Snake in December

This place was once a temperate rainforest. It held vast canopies of giants, towering over a rich and thriving ecosystem that provided for millions of species. Then an over developed brain thought it would be a good idea to chop down all the trees for money and put cattle on the open fields left behind. Now the field is turning into a residential rental development. The Oregon grape pictured above was planted as part of a hedged walkway down to the river from the homes. On it rests a young garter snake. I took this picture in early December, learning only recently from a herpetologist friend in Nebraska, that reptiles and amphibians will remain active throughout winter in some regions. I’ve never seen a snake anywhere in North America during the winter. It appears that we’re having a warmer year. For the snake, this must be a confusing time. For me, it’s a little unnerving.

This last summer was the hottest on record, and to now feel similar warming during the winter foreshadows more hot summers ahead. The mountains have some snow now, and skiing enthusiasts are encouraging a late winter boom, but the snake sun bathing here in The Snoqualmie River Valley says otherwise. Though there might be some good snow pack entering The Cascades later this winter, even with that pracipitation, faster spring melt will send most of that water to ocean shores, preventing the slow melt and soak into the soil to feed what’s left of the forests. With so much canopy removed, the sun beats down on exposed soil and rock, evaporating much of the moisture into cloud systems that will dump heavier rains, washing away the top soil too. It’s a dramatic cycle that is only becoming more exaggerated with time, and our species is not adapting to these changes with any enthusiasm.

Here at EEC, we’re trying to cover our soil, slow water runoff, and eventually re-establish the canopy for ecological stability. Many more trees are going to die, even without timber harvesting and land clearing practices. For small land owners like myself, restorative native plant reintroduction is a crucial part of helping to prepare our environment for the dramatic change already happening. The hot summers compel more resilient species of tree like oak and Douglas fir. When the rains do return, they are carrying away the precious what’s left of our soils after decades of logging triggered the initial devastation. The fragments of forest left are stressed by too much heat in summer, and too much rain in winter. Milder winter temperatures lull us into a false sense of security- how much nicer is a 60 degree December? The wildlife seems to flourish.

This Northwest Salamander Ambystoma gracile, is also out and about on a cold December morning. It’s become quite sluggish, being caught out in a cold front as rapid temperature changes happened over night. This sudden change can shock the animal, adding undue stress to a precarious species. Any amphibian is an indicator species- meaning its presence directly correlates to an environment’s health. He’s here, so the ecology is thriving, but he’s out at a less than ideal time, meaning there’s something strange about the weather throwing off his internal clock. It’ happening to plants and animals across the world, environmental extremes are confusing natural cycles and things are not adapting well. Humans are part of the animal adaptation, through our design makes us most able to adjust, and it’s also making it hard for us to see the major change happening all around.

As a farmer, the land tells me there’s change on the wind, and my cultivation practices have to change quickly to adapt, which is possible on a small acreage, but for the industrial agriculture that feeds the world, this climate catastrophe will be as devastating to food crops, as humans have continued wild land decimation to accommodate consumer madness. When the tables turn and nature shuts down on us, we’ll have nothing to fall back on, not even technology. Our industrial ag is on the fritz, and stock market revenue will not feed anyone. Stocks are not crops, and nature’s finite handling will crash exponential insanity. The reptiles and amphibians are messengers sent to warn us of impending change, change that we’re not willing to adapt into quickly enough.

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