Over my years of wandering the woodlands and the open countryside I have become very aware of the passing of people and the traces they leave. From discarded food wrappers lost to the wind to piles of broken down domestic appliances dumped illegally in the ditches between the road and the trees. On one such trail I have noticed a different kind of obstruction blocking the way. The trail is one often used by day trippers to the wood as it is the driest and widest of the routes through the trees. Every now and again I find branches dragged from the undergrowth and placed across the track. To those wandering in the daylight hours they would be easily noticeable and stepped around. To a nocturnal wanderer such as I they are more of a hazard due to the low light and the tall trees flanking the path. So far I have avoided stumbling over them and have frequently dragged them away from the track and back into the undergrowth. I am never sure exactly why they have been dragged across the trail in the first place. Perhaps a prop for a child's game or a deliberate attempt to hinder the passing of forestry commission vehicles, horse riders or cyclists who are of course entitled to pass by.
Two nights ago I was wandering the track as the evening light began to fail, in the distance I could notice timber lying partially across the pathway. It looked like someone had again been attempting to form barriers. It was as I got closer I noticed the scale of the barrier and realised it was beyond the powers of child or hooligan to form. A silver birch tree beside the path had literally split in two. One half still managed to stand but the other had crashed across the path like a giants cudgel. Given the size of the timber and the fact that one end was propped against the remains of the standing trunk I approached carefully to see what had caused the damage. Since I had last passed this spot there had been neither lightening or high winds to my knowledge. The split timber seemed in good condition until I reached the point where the top of the tree must have started to split. There were signs rot and water soaking, the tree must have started to split and perhaps a combination of gravity and a modest wind had torn the tree in two.
I have seen the results of oaks split by lightening or limbs splintered and fallen as the weight of the branch had grown too much to bear. I have also seen trees shoved over or snap by the force of a strong wind, but this is the first time I have chance to see the quiet presence of rot within the top branches of a slender tree cause such a fail. Given the size of the trunk it was fortunate no one was underneath when the tree split, it will only be a matter of time before the standing half also topples or is felled. For me this is an interesting lesson from the wood, but I wonder how many others would step around it with only a tut of annoyance to mark the passing of an obstacle along the way.