Or the difference between a skidder scar and a fire scar on a tree.  Most people are aware of the science of dendrochronology: the interpretation of past events through the reading of tree rings; but we tend to associate this with long-past history.  We tend to forget that a living stand of trees can actually tell us as much, or much more, about the past century or so. 

The woods on Yellow Mountain are deceptive, the lack of invasive species tends to imply an undisturbed area.  And indeed, the numerous small woodland plants, such as the club mosses of all types, sheep laurel, the wintergreen family, etc., all are good evidence that the ground has not been compacted or disturbed in the last century or so.  But the preponderance of beech and the lack of fully mature oaks, or declining oaks, or other hardwoods in any quantity indicates logging in the last half century, and is correct to do so.  While the mountain has always been dominated by beech, hence its name; they oughtn’t be quite so dominate.  That oak is found on the hard to reach ridges but not on the flatter (within the meaning of the word) is also evidence for this disturbance.  The clincher is the occasional cleanly cut stump.

So, to skidder scars.  Three things leave similar marks on trees: deer, skidders and fires.  The deer scrapes are usually only on trees under about four inches in diameter, usually between six inches to four-five feet off the ground.  Deer scrapes are somewhat irregular in shape and not infrequently wrap more than 90 degrees around the trunk.  Skidders are at the same height, but they are sharp, they don’t wrap around the tree and are not oval.  Which makes sense if you consider how a heavy piece of machinery might be pulled past a tree.  Fires burn to the ground or below, leaving a rounded top and often wrapping around the trunk, they are highest and deepest on the uphill sides of trees, where forest litter has piled.  Skidders and fires tend to scar trees over five inches in diameter, under that the tree probably will not have survived, especially with skidders.

The mountain can seem like a place far from the crowded Connecticut landscape, an oasis.  Yet, it is also a testament for the ability of the forest to grow and change.  And in this growth, paradoxical as it might seem, trees remember.  They record everything that has happened to them.  A fully mature tree, standing above all others, will still indicate on which side the heavier tree cover was when it began growing, it will indicate prevailing winds, it will record all damaging storms.  A tree is a witness, an incorruptable witness, and this may well explain part of the reverence some cultures hold for them.  For this record, this decipherable record, is created apart from man but is readable and changable by him.