Tag Archives: conifers

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.

 

The morning quality in the mountains.

2018

Yesterday I drove all day to get up to my family’s cabin in the high mountains. The journey was as easy as it could have been, and I arrived late afternoon instead of at dusk. But to say “easy” when talking about what I did — maybe I should have said it was less difficult than it might have been.

To maneuver a heavy machine at high speed through mazes of highways and byways, trying not to collide with any other machines carrying their tender human cargo, requires a huge amount of mental work, most of which seems to be unconscious, because I don’t feel it at the time. And the body, while sitting relatively immobile in a position some of the joints and sinews don’t appreciate, must still be poised to respond moment by moment to what information the eyes strain to get through the dirty windshield.

As soon as I walked through the door of the cabin I felt the extreme weariness of the effort, combined with the altitude that by itself makes everyone sleepy (8200 feet). I went to bed early and slept like a log of Lodgepole Pine.

This morning it’s blue skies I’m seeing as I sit on the deck, along with a blue dragonfly, a blue jay, and an occasional hummingbird. Chipmunks are chirping, and down below chain saws are roaring as men work to thin out some of the trees among the group of cabins, to lessen fire danger. The air is warm and soft, and will probably be about 30 degrees cooler than in the Central Valley that I drove through to get here.

I love just being in this mountain refuge, but since I started coming alone I usually have unrealistic goals for how I will use what seems from the lowlands like an extravagant amount of free time. This year I feel rather that Less is More; other than wanting to read and write in a more focused way for a few days, I don’t expect great feats. Of course I want to pay attention. Just now, as the sun and the saws draw the conifer essence into the air, I notice it becoming more aromatic. Now we’re talking easy!

Lodgepole Pine and Red Fir

Sisters +1 Jelly

GL P1020238What is proper footwear for a mountain cabin? My sisters and niece showed me how to dress properly, and even provided the gear.

I had a very full long weekend. Unfortunately it necessitated me driving two exhausting days for the sake of enjoying two layover days with family, at my sister Cairenn’s cabin that I was experiencing for the first time.

 

Good thing I had little I needed to do on my recovery day but look at photographs and write sentences to go with them. While I’m still in a grouchy mood I’ll get the bad parts of the excursion off my mind first. That way I can have pleasant pictures at the end and maybe go to bed feeling more elevated. But, okay, before we get to the bad parts, a beautiful jay. And a close-up of his blueness:

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Drought. Here in the lower elevations of the more southern Sierra Nevada, the lack of adequate snow and rainfall for several years in a row is evidenced by the sight of many dead trees. And on my way up the hill I saw Lake Success, which is at about 4% of its capacity.GL P1020490 Lake Success crpGL P1020397

Camp Nelson is a small community at a much lower elevation than our family cabin that is also in the Sierras. This town stays open all year, and the roads get plowed every day when it snows. The last many miles going in are so curvy, I got carsick even though I was driving. Of course that made the drive seem even longer.

I haven’t beenGL P1020435orig in the High(er) Sierra since July. Maybe the trees there are also yellowing and dying by now, but I suspect that these at the lower elevations and farther south are suffering more. At least one big tree on Cairenn’s lot needs to be removed safely before it comes down dangerously. It’s the one on the left in this photo with the peak of her cabin below.

In many cases it’s not the lack of water that kills the trees, but the bark beetle that does it. A USDA article explains: “Under normal conditions, trees produce enough resinous pitch to drown and ‘pitch out’ the beetles that attempt to enter. When trees are stressed they are unable to produce sufficient amounts of defensive pitch and the beetles are able to bore deep into the trunks of trees, eventually killing the tree.”

GL P1020394 Chamaebatia foliolosa mountain miseryOne plant that was a new discovery for me has always been disagreeable to my sister Nancy. When she first pointed it out to me on one of our several walks together around the village, I leaned up close and she cried, “Don’t touch it!”

She didn’t want me to be contaminated by its notoriously clinging odor. This wildflower in the rose family, called Bear Clover or Mountain Misery, is also not appreciated by most animals because of its smell. In the forest’s ecosystem it plays a complex role, as I read about in this article. It’s very drought-tolerant and recovers quickly from fire, too.GL P1020377

What else is super drought-tolerant? Our beloved manzanita. I took almost as many pictures of manzanita last weekend as of Steller’s jays. The ones in Camp Nelson get so tall! They all looked particularly healthy; I think they have the added protection of not being the sort of material the bark beetle prefers.

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In this picture on the right we have just discovered a manzanita seedling growing in the bank, and it is about to be transplanted by group effort to Cairenn’s lot.

We looked at trees a lot during our Sisters +1 Retreat. Those huge pine trees, Ponderosas and Jeffreys, are both found in this area. I have written about them before on my blog, but as often happens, the more you know the more you realize you don’t know…

 

 

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They resemble each other in so many ways. I hadn’t even heard before that the bark of one smells like vanilla; ah, but which one is it…? Both, as I read when I got home. The ones we sniffed did have that yummy scent.

I could tell by the way I was frequently lagging behind on these walks, that we didn’t have enough of a group mindset to do an intensive tree study, and anyway I’m not encouraged to spend a lot of time on the questions myself when I read that even experts have had to correct their identification errors.

GL P1020440 Camp Nelson wall art

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On our walks we saw donkeys and mules and deer. One evening we saw seventeen deer on the “meadow” that is a sort of town green.

And a bear track! I circled it in green below, looking something like a thumbless human handprint.

 

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As we relaxed at the cabin, eating, playing games, eating, reading and chatting, eating, the Steller’s jays and squirrels entertained us and kept me busy with my camera.

 

 

 

GL P1020302 Stellar's Jays CN

After I took about a hundred pictures of the jays I got down to business and did some sewing. I sewed a button on to my fleece jacket, which I then hung on a hook and left at the cabin – ugh! GL P1020415

I worked on one of my patchwork potholders, and started to take apart a pillow that was made for Pippin by her grandmother 30 years ago. I hope to spiff it up and re-stuff it.

 

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I even did some coloring with my sister and my niece Jelly. The picture I chose to color was one of the simplest in the book, and it reminds me a little of the elderberry bushes that I have admired so often up in the mountains. I didn’t see any in this area, though.

 

 

 

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What I did see were mountain sunflowers and their seed heads.

 

Two days with dear people went by so fast… Next thing I knew, I was driving back GL P1020461down that curvy road, early enough in the morning to get some more nice pictures. I had been taking vitamin B6 for two days, and maybe that was why I didn’t get queasy on the descent.

Just a little lower down there were fewer conifers and more desert-y plants to be seen, and wildly painted rock cliffs to highlight their drama.

Below is another plant I didn’t take the time to research today. It looks like some kind of berry bush, growing out of a rock cleft.

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…and I have to admit that yes, its leaves do somewhat resemble those of manzanita. I guess I have a fondness for leathery gray-green Survivors.

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As I wound my way down, off to the south the morning light came over the ridges and fell on forests of manzanita bushes that spread in rough bands across the slopes.

GL P1020469The last mountain scene I captured was of more rock, with late penstemon blooming out of it. I was amazed, and honored.

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When I arrived on the flats of the southern Central Valley, I kept taking pictures, because of the olive trees. More gray-green and hardy specimens! Tall ones dwarfing the orange groves…P1020495 Pville olives crp

…and just a few blocks from my old high school, old gnarly and knobby ones like this:

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I was grateful for the chance to walk around in this grove, and the brief encounter was very satisfying. Just hanging around the trees must have given me the strength to soldier my way up the Interstate for the remaining hours that were required to get me home. I like being home.

Good night.

 

Up and Down the Mountain

Last week was the occasion of a blessed excursion to my family’s mountain cabin, and this time I shared the time with my dear friend Mrs. Bread.

I’ve blogged about the cabin and lake before, here and here. The last two years I went mostly for time alone with God in His Creation. This time I enjoyed plenty of that experience, plus deepening of friendship, and working on improving or maintaining the house and property. Now that my father has passed, I am part owner of this place, and I happily but more intensely feel the responsibility to do my part, though I’m afraid I’ll never match the hardworking devotion of my siblings who live closer; some of them can dash up just for the day if they need to.

Here I am painting the threshold and doorjamb against the elements of winter. One year–or maybe more than one–the whole cabin was buried in snow, just a lump in the white landscape.

The drive took me ten hours, what with a leisurely detour to pick up Mrs. Bread on the way. So we stayed four nights so as to have three whole days for taking pictures, cooking, reading together, cleaning, admiring giant boulders and listening to the silence of the forest.
How can it be so awe-fully quiet? There are birds flitting and chipmunks scampering, breezes blowing and even the occasional chain saw in the village. But the earth feels peacefully serene up there, weighted with quiet, heavy with a silence that speaks of God’s presence. I seem to soak up contentedness and rest.

I needed the rest, as I had come down with a cough and cold in the two days before. The altitude gave me a headache the first night, and we both suffered from the reduced oxygen, our legs uncooperative and slow when we dragged back up the hill after a walk down to the lake.

It’s the High Sierra, and up there the mornings start out below freezing this time of year, making you want to lie abed and watch the sky lighten out the window. By midday it can be sunburning hot out on the deck, so we sat in the shade of the umbrella to peruse the several tree guides that have found their way to the cabin’s bookshelf.

At first we limited ourselves to studying the general shapes and angles of branches, focusing in on the cones with binoculars. Eventually we walked among the trees below the cabin and noticed where cones had fallen underneath their mother trees.

The pines in the neighborhood are mostly Lodgepole, as illustrated by the picture here. But to be truthful, it took Pippin’s later confirmation of that suspicion to make me believe it.

As we walked together marveling at the various beautiful flowers, berries, and stones, Mrs. Bread said, “These little trees grab at my heart!” See why I love her?

  

What a lot can be seen in this photograph, taken from outside the picture window, while I was sitting at the table inside writing a letter to a grandson. You can see the kitchen behind me, and the lake reflected behind Mrs. Bread’s reflection.

I like having these pictures of myself at the lake, something besides the ones of my feet that I took last year when solitary. Thanks, my friend!

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These three trees stood out from the pines with their trunks shown off by the granite slabs.  Mr. Glad thinks they might be red cedars.

The first morning at the cabin I read in the Psalter, “For Thou hast said: Mercy shall be built up for ever,” (Ps. 88) and was musing about the image that phrase conjured in my mind, of an edifice being constructed. And why not the image of towers of clouds, that often rain down showers of blessing? From now on, when I see cloud skyscrapers rising fast, piling layer upon layer, I will think of the way God’s mercies do the same, every morning.

Someone brought this small remembrance of our father up to put on the bedroom wall. If you click on it a couple of times you can read the labels. I love seeing my father’s handwriting, which didn’t change in all the years since this collection was made when he was in college.

Mrs. Bread helped me firm up my resolve to try really hard to come up to this beloved place more next year. It’s not available for very long, though: This week shutters will be put up, water turned off, chimney covered, to mention only a few of the many tasks to protect the house from blizzards–and if we can get through the snow to open it up before the first of July we’ll be happy.

I’ve never been up more than twice in a summer; I wonder if I really do have the liberty to even dream of spending a week, or visiting twice or three times. I’ll pray for a miracle, and wait to see how the Lord chooses to pile up His mercies next year.