The gully’s a mess!
Three or four big bonfires a year are needed to keep on top of the woody messes that accumulate in the gully. Crack willow branches, limbs, sometimes entire trunks come down in wind or snowstorms and get strewn around the gully floor. But despite the willows being over a hundred years old and riddled with dead and dying wood, the overwhelming impression in early spring is of a flourishing profusion of new leaf, painting the trees a soft, light green.
At the beginning of this spring, the combined weight of a mesh of twiggy, leafy new growth and the six inches of snow that fell and stayed trapped in the trees, brought down a couple of sizeable limbs.
They’re still sufficiently attached to the trunks to keep them leafy green and June’s harvesting the twigs, two armfuls a day, for goat fodder. It’s easy pickings and handy to the house, so, for the sake of marital harmony, I’ll hold-off on getting the chainsaw out.
Paradise shelducks mate for life, so I’d been hoping my ‘stay of execution’ would also contribute to marital harmony for the couple that nest every year in the willow in Lake Wobegon (paddock so named because a big pond forms there after heavy rain). I continued to see them in the gully, duck-goose honking, so I was hoping their resilience in the face of natural disaster and human disturbance meant they were still tending a nest in an intact hollow in what remained of the Lake Wobegon tree.
Last week, no ducks anywhere to be seen, I took a closer look and couldn’t find any trace of a nest in nooks and crannies up the tree. Back on the ground and investigating the piece that had been torn off, I could see grey duck down at the entrance to a once bowl-like hollow that was now a chute that, combined with the force of the limb’s toppling, had expelled all ten eggs. Deathly cold to the touch and not a single crack evident, there was the entire clutch spread neatly on the soggy earth below.
It’s sad to be losing so much of what had been a handsome specimen tree standing proudly by itself on the edge of Lake Wobegon, and sad to think about what happened to the ducks’ nest. But ducks and humans alike – creatures of habit – it wouldn’t surprise me if the same pair of paradise shelducks find another hollow in the Lake Wobegon tree to nest in next season, or that we’ll leave the tree standing and, as is the habit of willows, new growth will go some way towards restoring its vigour and, I imagine, we’ll find the changes to its look something we can still appreciate.
That’s all on modern-day homesteading at Little Owl Gully till next Monday. Thanks for your company. Bye for now.