Sunday, March 6, 2016

March 6, 2016

I was away this past week, off to Steamboat Springs for some family time and a taste of real winter.  New England may be short on snow, but Steamboat has received over 300" so far this year.  We enjoyed some great skiing and great weather!
Mid-mountain at Steamboat Springs, Colorado

Being away, I thought I would share something I learned recently regarding the regular appearance of floating logs in Lake Wicwas.  I've seen these appear from from the depths of Lake Wicwas since I was a kid, and have noted previously the process:  They have been waterlogged for many years, sitting on the bottom of the lake with tiny organisms feeding on the wood.  As part of their metabolic process these organisms produce gases which collect in the log, displacing the absorbed water, making the log lighter ever so slowly.  Eventually it becomes less dense than water and it starts to float up to the surface, typically dragging the heavier end along the bottom of the lake, meaning it may be invisible at the surface, but a real danger to boaters.  When they reach the surface, people will pull them ashore, usually over to the boat landing where the town will pick them up and take them away.  Over the past couple of years several have been brought to the ramp;  as of this fall there were six waiting for disposal.

I had always assumed these logs were just escapees from logging that was done in the past around Lake Wicwas.  Now here's what I learned in Daniel Hayduk's new book "Meredith Chronicles" (The History Press, 2015):  The hurricane of 1938, which came up right through the Connecticut River Valley, destroyed one third of New Hampshire's forest, and half of its white pine trees.  The Civilian Conservation Corps and the Work Progress Administration, two agencies established during the depression, came in to help salvage the massive glut of timber.  Since there was much more timber than was needed, the government set up price controls to protect woodlot owners from financial ruin.  But still, there was much more timber than could be used before it would be ruined by insect damage.  So the surplus timber was submerged in lakes to protect it from insects, and Lake Wicwas was one of the main storage sites!  So these logs that continue to appear, 80 years later, are souvenirs of the great Hurricane of '38.

There are a few other signs of that day in 1938 that can still be seen in the forests around the Lakes Region - in the form of rotted tree trunks buried under years of leaves, with mounds of earth at their base where their roots brought up soil and rocks when they fell.  This tree is not that old,
Fallen Hemlock or White Pine
but it shows the concept as it has all the right characteristics:  exposure to southwest wind off the lake, and laying in a northwest direction.
Soil mound at base

According to Tom Wessels "Reading the Forested Landscape" (The Countryman Press, 1997) it takes "a couple of decades" to create a moss bed on a log, and this tree has had its moss bed for at least 15 years, but that dates it only as pre-1980.  Plus the soil around the base doesn't show the wear of 80 years of weathering.  This summer I'll have to look for signs of 1938-felled trees on dry land to accompany the floaters in the lake.

Until then, I'll enjoy the last few weeks of this rather feeble winter, missing all that snow from Colorado.
And this is the snow in the valley!

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