Breathtaking Cemani Color

It’s the end of the day here at EEC, and the evening light catches across the landscape, splashing pastel pinks and violet evening tones through field and forest all around. While putting the chickens away, I caught my rooster, Chanticleer, strutting around in all his regal glory. Appreciating the light, and the photogenic moment, I took some good shots of his majestic color. I’ll point out the red comb and acknowledge this rooster is not pure Ayam Cemani, but he’s a legitimate offspring from our pure-bred stock, and is currently breeding to keep these wonderful colors in the flock.

The younger up and coming rooster we’ve selected for next generation is darker in overall coloration, but a little smaller in stature. It may be hard to tell based on the picture below, but the younger male in foreground is still growing, but lacks some of the blue of his father. Green is easiest to get in the sheen of this bird, but blue and purple are preferred, so we’re playing with that in the back seat of genetic traits to breed towards. Leafhopper Farm Cemanis have come a long way from jungle fowl, to a larger, more egg producing cross with dual purpose breeds like brahma and orphington. The farm was recently gifted some Blue Copper Marans, which will be an interesting mix into the flock.

The bird below is a typical Ayam Cemani in Java. They are small, upright, game bird structure. This rooster has a lot of good purple and blue, though some might say the comb and wattle could be darker. Hens lay one egg a week and go into complete non-production every 8-10 months for 2-3 months to recoup. Our hens are laying every 3 days or so on average, even more in summer, and still lay through winter, though scarcely, and we are ok with that, as the hens need a brake to live and produce longer. Quality of life does pay off for farm profit and bird comfort. We do like eggs, and sell them, so having a more productive genetic string in our birds is a goal. Dual purpose is also important at Leafhopper Farm. We eat what we raise, and would like a bird with more than stock pot potential. Cemani’s are not stocky birds, but our flock is getting there fast.

Genetic inputs show up quickly in the birds. In less than 5 years we’ve almost doubles the weight of our birds and increased peak laying from 1-3 a week to 2-5 on average. It’s a blessing to have great breeds to work with in adding what we want into our Ayam Cemanis. To also retain much of the unique pigment is also fun, and we’ll keep at it, with no expectation beyond healthy, happy birds.

Archipelago Adventure

Taking a detour away from the backyard, our intrepid adventurers embarked from Anacortes to Orcas for another seascape exploration in the northwestern islands here in Washington State. The PNW has mountains to sound beauty and outdoor panorama like no other, and in early April, it’s still snowing in the peaks- even Mt. Constitution (2,399′) on Orcas Island had snow pack. At sea level, the temperature remained moderate enough to pitch a tent, with well staked fly, and enjoy ocean front views for a few days. Rocks, gentle swell of sheltered cove, crying geese and seagulls, and the whisper of breezes through pin; it’s just a few hours from home, and part of why Washington is so magical a place to live and thrive.

We packed up the truck and headed an hour and a half to the northwest corner of Washington to enjoy a little island time. From our front door about an hour in any direction will get us something completely unique and enjoyable. Anacortes is the last stop on the mainland leg of our journey to hop a ferry. Below you can see the blue line on the left map stretching from Anacortes into The San Juan Islands, and across to Sidney, BC in Canada. For this adventure, we hop off the ferry on Orcas and arrive in the heart of this beautiful archipelago. Early Spring is a great time to get out to our islands here in Washington State. It’s warm enough to camp, yet misses the peak crowds who will soon descend as the warmer months arrive. During the peak tourist season, you’ll need a ferry reservation to take a vehicle on the boat. We avoid all this hassle and stress by using the edges, and the open camp sites and trail head parking lots made exploring the island easy. Town is walkable- and town is Eastsound, which has an airport for the rich and famous, and FedEx.

Archipelagos offer so much varied terrain to traverse and explore. Land and water, endless shoreline fills the senses with texture, movement, sound, and sight. Water laps at volcanic outcroppings uplifted in the turbulent tectonic tension. The San Juans are at the tail end of a long chain of coastal ranges arching up through British Colombia into Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. This corner of the ring of fire sits in a quiet tapestry of inlets and coves in protected seas. The rocky beaches rise into fir forests and craggy moss covered balds where deep lacerations in granite stone show the power of glacial grind in more recent geological time. For a deep dive into this history, our own National Park Service has a wonderful website here.

Sometimes I’d forget we were on the ocean’s front stoop. Overlooks like the one below at Turtleback Mountain on Ship’s Peak feel a lot like New England finger lakes or somewhere in Michigan, but we’re looking across to Canada here on The West Coast. It’s still got a lot of familiar friends, from Bald Eagles to Oaks, but Douglas Firs and the squabbling call of a Stellar’s jay grounds us in Pacific North West habitat. Damp mossy evergreen forest clutch on north facing gullies, but oak savanna also stands tall in restoration landscapes, often tended by The San Juan Preservation Trust. Organizations like this offer resources and guidance in building back ecological soundness for our habitat. Without sound nature infrastructure, resources like fresh water and healthy soil will be lost to erosion from the dramatic weather of a marine coastal environment. These islands are ground zero for climate change evolution, and I’m taking a page from these restoration habitats for EEC Forest Stewardship.

It was wonderful to see explanations of active thinning for fire control and forest health. Though the work still to be done in these fast growing environments seems endless. Opening up stands to accommodate diverse stages of tree growth is crucial to long term health and resilience in a forest. Having an active forest plan to thin and replant, as you work to return land to temperate rainforest or oak savanna, ensures timely action and seasonal rest and recovery periods for the land. At EEC, we fence off areas to keep domestic stock out, or fence individual plantings for further protection. On Orcas Island, deer routinely over graze young growth, leaving many regeneration species unable to mature. Often, baby trees will look like bonsai shrubs and the ground covers remain spars, replaced by moss carpet and sword ferns. There are no predators on Orcas, so deer come in waves of boom and bust cycles, which cause similar crashes in the ecology, preventing recovery. Imagine what the constant human presence does in time?

Islands are great places to visit, but living on them would come at great cost to the environment and you as a person. Importing most of what you need is expensive. If there’s an emergency, you’re far from stable care. If amenities fail, you become very isolated, and are so anyway for being on an island. We loved getting a few days of island time, but coming back to the mainland was a relief. I always have at least one thought of how vulnerable these islands are to tectonic events. There are several strata volcanoes nearby, and the earthquake risk, followed by tsunamis, is a real threat. We camped right on a southern point, facing The Strait of Juan de Fuca. This would be a very bad spot in the event of a tsunami, but we took a risk with much lower chances than a car accident, so we slept soundly. Weather at this time of year is hit or miss, but we lucked out with enough sun to keep us in good spirits and dry cloths. There was a ceremonial wading and dunking in cold ocean waters with wet suits on. It was not Hawaii, so we got out quick. A hot tub soak revived us, and the dawn and dusk light on the waters remained breathtaking.

Our goal in venturing to Orcas was to scout future camping options, enjoy the local flora and fauna in hikes and beach lounging, and to take a brake from farming for a few days. Washington is the destination, and it never disappoints. We’ll have a lifetime to explore every cove and point, field and rocky crag, trail and forest, yet we’ll never see it all. So much love and appreciation for this place, the land, ocean, sky, and every living thing so deeply woven into this complex matrix of Pacific Northwest living.


Seasonal shifts in light and color, temperate mountain forests, compacted dirt path scraped with faint marks, signs of erosion, drought, and presence. Rotting logs lay in regenerating loam from countless shedding, burning, blowing, and collecting to form soil. Tires spin by, tearing at her skin, pulling down the ridge-line like gouging chisels with every pedal onward. Bells and whistles overtake the soothing birdsong of Pacific Wren. Still, the winged beauty persists where it can; working tirelessly towards harmony with place.

This is my home. A short span of action in the long geologic evolution of the world I know, but the thriving within the natural world has always felt compelling. Perhaps this is spirit; bird song, celestial light, literal electric exchange between bare feet and soil. When was the last time you grounded? Language is cultural identity, but what of the very nature of life in a place- a language deeply rooted in all survival? When knowing is the lifetime experience, making relationship with a living system you’re a part of, struggle of comfort with place. There are moment of disconnect, and the longing for greater awakening. The song of seasons, lifetimes run in minutes, sometimes seconds, like ideas. Digesting every moment, like the stomach of my sheep, always hungry, chewing cud between meals. Swallowing and not keeping it down. I’m glad people don’t have to mull grass with many stomachs. We can vomit, thank goodness too. Colic is frightening. Ancestral bowls, how can we all relate as people where we stand now, always looking back, through the layers of time, granite, sand, and fire melting it all together- again and again and again.

What if we could feel all life at once? Would it mean feeling death just as much? I think so, and that’s an important balance to maintain in sewing seeds and spilling blood. In killing the stalk- shearing down a growing line directly connected to this earth from start to harvest. In the same dance of death, close relationship with breathing flesh, covenant of survival and reproduction. Cutting lines of ancestral paths stretching as far back as my own, out of star dust to dust again. Can you see the universe in everything?

Hollow or full space? Crouching downward before every leap of faith. There can and should be spokes on every perspective, anchoring circle of movement from one time into another, many hands make light work in spirit too. Song and dance come to life, learning new steps takes us closer to all enlightenment of self and place. Where are you placed at this time? Step into the circle and look back, who stands to your right and left? How often? When did you last stand shoulder to shoulder with strangers? New vision creates change. From outside the circle, this might appear chaotic. Wheels shatter under intense and continuous stress. Like that string Buddha was enlightening on. And without enough spokes no working circle can form. No vision is lights out. Wandering in darkness would still be something. Is total paralysis always a bad thing? Not when you are stilling the pain.

That golden light on Winter’s last stand shines triumphant with Spring’s banner of warmth heralding the end of cold quiet and the beginning of new life and fast growing weeds. Lambs leap like leafhoppers into snow melt pastures greening as the day brightens. Two deer stealth into shadow at hedgerow’s end as the dog picks up scent and starts for the thicket. A gate holds back pursuit and dawn spills down the drive and through the window, onto a made bed where two cats sleep curled in blissful comfort. Rooster crows a proud greeting to mourning as she sails over us in pale yellow laced cloud. Heaven and earth meld through another day in paradise.

Bolt Creek Fire Check-in

Scouting a recent burn (Oct 2022) close to home this winter with an ecologically minded friend revealed an intimate portrait of success and failure in forest health. Gazing up the mountainside of the picture above, just off Beckler Road, there is a patchwork of clear cuts, stream setbacks, and regenerative forestry plans. There are federal guidelines for public lands in each state, providing ecological restoration as a number one priority. In many parts of this 14, 766 acre burn, pockets of seed banks survived to reinvigorate the landscape with new forest, while in other parts of the landscape, rock protected groves on cliffs where the flames could not reach. Walking a recently repaired and gated road near Rout 2 on public forest land, we were socked in by moisture, but still gazed in awe at destruction and survival at work. The Bolt Creek Fire was allowed to burn out within its fiery acreage after a perimeter was created to protect nearby towns and infrastructure.

The area mapped below gives an approximate area of focus for these pictures. The fire burned much of the southwest side of Klinger Ridge and Baring Mountain. The stream picture is Bolt Creek, where the fire started- hence its name.

In places where there was running water, marshes, and wetlands, trees remained scorched only at the base, and in some cases, completely protected from direct flames. This does not mean all the trees in this condition will survive, but many will seed out this spring from the stress signal of intense heat, filling the surrounding open soil with fresh seeds. There is also no guarantee of complete restoration back to forest all at once. Fire is a transformer, opening up new ground within a forest, playing a vital role in reshaping landscapes to enhance diversity of species and growth opportunity. Many Western Cascade species are well adapted to fire, and even in a landscape that may seem barren and utterly ash ridden, complex relationships hold true, and new life is already blossoming out with new growth.

Some of the most seemingly wiped soil bases were young commercial timber replantings. The seedling trees did not stand a chance against the heat and licking flames crawling up the hillsides. This is the down side to a stand of trees all the same age in a managed lumber production forest. Luckily, forest harvesting practices are evolving to recognize smaller stand cuts with better buffers between young stands. This methodical cutting practice was mentioned in an earlier article about wind blow down and other natural “disasters” facing our landscapes. Human manipulation with a single vision of production for industry has been short sighted for many generations, and are still reluctant to give up profits for protected ecology. Ecosystem valuation is a recent development in forestry, but it’s a compelling argument in letting a tree grow and mature to old growth within a living stand, playing a crucial part of our earth’s lungs over it’s mere commercial board feet at 30-40 years for short term investor profits and consumer goods.

I recommend a deep dive into value theory if you’re game for some good learning. I think it helps us understand, as a society, some big shifts in value that’s happening right now. Exponential growth is not sustainable or thriving for us as a species, and we’re starting to figure this out. Wilderness has much to show for remaining a place of left to its self in peace. As markets take a turn, please take a moment to revisit your own value system and check out some new ideas around quality vs. quantity. This digression has been a pleasure. Now, back to the fire and forest and ecological miracle of relationships that have been evolving over millions of years.

Nature flows well in the chaos of time and space. Many cycles of sudden death unfold for us short lived species in amongst the trees. Gaultheria shallon shows a green face amongst the char and wilt. Roots buried under rock and stump were sheltered from furnace blast and will reset a trail of repair amongst the soil layers now rich with carbon. There will be an ecological boom in this area as the light hits the ground running, and opportunistic plants and animals close in on new ground. In places where the trees still stand, there is still cleared forest ground where the understory burned back, but again, roots underground and a long term relationship with fire make plants like our native oso, salmon, and salal berries ripe for regeneration after fire. Other understory trees like vine maple and hazel accelerate new growth after fire removes old wood in low temperature burns. Below is a great example of a place in the Bolt Creek fire where the flames crept across the ground and did not jump up into the canopy. This is a text book image of what a controlled burn looks like.

The burn strip along rout 2 is also home to a set of vital high voltage power lines, which were defended successfully from fire damage, though many trees were cut down to aid in stopping the burn from destroying this vital infrastructure. The fire has been out now for a few seasons, and though landslides and drastic erosion on these steep hillsides will remain a threat for years to come, the ecological restoration is already in action, spurred by the very elements that shape all life on earth- wind, water, earth, and fire. The forest recovery will be a great continued lesson in addressing fire in our rainforest, something more common than ever now as the summers get hotter and winters fail to deliver enough rain and snow to protect our watersheds. Damp earth did a lot to stave off a great conflagration, but having two early fall burns happen in the summer of 2022 within 20 miles of our home was unprecedented. But wildfires do have a history in Western Washington, and we must always remember the inherent risk of fire, living in any woodland ecology.

At EEC, we plan for a healthy forest with a lot of water staying and sinking in to ensure damp soil when fire does come through. Our creek is similar in size to Bolt Creek, and would offer some protection for seed bank if a burn does happen, but the smoke would make staying on the land in a large burn impossible. We do have evacuation ready plans for our safety, and the safety of our animals, but if a great fire did occur, we’d be lucky to get out alive, as our access points in and out of Snoqualmie Valley are somewhat limited. Out-driving a conflagration would be impossible, and even with breathing filters, we’d be in real trouble from smoke inhalation before any fire got to the land. Being trapped by fire on foot in never good either. The Bolt Creek fire did chase some hikers, who not only survived, but took footage of their harrowing escape. Note the quick movement of live flame up the mountain side. Our ridge would encourage fire, but it would not come up easily from The Snoqualmie River Valley, our downhill terrain. If the river had been left undeveloped by logging and agriculture, there would be a strong buffer of wetland and shifting river course flowing south to north.

In the maps above, you can see our farm forest restoration is up the draw north from Stuart, just above a place in The Snoqualmie River, where the waters shift west and cradles our outcrop of glacial drift, volcanic ash, and colluvium.

A general term applied to any loose, heterogeneous, and incoherent mass of soil material and/or rock fragments deposited by rainwash, sheetwash, or slow, continuous downslope creep, usually collecting at the base of gentle slopes or hillsides. (USGS)

The landscape is like a giant sponge, holding in water, which seeps down from all the watersheds just to our east in The Cascades. I’ve highlighted major water features, lakes and rivers, in blue. The red markings are fires in Fall 2022. Yes, there were two, and I’ve only just now mentioned Loch Katrine Fire. because it was less a threat to human development, and burned out quickly once rains returned in early November. This local news video shows more. We got a lot of smoke, and I’ve not yet had a chance to visit the site post burn for more understanding of the blaze. The private timber company has discouraged going to the area- with good reason because of erosion hazards mentioned earlier. Public forests lands where the fire started, are currently inaccessible.

We’ll continue to hope for abundant waters to help quell fire danger in our temperate rainforest. May the ever flowing rivers, which keep life flourishing, and quench thirst for all who drink; continue singing cascades of cherished fresh water. When fires burn, and they will, we invite gentle ground flames of rejuvenation, and minimal damage to infrastructure. Plan building in defensible space, or accept total devastation as a possible consequence. Control burns are usually very effective at helping forests remain resistant to crown fires, when there is too much vegetation- due in part to a loss of native grazers like elk and deer, and their habitat, to make room for vacation homes and RV setups. This amplifies risk of fire to the public, and hinders natural checks and balances evolved with fire to prevent conflagration. People did not replace the equivalent ecological work of huge migrating elk herds; merely exploited them and the people already well established in the area and replaced them with clear cutting timber industries that still do not mimic nature well.

Our continued hubris as a species will be our undoing. Nature will shake us like a bad case of fleas and move on in her evolution quite capably. The earth does not have to sustain us to continue, in fact, much of this planet’s history was uninhabitable for life as we know it. The scales will tip again, unfortunately, our consumption and abuse of our ecological balance will be the root cause of the coming mass extinction. There is no cure all, but we can, as individuals, choose to consume less, local, and aid in restoration of what wilds we can. We can educate ourselves about ecology, the complexities of nature, and our best practices within the finite limitations around us.

Winter Paradise

Yup, it’s January and I’m out on a log in a lake barefoot trying to catch a trout. It’s not warm, but it’s not below 40F and the fish are active, well, sometimes. I did catch a trout that day, but not in the above pictured lake. It took some trolling on another nearby body of similar water to reel in a 1.5lb cutthroat beauty. This is the place for winter joy in the lower 48. Some might prefer a more tropical paradise, but give me 48 degrees and overcast skies to fish, hunt, and even ski if I ascend higher into The Cascades.

The Pacific Northwest is magical, and full of wet wonder for those willing to dress right and embrace the great outdoors. Winter is usually a good time to den up and rest, and trust me, there are days I’m doing just that too- and farming. At the same time I’m skiing, fishing, and hiking in The New Year, lambs are dropping in the barn and bulbs are peeking out from under the black loam in the garden.

Winter is a time of revitalization, and for me, that’s time outside connecting to place where I can, and deepening roots tended here on this land of EEC since 2013. What a place and time to be alive and experiencing this life. Gratitude to all the energies, lifetimes, experience, love, and adventure that brought me to this current place and time.

Good-bye Dear Cat Friend

We unexpectedly lost a loyal friend of the farm yesterday. Muir, our barn cat extraordinaire, and renowned hunter of rodents and rabbits, died of Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy. It was instant, no pain or suffering, and he had made it to the front porch to rest under one of his favorite chairs. I found him yesterday afternoon, and immediately took him to our wonderful vet for a necropsy to find out exactly how he had died. The exam revealed his broken heart- working too hard with too little blood flow, ultimately leading to a clogged ventricle, which brought on instant death. We were unaware of this congenital defect, and the vet assured us it was hard to find, and that nothing could have been done to fix it. In people with this condition, a heart transplant is required.

Muir lived a heck of a charmed life, freely exploring his domain with ease and joy. He was a great comfort to the other cats, and looked after Marrow, who is still checking the front porch chair for him in the cold mornings. It will be hard for all of us to adjust to life without grey cat. His personality was one of a kind- and indeed, truly kind. He liked to ride on your shoulder, flopping across your neck and lounging while you walked the steeper hills on the farm. He was noble, but approachable and cuddly. Always the first to the front door when we called, his charm and grace won over anyone he met and spent time with. We were so lucky to know him and share a brief, but spectacular time together on this earth. I’m still having a good cry over his loss, but he will be with us in spirit on every forest walk, every morning cuddle, and every sunny day on the porch. So much love to Muir, we will miss him.

Weather Wood Would

An ice and wind event during January brought down a few edge line red alders in the conservation wildlife corridor along Weiss Creek, our Coho Salmon Oncorhynchus kisutch stream. Red alder along these smaller waterways offer shade protection for wildlife by regulating water temperature, especially in summer droughts when aquatic species need cool, damp habitat the most. These areas are native plant restoration spaces, where nature takes its time shaping the landscape, often, with weather events like flooding.

We think of weather as sun, partly cloudy, or showers in Western Washington. Events within weather patterns would be unusual precipitation, like heavy snow in the foothills where EEC resides. Flooding in the valley is an event, but seasonally expected. Drought becomes common each summer, compounded with rising temperatures. These events are becoming more common, and will change the ecological balance and sustainable ecosystems of earth’s connected patchwork.

Trees are a big part of temperate rain forests- which once dominated The Pacific Northwest region. A century of resource extraction without any restoration, lead to catastrophic fertility loss and ecological disruption of crucial terrestrial systems like freshwater habitat- safe drinking water for all living things. These survival musts are all interconnected with the air, soil, and water. Where we draw out production, we must also put back. Instead of letting the ground grow its forest back to ancient old growth, we’ve settle in and kept cutting, up into the steep terrains, above our sources of surface water and aquifer recharge, forests are leveled every 30-40 years. It may seem like a sustainable practice, but not in the long vision of adaptable habitat for humans, sustaining the wilderness as we endear it in Superbowl commercials. In the spirit of consumer needs, including the wood I’m heating my house with right now, EEC Forest Stewardship cultivates forest restoration with integrated productivity, including capitalist earning. We do harvest trees, cutting on a scale much smaller than commercial harvesters, but trees have come down, cleared pastures remain pastures, but some trees are being replanted.

Another fallen alder, broken off mid-trunk, leaving a rooted alder and a fallen log, decomposing into nutrients for the smaller trees and shrubs growing in the foreground of the above photo. This landscape was pasture for two generations, and is now part of our CREP planing to buffer Weiss Creek with old-growth temperate rainforest. Many of these young trees are evergreen- from Douglas fir to white pine. There are also some deciduous understory verities, like cascara and twin berry. The edge spaces create the most noticeable change. A flat, open space lifts vertically with sudden force as a wall of canopy ascends, arching over flowing waters vibrant with color and sound. In the case of recent downed treetops, wind howled inland from coastal fronts, massive air shifts moving moisture from Pacific tides up hills and into mountain crests where falling back down as precipitation, snow and ice crack what’s left of compromised branch and neck.

These violent transitions relapse into passive structures of dynamic adaptation. More light breaks through the canopy, while ground crushed beneath timber weight buries nurse log bank- an investment in mycological highways. The infrastructure of forest floor is woven through centuries of debris felting in nutrient dense soil for growing giants of carbon investment- priceless ecological systems we humans still compute in timber feet. The board value of a living tree diminishes its own wealth and productivity into a mere structural product or combustion fuel. These uses are not completely removed from tree possibilities, but a collective system of old growth forest far abounds the value of wood. Still, we need wood at EEC for building, so we harvested some structurally compromised red cedar into milled rough cut timbers for a framing project. These recent fallen red alder tops will offer a few logs for mycological inoculation. We’ll only take part of the wood from these weather harvested pieces of carbon gold, leaving the rest as felting material for an ever complex living forest system in restoration.

Wildlife trails cutting through the young replanted forest shows the quickest rout through eventual undergrowth. Foot paths in a few places to tend plantings are maintained. The far right photo in this triptych snows a subtle trail to the right of the staked saplings. I noticed one young evergreen planting that was much smaller than the firs and pines. Taking a closer look, I noticed the shape of this little tree was very Cypress looking, way more spiny than a typical red cedar. Who is this mysterious seedling?

Sequoioideae is your hint.

Would this be the future wood of our forests? If oak savanna is already in play as a viable forest planting plan here in Western Washington, I think so. It’s a test planting, the only one I’ve found in this restoration so far. There are some more mature cultivars of this variety nearby, but you’d be pressed to find them wild in The Central Cascades. The worsening weather patterns will demand a lot of resiliency from the landscape, which had been adapting quite well over millions of years before human induced change. We’ve so altered the terrain around us, it’s hard to even imagine what once was. We can take a walk into a few special places set aside for our recreational appeasement and awe at nature’s wonder from our cars driving through National Parks. After which, we’ll spend another couple of hours driving through swaths of commercial timber stands, a patchwork of clear-cuts interspersed with aging small farmsteads, or occasional suburban developments creeping ever further afield from urban decay. Which would you choose?

Storms tear down and rebuild, forests grow towards climax, weathering flood, fire, and drought. Our forest here at EEC has not seen fire in 100 years, but the risk remains, moving towards eminent with each passing year of hotter summers and continued drought. The Douglas fir pictured above is well versed in fire ecology, but unless it’s given time to grow into a mature seed bearing tree, its bark cannot grow thick enough to survive a hot burn, nor its top tall enough to avoid crown fire. At the same time, trees that grow too tall, above the average canopy, are susceptible to wind and ice damage. Height also brings a tree closer to heavenly bolts of electrical discharge; lightning strikes. There is no evidence of lightning damage at EEC, but some towering cottonwood trees on a neighboring property tempt the sky with outstanding beacons.

Ice and wind are the most common tree damaging weather here in Western Washington. The trees do tower quite high, but they are also very limber, with branches often bowed over already to accommodate snow loads and generally windy days. It’s when things combine, ice weight and windy shake, which topples weakened timbers through decades of ensuing pressure from storms and grove changes. You’ll come across blow down along recent mature timber harvests. Weaker trees which have been sheltered by a greater stand are suddenly exposed to full exposure of weather events. High winds will quickly bring down the weaker trunks of stringy close growing trees. EEC has no fores type like this, but below is a pictures example from a commercial tree farm where this occurrence is most often to happen, even with planned cutting pictured right.

There’s a very famous old growth grove of trees on Vancouver Island which were left because their tops had been snapped in a wind event, leaving most of the trees with hollow rot or twisted crowns after regrowth. It’s called Cathedral Grove, and even with the damage, the trees were slated to be cut many times, but have been saved time and again, as it’s one of the last ancient groves left on the island. Stands like this remind us of what’s possible when a forest is left to mature and evolve as an intact ecosystem. When a forest is intact, it can better protect its self against weather disruption and other natural disasters, but if we keep cutting, developing, and leaving the land bare, we’ll continue to see rapid degradation on the landscape, making is much more vulnerable to climate caused environmental devastation. Plant habitat today for a more resilient tomorrow. Thin wisely and replant with drought tolerant species for long term success. EEC Forest Stewardship will continue to model evolving forest restoration practices, from our salmon stream to the back pasture, we’re replanting the forest in small, but deliberate steps towards an old growth rainforest with high ground oak savanna.

Watch and Learn with EEC

So much gratitude for this learning opportunity and the energy to share. Narrative of place, connection to food, producing it, and enhancing vibrant community through shared abundance- these are foundational principals held at EEC Forest Stewardship. In taking the time to listen- the voices of soil, water, air, and light give and give and give- freely. The cost is cooperation, giving a little back, sometimes a lot, then taking more. So much rings true in this impactful share by Jon Shellenberger, of his ancestral connection to place and people. He offers much in this teaching of lineage and the attempted colonial deconstruction of tribal identity. So much good knowledge of land and food- the deepest survival in us all if we are connected to place in such a way. In this hour long lecture at Washington State University in a geology classroom, a fellow academic, who is also deeply connected to place and treaty rights, explains how these legal constraints make or break his ability to access food his family has been cultivating relationship with in place for thousands of years.

Why a geology classroom? Jon explains with delicate truth how colonial reinterpretation of value in land, dividing it into squares for resource based extraction and the parallels with treatment of the people living there in deep relationship with a complex living system they participated in as part of, and relied on to survive. He walks through land management to benefit resources for human use, management systems implemented by tribes long before colonial “discovery”. Shellenberger weaves the imagery of his ancestry and the connected bands of people throughout what is The Colombia Valley today. These images of the land and its caretakers, people living in a connective community, rather than an individualistic mindset cultivated in western consumerism culture for commercial earnings.

Opening up to this lesson, and others like it, helps broaden understanding of place and people. Thank you all for taking the time with these words and Jon’s offer on the human perspective.

Pleachers and Pruning

Younger plantings along our hedge edges are ready for laying over to encourage horizontal growth and a hard, natural barrier. The young hedge pictured above has been growing slowly, and finally has a few lead branches ready to pleach over in a partial cut near the base to bring the growth down low to the ground. Suckers will shoot out from the base next year, while the long leader, now laying sideways, also redirects it’s growth to the branches now pointing up as new leaders along the trunk. It is easy to manipulate shrubs and small trees when they are young, shaping the growth to suit your natural fencing needs. There is a pallet fence backing the young hedge as it develops, but that dead wood will collapse and compost soon, while the living fence will strengthen and grow for many lifetimes. The controlled horizontal growth will also create a living wall of food for our sheep, who love browsing broad leaf plants as much as grazing grasses.

In less developed pasture edges, like the one pictured below, I’ve pleachered some more mature bitter cherry trees to mark out a new line for hedge development. Cherries sucker out very well, and by laying these trunks, we’re shaping a fresh hedge line, which we’ll plant into with a variety of other species to diversify the vegetation within our living fence. This hedge will also keep sheep from grazing down a steep hillside beyond, and protect an already replanted stand of mixed broad leaf species like cascara and Sitka alder. Sheep can be quite lazy, and it takes very little barrier of branches to deter them from pressing into the vulnerable forest undergrowth. Ideally, I would have dropped these cherries a few years ago, but life can get very busy here at EEC, and the hedge is still set for replanting down the road.

Hedges can be tight and neat lines on pasture edges, but at EEC Forest Stewardship, we prefer organic, wavy shapes offer up more surface area and space for diverse species. Over time, the hedge will expand and begin creeping into the clearings where in time, more forest will be replanted after grazing animal systems are phased out. A healthy landscape like this should maintain some open spaces for transition from canopy to field, but in time, the trees will grow and shade out open land. By then, many of the hedges will be lost in the folds of evergreen canopy. For now, they build hard edges of habitat.

Some of our ancient apple trees got a trim this year too. Pruning is very important in maximizing fruit production. Since EEC is not about maximizing, but rather, diversifying, we are rather lazy about pruning, and phased out the practice completely in new orchard plantings to allow the tree it’s own selection of growth and shape over rushing fruit harvest. There are some very exciting alternative cultivation success stories with not pruning fruit trees at all. Masanobu Fukuoka’s One Straw Revolution gives a wonderful take on non-pruning in his masterpiece on natural farming. The trees at EEC, pictured below, have been pruned all their life and then neglected for a decade. I’ve been slowly cutting them back into shape, sometimes preforming minor tree surgery- taking off a large branch, to help re-balance the tree’s structure to let in more light and air. But these older trees are in decline, and I’ve begun harvesting cuttings to graft onto new root-stalk to continue already successful varieties on our landscape.

Pruning lets in more light, encouraging buds to form, which produces more fruit. Pruning a young tree will hasten fruit production, but commands continual pruning every year to maintain the ideal shapes for commercial production. Take industry out of the fruit tree’s development allows the tree to naturally select it’s own shape and production without human ego assuming we can do it better. There are many cultivars that cannot survive without pruning, so be aware that if you choose the lazy rout and let the fruit tree fend for its self, you will loose more trees, but the ones that make it will be a good foundation for future grafting to replace the lost varieties. You’ll have to wait a few more years for un-pruned fruit trees to develop a good fruiting crown, but letting nature work in her own time usually reaps great reward in the long run.

Remember that most fruit trees have been grafted, and come from lineages of heavy cultivation. Apples are not a far cry from Malus sieversii, their Kazakhstan ancestor back in eastern Europe. Varieties today are countless, and have all manner of make and use- from baking to cider. Though the best fruiting varieties are grafted, you can still plant apple seeds and get fruiting trees, but they will most likely not produce very appetizing eating apples- if they produce anything at all. Still, out of every great apple strain there was a tree from seed originally. We’ve lost so many heritage apple strains, but some are being rediscovered here in The Pacific Northwest. In my own research in seed planting, I came across this video by Stefan Sobkowiak, which give a great explanation for planting seeds and what happens. Most domestic fruit seeds behave similarly, you must graft to get a specific type of fruit consistently.

Pruning is a tool for shaping growth of any vegetation, and will impact growth rate too. Pleachering brings out suckers while pruning usually removes them. There are many kinds of shaping techniques beyond these two examples. The action of shaping growth is high maintenance in the short term, but you can also choose to not prune, or pleacher once and let the horizontal growth go. At EEC, we’re always embracing less work, so I do not plan to lay hedges more than once, as the long term vision here it to let the forest return. Fruit trees will get shaded out, and hedges will melt into the forest understory. Being able to picture the development of your tended space through many seasons of growth will help in determining when you should- or if you should make cuts. Most pruning and pleachering happens while the tree is dormant, so plan on an active winter schedule in your orchard or along your hedgerow to have lasting effect and healthy vegetation.

Woodland Wander

It’s great to visit other local woodlands in the area of EEC Forest Stewardship. Washington State, like many western states, has what’s called a patchwork land development system contrived by the federal government when railroads pushed west. Even in highly developed suburbs of Western Washington, the checkerboard of some parcels still remain forested public land. You can find a great interactive map to learn more about public land in Washington here. The patch wandered today, was once actively logged through the first half of the 1900s, then became an urban park, part of a larger wetland area around a lake. The ecology is indicative of a natural reseeding after two commercial logging endeavors. A lot of wood has fallen in this forest, as no natural thinning activities have occurred- like elk browsing, wildfire, or thousands of years of old growth development, which was disrupted with the first cutting at the start of the 1900s.

Mycology is present, and helping to break down the woody debris laying all around. Mushrooms play a vital role in developing soil in a forest. The fallen logs are full of tough fibers and tannin, which delay molecular breakdown. If the debris sat on its own, even in the wet environment of Western Washington, it would take so long to decompose, most of the nutrients would be lost before turning back into productive loam for the future old growth forest trying to return. In 4th generation timber stands, there is a noticeable lack of topsoil and nutrients in the ground. The industry now pollutes the ground with treated sewage, to replace badly needed nitrogen, to make more trees grow. This mono-culture catastrophe will never recover in that kind of short sighted industrial management. Fungal factories are still hard at work in commercial forests, and can be severely detrimental to profits in these fake forest when mycological outbreaks happen across the anemic stands.

Within this park forest where my wander too place, tale tell signs of fungal infection appear. Laminated root rot is rampant in The Pacific Northwest, partly due to mono-culture, and I believe, partly due to a loss of ecological players, like millions of elk, which browsed across a rainforest mega-complex now reduced to a herd of a few thousand in tens of isolated groups. Megafauna cannot survive in fragmented habitat, current “mature” forests are not even a shadow of what once grew and thrived across The Pacific Northwest. Mycology is trying to correct the strange human induced kerfuffle that still is ecological genocide. There are trees in this suburban park forest failing because of fungal parasites, but not all the trees are infected. Because of profit loss in commercial groves costing mere millions of trees- considering the loss of forest due to logging in The Evergreen State (at least 60 billion board feet in 100 years). 500 board feet is about one “mature” (NOT old growth) tree. Calculating the value of a single old growth tree today is complicated, in the 1970s, at the height of clear-cutting the last large stands of old growth in Western Washington, industry didn’t really care.

Fungal invasions of today are helping to open up long term old growth areas in the same way beaver, weather events, and geological upheaval do. Clear-cutting is also part of that cycle, if kept to a scale comparable to the other natural cycles it could mimic. Timber industries love to talk about how their forests are renewable. Green washing consumerism teams up with timber industry forest replanting as “plant a tree” carbon offset glitter, and, as the washing implies, it’s not all gold (profit). The cost in biomass lost from the landscape through a century of tree removal is immeasurable. Board feet does not include erosion of silt into streams- unless you want to look at salmon population crashes, but then you have all the hydro power to contend with. What a web! Like the mycelia that brought down the tree below, there are a trail of clues to help us unravel cause and effect. It will be interesting to watch this forest evolve. There could be a logging date in future for this plot, most state land is in a timber harvesting forest plan.

It’s a comfort to know that, no matter what the state of a forest, fungal friends will be at work shaping and remaking habitable space. The lessons they offer in ecological partnership are humbling. Humanity has the adaptability to fold back into the landscape in much the same way. Working within the limitations of environmental factors dictated well beyond our control, evolving in close relationship to place and the layers of intricate cooperation necessary for success. Learning from environment while being in it- bare feet on the ground, cuticles peeling back after immersion in acidic soil. Muddy knees and scraped ankles wading around in blackberry, struggling to get past the edge space, transition from field to forest. The flashes of mycology host knowledge banks about the environment, chemical signatures, decomposition age, geological record, transformation in progress, blueprints of potential. Most of us are just passing by and don’t stop to smell the roses.

At this patch of state land, the clearing is blacktop with neat upper class homes- 1990s build, with park land surround. There’s no blackberry, but cement ecoblocks hold demarcation at one entrance into forested public realm. No camping or large gatherings, it’s a jogging, biking, ride your horse, walk a dog or two on leash setting. At this moment of exchange, after a dry, hot October, the mushroom fruiting was modest, but very much in action through a period known as the mushroom spring. I enjoy coming to this forest location because the ground cover is thick with a range of fallen debris and lots of wetlands to keep the ground saturated, even through drought periods. That’s another reason this forest was not developed. It’s part of a larger wetland area that acts as a drainage catchment for the surrounding neighborhoods where the forest was cut and a lot of infrastructure went in, removing the crucial sponge on the landscape which best worked in a rainy, cool climate. Consequently a lot of rain runs off the buildings and pavement, with no sponge left to soak it up, so overflow is diverted into designated wetland areas.

There are a great set of paths through this wetland area, and most of the trail remains above flood areas. That’s a sign of smart trail design with thought and care, unlike much of our development to date, which sprawls at best. The trail has a main rout through the public land into a greater lake park, with multiple entrances. Winding makes the journey longer, but there’s still a good buffer of forest without much human disturbance- for a suburb. Deer brows through, as they traverse the rest of the neighborhood, but they have to keep moving through, as the patch of forest is a larder stop with finite resources, and somewhat limited verity, but restoration planting has occurred, slowly diversifying the ecology for a more adaptive and productive forest. The diversity of fungus within most forests, boggles the mind, and yet, without old growth, there’s a marked difference in scale. Fruiting fungus- like the capped mushrooms we’re most familiar with, are much larger in old growth settings that I’ve observed. Chantrelles on the other hand, don’t pop up in old growth often, as they prefer younger, disturbed areas, like commercial fir stands, especially the 15-30 year old plantings. So again, every species has its preferred environment. Since this suburban public land forest is mostly fir, 20-30 years old, we’re in a chantrelle habitat, and I’ve found them here in past years, but this season, with the drought still on, it was the surface verities, mostly wood eating verities (not chantrelles), which were blooming in the light rains that had finally come.