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Making Friends with Forest Stumps: A Guided Exploration

August 7, 2022 @ 9:00 am - 11:00 am

‘Every stump a saint …’ That’s the opening of a poem by Gary Lawless that we hope will inspire a deeper understanding of these remnants of trees we typically think of as “dead.” Gary and photographer and journalist Jim McCarthy will be your leaders on a pilgrimage at the Cathance River Nature Preserve to explore both the natural history and essence of these overlooked saints.

Bring a camera if you wish, but more importantly, bring your curiosity about the role of stumps in the “wood wide web” of the mixed-tree forest found at the Preserve. We’ll be getting up close and personal with stumps and will use use magnifying glasses to reveal the amazing miniature worlds of lichen, fungi, and moss that live on them.  Once you start looking more closely at stumps, you’ll begin to see them as vital contributors to the overall forest community.

Here are some concepts we’ll explore on this walk:

  • Peter Wohlleben, in his thought-provoking book “The Hidden Life of Trees,” offers many amazing insights about trees. He notes, for example, that tree root systems are functionally similar to brains, allowing trees to communicate with and learn from each other. He shows how forests are social networks in which individual trees warn each other of impending dangers, such as insect infestations, and care for their sick and elderly.
  • Some stumps — without leaves, stems, or greenery of any kind — still contain living tissue.  That’s because their roots are still connected to the roots of neighboring trees, which share water and nutrients that keep the stump alive. Wohlleben, in a chapter called ‘Friendships’, describes a remarkable, centuries-old tree stump that was still living — kept alive by its neighbors.
  • Stump sprouts, which grow from a cut stump, are essentially seedlings that have a big head start because they’re connected to a huge, well-established root system.  They can grow very quickly and become viable trees themselves.
  • Other stumps and roots decay slowly over time, becoming home to fungi, lichens, moss, and other living organisms.

We hope to engage participants in creating a group ‘poem map’ of our walk in the woods by sharing their observations. Max of 15 participants.


Some At-Home Activities for Children and the Young at Heart

1. Choose a favorite stump you can visit regularly. Sit by quietly and observe all that happens on or near your stump. Draw, photograph or jot down what you observe. Ask yourself — who depends on this stump for survival?  What are the different ways forest organisms (and humans) can utilize a stump? Make a list.

2. On your own, watch your selected stump through the seasons. Does its role change with each season?

3. Show your appreciation of stumps by writing a poem or making photographs or drawings depicting their unique qualities. 

4. Learn about the “wood wide web.” A fun introduction is this BBC YouTube video — “The Wood Wide Web: How trees secretly talk to and share with each other.”



August 7, 2022
9:00 am - 11:00 am
Event Category:


Cathance River Nature Preserve
28 Rensenbrink Way
Topsham, Maine
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Cathance River Education Alliance
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