A modest grove of Ponderosa Pines stand at attention on the west fence line of “the back 40” after a few inches of snow on Winter Solstice. My hair is also now at shoulder length again- growing for Wigs for Kids this year. Made a resolution to be gentler with myself- and show empathy to my faults with grace. Though my hair grows fast, the trees are slow, and with good reason- putting on what could be thousands of rings in one lifetime, while I will hope for 100. The trees behind me also mark a fence line, which I am now clearing in preparation to install a new field fence- to keep in sheep and dogs, while deterring coyote. Only two large pasture areas will be fenced, leaving the open wildlife corridor along Weiss Creek as a highway for wildlife. In another 60 years, the whole place will become forest in perpetuity.
In the mean time- make way for new lambs and more forest replanting. Our herd of Katahdin Ewes are about to burst with new life- which will double our herd and requite a lot of smart resource management. This should be the largest flock you’ll ever see at EEC. After this year, we’ll be culling and selling to get our herd down to about 8 breeding ewes and one ram. That’s the dream team of working sheep here on the land- and our barn will be a palace for the resident flock. Right now we are at 14, with at least 8 lambs on the way- 16 if everyone has twins, but I doubt that. Still, we’ll have too many animals, and we only came to this as a plan to create our own herd from good breeding stock- most of which consisted of old ewes who will pass on some well established genetic material for our fresh, young herd. The older ewes have also had time to pass on wisdom to their daughters, thus ensuring good instinct and herd habits.
The slightly deconstructed sweat lodge frame you see in the picture above was erected just before COVID by a First Nation person who had to pause on his spiritual quest, as he was assigned to a COVID ward at his hospital as soon as the virus took hold- Washington State had the first domestic cases in The US. This amazing front line healthcare worker has not been able to get back here for work on his sweat lodge, but did celebrate a union of partnership with his beloved at the end of 2020. More good news in these darker times. The lodge will eventually become active, but for now, nature happily comes back into her own.
There has been a lot of new growth here at EEC Forest Stewardship- including the continued restoration of our stream buffer. Young native plants like snow berry, Douglas Fir, and even Saskatoon berry are continuing to hold fast in the replanting near our salmon bearing stream. This restoration is some of this first large scale replanting on the property, and it’s a motivational for how quickly overgrazed pasture invaded by blackberry can quietly turn back into a native forest with thriving under-story. Though just like the Ponderosa Pines, growth is slow, the long term regeneration of this landscape is easy to see, and celebrate.
Our new Livestock Guardian Dog, Gill, has been a wonderful addition to the stewardship program. He continues to show great social ability and good manners at EEC. With a lot of good structure, routine, and patience, I’m learning how the Kangal (Anatolian) Shepherd works and plays. Gill has become good friends with Valentine, and the two can play for hours while I’m working in the field nearby. Though Gill came to us with a history of dog aggression, especially with toys and food, we have slowly been working on these behavioral challenges, and found that most of them melt away once Gill began to trust Valley as a balanced animal. She has never shown any possessive behavior, and happily drops a stick or bone if Gill wants it- he in turn grows tired of grabbing things the other dog could care less about, and goes back to his watch on the sheep. With his natural instincts fed, Gill shown no interest in what might be called delinquent behavior. It’ a win win for us and the dog.
In other animal news, baby chicks are growing up fast, showing lots of great instinct as fair feathered friend of fertility- pooping out organic yummy for our compost, and scratching away at the ground as soil aerators and bug pest predators. Yay chicken systems! We’ll plan to cull older hens in February, to make room for our new young pullets. A local outdoor educator has asked to buy a few hens from the cull for a survival class. It’s always great to support outdoor education, and lessons in animal processing is a specialty at EEC. In the mean time, cold winter weather has kept the chicks inside until more favorable temperatures arrive. In a few months, these young birds will also have enough plumage, and body mass to go outside. They will remain in their “round pen” setup next to the house for a few more months, gleaning bugs and weeds around the edges of our buildings so we don’t have to mow. I’ll also make use of them in the garden, turning the soil, in prep for the planting season.
Speaking of gardening- I spent the Fall trying to rebuild edges- specifically along the driveway where greens began reaching into the road, pushing cars and trucks into the water redirect ditch on the other side. I pulled back the rock wall and began uprooting the invasion onto the road. The garden became a nursery for young native plants a few years ago, and this fall, many were uprooted from the garden and replanted into the greater landscape around us. The kitchen garden remains the most active cultivation garden near the house, but the front garden is the largest, and right now, full of grass. I have to admit, I’m not a great gardener- not in the veggie sense- and this winter, I am committed to working on re-establishing productivity in the gardens with the redesign of a greenhouse, and some major planning for seasonal replanting in the gardens. But that plan will have to wait a bit longer, as a more crucial infrastructure project is looming.
With the introduction of a Livestock Guardian Dog- Gill, the Anatolian Shepherd, we’re doing the responsible thing by establishing two large fenced fields to allow him free roaming space, while protecting our sheep from coyotes and roaming dogs by erecting 2,000 feet of six foot high field fence. This new boundary will establish the edged of the property (good fenced make good neighbors), while inviting our large dog to patrol freely, especially at night, when most predators are on the prowl. It’s taken a while to finally plan out fence lines, as these boundaries will be permanent (through my lifetime) and create hindrances to wildlife. We established the wildlife corridor first, so the migration paths of the animals could find the clear rout through. Once the new fencing goes up, wildlife will be funneled down to the creek, where they can pass through safely.
Though it is often encouraged to get fencing up quickly, at the start of a land stewardship project, I would say it is even more important to first know where the animals are moving, their trails and established territories within the landscape. Permaculture observations talk about human flow and traffic patterns, which dictate paths and gates. Animal paths are also important, though often overlooked when establishing hard edges on a property. This is one of the greatest challenges in dividing up a landscape into property lines. Hard boundaries often ignore natural features, animal migration routs, and even critical ecological niches where rare species are often found. Think of “The Wall” on our southern most boarder here in The US. There are massive lawsuits in action to stop the destruction of indigenous sacred sights, protect critical animal migration routs, and allow natural flow of a meandering habits of a huge river system.
In planning the long term management of EEC Forest Stewardship land- we cemented the long term reforestation plan with King County in our Public Benefit Rating System application, finalized in October of 2020. This contract will bind the land in a long term plan to slowly convert from agriculture to native forest over the next few decades. In setting resolution to be gentle with myself this year, I also put into action the slow plan of restoration, now on the books in our local county offices. In short- 20 years of sheep, then transition to another 20 years of replanting. The livestock will be fully phased out when I get into my 60s. As by then, the fertility of the land should be reasonably capable of supporting a forest, and my body will not be able to keep up with stock any more. In 40 years, the established forest will have grown tall enough to shade out most of our pastures, and without livestock, the land will need to be replanted to prevent blackberry from taking over again.
Our “zone 1” landscape will remain open, with orchard, out buildings, and residential habitat. In this area human activity will continue indefinitely, as long as it needs to. Right now, that looks like my home, but in 40 years, that could be an educational building or museum dedicated to holistic land stewardship. These are visions right now, and do not have to come to full fruition any time soon, slow growth, like the trees, making it easier to formulate the best design in time. Recognizing that anything could happen to disrupt, change, or eliminate this strategy, and that’s where continued adaptability comes into play. This is how nature survives, and EEC will too- maybe not as a forest as I see it, but as a landscape none the less. It is through strong intention, observation, and planning in both physical replanting and restoration, and legal definition which can help to formulate a strong future for forest on this property. May these actions help, not hinder, the natural world.
The struggles of 2020 were unprecedented in this world, and I fear the challenges will only continue. When we put our focus on the earth as a whole, transcending out personal fears and accepting our ignorance, we are open and ready to relate. Through relation with the world around us, we can better serve community needs, adapt to changing climate, and prepare for long term survival. Not just human survival, but ecological survival. As humanity confronts it’s ultimate vulnerability, perhaps we can restructure our consumer culture, to a more productive, collective mindset of restoration and rehabilitation for ourselves, and the environment. Gratitude for all the rich experience, opportunity, and privilege of land stewardship. Happy New Year!