November 15, 2020
the smoke dims the sun
While some parts of the US have to "Reason with Hurricane Season" or wait out tornado season, here in the Pacific Northwest, our scarry time of year is fire season. August thunderstorms trigger lightning strikes that can kindle the dry, late summer forests, and turn one's home into an inferno.
The eastern edge of the Cascadian wilderness is a fire driven ecology. The forests are able to cope with small fires that come through every few years. Quick fires clear out the fuel that builds up on the forest floor, allowing the trees to access the minerals bound up in the dead wood. Without being routinely clensed by fire, the forests accumulate the fuel that will eventually pose a mortal danger.But this year, while there weren't any wildfires that threatened Windward, still the smoke was rough. It made breathing difficult, but that was true most every where in the Pacific Northwest and we were just getting our share. But I noticed something different in that when there's a fire nearby, the tell-tale smell of smoke occasionally puts us on alert.
taking out a beetle-killed pine tree
This year the smoke was pervausive and felt oppressive in that it created a sense of ongoing anxiety that we don't usually feel. Most of the year, Windward feels very safe and secure; with such heavy smoke in the air, it didn't feel that way. And all the checking of fire maps and wind patterns didn't do much to calm the ancient fear that there's a fire just over the next ridge that could destroy everything you have and love.
Our way of coping with the stress is to get out into the forest and lessen the danger that fire poses by chipping up dead branches and taking out dead trees. The less dead fuel there is out there, the less danger there is of a catastrophic fire destroying your forest.
Clearing out the forest floor is something that we do on a regular basis in the process of putting up firewood for the winter, or generating wood chips for the garden.
And now that Herland Forest Natural Burial Cemetery is a growing part of our community activities, we're continually expanding our wood chip inventory since every natural burial incorporates some 200 gallons of wood chips.
processing the dead branches into wood chips
My experience is that a few hours of forest work is a great way to deal with stress. There's something very healing about doing work that makes a visible difference in something you care about. And then, when the day's work is done, there's satisfaction in that the forest looks more serene, the woodshed is better stocked, and a problem has been transformed into a resource. I'd like to think of that as a good description of Windward as we try to facilitate nature's work by accellerating processes that would eventually happen anyway.
Generally, we are able to nudge nature in sustainable directions as we tailor natural processes in ways that meet our needs while respecting nature's needs. For example, our trees produce large amounts of seeds that grow where they land. By thinning out the young treelings so that there's enough room between them to grow tall and straight, nature gets its next generation of trees, and we get straight lumber we can use to build our homes.
Our goal is to craft a partnership with nature, all the while remembering that nature is the senior partner in that relationship.