Moody Forest–New Maple Leaves Dancing in the Light
A month ago, I visited the Moody Forest–one of the only remaining old growth longleaf pine forests in the country. The blog I wrote had black and white images of 200-300 year-old-pines and 600 year-old cypress and tupelo trees. (http://www.lynnebuchanan.com/blog/2018/5/8/moody-forest-black-and-white-images-evoking-a-timeless-primeval-paradise) But it was not just the dramatic ancient trees that caught my attention. This old growth forest is unusual in that the understory is still relatively open, which allows light to reach new growth. When I saw these fresh green maples leaves in the image above, they seemed to be dancing in the light and breeze. As I sat on the ground and watched them, they seemed to radiate their inner essence and I was filled with a feeling of profound hope. It is experiences like this, where I connect with nature in a direct that really teach me to live in the moment and appreciate just being, which is no trivial thing when done fully.
The more open understory allows for the proliferation of wildflowers. The orange milkwort was mesmerizing through my 200 macro lens with a Cannon 500 on top. I could see all these teeny flowers blooming. Early summer, when I was there, is the peak season for blooming but they can flower through to the fall. These biennial plants are common in pine flatwoods, but they are anything but common to see. When you look into the interior of the plants, where most of the blossoms are located, its like an invitation to a whole other universe.
Indian Pink is an uncommon wildflower that grows in the southeast in rich moist woods. I found most of these back at the edge of the bog where the cypress and tupelo trees were located. The plants can reach 12-18 inches in hight. Though it is called Indian Pink, the inflorescence is actually comprised of five-tipped brilliant red flowers with yellow interiors. I was so mesmerized by them that I got down on the ground at eye level. The side view was most dramatic.
There are also several kinds of pea plants. Legumes are important in longleaf pine ecosystems, as they are a source of food for wildlife and also "fix" nitrogen. Their seeds are covered with a tough exterior, an intelligent adaptation that allows them to remain dormant until conditions are right for germination. Once the plants begin growing, they convert atmospheric nitrogen by working with rhizobia, a bacteria in the soil that takes bacteria and feeds it to the legumes. As in all fungal symbiotic relationships, the legumes then give carbohydrates back to the bacteria in exchange. Legumes play a very important role because longleaf pine ecoystems are fire dependent for their survival. Fires rob the soil of organic nitrogen that the legumes help reintroduce through their high nitrogen and protein content.
The image below shows the importance of fire in the Moody Forest Ecosystem. Prescribed burns help wildlife and plants in the understory survive. According to Robert Abernethy, president of the Longleaf Alliance. “If you burn, you’ll have turkeys. If you don’t, you won’t.” The fires have to be well-managed so they don't let burning peat bog get out of control. Forests like these suffer when there aren't enough fires. The images below show how fire helps and is even oddly beautiful when it is controlled. Indigenous people frequently made use of fire to keep the soil healthy.(https://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/northcarolina/north-carolina-role-of-fire-in-longleaf-pine-forests.xml)
If you are in the area, visit this beautiful forest. It was such a transcendent experience walking through these woods alone, seeing nature grow back and thrive, and finding plants and new growth that was illuminated and almost pulsating in the light. Connecting with the essential aliveness of the forest reminded me to appreciate the privilege of being able to live on this magnificent earth, which we all too often take for granted.