Generations, Generation, and Regeneration
The combination of memory, calendars, and cameras help us appreciate how time passes and how forests change and regenerate, if we let them.
This past week, 23 year old Molly has been the “crew boss” as we continue the hard, rewarding, long, and meditative work of pruning the lower branches from a plantation of fir trees. 12 acres times 400 trees per acre gives us plenty of time to contemplate life’s persistent questions – and the forest around us. As we ended our lunch break, refueled our saws and headed back to work, she recalled the sequential photos taken of her, her brother, and her grandfather taken in the same place. Ned planted the trees in about 1995. Molly and Ben joined him in admiring the struggling seedlings in about 1996 . In 2008 they, as teenagers, stood with their grandfather in the tree’s growing shadows. And now, with her grandfather having moved on to fertilize new trees, Molly is tending the twenty year old forest, regenerated from what was once a pasture. Over lunch we hear the calls of various birds that are now finding their lunch, homes, and nesting habitat in the regenerated forest. Looking down from our pruning we see the burrows and scat of forest nurturing small mammals that have moved in.
While still mulling the interrelationships between generations, generation, and regeneration, I noticed and became excited about recent changes down along Lousignont Creek. Since this land was clear cut, railroad logged, burned over and left back in the 1920s, the regenerating forest has been dominated by a single species – Douglas fir. It has now grow to a relatively similar age and size – 90 years. While we and others find the forests to be beautiful and uplifting, we’re aware that they lack the complexity and resilience that we appreciate in older, more complex forests. But that is changing. A few days after working on Molly’s pruning crew, while clearing out creekside trails, I was surprised and thrilled to spot the vital, young shoots of naturally regenerated Hemlocks and Grand fir. “So, what’s the big deal?” you might reasonably ask. The big deal is that, with time, the forest is beginning to do what we hoped and anticipated that it would do – moving from an even aged monoculture into a more complex and resilient multi species, multi-aged forest. With each passing year, the shade tolerant newcomers are filling in a solid understory. Old growth in training and in the making!
Further downstream I am excited to see another welcomed and hoped for change. In both 1995 and 2005, we worked with good partners to enhance the creek by placing multiple clusters of large logs. Seeking to replicate the large wood that gave essential structure, and vital habitat to salmon and other life, for millennia, we invested time, money, effort, and care in carefully placing the logs. With both projects, our assumption was that by placing the wood we were repriming the creek’s ecological pump so that, given time, the meanderings and undercuttings of the creek would recruit an ongoing, self replenishing supply of crucial large wood. We believed that, with a bit of help, partnership between the creek and the surrounding forest would lead to regeneration of the health and wealth of the creek. What I discovered, when I shut down the noisy brush cutter and surveyed the creek, was that our assumption has been validated. The photo below shows an good cluster of interwoven logs, blocking, slowing and redirecting the creek’s current. Unlike the human made clusters doing the same work upstream and downstream, humans had no direct hand in creating this cluster. As planned, the creek’s ecological pump has been successfully reprimed and the system is actively regenerating itself without further fussing by us. In the sheltering pools below, I spot and watch tiny Coho smolts, regenerated by the creek’s ecosystem and their parents that returned, spawned, and gave their lives to nourish the system and their offspring the year before.
Trees sprout, grow, die, fall and rot. People, salmon and all life in the forest do the same. Birth – death – regeneration. The exciting miracle is that the larger ecosystem of this forest not only lives on, but, given a chance and a bit of help, regenerates and becomes stronger, more resilient, beautiful and useful with each passing generation. With care, our human communities do the same. Now, there’s something to write home about! But aren’t we already home?