Small Woodworkers of the World

Over the weekend, I had the chance to visit an enchanted farm nestled in the foothills of the Coast Range. The proprietor spends her days outdoors under the sun, protected by a wide-brimmed hat and light cotton clothing. Besides tending to crops and livestock, my friend takes the time to notice activity at the smallest scale, and was eager to share her observations with this city slicker.

I learned about the Acorn Woodpecker, which drills holes in trees and stores its precious acorns inside, one acorn per hole. Interestingly enough, the acorns are not stored in the tree they come from, but a different type of tree with a thicker bark better suited for this purpose. The bird will use manmade wooden structures, too -- no telephone pole is immune to its head-banging determination. The storage tree (or telephone pole) is called a granary. She led us through the dry river bed to show us one. 

Here is a granary tree that died and fell in the field. The acorn holes have long since been picked clean:


Here is a live tree, stuffed full of acorns:


A view of the same tree, with acorn cubbies as far as the eye can see:


My farmer friend also introduced me to the ants living inside these trees. Over time, she has discovered intricate lattices inside hollowed trunks, evidently constructed by the ants from masticated wood pulp. She calls it "ant lace." Reaching into the open trunk of a tree, her hand groped the ground briefly and returned a handful of the stuff. She snapped off a tiny piece and put it in her mouth. She chewed a few times, then announced, "It tastes how it looks."