Peaks and Valleys

Just a few miles from EEC Forest Stewardship land, there stretches an expanse of forest climbing into the beginning of The Cascade Mountains. Jagged young peaks are reaching upward, maybe one day cresting higher than The Himalayas. There is a complex series of tectonic plates moving in chaotic tension throughout the west coast. It makes geology here rich in layers of minerals and nutrients, which creates the famous fertility in our soil- especially in the valleys, which act as catchments for the eroding sediment of the rock towers above.

Evidence of massive glaciers, from the ice age, carved out much of the young rock- 5-7 million years ago. Alpine lakes like Hancock (pictured above), hold a treasure trove of huge smooth boulders, the left behind labors of frozen water; grinding mountains into sand. Nearby, towards the coast, sentinel giants stand, an example of proper social distancing. Aliened with the coast, these 14,000 foot guardians are conjured by deep geologic unrest. Tectonic plates, subducting beneath larger continental bodies, are consumed by the pressure, melting rock in the unbearable friction. Then, pushed up by magma, these isolated peaks- stratavolcanoes like Baker, Rainier, and St. Helens- stand poised in momentary explosive reaction.

Washington has just celebrated the 40th anniversary of the eruption of Mount Saint Helens. It’s a stark reminder of the force generating just under foot in The Cascadian Subduction Zone. This abundant geology hosts some of the richest ecology on earth, from towering forests, to staggering marine life, a place so rich with flora and fauna, it’s peoples grew to be some of the most culturally rich tribes in North America. The soil here is still coveted by agriculturalists, and our valleys are thick with farms.

EEC Forest Stewardship is located on the south slope of land clear cut a few times, then left to reseed naturally on the sleep ground, and kept as open pasture in larger flat areas, most likely graded out by tractors or bulldozers in the 1980s. The clear cutting on our ridges left slopes exposed to the rains, and precious topsoil eroded rapidly away down the hills. Today’s topsoil layer is less than 4 inches in some places, dusted over the incredible compacted clay and rock that was compacted down by over a mile of ice millions of years ago. Modern digging equipment cannot break through this layer easily, and neither can the trees. Most of our tall giants you see growing today sit like pancakes on the surface of the soil. It’s a stark reminder of how precarious nature’s structures can be.

The geological makeup of our forest bed was recently, (in geological time a few thousand years) the gravel pileup left from a glacier, which then banked the edge of a post ice-age lake. My retired dairy farm neighbor just north of us has the lake bed, and kept a herd of cattle on it quite easily with all that rich soil. It would be great to see that place humming with cultivation once more- working in tandem with the amazing wetlands which still survive as a remnant of the lake that once was. The area is full of springs, which feed Wiess Creek, the salmon stream running through EEC.

These small creeks and streams have been slowly carving out new valleys in The Cascades. Our little plot sits on the toe of the foothills- an area along which the last great ice sheets melted away, leaving boulder strewn riverbeds and the classic rocky hillsides which make up much of our ridge line today. It’s hard to remember we’re on young land, which continues to build up along The Pacific Plate, which is active, and usually quite violent when it shifts. What does this mean for EEC Forest Stewardship? Not much, on the geologic scale, but over 200′ of potential movement to the west, if a big one hits. We might be on a more westward facing slope in the event of a massive quake. But it could happen any time, including 100 years from now. Let’s just say, I don’t loose sleep over it- yet.

Looking at the bigger picture, geological time, is good for anyone tending land. You get a better understanding of your soil makeup, and the constraints nature has put on your ecology. Our shallow topsoil limits tree maturity, and we now know our current conditions, mainly due to post timber harvest soil erosion, will not allow old growth trees a chance to return. It’s a hard blow to our romanticized vision of an old growth forest one day thriving on this hillside- and it might one day, thousands of years from now. But in this lifetime, all we can do is cultivate canopy redistribution and cover the soil with fertility to help reestablish the topsoil base. It’s simple and regenerative, the basic tenet at EEC.

If a nearby strata-volcano goes off, we might also get a great layer of ash, which will also jump-start the topsoil growth. This is how the macro-ecology of The Pacific Northwest works, and has been for thousands of years. Though my tending is just a blip in the life of this land, my understanding of it will take a whole lifetime and then some, so I’m well fed and tended by this lesson literally and figuratively- so to speak. Trying to have a massive impact is fruitless, where as the plate tectonics and climate sway the scales. That makes is easier to relinquish control, embracing the elements of nature which weave this fine tapestry of life. Each strand is so vital to the whole, and worth the effort to pick over as you discover the patterns within the terrain.

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