For scale, this is a shot of one venerable pin oak in my back yard. (There are two.) This tree is probably not a hundred years old. The house was built in 1962; the oak has lived on for fifty-eight years, and might have been twenty or thirty years old when it and its friend were saved as a feature of the property. It could not have been very old, or the construction would have damaged its root system.
Going on from there, I want you to think how rarely, when you walk through a woodland, or state park forest, you see trees of this girth. Only areas preserved to protect significant trees are likely to have many several feet in circumference. “Old-growth” forest, of course, has trees of all ages, part of any habitat’s continual recreation of itself. But a hundred-year-old tree today still was born in the twentieth century. The woods and all they support: birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects, fungi, mosses, shrubs, wildflowers, ferns, etc., have to have been sustained in close to their condition when the most endangered species thrived there, for those species to thrive today.
Logged land that has grown back since the 1920s may look old, but represents a minor span in the history of—let’s say for the sake of argument—the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. If we want to believe some undiscovered population is still alive, we have to believe there are woods left alone from the time the last one was seen (1944, in the Singer Tract, which was destroyed). If, in the United States, no habitat for the Ivory-billed has been sustained since the 1940s, having the same mix of trees, allowed to live and die as nature dictates, then the survival of the species is unlikely.
All of which warns us that we can’t fall for restoration as the reassuring answer to environmental depredation. It’s easy to say that forests cut down can be replanted. Restoration projects are important and need to continue. But plans for the future, or the fact that it’s possible to make them, should not become an acceptable compromise against preservation.
Only commitment to both preserve and limit wild areas to human access will slow the rate of extinction, erosion, watershed alterations that lead to drought, and other effects we are running out of time to forestall.
I don’t take the trouble to label my daylilies, so I don’t know what their names are, but this is one of my favorite oranges.
And here’s a deep pink.
And here is the front border by the driveway, already looking good with a lot of pinks and whites, but several more blooms to come.