Chattermarks

From North Cascades Institute

Search Chattermarks

North Cascades on Instagram

Archives

IMG_7151

Prometheus in Paradise: Fires in the Methow Valley bring loss but reveal a committed community

August 13th, 2014 | Posted by in Adventures

The East side is burning. A certain degree of compartmentalization is required to brush away images of treasured places in flames, wildlife fleeing for their lives, and homes transformed into piles of blackened ash. At 270,312 acres as of this post, the Carlton Complex fire is the largest in Washington history. Over 2,000 firefighters representing 43 crews from all over the northwest have descended on the Methow Valley and Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. The firefighting resources of the West are being taxed by at least 16 major fires burning in both Washington and Oregon.

These events are enormous in scope. Mine is smaller story. Heavy smoke, closed roads, and fear are diverting visitors from the summer paradise of the Methow Valley and pummeling the small local businesses that depend on the short season for the bulk of their annual revenue. Restaurants, hotels, outfitters, and farmers are watching the summer slip by, waiting for the people to come.

Undeterred by smoke or fire, I planned a weekend visit to my beloved Methow Valley to drop as much of my scant play money on the local vendors as possible. My journey East began with a hike around Maple Pass Loop, a local favorite for stunning alpine vistas with only moderate exertion. The smoke was heavy, obscuring the grander scene of Glacier Peak and the numerous towering spires of the North Cascades. It filtered the sunlight a red-gold and put the color riot of summer foliage in soft focus. With the greater peaks and crags masked in filmy sheets, my attention was drawn to sights in shorter view. I found myself lingering in the cool sinks of sparkling snowmelt cascades where monkey-flower (Mimulus Lewisii) and false hellebore (Veratrum viride) gathered. I was rapt by the myriad of butterflies and fuzzy bumble bees sipping from pollen cups.

IMG_7136

Smoke obscures the greater mountain views, but draws attention to the smaller things.

This phenomenon of closer examination extended as I dipped down into Winthrop. After checking in at the North Cascades Mountain Hostel, I strolled to the Old Schoolhouse Brewery for dinner and a pint. The atmosphere was quite altered from my previous visits; there was no music on a Friday night, and families and fun-seekers were replaced by tanned and sooty folk in Carharts and T-shirts. Firefighters and Forest Service employees leaned on the bar, sipping well-earned cold beers at the end of a long shift. After a subdued meal, I strolled down to the banks of the Chewuch River. I passed a fire command post in an office building where people were busy on phones and radios, inspecting large maps tacked to the wall with silver push-pins. It was over 85 degrees at 8:30 PM with a thick grey sky. I wandered down to the irrigation canal and waded in up to my knees in the cold water. A cloud of tadpoles swam around my shins. A red squirrel scolded me endlessly as I invaded his watering hole.

IMG_7217

A Red Cross Disaster Relief volunteer purchases goods at the Methow Valley Farmers Market in Twisp, WA.

» Continue reading Prometheus in Paradise: Fires in the Methow Valley bring loss but reveal a committed community

Fresh tracks in the snow of Sourdough Mountain.

Fresh Tracks of the Sun Chaser

January 31st, 2014 | Posted by in Adventures

The glow begins as it would, blanching the sky to make invisible the cosmos. Black becomes cornflower and a fiery fuchsia lights the very highest tips of the frosted peaks. The sky will grow brighter, but many cups of tea will be consumed before the sun’s winter-warm rays make their way to Diablo, Washington. At 9:48 AM, the first beams flash from behind Colonial Peak. Only two hours remain before they dip behind Pyramid Peak and Diablo’s brief flow of Vitamin D is capped for another day. This all assumes that we are not immersed in a saturating and seemingly endless cloud for days on end, the winter weather most expected in the North Cascades.

On a morning free of obligation, when the rising light stirs me from sleep and the moon drifts pale in the western sky, I really have no choice but to run. I gulp down a power smoothie, take my tea to go, and throw my 10 essentials in a pack before finding a trail that will undoubtedly make my quadriceps burn and my knees wish for a quicker death.

Sourdough trail ElissaRace of the Day: The sun rides a snowy ridge two miles up the Sourdough Mountain Trail.

It should be noted that prior to my departure I would also check the Northwest Avalanche Center (NWAC) website, NOAA and take other precautions that would undoubtedly be considered tedious by most readers but essential by people like our Operations Director, Kristofer, and my mother. Suffice it to say that I am not reckless, and avalanche danger, weather and trail conditions should all be evaluated prior to any backcountry trip. It is also prudent to tell someone where you are going and when you plan to return. There you are, Mom and Kristofer, safety for all.

Sunset ElissaSoon to be Sunset: Late afternoon colors the Skagit Valley.

The sun chasing often begins a few hundred paces from my front door up Sourdough Mountain. This beast of a trail gains 3,000 feet in the first two miles by way of a series of utterly relentless switchbacks. I am spurred on by the glow of sunlight on the trees above me and rejoice at the two-mile mark where the forest opens, the mountains are in view and I (had I the time) could watch the earth turn beneath the sun until it painted the sky in pale pinks as it dove into the valley. Here, however, the snow is deep, the wind blows icy cold, and light can fade quickly in the deep woods of the descent. Best to sigh, accept gracefully the few extra radiant hours, and go before the going becomes perilous.

Fresh powder ElissaBlazing fresh powder on Sourdough Mountain.

The next time I ascend Sourdough, I take my best asset: a friend. We went further than I had previously, through four-foot drifts of fresh powder. I let him blaze the trail. We did not choose a clear day. On the contrary, we left on a day that promised snow and wherein thick clouds moved swiftly exposing only the faintest breaks of blue from time to time. Several hours in, on a steep slope, slogging through deep powder and tiring quickly, we paused. At that very moment, when turning back seemed the only option, the sky opened up revealing a heavenly blue. The sun illuminated the once hidden peaks and set the frosty trees aglow. We reveled in the surprising warmth, took copious photos and headed back down the mountain just as fresh flakes began to fall.

Trees aglowThe sun “peaks” out to set the trees aglow on Sourdough Mountain.

The presence of a good friend and a rare mid-week day for play prompted a longer journey to Artist Point. This well-travelled route near Mount Baker is popular in all seasons for hikers and snowshoers alike. On that glorious Tuesday, however, the mountain was ours for exploration and (not a little) make believe.The ski lifts were silent, the parking lot was all but empty, and we made our way up the slopes as though we were trudging through uncharted wilderness. White upon white, the snowy mounds blended into one another as we scaled the snowfields, trying to keep our eyes on some semblance of trail. Suddenly, as breath came quickly and muscles burned, Mount Baker revealed itself, gloriously adorned in thick, creamy drifts and glowing in the low southern light. Mount Shuksan dominated the eastward view, covered in luminous glacial blue. The southern sky provided views of Whitehorse Peak and many others in a sea of salmon-orange with thin bright silver strips of cloud strewn about. We posed heroically before the mighty panorama before finding our way down then on to Bellingham for well-earned sushi and beer.

Mount Baker ElissaMount Baker from Artist Point.
Mount Shuksan ElissaMount Shuksan from Artist Point.

Thus is the life of the Sun Chaser, ever leaving blinds cracked to observe the morning skies from a cozy bed; ready to either jump up to meet the sun or pull flannel sheets lazily over a sleepy head. Squares of ever-present frost live in the northern shadows of the houses in Diablo, fixed and never free to chase the fleeting rays of these mountain winter days.

 
Lead Photo: Fresh tracks in the snow near the National Park Boundary on the Sourdough Mountain Trail. All photos by the author, Elissa Kobrin.

 

Elissa Kobrin is a graduate student in North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. program. She is a co-editor of Chattermarks. When not tracking down moose, she is keeping the world safe, one Band-aid at a time.

 

 

Paul Bunyon Stump

Christmas in the American Alps

December 25th, 2013 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

Whilst traveling home from Bellingham, I became enchanted by tales of Christmas in the Tirol (Tyrol) province of Austria while tuning in to “Travel with Rick Steves” on KUOW radio. A woman with a delightful Austrian accent described the many Christmas traditions celebrated in the Tirol beginning with Advent on the 1st of December. Although the events are many, the root of each is in simplicity. Natural items are brought into the home to make holiday decorations. Considerable baking and crafting of handmade gifts for friends and family takes place. Little children are taken sledding by one parent while the other decorates the Christmas tree with older children, leaving the revealing of the completed tree to be a surprise for the little ones. Church is attended on Christmas Eve, and at midnight, people pour into the streets to wish one another a merry Christmas. Travelers are drawn to the Alps of the Tirol for their beauty and opportunities for snow sport. It all sounded quite magical, and I began daydreaming of a journey there next December.

What gave me pause, as I considered the costs associated with a high season transatlantic flight to Europe, was the very fact that I currently reside in mountains commonly referred to as the American Alps. All of the traditions that I found charming about the Tirol could be recreated (on a considerably smaller scale) here in this glorious National Park which I have come to call my home. I would have my Austrian Christmas in Diablo, Washington.

Thunder Arm

Misty Mountains: Colonial Peak is silhouetted above Thunder Arm

It would seem that the gathering of natural items to make holiday decorations for the home would be the easiest endeavor of my American Alps Christmas. However, allow me to pause here to remind readers that the gathering of natural items of any kind is prohibited in North Cascades National Park (other than one pint of edible fruits, nuts, or berries per person, per day). So I ventured to the parking lot of Roadside Park near Rockport where I gathered downed Western Redcedar and Douglas fir branches along with some downed tufts of lichen. Bald eagles sat nonchalantly in the trees above the park, scanning the Skagit River for shiny salmon. Bright red viburnum opulus or “guelder rose” berries were gifted to me by a friend. Although non-native, they added the perfect holiday color to the collection.

IMG_3887

Western Redcedar and viburnum opulus or “guelder rose” berries

» Continue reading Christmas in the American Alps

An Upriver Life: The Skagit Beyond Highway 20

December 17th, 2013 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

The North Cascades are full of secrets. One must have a specific intention to discover the scenic treasures of the peaks, and that intention is usually accompanied by a backpack, several days of supplies, strong legs, and fortitude. Some treasures are only available for viewing from one particular point, on one obscure trail, after one has hauled body and gear up several thousand vertical feet. Although the drive along the highway is loaded with landscapes that suspend the breath and inspire the imagination, those who choose to linger a while and explore will reap the greater reward.

The same highway twists through dwellings that serve as no more than mile markers to most travelers. A few sporadic gas stations and convenience stores denote the entry to and exit from places that would be missed if one sneezed or got a bit of dust in one’s eye. However, these places that line the highway to the North Cascades hold their own magical secrets. Just as travelers are rewarded for finding their way beyond the sole strip of bitumen through this wild and scenic space, so do delights await those who choose a side road, and saunter rather than a sprint through the surprising upper Skagit River Valley.

Concrete, Washington

Like many, I had mentally reduced the small town of Concrete to what was visible from the highway: a small market, a few gas stations, a speed limit not to be tested by risk-taking passers through. The town’s name did not inspire exploration. My assumptions were tested at a meeting of the Upriver Poets (a story for another time) when I was told that there was a remarkably good, entirely gluten-free bakery hidden on the town’s main street.

An adorned lamp post in downtown Concrete, WA

Time Warp: An adorned lamp post in downtown Concrete, WA with Sauk Mountain in the background. Photo by Elissa Kobrin

One sunny Sunday, I drove to discover this aberration. I turned right off the highway and left onto Main, and stopped dead in the middle of the street with my brow furrowed and my head cocked to one side. Street lamps were adorned with wreath and garland, Christmas lights draped every fanciful store front, and people were walking around in Dickens-era frocks complete with top hats, tails, and petticoats. I peered into the rear view mirror to check for any obvious signs of temporal disturbance, and seeing none, I continued down the whimsical lane. I soon discovered that it was the exact day of the annual Christmas parade, wherein townsfolk dressed in period costumes and a variety of events filled the day with fellowship, entertainment, and Christmas Spirit. It was incredibly pleasant to discover two things: the lovely little downtown filled with cheer, and that I had not passed through a quantum anomaly (although that might have been really cool).

Upon arrival at the 5b’s Bakery, I was again taken aback. The bakery was a beautiful open space filled with natural light and delightful aromas. The pastry cases, counters, and freezers were bursting with tempting treats of every variety. To the left there was a full espresso bar and soda fountain that provided coffee drinks, milkshakes, and old fashioned sodas to complement any baked good.

5b’s was started by the Beals family: Em, Walter, Lizzie, Bowen, and Tavish. Em Beals was diagnosed with celiac sprue disease 18 years ago. Her twin sons, Bowen and Tavish were diagnosed when they were four years old. Em’s mission for the 5b’s was simple: to make delicious food to satisfy every craving while being dedicated to a 100% gluten-free facility with no risk of cross-contamination. She makes sure that people who live with celiac disease still get pizza, cookies, and birthday cake. The bakery also serves lunch specials including soup and sandwiches. I partook in a tasty soy latte and a scrumptious pumpkin cookie.

Em Beals, part of the family that runs the 5b's Bakery

Mama Bee: Em Beals, part of the family that runs the 5b’s Bakery. Photo by Elissa Kobrin

The 5b's bakery features a wide variety of all gluten-free treats

Good and Gluten-Free: The 5b’s bakery features a wide variety of all gluten-free treats. Photo by Elissa Kobrin

The staff of the 5b's Bakery whip up coffee drinks and lunch for patrons

Busy Bees: The staff of the 5b’s Bakery whip up coffee drinks and lunch for patrons. Photo by Elissa Kobrin

Shortly thereafter, I learned of a Celtic Christmas concert being held at the Concrete Theater. In 2012, the community rallied around the historic theater, and raised over $53,000 from individual donors and grants to obtain a digital projection system with 3D capability. In addition to delivering first-run major motion pictures for the community, the theater also serves as a venue for live performance and fitness classes.

The theater was warm and inviting inside with a myriad of concessions for the theater goer. The performer was Geoffrey Castle, who plays an electric violin with flair and talent. He brought with him his entire five-person band plus special guests Beth Quist of Cirque du Soleil and Don the Bagpiper. Even Santa Claus made an appearance, and rightfully so, because that show rocked. Castle is an exceptional performer and is accustomed to considerably larger venues and crowds, but he played with enthusiasm and often left the stage to walk up the aisle and interact with audience members.

The Concrete Theater in Concrete, WA

The Concrete Theater in Concrete, WA. Photo by Elissa Kobrin

Valarie Stafford and her staff welcome concert-goers at the Concrete Theater

Valarie Stafford and her staff welcome concert-goers at the Concrete Theater. Photo by Elissa Kobrin

Geoffrey Castle and his band perform at the Concrete Theater

Geoffrey Castle and his band perform at the Concrete Theater. Photo by Elissa Kobrin

The concert truly felt like a community affair, with friendly greetings amongst audience members prior to the performance. Valerie Stafford is the theater’s owner, “The community has been absolutely amazing at supporting the theater. They attend our movies regularly and take part in lots of our other events. I also use the facility for Encore Fitness, and have a great following of fitness fanatics at my classes.”

Rockport, Washington

Head nine miles east of Concrete and slow down, or you might miss this place where the Skagit River runs wide and the eagles come in droves each winter to pluck plump salmon from the pristine waters. Howard Miler/Steelhead Park provides river access and wildlife interpretive trails with views of the sublime Eldorado Peak and its giant glacier to the East.

Just south of Highway 20 is Blue Heron Farm and Nursery. This local staple has been around since 1979 and has provided farm fresh fruit, vegetables, bamboo, and plants to the community. The farm is also home to National Park Service ranger-extraordinaire, Mike Brondi. Above the barn, Mike built an extraordinary space for Tai Kwon Do, meditation, and Yoga. Classes are provided by local instructors by donation, and the space has been well appointed with mats, blankets, blocks, and meditation cushions as a result of the generosity of participants. The intention behind the space was to provide a venue for spiritual practice and recreation that was not cost prohibitive. Truly a community space, the Rockport Yoga Studio is for and by the people of the upper Skagit.

The well-appointed Rockport Yoga Studio

Plenty for All: The well-appointed Rockport Yoga Studio. Photo by Elissa Kobrin

The Rockport Yoga Studio provides Tai Kwon Do, Meditation, and Yoga classes by donation

The Rockport Yoga Studio provides Tai Kwon Do, Meditation, and Yoga classes by donation. Photo by Elissa Kobrin

A singing bowl at the Rockport Yoga Studio

A singing bowl at the Rockport Yoga Studio. Photo by Elissa Kobrin

Marblemount, WA

Hidden a mile or so up a gravel road along Diobsud Creek you will find Marblemount Homestead. There, Corina and Steve Sahlin raise their three children on five acres of farm and forest land. Corina was born and raised in southern Germany where she learned the art of cheese making from the ubiquitous artesian cheese makers in her homeland. As a child, Steve spent ten years in primitive Papua New Guinea where his parents served as missionaries. The simplicity and happiness of the people of Papua New Guinea inspired Steve. He became passionate about wilderness and tool crafting, and brought that passion to the upper Skagit where he teaches bow-making and wilderness survival classes. Corina raises goats and teaches classes in cheese making and goat husbandry. She makes and sells goat milk soaps and hand knits and felts beautiful hats, scarves, and other garments which she sells on her Etsy webpage.

Corina Sahlin and her daughter, Eva milking their goat

Having a Goat Time: Corina Sahlin and her daughter, Eva milking their goat. Photo by Corina Sahlin

From left: Kai, Eva, Corina, Lukas, and Steve Sahlin

A Homestead Family: From left: Kai, Eva, Corina, Lukas, and Steve Sahlin. Photo by Elissa Kobrin

Steve Sahlin displays a bow  and arrow he crafted. Sahlin teaches bow-making classes at his home

Survival Skills: Steve Sahlin displays a bow and arrow he crafted. Sahlin teaches bow-making classes at his home. Photo by Corina Sahlin

A selection of hand-felted hats made by Corina Sahlin

Colorful Toppings: A selection of hand-felted hats made by Corina Sahlin. Photo by Elissa Kobrin

Steve and Corina believe strongly in the power of community and they feel fortunate to have found a close community in their neighbors. When their oldest boy, Kai, wanted to learn to play the fiddle, Corina was supportive, but skeptical as to where a teacher could be found and considered the challenge of commuting long distances for lessons. When her neighbors learned of Kai’s interest, one gifted the boy with a fiddle, and another has provided lessons while refusing any kind of compensation. Last year, community members came together to create the Marblemount Community Market where local crafters, including Corina, offer their wares and musicians provide entertainment at the Marblemount Community Hall. Steve and Corina believe that strong community bonds and relationships happen organically, and that they cannot be forced. They have happily made Marblemount their home for nine years.

Road’s End

When I first arrived in Diablo as a North Cascades Institute graduate student this past September, I felt overwhelmed by what appeared to be a remote and isolated place. I had left behind irreplaceable friends and a rich community in Eugene, Oregon. However, when I took the time to linger a while, and when I made the commitment to stay for my winter break and seek out the community I hoped was here, I was blessed to find an abundance of creativity, warmth, and connection hidden just beyond the highway.

Lead Photo: The Skagit River from Howard Miller/Steelhead County Park. Photo by Elissa Kobrin

Elissa Kobrin is a graduate student in North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. program. She is a co-editor of Chattermarks. When not tracking down moose, she is keeping the world safe, one Band-aid at a time.

2IcyDropatELC

Cold Showing

December 9th, 2013 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

Cold is the colour of crystal the snowlight
That falls from the heavenly skies

— Annie Lennox, “Cold”

The first successive days of sub-freezing temperatures have transformed the landscape on scales both minute and grand. An early morning walk revealed the ironically soft and whimsical designs pulled forth by the first hard frost.

Weeks of rain have provided a canvas for hoarfrost, and it’s made many things its muse. Ground cover plants, giant fallen maple leaves, and clusters of tiny mushrooms now wear sparkling crowns of white. The most mundane objects become magical in moonlight when glazed: concrete, rocks, weeds, grass and windshields. All are the fuel of fairytale when covered with diamond dust.

4hoarfrostleafA Big Leaf Maple leaf covered in hoarfrost.
1hoarfrostgroundcoverHoarfrost decorates the ground cover at the Environmental Learning Center.
3hoarfrostmushroomHoarfrost creates sparking crowns on a cluster of mushrooms.

Frost is not nature’s only medium. The cold has created complex sculptures of ice on the north-facing rock wall of Diablo Dam Road. There, water seeps readily and consistently through cracks in the rock, and the dripping water has created its own vast exhibition. On one of my more dangerous self-imposed photo assignments, I stood on a steep, narrow, and winding road under huge daggers of ice on roadway that was more like a skating rink. Only the rusty metal guardrail stopped me from falling as I moved to avoid a Seattle City Light maintenance truck as it cruised down to the dam. It was worth the risk.

» Continue reading Cold Showing

IMG_1826

The Last Days in the Rain Shadow

December 3rd, 2013 | Posted by in Adventures

The weight of a winter storm has whisked away the opportunity to further my exploration of the Methow Valley for another season. The fragile thread of concrete that is Highway 20 has crumbled under the piles of snow and biting wind, cutting me off from the expansiveness of this high desert refuge. There, the strange arid landscapes spread out thin and dry from the rain shadow of the North Cascades. Abundance lines the banks of the Methow River: fresh produce, fine wineries, excellent coffee and recreation aplenty. I have found it challenging to move myself beyond the borders of this Nirvana, but recently my curiosity was sufficiently piqued.

As one who called Oregon home for many years prior to my arrival in Washington, I had always claimed the Columbia River by right as an Oregonian. I have explored its reaches from every vantage on the Oregon side. Upon meaningful examination of a map, however, I had to admit that it was much more a Washington river, which did not alter my adoration. I set out to find the Columbia Plateau: my river beyond the Oregon border bend.

Upon my exploration of the flood lands to the East I embarked. The Columbia carved its mighty way, reflective and deep through the sagebrush-spotted hills of brown grass and exposed rock. Bighorn sheep leapt along the upper reaches of its banks, darting with ease over the steep slopes and loose terrain. Once a glacial lake at the southernmost edge of the Cordilleran Ice Sheet, the Columbia River’s geologic origins held a dramatic history that starkly contrasted its now tranquil presentation.

IMG_1793A male bighorn sheep amongst the rocks near the Rock Island Dam on the Columbia River in eastern Washington.
IMG_1831Once the largest waterfall in the world, Dry Falls remains a dramatic monument to its turbulent past.

I had entered the Channelled Scablands, and it felt like Oz. I was in disbelief that I was still in the state of Washington. Between 14,000 and 20,000 years in the past, the landscape had been repeatedly rocked by cataclysmic floods. Ice up to 4,000 feet high scored deep channels into the landscape which would fill with water. The water would become trapped behind enormous walls of ice until the colossal pressure shattered them and sent inconceivable torrents though the valley. It would have been like Armageddon around every dozen years or so.

» Continue reading The Last Days in the Rain Shadow

thirtymile memorial

The Gifts of Prometheus : the natural and social dimensions of fire ecology

October 21st, 2013 | Posted by in Field Excursions

Terror surged silently through my viscera as I watched the swirling inferno twist red and merciless up the talus in the smoke-blackened darkness of night.

Trapped on a rocky, steep slope in a canyon without exit; that is how I would have perished had I been forced to make the same decision faced by five wildland firefighters in 2001. I had to control my breathing and disconnect myself from the story being read by our professor, Dr. John Miles, at the Thirtymile Fire Memorial up the Chewuch River Valley in Okanogan National Forest. Four of the five firefighters lost their lives in ways I dared not ponder while fleeing a storm of fire fueled by high temperatures, low humidity, and extreme drought. At the memorial, their faces stared smiling and youthful from the stone wall adorned with emblems, mementos and the remnants of weathered paper notes tucked under rocks of granite.

As graduate students, we were on our annual Fall Natural History Retreat, and this year found us traveling east to the Methow Valley to study both the natural and social dimensions of fire ecology. Before reading from John Maclean’s book, The Thirtymile Fire, Dr. Miles asked us what we would have done: taken cover in the stream or climbed high into the rocks? I chose the rocks, thinking that I would have been able to find a hole with enough depth in which to take refuge and preserve my life. I would have been wrong.

thirtymile memorialA patch from Whatcom County firefighters at the memorial site, weighted by two chunks of granite.

Fire: Prometheus’ great offering to humankind. Stolen from the gods and placed in our fragile hands of flesh and bone. Who knew what a frenemy we would find in the gift for which he paid such an eternal price? Our fear and fascination have persisted throughout time immemorial. Yet finding a balance between protection of property and fire’s greater purpose still mires our management practices.

Thirtymile exemplified a forest fire’s ability to be both a harbinger of deadly destruction and one of cleansing renewal. Charcoal and bone, the remnants of a once verdant forest protruded like skeletal fingers from the earth. The valley itself, however, was smeared with lime, gold, burgundy, rust and canary. Nature’s intrinsic instrumentation was evident. Fire swept away the abundant, dry understory. It ridded the land of pests and pestilence such as mountain pine beetle and laminated root rot. It held the key to unlock the serotinous cones of the lodgepole pine.

Then, from the ash, came Nature’s healers: lupine, fireweed and alder to fix nitrogen back into the soil and make way for the forest’s rebirth. The earth erupted in a symphony of color, drawing butterflies and hummingbirds. Dead tree trunks provided homes for invertebrates that became tasty snacks for woodpeckers and sapsuckers. Aspen, wild rose and other sun-loving species burst from the desolation, and among them began growing stout little conifers to begin the forest anew.

red barkRegeneration after fire: Aspen trees come in to a disturbed ecosystem early on and help fix nitrogen for the rest of the plant community, as well as offer important browse food for animals.

» Continue reading The Gifts of Prometheus : the natural and social dimensions of fire ecology