Sunday, January 22, 2012

Doing The Work of Fire: A Follow Up

The sound of chainsaws and wood chippers always makes me uneasy.
Even when the task is right and good, it just seems wrong when a tree falls to machinery and tools.
Still, the century-old practice of fire suppression makes raging wildfires inevitable. So, we strike a balance. We do what a lightning strike or prescribed burn would do, we take out the slash, brush, brambles. We take out the weak and crowded.

We change our world, and go from this to this .
We clear the understory.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Our Totem Animal Arrives

This may be the third time we've seen this bobcat walking by our house, but the first time we've gotten its photo. Wednesday morning it walked up the road with such nonchalance, it did not expect the quick human to come out, shouting a warm hello, and clicking a pic with shaking hands.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Forest Up Close

I was going to do a post on the weather and lack of rain this winter, but right now there is some hint that that's about to change this week (I'll let you know!). Still, the dry weather had us out looking at our significantly overgrown forest and wondering what good stewardship and fire prevention would have us do.

The forests of California tend to be tinder boxes just waiting for a match. We don't get any rain in the summer, and a dry winter like this just increases the potential for a wildfire. The local newspaper reported that even if in the next three months we were to get significant rainfall, it is unlikely we can make up for the deficits of November and December (and half of January).
When we look at the trees on our southern boundary we see a major fuel build up. In fact, when I take a closer look, it looks like the fallen timbers have been stacked like kindling (definitely embiggen this photo). This is a terrible scenario for fire season. In a perfect world, there would be prescribed or natural lightening strike burns so that catastrophic wildfires could be prevented. But in rural/residential neighborhoods like ours, there's no perfect world, and no prescribed burn. So, we've called upon the tree-cutting service to come out on Monday to thin out the smaller trees and remove all that dry underbrush.
Fire suppression may not be the most thoughtful way to preserve our forests. In fact, fire suppression is why our forests look the way they do, but good stewardship does require us to do our share to find a balance. Our poor earth, I wish there were a better way. We humans do make a mess of things.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Sugar Pines

Maybe it's crazy to love a tree, but that doesn't stop us. We have fallen in love with the Sugar Pine (Pinus lambertiana). On one of our walks a couple of weeks ago, we found a fantastically large pine cone, a true magnificent giant. I picked it up, took it home, googled "large pine cone" and immediately identified the species. According to Wikipedia the Sugar pine is notable for having the longest cones of any conifer, mostly 10-20 inches long (25-50cm). Soon after we found that one cone, we started to find more and then found the one tree along the path that was dropping them. I limited myself to taking home three cones.

In addition to having the longest pine cones, the Sugar Pine also is the largest species of pine. It grows 130-200 feet tall (40-60 meters). It's simply a beautiful giant in every way, with a fairly limited range, native to the pacific coast from Oregon through California to Baja.

The other day I noticed two people walking down the little dirt road on the south side of our property. I didn't recognize them at first, but shouted a hearty "hello" to them, so they headed over to the fence where I was standing. As they approached I saw that it was our neighbors who have had a family vacation home for over 40 years right up the hill from us. We had a nice little chat after wishing each other a happy new year and all of that. As luck would have it, they told me that they were out on a hunt for some sugar pines that they remembered from long ago growing down by our lower pond. We hardly ever go down to the lower pond. Two-thirds of it is on our other neighbor's property, and there's really not much of a trail to get there. But of course we were excited to learn that there might be some sugar pines right here in our backyard. But by then it was getting dark and cold, so the neighbors decided to forgo the search and chose instead to come inside and sit by our fire for a while and talk.
The next day, however, we couldn't wait to go looking for "our" sugar pines. We headed out toward the lower pond, walking through thick underbrush of young pines, berry vines, and young madrones. Roger spotted a pine cone on the ground and sure enough we found the tree just on the property boundary. We were so jazzed about it, like goofy giddy kids. We walked a bit further and found another pine cone from a second tree. I think we must have made up a Sugar Pine dance right there on the spot.

We do live in a pine forest that stretches for miles and miles. Right now we know where there are three Sugar Pines in all that vastness. We'll let you know when we find more! According to the article I linked to here, sugar pines rarely form pure stands and generally represents 5-25% of cover in mixed conifer associations.
PS: I took this ridiculous photo of myself holding these two cones. It's a crazy self-portrait with reflections of my laptop on my glasses, but I wanted to convey the size. I named these two Ego and Id because they're bigger than my head!

PPS: Check out the intense blue skies in the photos. We have not had a drop of rain. Well, to be absolutely honest, we had .17 inch of rain for all of December 2011. We had 17 inches in December 2010. We're facing a bit of drought and I'm working on a post about it. Stay tuned!

Sunday, January 01, 2012