Battle Field Clues – Scarlet Ribbons
Standing on a winter’s day in this cool forest, surrounded by 12″ fir trees, it is all too easy to forget that not long ago this was the scene of a heated battle. The only clues are the shreds of faded marking tape emerging from the tree bark and fluttering from long dead limbs.
Pausing to add fuel to the saw I am using to limb the fast growing trees up to eight feet, I recall the scene on the hot August day twelve years earlier when we bent low to tie the bright red flagging on what were then a struggling, small seedlings. 400 tress per acre x 12 acres. Contrary to our normal, zen-like approach to forest work, we were involved in a battle. And it was a hot, sweaty battle that we weren’t winning or likely to win. We were trying to persuade this twelve acre former pasture that it wanted to once again become a forests, but the aggressive, invasive scotch broom was overwhelming both us and the vulnerable fir seedlings. Row by row, Pam and Peter, with the help of two hardworking teenaged helpers worked through the hot afternoon spotting smothered seedlings amongst the engulfing broom, marking their uppermost branch with a foot of plastic scarlet ribbon, and then cutting a six foot circle of broom from around them to liberate them for another year of growth. We worked against the odds, but today the trees reach to over thirty feet and the vanquished remains of the broom rots away in the shady undergrowth. Our too helpers have grown much as the trees have. Daniel Barnes is happily married, has his own crop of seedlings (kids) and teaches school in Wyoming, and Emily Keeler is a thriving adult working with Growing Gardens helping low income Portlanders learn to grow their own food.
Good forestry should not be about battles and force, but these faded bits of flagging curling out of the bark of the tree on this January afternoon reminds me that sometimes battle is called for, and that with the right help you can work against the odds to win.