Things to see and do at this stop:
Where is the forest? Look on the ground beneath the dense shrubbery. There they are – the forest trees that had survived the three-year drought of 1998-2000 and weathered Hurricanes Ike in 1988 and Rita in 2005, were finally overcome by the extreme drought of 2011. Many of those were killed by a virulent fungal disease that leaves the wood very brittle and subject to dropping heavy branches: all those near the trails were taken down for the safety of our visitors. What we see on all sides now are formerly modest, low-growing understory plants, suddenly emancipated to abundant sunlight and rain water. They are serving as "pioneer plants," precursors of forest regeneration. Among them are seedling trees that one day will restore our natural woodland.
A few feet up the main trail, on the right, are the remains of a giant water oak and long-time raccoon hangout (literally, the cavity was large, but the coon was larger). For many years, this tree survived the effects of lightning strikes and the resulting heartwood rot, but it too succumbed to the droughts.
Despite it's appearance, it is a long way from dead. It is, in fact teaming with life. Within its cells, fungi are feeding; in their wake, beetle grubs tunnel through the softened wood. Ants, centipedes, millipedes, earwigs, and countless other small creatures live within the abandoned tunnels. Lizards, birds and braconid wasps scour the surface seeking insect prey. Armadillos claw at the ground-softened wood, foraging for beetles and their grubs. And all the while the residue lies on the ground, enriching soil for future life.
Directions to the next stop: