already) with a chip of hickory or walnut shell. What had I missed in the three minutes it took me to get to the prone trunk?

Could the nut-chip wedged in the top of the fresh scat be from the scat being rolled after it hit the tree-trunk? Other nut shells were scattered nearby on the trunk, and they all pre-dated the fox scat.

The black oak had changed since I last paid it attention. Signpost for foxes, table for squirrels. Sponge for forgotten rains slowly drunk by mosses on the outside and fungi inside.

What else happens on an old black oak, two years into its afterlife? I explored further, with camera in hand.

Scat composed of nut fragments

Cache of partially consumed wild grapes

Squirrel(?) scat tucked into upturned rootball

The rootball contained numerous intriguing chambers

Acorn caps and hickory nuts, nutmeats consumed, tucked into a chamber in the rootball

Despite weeks of sub-freezing night temperatures, this little red maple seedling still had green leaves. It was sheltered in the hollow created when the black oak rootball tipped up.

The black oak's buds were still recognizable two years after death. How particular is the niche for this little spider? It could be a twoyearsdeadblackoakbud spider for all I know.