Saturday, June 22, 2013

Catalpa: Full of Life

Maybe it was my Catholic upbringing—during a period when the liturgy was chanted in the language of the dead and stained glass windows of aged churches stretched upward in ceremonious supplication—that caused me to stop at the sight of the old catalpa with the huge cavity. The arched opening ushered my eye into a dark interior, like the nave of an ancient cathedral. Jagged wedges of decaying wood were pocked with the traces of wood-boring insects. Brilliant daylight shone through a hole in the trunk. And yet the catalpa tree was very much alive. 
Nave of the catalpa tree

The bumblebee: a friendly sort
A bumblebee posed on one of the broad leaves, while a tick-like arachnid held tight to another. Lifting a leaf or two revealed that much of the action was hidden from view. I settled in to plumb the mysteries of the giant cavity, infected with a reverence befitting the Stations of the Cross.

Suddenly (and I’m not making this up) harp music began to play in the distance. And then, the voice of an angel began to sing:
“It must have been cold there in my shadow,
to never have sunlight on your face.”
Beetle's eye view!

I don’t know anything about the soul that was being memorialized, but hearing “Wind Beneath My Wings” sung in the quiet of the wildlife sanctuary made my beneficent aging catalpa, a haven for creatures of all kinds, seem even more venerable. 

Daddy longlegs lurks beneath

Someday it will fall, and yet another renewal of life will occur. The decayed heartwood will break into chunks, and roots will find their way into the cracks. Invertebrates, from mites to centipedes to slugs and snails, will find passage along these openings. Salamanders and shrews will hide beneath the sloughed bark and rotten wood, and dig tunnels into the crumbly substrate. Fungi will abound.

Before I knew it an hour had passed. Again, a walk in the woods had worked its magic.

Just one hour, in a life filled with hours.  

Tiny spider. Hanging out on a beautiful day.
Woolly aphids make honeydew. Honeydew supports fungi, i.e. sooty mold.

Ref: Maser, C. and others. 1984. The Unseen World of the Fallen Tree.


  1. Your bumblebee is actually a fly pretending to be a bumblebee, and the tiny spider is actually a brown marmorated stink bug nymph.

    1. Thank you, Peter! I was not familiar with the bumblebee mimic, just the striped flies that look like fat hairless honeybees. Now I will know what to look for (2 wings, stubby antennae). And yes, the stink bug nymph ... should have guessed.