We've left our forest at Windrock largely to its own devices. Our family still takes a small amount of cord wood from standing dead trees or blow down, but by and large the wind and the deer and the Hemlock woolly adelgid are the primary influences on the current condition of the woods. When I walk through these woodlands, as I had occasion to do this past weekend, I carry with me the long view afforded by nearly four decades of personal connection, coupled with a naturalist's eye for the patterns and processes at work here. The trees and the stones and the thick layers of duff on the forest floor have stories to tell and hold clues to the future.
Everything that grows, thrives or fades away in a terrestrial habitat or ecosystem can be understood as the result of three powerful influences: geology, climate, and disturbance. My grandparents' property in Wareham lies on a great smear of glacial overburden laid down during the last ice age. There are granite erratics like the one that gives the place its name "Windrock", and poor, well drained soils that perk well and feed groundwater to the regional Plymouth-Carver Sole Source Aquifer.
The woods run down to within sight of the bluff and the bay and tree species change as the wind and the salt air determine which ones can endure and which must remain further back in the company of their taller brethren. Here you will find Atlantic white cedar and pitch pine and scrub oak and green brier, and in recent decades tangles of oriental bittersweet and Japanese honeysuckle vine, but not the white pines that shun the salt and require a bulwark against the wind. Here, too, are Doug fir and jack pine and even an English oak, for this is not a landscape devoid of human impact.
While the hurricane and the ice storm and the long suppressed but still feared wildfire have great effect, the forest is neither primeval nor is the best ecological option to blithely let "nature take its course." Nature does not work in a vacuum anymore. The legacy of human land use alters everything.
There are stone walls running through the woods. One of these clearly marks a property line, though the division of land likely came after the stone fence was laid and not before. This was open pasture in the 1800s, and sheep grazed the broom sedge that now clumps in the openings near the shore but not in the shade of the trees. When my Grandparents acquired the property in 1947 the forest was younger, the trees lower, and the species composition different than one finds today. There were many more pitch pines back then: early successional species that require periodic fire to germinate and reduce competition from oaks and other species. Those few that remain in the woods today have stretched to their maximum heights to find space in the canopy, and none are regenerating. The slow growing oaks - black, scarlet and white - are nowhere a significant component of the forest except in the scrub near the bluff, for they are subject to the predation of deer and are shaded out by fast growing white pine. The hemlock stands in the forest have suffered under the invasive adelgid onslaught and most of these trees are dead or dying now. A few sassafras, the odd birch near the barn, a clone or two of invasive locust and some wild holly may been seen, but the rest of the forest is single-aged white pine, and when it goes down in a big wind the blow down can be extensive.
There are places in the forest where there are distinctive mounds and depressions in the soil: cups and pillows that mark where giants fell. You can tell by their orientation the direction of the wind that brought the shallow rooted trees down, and whether it was a winter nor'easter or an onshore hurricane. White pine seedlings sprout in these canopy openings.
There are many deer in the woods, and heavy browse lines crop the rhododendrons. There are Cooper's hawks and foxes and eastern box turtles near the forest edge. There is a vernal pool with polliwogs in spring. There is room for 4 approval not required house lots on the road at the end of the property if we are unable to conserve it through a conservation transaction with the town and local land trust. Currently we are hung up on the limited forest management rights we wish to retain. Hopefully we will navigate this as we have other obstacles and have something to celebrate this summer.