I love history. Particularly when I find it in a far-flung or unexpected place. Imagine my surprise when I stumbled across a tree with a huge hole in the side of it. Of course, it’s not uncommon to find trees with natural cavities in them around these parts, but this particular breach was not made by nature or time, but by man – and for a very specific purpose.
Hollow trees and the Ozarks go hand in hand like rocks and rivers. Ask any logger, hunter, or firewood cutter and they’ll tell you that hollow trees in a mature forest are par for the course. Around here, you can pretty much assume that any large, mature oak tree is likely to contain a hollow of some size. It might be high up in the crotch, or down low near the base, or run the entire length of the trunk from root to crown. Of course, hollow trees are critical for wildlife. They offer a wide array of creatures safe places to rest, hibernate, store food and rear their young. A dozen or more songbirds use hollow cavities, as do owls and woodpeckers and a wide array of mammals, snakes, and insects, such as bees. And although finding a hive of wild bees occupying a hollow tree is less common than it once was, it still occurs with some regularity, particularly if you spend a lot of time in the woods.
Filled to the brim with colorful stories, wild walks, botanical musings, and a just a pinch of “hillbilly” humor A personal and inspiring tale of homesteading in the Ozark backwoods.
As I approached the tree with the gaping window, I could clearly make out the worn marks of the saw that had been used to cut it open. As I pondered its purpose, my eyes fell on the “door” casually resting against a nearby trunk as if the maker had just stepped away for a moment. I couldn’t help but think of all the crazy stories I’ve read about people in this area throwing their valuables into cisterns or burying their money or food in the woods during the civil war to protect them from marauding bands of militia. I could also envision the old farmer who once homesteaded this land slipping out for a swig from a well-hidden whiskey jug. As fun as it was to imagine these scenarios, the obvious reason for this encroachment was to harvest honey from the wild bees that once made this tree their home.
It’s hard to tell from the picture, but this tree was very old when it died – at least several hundred years from the size and girth of the trunk. And from the look of the thick scars at the edges of the cut, the tree was alive when the hole was made and probably remained so for many years afterwards. Even though the opening was roughly 4’ tall by 3’ wide, I was a bit nervous about sticking my head inside to have a look around for fear of some critter or another looking back at me. But once I screwed up my nerve, I could see that the hollow went up from the bottom of the opening and almost to the top of the trunk. The hollow is so large that, had I the nerve, I might be able to climb inside and stand straight up.
Inside, the hollow was smooth and slightly worn, but otherwise empty. I could easily see the chamber filled from top to bottom with brood and honeycomb and envision the delight of the person who happened upon it. It was obvious from the care that was taken to cut the rectangular door into the trunk, that whomever did it, not only wanted to get at the honey, but intended to preserve the hive for future harvests. As I walked down the ridge back to the house, I wondered what might happen if, in the spring, I baited this hollow tree with raw honey comb and lemon grass and replaced the door to the chamber. Would wild bees return here and flourish as they once did? Only time will tell.
Until then, happy hiking!
© 2016 Jill Henderson Feel free to share with a link back to the original article.
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A Journey of Seasons
Filled to the brim with colorful stories, wild walks, botanical musings, and a just a pinch of “hillbilly” humor A personal and inspiring tale of homesteading in the Ozark backwoods by noted author, naturalist and plant organic gardener, Jill Henderson.
Jill Henderson is an artist, author, and the editor of Show Me Oz . Her books, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, The Garden Seed Saving Guide and A Journey of Seasons can be found in the Show Me Oz Bookstore. Jill is a contributing author for Acres USA and Llewellyn’s Herbal Almanac and her work has appeared in The Permaculture Activist and The Essential Herbal.
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