Sunday, July 10, 2011

standing still in the cold

over the past two weeks we have been moving constantly. working hard to stay warm, measuring trees, paddling to sites, scrambling up/over/around every which way through downfall and regeneration, hanging bear bags, fetching water, cooking under tarps, dancing and singing loud to keep spirits up & the grizzlies away, and battling the steady chill of wind and rain on the outer coast. we are moving so much during the day, i have been waking with hunger pangs at night despite whatever we try to pack in during the day. some of the older mortality forests are so dense it takes us an hour to move a distance less than a city block.

after completing 86 kilometers of a coastal survey by boat to map the spread of mortality (big thanks to SCS and scott harris), we randomly selected 40 plots to measure this summer. so each day is like a treasure hunt – we have a point on a map, we have an idea about what we might see there, and then we try to find it by GPS, map and compass. i’ve built in safety clauses that come first before science. i think i am on the only one in the crew with a fear of heights. so around 60% slope when my heart starts to patter and i start hugging more trees for comfort, we reroute. we do the same sometimes for science. at times little spot X leads us to we boggy musqegs with few scattered trees on the edges of the productive stands, and then we have to reroute by our protocol again to find our plot for the day. it can be frustrating, working so hard to get to the place where we actually start our work.

there is a sense of anticipation amidst us all for that moment when we drop the stake in the ground, look up and the trees, and call out our plot number. R_03_31! Recent mortality, 3rd site, from coastal survey observation number 31. i am so focused on being present in my movement through the forest --- watching for patterns of plants and big trees as we move, finding my best route to avoid any injury, and listening for birds and wildlife. when i stand at plot center for that first time, it feels like meeting a new friend. I look up and start to think about the structure of the dead forest above and the new growing below. there are first impressions. i make those judgements, sizing everybody up, and know then that for the next 8 hours and then the years to come, that place will teach me a lot more on its own. if only I look hard and listen. there is an aurah of history in the white skeletons of cedar. then this curiosity about what booms below. a curiousity about the future.

my favorite task is the last of the day – when paul and I get to coring. his positive energy is relentless as he jumps from tree to tree and kate nails the heights. we have made all our measurements. i have my thoughts on what’s happening here. we have a roster of everybody in our plot “Yellow Cedar, Dead, Class 4… broken at the top…” “Sitka Spruce, big fatty DBH 40.3 centemeters…” when I pull out the core the years of each trees life unfold before us. it’s also a moment when I laugh at myself thinking, “how the heck did become one of those people geeking out over something like a splinter of wood?” and then I realize it is all about standing still.

something about our generation today especially has led to a lot of wandering. I’ve been a wanderer myself. scattering here or there, savoring each place and person in my life for the time, that smaller window. the tendency, the draw is to wander. I think people find it easier to hop from one job to the next, one place to the next, than to stand still, really commit to one, and accept all the challenges and then wonders that come with that. there are times I question what I am doing. especially in the harder moments... but the questioning doesn’t last long. despite all the moving day after day, i am standing still, getting to know a place deeper that I ever have with quite a group of committed, adventurous souls. it's not just any place -- but a carefully chosen one. we are out there on the edges of the outer coast, "frolicking" on the far margins of Wilderness. these lands are farther from “civilization” by any standard in the lower 48. they are intact and “pristine” – what those Hudson River School romantics would have painted if they had only been able to get here. landscapes that seem like remnants of the wilderness Thoreau pondered and what people once encountered in the old growth stands of the pacific northwest.

but here too, amidst the fog and vast open waters of slocum arm, these forests too are changing. we’re doing our best to learn how and why it’s important. i believe standing still has something to teach us. so tomorrow we go back. i need to eat another pound of cheese and spinach before then, but tomorrow we go back.

we’ll be out for another 12 day stint, back on the 22nd. thank you for the carepackages of fatty cookies and sweet smellin love. b & s at the roble ridge farm take the cake for the best homemade hippy granola ever. and thanks to a little california sun, i'm adding a "new" tshirt to the one sacred set of tent clothes that must stay dry at all costs.

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