The woods are lovely, dark, and deep
Walking through the woods may seem like an everyday activity enjoyed by millions of people around the world, but it’s not, and most people do not walk through woods very often, if at all. Many people drive through woods, or look at the edge of forests, like the two pictures above, but when you are in them, standing with giants, you take a breath of something so real, palpable- rich earthly loam and rotting wood; the climax of earth’s biological productivity in physical form, forest.
Trees are taken for granted; we grow millions a year to chop down as annual decorations in the house, only to be thrown out on the burn pile or into landfill a few weeks later and forgotten for another year. What if we decorated neighborhood trees that continued to grow and thrive; adding life to the community and creating a shared gathering place for festivities of peace on earth and good will towards your fellow man? I know, it’s cold at Christmas time, and if the holiday season is your thing, green bows of fresh evergreen are crucial for that old time smell of the woods, complete with crackling fire and warm tidings of feasting.
A forest can support such revelry, and heat a home; if the woods are cared for, and the people manage themselves within the landscape to support such consumption. Neither is happening today, and so, for those of us who do have the advantage of mature woodlands; good stewardship and restoration are crucial to allowing a future where anyone can know the collective consciousness of forest. In understanding the climax of soil production, we can perhaps take a closer look at productivity related to our own food cultivation- something we need to survive and sustain the numbers of people we are willing to produce.
In The Pacific Northwest, we were told 200 years ago, that the forests of our towering evergreens could never be completely cut down. Trees are renewable- they grow right back when replanted. Oh how foolish we were, and still are. The only reason our trees grew so big out here and survived was the climate and amazingly rich volcanic soils. Once we cut the timbers, all the fertility eroded away in our winter rains. You can see the silt outflow into Lake Washington still happening today in the time-laps above.
When forests are abruptly taken away, massive loss of top soil happens through flooding, because nothing is left on the landscape to drink up the rains; and so, the waters flow uninhibited across the landscape and take any loose debris with them into the rivers and oceans beyond. Forests have the most ground to sky cover in the form of canopy, which catches the falling rain, defusing impact of rain on soil. Organic matter on and in the soil soaks up the water, holding it where it falls. Plants and animals drink up the waters too, storing the moisture in their own bodies and keeping the water localized
In this picture, a snow melt during heavy rains flooded the land. As water sheeted down the landscape, it comes into our swale system and stops there, slow seeping into the ground for a deeper watering on this hillside. Our main food forest will be planted here over the next few years.
Would it not make sense that the more layers of biomass on the surface to soak up and utilize water, the more could be stored in place? Could the retention of water on the landscape ultimately lead to more fertility and growth? What about additional composting biomass in the soil to aid in water retention? Studies say YES! When we improve canopy layers and create more biomass in soil, its ability to remain resilient as the climate becomes more unstable will be necessary for all survival.
At Weiss Creek, our local salmon bearing stream on the farm, there is always a flow of water here, even during the worst drought season. This abundance is due in part to its relatively intact forests along the banks. However, recent developments above the headwaters of this stream have sent large amounts of silt down stream. It fills up the deep pools where salmon love to spawn. Without good flood years to push the debris on down, reopening the important spawning habitat, the water way becomes clogged and causes more flooding and erosion across the landscape.
On the southeast side of the farm property, a neighbor clearcut most of their 40 acre parcel in the late 90s. There remains to this day, a seasonal stream which comes from their land onto Leafhopper Farm’s back pasture, feeding directly into Weiss Creek. It was carving away at the bank and forging a path along the east fence line which will eventually carry off the topsoil. By ditching and diverting the flow over the landscape with some intentional earth dams and holding pools, we’ve slowed the runoff, diverting a lot of it into our willow basket grove, nut trees, and future “back 40” food forest.
Taking advantage of runoff due to deforestation can be to your advantage, but the clearcut land next door will continue to experience drainage problems, flooding, and erosion. In The Pacific Northwest, without the rain-forest, the rain will carry off our landscape, including any development, especially structures built on slopes. Even with good forest cover, entropy does continue, and landslides happen. Human caused deforestation for timber and developable land in a rainforest will lead to a chain reaction of environmental collapse that has already begun. The best thing you can do today is plant trees, everywhere you can, now.
There are places in the world right now reforesting the landscape and it’s bringing water and bio-diversity back to places once thought lost to desertification. The movement is gaining steam-