Monday, January 07, 2008

I don't need no stinkin GPS

I value being comfortable in the outdoors. Being able to start a fire, read a map, knowing where I am, dressing for the weather.

My reaction was mixed when a relative gave me a GPS for Christmas. I do like gadgets.
My first thought was "GPS? I don't need no stinkin GPS". I couldn't resist the curiosity, though, and a played with it a little bit. Soon the novelty wore off and I left it on a shelf.

January 4th, the thaw hit. By morning the hard crusty snow was soft and slushy. Animal and people tracks from the day before were obliterated. For the first time since fall I noticed fresh coon tracks, easy to follow. I thought it would be fun to get one of my sons and follow the tracks to see what the coon was up to. Maybe we could find his den.

Having the boys with me didn't work out. I got a quick refresher course from my oldest son on the workings of the GPS and headed out on my own.

I found myself electronically marking property corners, brush piles, deer beds and of course, a coon den. In my mind, every time I marked something I was showing it to my sons. Of course if I had been with my sons I would have been talking too much, which is what I tend to do.

Who knows if they will ever try to find the points I marked. Maybe they will, and I enjoyed showing them all kinds of things even though they weren't there.

I will eventually find uses for this little contraption.


The tracks of the coon near our house got trampled by dogs, kids and me, so I went walking to find others. Not a hard thing to do. The coons were out. I found good tracks near the border of some private land and state land. The state land was logged a couple of years ago.

An interesting note, the brush is pretty thick in the logged area, as I would expect. What I didn't expect was sign of heavy human activity. Someone, from the DNR I suspect, had been out with a chain saw cutting non-native buck thorn. Seems like a losing battle to me. They'll have to do that for years to have any effect. How do you wipe out a plant like that when you have birds pooping little seeds all over? I wonder if they factor the cost of that into the economic benefit of logging.

If the brush is hard to walk through, the slashed brush and little stumps stained with blue weed killer are almost impossible to navigate. The coon evidentally agrees and stays out of the brushy mess.

I follow his perfect little hand prints in the soft sticky snow. When he comes upon a down tree he jumps up and walks along the length of the log, making his tracks disappear for a stretch. He knows where the logs span deep washouts and uses them as bridges, slippery enough to make me wary of following his lead. His path seems to be from one big rotting log to the next. I see rotten wood chips freshly strewn in the snow where he was tearing through the rotten wood to get at something.

I'm thinking about bugs, In the fall box elder bugs gathered by the thousands on the southern exposure of our house. I tried vacuuming them up, but there seemed to be an endless supply of them hiding in nooks and crannies. I ended up with gallons of bugs from one side of the house.

This winter, on a ledge in the garage where the electric line comes in I found a big pile of box elder bug wings and legs. What happened to the bodies? Closer inspection revealed mouse poop mixed in with the bug parts.

It appears I have found the table of a feast that lasts all winter. There is someone who likes box elder bugs. Looking at the rotten tree I know it is full of different kinds of bugs. From my logging of fallen trees I also know it is full of mice.

There is meaning in this. Since I was a kid I've heard and read, that a climax forest is a dead forest. There is no life because the trees are too big. Logging allows young trees with tender buds to grow which provides food for wildlife. There is some truth in this, I'm sure. But it is a half truth. It's the company line.

An ecosystem does not start with deer browsing on young buds. Even grade schoolers learn that it starts with the smallest creature and leads up the chain to the top. The logged area over the fence line does not have big dead, standing trees, and it won't for 150 years.

What will a coon waking temporarily from his winter slumber find to sustain himself in the young brush. No rotting wood, no bugs, no mice, no den. The logged area is certainly no good for woodpeckers. What about other bug and mouse eaters?

You can't easily walk in the thicket that replaced the forest, its not pretty to look at. My point is that logging is not an environmental activity any more than pumping oil. Likewise, we are not any more likely to stop using wood than we are to stop using oil.

Wood may be a renewable resource, if it's grown like a crop, but a forest is not. Not in our life time and not in the way forests are "harvested".

It would be good to leave some places alone. The economics we use to evaluate a lumber sale on public property probably don't take into account the loss of the forest environment.