Category Archives: trees

A strange forest bathing.

I was surprised to become personally involved with the tree thinning work here at the lake.  My second morning here, after my sister had arrived to spend a day with me, we got a knock at the door from one of the leaders of the fire safety project here in our cabin community. She wanted to review with us the recommendations from the primary agency toward the goal of “fuel reduction” and of making us a “Firewise Community.”

Fifteen workers from outside have joined dozens of property owners in the effort. Weeks ago many of us cabin owners had begun to cut small trees on our own lots and haul them to the roads, to increase the efficiency of the work crews who would join us this week, consisting of two state conservation agencies and a tree service.

If I had known further in advance about this project, I would have timed my visit to avoid it, but now I am really happy it worked out this way. Normally I am the least involved of us siblings in everything regarding our cabin because I live at such a distance compared to them.

But after Nancy was handed a can of orange spray paint, she and I walked around the property to decide on and mark trees that could be easily sawed down by a couple of our fellow residents who were about that business. And we had a consult with the tree service guys about the beautiful tree that features in several of my photos over the years, that unfortunately is one of those that poses a great fire risk by snuggling up to one side of the house.

Until recently, lot owners in our little group of cabins were forbidden to cut trees even on our own property. The expectation was that eventually permission would be given on a case-by-case basis. For many years there has been controversy about how to manage national forests and disagreement among government agencies; increasingly people understand the need to minimize wildfire danger by reducing fuel in the form of crowded forests, dead trees, and thick underbrush.

It was decided that they would take down that tree, and within a few minutes it was lying on the ground and being de-limbed.

While the chain  sawyers were working in front of our cabin, the noise and the exhaust fumes pretty much overwhelmed the senses. The last minutes of our big tree’s life, it was trembling under the repeated shocks of the hammers against wedges that had been squeezed into the initial cut. Nancy and I were standing off to the side taking videos. Then, down it came, and after a while the tree cutters moved on, the fumes dissipated, but the cut trees continued exhaling the last breaths of their essence.

The workers must necessarily be housed and fed by the property owners during this week that they are helping us, and a feeling of camaraderie was palpable. Workers and residents alike, nearly all of us have ties going back generations to small Central Valley communities, and many had been infused with a love for the mountains and the land by our parents and grandparents.

Usually when I am up here, I meet one or two of the other “summer people,” and am frustrated because I never get to know them and often forget their names. Rarely am I around for a work day, and as I most often come in September I miss many of the people who have stopped using their cabin when school starts. This week was different, and I’ve had the chance to talk with people from all the four parts of the group that has formed for this short project.

One cabin up the road is the sort of work center for the crews, and every night whoever wants can join them to eat and sit around a campfire. While I was there for a few hours last night we were often chatting about the wildfires that even now are blazing in the foothills below here, where several cabin owners have their first homes. Cell phones were often used to check for updates, especially regarding the brother of one of our company, who sent a photo of  the dark smoke billowing just behind his house.

When by the light of my little flashlight I walked away from the  smell of the campfire and back to my cabin, I immediately entered an atmospheric bath composed of those aromatics I’d enjoyed in smaller doses earlier. It was some kind of therapeutic essential oil experience! My musings since have prompted me to read about just what makes that heady aroma, and I found an article about Forest Bathing, and speculation about how the chemicals in tree sap are good for you: Terpenes and Health.

The piney scent of the forest is intensified when hundreds of trees are cut down and fed to ravenous chipping machines. The molecules of tree begin to be released as soon as the logs and branches are pushed in, and after the chopped up tree is spat out at the other end of the chute, the emanations continue for hours and probably days.

The products of all this chipping are left in piles along the roads, and there were several of these tall mounds along my path home last night. This morning several more had been deposited along the road in front of my cabin. They won’t be there long; one resident has equipment to take the chips away, and we have plans for using them right here in our mountain neighborhood.

This afternoon the weather I’d been wishing for arrived: claps and booms of thunder woke me from a nap, and soon a downpour of rain was clattering on the roof. And through the window wafted another, more humid dose of piney medicine. This highlighted experience of the trees and their yummy healthfulness seems like it might be an added reason to get myself to the mountains more often in the future, and practice forest bathing. But I won’t be disappointed at all if the aromatics in my bath are from trees still alive, with their roots intact and their branches in the sky.

 

Greedy among the flowers — and fruit.

WHO CAN EXPLAIN WHY WE  LOVE IT (PICKING MULBERRIES)

Who can explain why we love it—West Lake is good.
The beautiful scene is without time,
Flying canopies chase each other,
Greedy to be among the flowers, drunk, with a jade cup.

Who can know I’m idle here, leaning on the rail.
Fragrant grass in slanting rays,
Fine mist on distant water,
One white egret flying from the Immortal Isle.

-Ouyang Xiu,  (1007 – 1072) China

I get the impression that this outing to West Lake is primarily a chance to get away from work. The poet enjoys being idle, and maybe he and his friends just happen to find mulberries to pick while they are enjoying their drink and exulting in the beauty of the day.

In any case, even the title of the poem is not about eating the mulberries — but the fruit itself is on my mind since I recently discovered dried white mulberries in the market, from Turkey. They are unlike any dried fruit I’ve ever eaten. Their extreme sweetness leads people to say that the flavor is honey-like; the chewiness of them is what I love most.

I read that nearly every village in Anatolia grows them, and the growers also make mulberry syrup, which I’d like to try as well. So I offer some photos that I found online. I also ran across a post, “White Mulberries,” from a  Turkish blog, and it contains the kind of information that is most interesting to me.

The site Tropical Fruit Trees shows photos of several varieties of Mulberry, by which I was able to see that the ones I’ve eaten dried are the “Persian White” type. They are the most cold hardy and grow in USDA zones 3b through 9. If I had twice as much land as I do, I would surely want to plant one of these trees. They attract birds, and produce lots of fruit, which means, plenty to dry. The leaves are not only the best food for silkworms, but make good livestock feed as well. Maybe one of my readers will be inspired to plant a Persian White!

Savoring the togetherness.

Deer on a coastal rock.

I hope you have people to love, and those who love you. Every conversation with a neighbor or hug from a grandchild feels more precious to me as the days go by; before November winds all the way down I want to share a few scenes and moments that have been to me infusions of grace and joy in the midst of “interesting times” in the world.

It was almost a month ago that my neighbor Kim had a dinner party for several couples and one widow (yours truly) on our block. It was a very restorative and healing time, I think for all of us. Several of these people I had hardly seen for two years, though they live just a few doors down. Half of them had known my late husband.

After we were seated around a long dining table, our host gave a surprising toast to “The first of many more post-covid neighborhood parties!” All cups were raised, and the general tone of the ensuing comments, and the whole evening, was of holding on to our humanity and neighborliness as much as possible, no matter what comes. No one went home early that night; we sat around the gas firepit, or stood in the kitchen, chatting and sipping and savoring the togetherness, acting out the toast for a few blessed hours.

Closer to Thanksgiving, I returned to the beach with a former housemate who accompanied me three years ago just before she moved to New York. Our time there was refreshing and sweet; instead of the scores of seals we’d seen that time, gulls by the hundreds were swooping and gliding back and forth where a river empties into the sea.

We watched them, and the waves, while sitting on a log. When it was time to go, we climbed up a sand dune and tromped back to the parking lot, weaving through clumps of grass in our bare feet.

A few days later, who should arrive but my dear daughter Pippin and her family. They came in stages; when only three of them had got here, we went for a walk in the hills. It was the first time I’d been with Pippin in that particular park since the day Jamie was born, lo these many years ago, the  day after my husband’s funeral. So Jamie had been along, too, and maybe the jostling of that walk in springtime had prompted him to start his journey into the outer world.

This day, he was climbing trees with Ivy. First they climbed a Valley Oak, then a Buckeye (horse chestnut), and finally a Bay (Laurel) tree. Pippin joined them up in the bay.

We noticed many little trees and shrubs that were fenced in by wire cylinders, presumably against nibbling by deer. From a sign, here is a list of species that have been planted in the last ten years:

Later we worked on pies for our feast, and the children had the idea of making gluten-free pie-crust cookies for Uncle Steve, for whose sake Pippin was making such a dough for a pumpkin pie. I assembled the fourth version of my famous Grapefruit Gelatin Salad, which after ten years I am still refining to accommodate the changing ingredients available in the stores, and the loss of my favorite, odd-sized dish I always used for it. I’ll pass the recipe along when I fix it so that it fits in one 9×12 pan.

Our long weekend was very full, starting with Divine Liturgy on Thanksgiving morning, and including two (food) feasts, the little hike; and a busy afternoon, when Pippin and the Professor helped me to sort through old camping equipment, put hardware cloth over my planter boxes where the birds have been pecking, and hang fairy lights in the living room.

This little report covers only a small fraction of the loving friends and family who have made me feel the solace of God and the blessedness of the world. I reconnected with old friends and drank tea with many others. It has been a good month in important ways. May God keep our hearts during the next one and bring us with joy to the Feast of the Nativity of Christ.

“Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.” I John 4

It is hard to hear.

THE REGION NOVEMBER

It is hard to hear the north wind again,
And to watch the treetops, as they sway.

They sway, deeply and loudly, in an effort,
So much less than feeling, so much less than speech,

Saying and saying, the way things say
On the level of that which is not yet knowledge:

A revelation not yet intended.
It is like a critic of God, the world

And human nature, pensively seated
On the waste throne of his own wilderness.

Deeplier, deeplier, loudlier, loudlier,
The trees are swaying, swaying, swaying.

-Wallace Stevens