LMRD 670, July 13th, 2018
Big Trees, Big RiverBig Log, Big River, Big Canoe
Intro: the 29' Grasshopper Canoe is nudging a whale of a log in above photo. A recent expedition down the Muddy Waters Wilderness section of the Lower Miss resulted in the discovery of this woody giant. It appeared to be sweetgum. A ghost from the past? A blue log released from the depths in recent flooding? Some undiscovered patch of virgin forest somewhere upstream?Big Trees, Big River
(Photos and Story by John Ruskey. Feel free to share, but also credit appropriately!)Another perspective: canoe is 29 feet long and 54 inches wide!
Last week we were padding downstream past Wood Cottage RBD 617 when I spied it hung up on the muddy bank. Even from the middle of the navigation channel the log appeared to be a big one. We could see an absurdly broad crenellated trunk which erupted like a cylindrical volcanic plug from the monster of a rootball.
The rootball was maybe 15' in diameter, but once much broader, the river had clipped and carved and then smoothed all root ends. The tiled woody trunk was around 7' dia at the four foot line (above ground level). The trunk was tiled in the way typical to sweetgum drift (note: every tree has its characteristic patterns as it decays)Every once in a while we come across giant logs like this one. For us it's like discovering fossil skeletons from the past, like finding the bony mineralized remains of the mega fauna. They tell a story. They are a sober reminder of what we've lost.
This discovery begs several questions: 1) Where did this big tree come from? And 2) where are the other big trees?
Biggest Trees East of the Sierra Madres?
What came first: the Big River or the Big Tree?
Teddy Roosevelt said that the biggest trees he saw in North America outside of the West Coast were growing along the Big Sunflower River in the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta. Archival photos, such as those seen at the Delta Cultural Center in Helena, depict the incredible dimensions of these woody dinosaurs, some as big as the logging trains involved in their removal.
I've often wondered why Roosevelt didn't protect the big trees he witnessed in the Lower Mississippi Valley. He created many of America's National Parks and other preserves all over the Rockies and Sierra Madres, protecting giant sequoias and redwoods, amongst others.
Why not here in the land of the biggest trees in the middle of America? Maybe it was similar to our human response to the poor passenger pigeon. They seemed to be infinite. The woods were so big and extensive, 25 million acres of woods from the Ohio to the Louisiana lowlands -- there was no way they could ever be threatened by the wanton ambitions of mankind.
Was the landscape so big that protection seemed laughable?
As the Amazon today exemplifies, no landscape is bigger than the greed of Homo Sapiens. The "Oh My God" bird, the ivory-billed woodpecker, needed big woods to survive. In the decades following Roosevelt's bear hunting, we cut the woods, and the ivory-billed woodpecker followed the passenger pigeon into oblivion.
The good news for the Lower Miss (as opposed to the Amazon) is that it comes back. Stop cutting the woods and they naturally re-seed and mature. The seedlings here are self-propagating through birds, floods and other natural causes. The topsoil is so deep and so rich that no additional nutrients are needed. (In the Amazon there is no renewal unless you can physically rebuild the topsoil -- because there is no topsoil).
So the consolation for us modern day Lower Mississippians is that we can reverse trends, and easily bring back more woods. And if we protect some piece of some forest on some island or some floodplain, we might even see some of the big trees return. Well, I mean our children will see the big ones. It's too late for us. How about we start with an experimental 5,000 acres somewhere? This would be an excellent time to do this, for our children, our grand children, and amny generations to come.
If you've ever stood below the hulking monolith of a cypress tree at Sky Lake near Belzoni, MS (the co-champion bald cypress of North America, perhaps the largest in the world) you will know immediately what I am talking about.
If you haven't visited, go do so! Sky Lake WMA is a public park; there is a boardwalk built over the old river channel, now a thriving swamp, sometimes wet, sometimes dry, to reach this living giant. PS: the other co-champion is found at Cat Island WMA near St. Francisville, LA, not far from the big river. Also well-worth the visit.
In the meantime, we will have to use our imaginations, and enjoy these momentary glimpses into the glorious past, as seen in the giant logs that periodically wash up along the sandbar islands and muddy banks of the Lower Mississippi River.
Logs Create Habitat:
We all know that the river is the life-giving force that makes it all happen. But each creature has its particular traits and habitat. Logs -- and all driftwood -- are a surprisingly important habitat. Logs provide sanctuaries for life otherwise not possible. What else did we see around logs on this expedition? See below for examples of how logs accentuate the diversity of life:Creole Pearly Eye Butterflies feed on bacteria found on Coyote Poop -- on top of LogSpotted Gar fish in Eddy Line swirling below LogLogs Capture Man-Made Trash, such as this Section of Poly-Pipe Turtles Sun-Bathe on LogsA Spotted Water Snake hunting below Roots on Muddy River BankMore Photos: What else did we See and Experience on last week's Expedition?
Overhanging Willows and Green Water in Mellwood ChuteViceroy Butterfly with Injured Wings (capturing dew drops in spiral tongue!)
Algal Bloom in Mid-Island Depression, Is. 67The American Duchess, Newest (and perhaps ugliest) Paddlewheel Steamboat on the Lower Miss
Update from the Lower Mississippi River Foundation:
The LMRF has a new website! You can check it out at lowermsfoundation.org. While your there you can see stories and pictures from our summer camps in the blog, look at some of the programs LMRF will be offering this year. You can also sign up to be on LMRF's newsletter for specific LMRF updates!
Lower Mississippi River Dispatch
"Voice of the Lower Mississippi River"
Published by the Quapaw Canoe Company since 1998
Celebrating our 20th Anniversary Year in 2018