The Cathedral

Graceful gothic arches form from the interlacing of the branches of baldcypress trees that tower above algae-green bayous. Rising from the mixture of silt and peat that carpets forest floors are groups of cypress knees, standing erect and resembling monks in a monastery. A grove of cypresses becomes a woodland cathedral. The song of the wood thrush contributes the solo, while a choir of prothonotary warblers and American redstarts keeps cadence with the wind. The tones might rise to a crescendo a half-hour after daylight, gradually dying to a hush as though all the creatures of the wild were at rest. Through the crowns of delicate hues of green and gold, like stained-glass windows, beams the morning sun. With the movement of the sphere comes change in the texture of the light as it radiates and reflects from leaf to leaf and to the ground as though beamed through a prism, dividing into rays of various hues. This woodland cathedral occurs as a small isolated mesophytic jungle astride the Sabine River in Texas.20

In this cathedral ecotype, a baldcypress tree measures 38 inches in diameter above the butt swell. The height of the "column" in the cathedral exceeds 120 feet. Among the cypress trees are thousands of overcup oak seedlings coming to life from seed that fell in the dried-up swamp. This is the sort of combination of events—proper seedbed, dried-up swamp and seed abundance—that occurs rarely. Should these seedlings endure high water, certain to follow, they will be a significant component of the forest. Here, oaks form the climax forest; baldcypress is a pioneer.

The river in times past carved out the vale, later filling it with silt and clay to form an alluvial plain. Natural levees and oxbows formed from the cutting and mounding of old meanders that bear

Figure 3.6 Immature baldcypress in an inland lake. The usual difficulty in aging trees of this species is frustrated by the rising and lowering of the water, whether under natural weather conditions or flood-control operations. Extreme draw-down during the growing season puts the trees in a semi-dormant condition; with rising water, new (false) growth rings form.

Figure 3.6 Immature baldcypress in an inland lake. The usual difficulty in aging trees of this species is frustrated by the rising and lowering of the water, whether under natural weather conditions or flood-control operations. Extreme draw-down during the growing season puts the trees in a semi-dormant condition; with rising water, new (false) growth rings form.

no relation to the present river's course. Some natural levees of recent origin are deep sands deposited at the river's edge. This "new land," washing down from banks cut away upstream, provides an ideal seedbed for willow and cottonwood trees. In time, and with ecological succession, sweetgum and blackgum trees intrude. Later still, oaks and hickories, more tolerant of shade, become established under the crowns of the more light-demanding trees. A few loblolly pines on higher, drier ground might enter the site where openings in canopies and exposure of the mineral soil have provided the necessary conditions for seed germination and survival.

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