The hot summer weather takes its toll on the earth, turning a once lush green pasture golden brown. Though it may seem like life has gone, if you stand still for a moment and listen, you’ll hear a chorus of thriving small symphonies in the tall grass. Strangely enough, this musical affirmation of a healthy ecosystem is not always present, especially in places which are heavily landscaped and chemically manipulated to keep “pests” out. Insects may be the bane of many a cultivator, even here at EEC, some verities of creepy crawlies are not welcome so easily- especially when they eat the crops we’re trying to grow. Though we may struggle with some pests, most of our insects species play vital roles in pollination, natural deterrent to pest species, or as a food source for other animals further up the food chain. The sound of insect activity on the landscape is an indicator of health in the ecosystem. If you go outside on a warm day and stand in silence, there’s a crucial part of the environment missing. Most of the absents is caused by chemical inhibitors- pesticides.
Listen up in your neighborhood to see who’s thriving, and who’s spraying to keep insects away. You might be surprised to find a deafening silence in parks, backyards, sports fields, and other open spaces where lawn management occurs. People are usually grossed out by bugs, and I’ll say we do have citronella candles on our porch to keep mosquitos away, but at EEC, we use no harmful chemical pesticides. I have invested in neem oil and mild soapy water to fight off scale and aphids in the garden, but I can’t imagine putting any harmful chemicals on the land en-mass to deter insects. Often, sprays like roundup kill all insects, not just the one or two kinds eating your fruit and veggies. Dragonflies, lacewings, and honey bees are all killed along with the mites, weevils, and web worms. In the same way I hand pull invasive weeds, I hand pluck the insects off my crops, but there will always be a few left. That’s more in line with nature, even if I don’t like them there. It’s important to acknowledge the role all living things play in an intact ecosystem.
There is a movement right now to give land honoring statements at the start of invocations to honor the First Nations People who once claimed the land as their home territory. Maps like the one pictured above are usually referenced to help people find out who once lived where they are now. In checking this map, I’ve marked where EEC Forest Stewardship land is, and noted that the two closest tribes- Duwamish and Snoqualmie, did not roam on the ridge line where I now live. The light green color that does stretch across quite a bit of the map, including EEC, is labeled “Coastal Salish”. Salish is an anglicization European colonizers gave to all the “Indians” in the area after first contact with one group of Séliš, the first people to have diplomatic relations with colonizers. It was then used as a broad term for linguistic research. There is no specific “Coastal Salish” tribe.
Euro-centric thinking requires that maps of clearly labeled “territories” show us where settlement occur, both before colonization, and after. It’s the same thinking that puts everyone and everything into a neat little box with properly measured constraints and titles. It cannot show us the actual migration routs, seasonal villages, and tribal larders, which were tended and harvested across the globe before colonial mapping. Archeology in my area shows that First Nations People thrived along the coast, and inland along the major rivers, where salmon were plentiful. They had no reason to hike though the dense forest up onto ridge lines where there were no fish or navigable waters to canoe. EEC is located in a place that was not part of any tribal settlement, food source, or ceremonial space. It was the home to Wapiti, Black-tail Deer, and Salmon fry- which would later return to the larger Snoqualmie River below to feed the people.
Before 1855, with The Treaty of Point Elliott, no people were wandering the space where EEC stands today. Soon after the treaty, loggers came into The Snoqualmie Valley and began clear cutting the forests to make way for settlers. Duvall, the township this land is affiliated with, was not incorporated until 1912. By then, The Tribes had been relocated onto reservations, the elk hunted to the brink of extinction, and the salmon harvested by industrious European colonizers who cared nothing for keeping any natural covenant with the land or its flora and fauna. A large timber company called Weyerhaeuser was founded in 1904, and quickly purchased forests across Washington State, from The Great Northern Railway. The railway, working with government agencies pushing westward expansion, took land once acknowledged in earlier treaties as “Indian Territory”, and gave it to settlers eager to homestead.
These images of white settlers coming in and taking the aggregated land once stewarded and lived on by First Nations People, is the gist of asking, “who once inhabited the land you now live on?”. Certainly, the timber industry that first pillaged the native forest on this ridge line was destroying virgin growth and incredible habitat that sustained the wildlife and plants, which supported the humans living in this area. The closest well established village of First Nations People to EEC, was in the current town of Carnation, once the town of Tolt, on the confluence of the Tolt and Snoqualmie Rivers. The tribe named for the dominate river in the valley, The Snoqualmie, had a great salmon harvesting camp there, and established year round habitation. When the fish were not spawning, the elk and deer were still plentiful. There are also oral stories passed down from local tribes people of the camas fields, which once thrived in the Snoqualmie River Valley. Now all that bounty is lost, along with the understanding of how people are meant to be stewards of the land.
At EEC Forest Stewardship, we hold back on fantasizing about a complete return to virgin forest, but instead work on the restoration of abundance within the ecosystem left after over a century of degradation. The stream that once hosted millions of salmon and trout spawn, can still host the fish, and sculpins, and endangered fresh water mussels, though only a shadow of what they once were. The creek has been designated as a protected salmanoid stream, preventing future development and destruction of vegetation along its banks. We’ve enhanced the stream buffer with native replanting, to help establish new wildlife corridors through the now fenced patchwork of parcels the land has been segmented into for private ownership. No more elk wander these ridge lines, but they are close, in the nearby valley where The Snoqualmie Tribe once lived, a resident herd is protected. The land here will never be what it was, but it can become a forest again, adapting with human caused climate change to produce tree species that are more able to cope with droughts and hot temperatures now appearing on the record books in 2021.
Regardless of human impact, the land remains a living ecosystem that humans are a part of, but cannot own, no matter how much we attempt to subjugate. The continued colonization of this earth will only end in our destruction, as long as we keep endorsing a mindset of ownership and dominion. The land is not for us to use, but a place to connect, steward, to listen and learn from. We are lucky here in The Pacific Northwest, where the land is still lush and fertile, capable of supporting such a wealth of diversity and abundance. The question of who owns a place can easily be answered today with written deeds and legal demarcations on a map, but the soul of a place, its living ecology, cannot be boxed up or listed on a piece of paper. This sort of short sighted thinking has only lead us down a path of limitations and permanent displacement of our own kind. Humankind has original instructions to be caretakers of the land, and until we return to this mindset, the true natives of this place- Western Red Cedar, Salmon, Bald Eagle, Garter Snake, and the other wild things that make up our planet, will continue to follow their original instruction, laid out thousands of years before humans stepped onto the world stage. It is this wildness, which the land will forever belong to.
This beautiful pair of black tail deer bucks are hanging out around EEC Forest Stewardship. It’s the first time such a mature pair has been spotted around the land, and it’s a great sign of health our deer population is experiencing. In the above photo, the two males are still in velvet, as they grow a new pair of antlers each year before shedding them again at the end of the rut in late fall. I do not know for sure if these two deer are related, but it’s common for sibling males to stick together, forming a bachelor herd. They might also team up to claim a harem of does to share during breeding season. Cooperation wins in the end, and for these bucks, that win is genetic and territorial. They can work together to push out other younger, less dominate bucks, while impressing the does with two sets of large racks. For me as a hunter, this availability of mature bucks in the neighborhood is a great encouragement. In the last three harvests of bucks on the property, the animals were younger and less experienced. I do not hunt for antlers, but take what animal is offered during the short, two week hunting season in October.
Hunting gives me a lot of insight into the population of deer in my area. I have to do a lot of observing, tracking, and sign reading before a successful harvest. Most good hunters are always watching for deer, and learning from them. Year round I look at deer, see where they move, how many hang out, and the overall health of the local herd. Black tail are territorial, like many other animals, and usually stay in a particular area once they find enough food, water, and shelter. Our neighborhood has a lot of single homes on larger acreages, allowing for the space and habitat the deer prefer. Mowed pastures and a diversity of plants along the edges to brows, are ideal for these ungulates. I’ve watched a lot of does with younger fawns this summer, but these two males are a real treat. It tells me the herd are healthy by age- mature males are a good sign that the deer can reach maturity, and support multiple big bucks. If there was not enough food or shelter, the bigger males tend to wander away into more established habitat beyond human settlement.
It’s important to note that not all deer species act the same. I’m talking about the habits of Odocoileus hemionuscolumbianus, this is a subspecies of mule deer that range exclusively on the west coast, and specifically Western Washington, within our state. On the east side of the mountains, you will find typical mule deer Odocoileus hemionus, and some white tail deer Odocoileus virginianus. I’ve included range maps below to show the variety and diversity of Odocoileus in North America. The map on left in darker brown is white tail, the right is mule deer and sub species, including the black tail of Western Washington. There’s a lot yet to be discovered relationships between these species and the diversity of habits they share and don’t share. For me, the lessons of black tail deer do not cross over to other deer species, and I am sure I’d have a lot more to learn if I tried to pursue mule deer or white tail during hunting season.
My passion for black tail lessons is entering it’s 9th year, and I’m so glad to see these two strapping bucks coming around before the season starts. If I’m lucky, they will establish this area as a territory, and claim the doe population as their harem this fall. They could be driven out by another more mature buck, but as a team, they have a good chance of standing their ground and fending off single bucks together. It’s a great strategy, and I’m not sure how often this approach happens. My observations of these two beautiful animals will continue, and I hope to have the privilege of hunting one of them successfully this fall. It would be my first mature buck harvest, and that would be a special gift from the animals I tend this land for. The deer feed me as much as I feed them, and that sacred relationship remains an important covenant with the land. It reinforces my place in the great circle of life, and to harvest wild food of all kinds- berries, greens, and meat, ties me closer to the land I love so much.
When we as humans take the time to bind ourselves to the land, in ways that truly help us and nature survive and thrive, we become part of that land, not just visitors passing through. We learn the way of it- how it is all bound into one ecology together, with people playing an important role in that relationship as threads in the living tapestry of nature. We are never separate from it, not matter how high up the food chain we think we are. With each successful harvest, I give thanks and speak the words, “As I am fed from your body, one day mine too will become the grass for your future generations to graze upon.”
Above is a swarm of bees gathered in Duvall proper loading in to a transport box. Once the queen is located and boxed up, the rest of the hive-to-be will follow after her into the larger swarm box. My neighbor gifted these bees to EEC Forest Stewardship, after moving the box into the trunk of her car and driving them over to our land for instillation in a hive box. We’re so happy to have a buzzing hive again, and hope that this time, we can adequately support the colony in establishing and surviving. Our last colony, in 2018, swarmed and ran off mid-summer after not sufficiently settling in our supplied hive setup. We may never know exactly what happened, but I think we waited too long to stack a second brood chamber on, causing too much crowding in the hive, which signaled the queen to move out to find a lager home. Lessons learned, and we have two extra brood boxes to insert if needed.
Our hives are Langstroth, 10 frame, supers- meaning they are bulky and heavy when full of honey. We do not stack them too high, but as honey bees (Apis mellifera) are struggling to survive in current industrial agricultural and suburban backyard chemical control agents. The bees also face many biological struggles, such as pandemics, parasites, and an extinction event. Human domestication has evolved this species to be productive, but sadly, with this genetic selection, the bees are susceptible to disease and predation. How you ask? Honey bees are exposed to many industrial chemicals in the pollen of treated plants, poison sprays in the air, and pollution of wild water and food sources bees have relied on for centuries. Then add in the docile nature of honey bees, really, they are chill compared to most wild bee species. I walk up to my hive and make changes in the stacked hives without too much worry (there are some exceptions at certain times of year when the been can be more aggressive). One particular behavior- swarming- is a great time to handle bees, though it may seem chaotic and rather aggravated. The bees are gathering, with all their attention on the queen. They want to mass up and find a good hive space, so if you gather them in a box and relocate them to a good hive with some food nearby, it’s possible to resettle them without being stung. Watching thousands of flying insects synchronize with a bee keeper in being rounded up and settled, usually with a car ride in between, is miraculous.
Keeping honey bees is a great endeavor, and EEC does not take it lightly that a swarm was gifted to this land. We’ll be taking on some ethical challenges in supporting this species on the land. We’re feeding the bees white granulated sugar- which is an incredibly tainted product both chemically (bleach and industrial ag pesticides) and ethically (history of slavery and local economic abuse). Not to mention world health effects (diabetes and obesity). We’ll also have to use drastic methods of chemical warfare against mites and viruses attacking the colony. Sterilizing all hives and tools is crucial in protecting established colonies, still, chances are, without several colonies established, you’ll end up loosing too many bees from one hive to keep it alive, especially in our wet, cool winters. Western Washington is a great habitat for honey bees, as far as floral abundance and diversity, as well as mild winters, but until recent climate change, this land remained too cold for bees to thrive. Now, with triple digit summer highs becoming a norm, the bees can make it year round. But Apis is not the only insect to thrive in these warming weather systems. Wasp species such as Vespamandarinia (“murder hornets”) have made their appearance in Washington state two summers in a row now, and we think they will establish in future. That could be the final nail in the honey bee coffin, as Asian giant hornets specialize in destroying honey bee colonies by decapitation.
But hey, we’re always up for supporting entomological agriculture (insect farming) here at EEC- we’ve been cultivating meal worms since 2015. Bees are in their second “incarnation here on the land, and it’s hopeful we can learn much more about this species and hopefully slow the decline of this very important domestic producer. For now we’ll keep bees and be thankful for the additional pollination and system lessons here at EEC Forest Stewardship. The colony will also be a litmus for our land’s health, and possible surrounding ecological indicators we should be aware of, such as neighbor’s chemical use, pollen availability and diversity, and potential invasive hazards. We’ll give future updates on the colony’s health and success (or failure) as we attempt to again host these amazing animals at EEC.
EEC Forest Stewardship’s main mission is to restore a forested ecosystem capable of climaxing through climate change and human development. Our landscape was once Temperate Rainforest, with thousand year old canopy in a thriving network of complex systems. Within less than 100 years, European settlers had completely leveled the forests and today, less than 10% of old growth is left on the entire West Coast of The United States. I say this with little conviction, because studying a list of parks and protected areas listed as old growth on the west coast, I find examples like Seward Park near Seattle- 300 acres. Well, the entire park is 300 acres, but the “old growth” spoken of is a few scattered trees within a twice logged forest of much younger stands. In fact, there is more oak savanna in Seward than old growth rainforest. National Parks are truly protected, but state forests, though often forested, are usually in commercial logging contracts, and do get cut. Below are several satellite photos of forested areas where logging is very active within national forests and around national parks.
Please take some time on a satellite map online- google maps is what I used for these pictures- wander around the country, and the world for that matter, look at forests and see how much is missing- it’s hard to tell where they once were in many places- let’s just say, before European settlement, most areas of The West Coast were covered in old growth forests. Now, there is a vast opening, development, human settlement, and expansion continue to carve up what’s left of our forests. Trees are natural resources to be exploited, by bad management practices, that put prophets above long term human survival. In my lifetime, the last of our old growth will be gone in North America, with the exceptions of a few token places already in national parks- but for how long? I cannot even say with strong confidence, that even the land at EEC will forever be a forest. Even with protection, after a few generations and the whim of politics, any land can become a dollar amount on spread sheets. Then, it’s easy to turn public gaze away for just long enough to rip out the ecosystem- once its lost, there’s nothing to do but dig-dig-dig and drill-drill-drill.
We cannot yet fully measure the endless biodiversity in an intact, old growth forest. Some people make it all about the trees themselves, but they are just the surface fluff, much like the fruiting of a mushroom- what’s really happening lies below the soil’s surface, out of sight and mind of most people. When the trees are cut, that soil, and everything living in it begins to erode away down hillsides and slopes. Forests still around are often on slopes, that’s because we cleared them out of all the bottom land to grow crops, and no forests remain in vast river valleys across the world, where once, giant primeval realms of massive canopy spread above. People tend to settle near freshwater, on flat ground. The trees found sanctuary along the hills and mountains, until we followed them there to harvest for our endless consumption. Look at the island nations across the northern hemisphere- The British Isles- for instance- very few stands of trees, none of them old growth, and most grown for commercial industry, or protected in small parks. After they cut their own trees over a few thousand years, England came to North America and fell more grate forests, slowly at first, but in time, with the advent of more colonial migrations from Europe, the seemingly endless nature of “The New World” was almost completely gone in a few hundred years.
We’re still only looking at trees- if you look at the loss of top soil- we’re way ahead, less than a few inches left from tens of feet lost due to tilling. It takes thousands of years for an intact ecosystem to create topsoil, and in less than 100, here in the USA, we’ve taken most of it off and thrown it down divers and into the air where it disappears into oceans. If I take any time talking about oceanic collapse, we’ll get very depressed. My mind can only take so much desecration, so I do take comfort in knowing this planetary evolution climaxes and collapses occasionally, clearing the slate, so to speak, and that new chemical combinations in future might recreate thriving habitat millions of years into the future. It has in the past. Right now, we are conscious of our destructive actions as a species, and can change course to the best of our abilities. Each positive action towards regenerative ecology gives us stability for that much longer- I hope. EEC Forest is building fertility now, with little outside input, and a lot of animal help. The vegetation gets thicker and greener each year, with over 4 acres of replanted native growth. Blackberry retreats to reforestation, and canopy will soon shade the land, offering a place for water to stay in the soil and soak deep underground.
Again, it’s what’s happening out of sight that makes everything growing out of the ground possible. Take a close look at the ground around you- is it mostly paved, are the landscapes artificial, cultivated, or wild? How compacted is the soil, if there is any? What species are eking out a living, or thriving? Where does your drinking water come from? Where is most of the food you eat grown? When we shift from general nature questions into personal survival reflection, the truth about our species becomes very clear- most of us have very little to do with the ground we live on- literally. When was the last time your bare foot touched bare ground- not an artificial ground like cement or carpet? What privileged access to soil and growing things do you have? How important are your surroundings? These are just a few questions to ask and reflect on, a way to gauge the health and stability of your environment- as well as your personal mental and physical health. When we take time to look at the ground we live on, and connect to it, we become more rooted in self identity, common cause with our community, and more sensitive to environmental factors like pollution, urban decay, and social renewal. As Dr. Wessels pointed out- the most divers part of our ecology is out of sight- as is the diversity of any living structure, even human society. Keep your mind open and look beyond the surface structure, you’ll usually find compelling ground.
Look for this lovely spring abundance now in Western Washington. You’ll most likely find these precious saprotrophic friends on hard woods like big leaf maple or red alder, usually standing or fallen dead or partially dead logs. I grabbed some right off a trail in Lord Hill Regional Park near Snohomish on a downed Maple. Shelf mushrooms are a great beginner type of mushroom to learn, and this species is abundant and wide spread throughout the woods in springtime. Pleurotus are the most common cultivated mushrooms for eating on earth. Though they are gilled, and often white (our most toxic species have these traits), oysters grow out of the sides of recently dead trees, NOT on the ground in the duff of the forest floor where the toxic verities reside. Again, I can’t stress enough the need to go into the field with an experienced mushroomer before you start picking mushrooms for consumption on your own. Beginners don’t have the sight wisdom to distinguish many of the classic mushroom characteristics I’m referring to now, but identification and confidence will come with dirt time and mentoring, like most skills. If you’ve not had some time out with an experienced picker, please stick to general identification- DO NOT EAT.
P. ostreatus is not known for its amazing rich taste, but the texture of this fungus remains firm during the cooking process, and takes on the wonderful flavors of anything you wish to add. I usually start by cooking the water out of this species, then add it into a stir fry with rice and other veggies. It’s important to always cook wild mushrooms thoroughly before consuming. Most people who experience digestive issues with safe to eat mushrooms can be traced back to under-cooking. Take time to reduce oysters of their water and you’ll have that much more space for the flavor of your other ingredients to take hold. A well cooked mushroom remains firm, but lose that initial limp soggy texture caused by sweating when a mushroom is first exposed to heat . The picture below shows oysters sweating in the cast-iron pan on medium heat. I’ve added a little salt and pepper, but no oil yet.
If you grease the mushrooms before they have a chance to sweat out, you’ll lock in a lot of that moisture, keeping the mushroom flesh floppy, and giving your mouth an experience of biting down on a wet sponge. Firm up that flesh with a few extra minutes of heat and you’ll have a food fit for any table. I added these delicious treats to some veggies and nuts as an accompaniment to wild caught trout. Pairing wild foods is my equivalent to any Michelin star meal. The experience of harvesting the mushrooms on a trail was such a pleasant find. Catching the fish at my favorite cranberry bog (on public land), in a thunderstorm, with a friend was also a great foodie experience. I can’t say that this type of eating is anything less than luxury. Taking time to harvest wild food is a lifestyle, involves knowledge of what’s safe to eat, and in the case of fishing in Washington State- legal permits for wild caught animals. You location of harvesting is also imperative- mushrooms often grow in toxic places, so know the landscape history before you harvest, and know if its even legal to harvest where you are- national park are not legal harvest places, nor is private land without permission.
Food is seasonal, and even if you don’t have time to go out and catch it yourself, take the time to know where it comes from. Many cultivated mushrooms are grown in highly controlled environments, often with chemical inputs- so know the grower and get a tour of the facility if you can. Fish can live in polluted waters- and most ocean caught food is now showing high counts of pollutants- and farm raised seafood can be very costly to the environment and human health. Please watch this for more about the harm of fish farms to us and our wild waters. We often forget that fish farming is industrial farming like any other. The trout I caught come from waters that host a variety of sensitive species such as sun dews and wild cranberries. If the water was polluted, these species would not be here. The trout are small, but wild, and eat strictly wild things. Farm fish may be much bigger- but it’s mostly fat, fat which holds a high count of the pollutants from chemical inputs. With all industrial food, there is a price. Most of the cost in not in dollars and cents, but like most industries, its out of sight, hidden in the chemical makeup of the environment, and can’t be detected without analysis in laboratory studies.
This is the problem with our current food production, using outdated models left over from The Industrial Revolution over a century ago. My enjoyment of “safe” wild food will eventually be directly affected by the greater global pollution building up everywhere. In fact, it already is- and from The Baltic Sea to our own Great Lakes runoff pollution is killing us. On land the runoff is still capable of getting into our food, because we have to water crops, so the pollution in that water goes onto the food and into the soil where it grows. As I mentioned earlier in this writing, mushrooms take up whatever toxins are in the soil- like all other living things. At Lord Hill Park, where I harvested the oysters, there are signs of industrial activity all around, and as I delved into the history of the site, I learned that mining was rampant around the mountain where we hiked. Though the big leaf maple looked “ok” (it was dead), I would not come back to that park to harvest wild food again. The pond on public land where I caught the trout is surrounded by timber harvesting activity, and industrial forest practices include chemical spray treatments to prevent weeds choking out young trees, and eventual treated sewage applications to assist the nutrient intake of mono-crop trees for faster growth. These continued inputs will eventually pollute all the wild water.
There’s a lot of ice ice baby at EEC Forest Stewardship- and it’s not because we’re so cool, or is it? Climate change is re-configuring our weather across the globe, and here in The Pacific Northwest, we’re seeing dryer, hotter summers, and heavier rainfalls in winter. What’s also been much more prevalent in the last few years is graupel. What is this precipitation I’m talking about? Isn’t it just small hail? No- hail is formed through very strong thunderstorm updrafts and takes on a more erratic pattern. Graupel is snow with a layer of ice coating around it and never gets very big or heavy. It’s been falling here at EEC a lot this year, and I’ve taken to marking the events with pictures and video, as the intensity of the storms is very unusual. In a year we might see one or two of these events, usually in the summer when we get an occasional thunderstorm, but as other blog posts have commented, we’re getting more intense thunderstorm activity too.
In observing this subtle shift in climate, I wonder now how the fruit trees will handle this assault in time. By 2030, when most of the fruit and nut trees are well established, will our weather offer violent thunderstorms with hail, or even this torrent of graupel to bruise the blossoms, or worse, ripened fruit? Climate will continue to exaggerate, and the pace is exponential. If we’re in for heavy rain events, and hard ice chunks falling from the sky, evergreen trees might be the smartest rout, perhaps oak too, though in early Spring, most leaflets are young and supple, certainly vulnerable to pelting ice. On the other hand, graupel melts slowly, allowing the water to soak into the soil, as the usual misting like rains of a typical winter used to. Perhaps this is nature’s way of providing some slow down in water retension, as the heavy rains sheet down hillsides and away in stream runoff with little chance of banking into the soil to combat drought prone summers to come. I’d like to think so.
The graupel gathers in low laying areas, like these scallops dug by my chickens in their coop yard this winter. Slow melting lets the water pool up in the divots, then creating perfect micro climates for seed germination. Rain would also pool up in the scallops, but much more of the water would overflow, running down the slope and away from the ground. These ice pellets are subtle in their work, but I think this is the future of spring climate change at EEC here in Western Washington. Snow events are more common too, with at least one major melt each winter, yet another way water is slowed in a freezing and thawing to slow and sink water into the ground. We’ll keep observing the weather changes and witnessing its effect on the landscape around us. At EEC, we’re striving to restore the forest with native growth, while allowing some planting for human use, such as fruit and nut trees and shrubs. Our stewardship can dictate much of the plant life, and even have some influence over animal species present, but the weather shapes its self, and it’s morphing more dramatically than any other time of human documentation.
I’m sure our 40,000 years ago ancestors witnessed similar mass upheavals in climate, with the end of an Ice Age and massive migrations away from the equator. Now, with our established infrastructure and political boundaries, we as a species have stepped out of nature’s rhythm, choosing instead, to dictate with economy, what is our only living home. It is still very much alive, and impassive to our whims, flowing ever into adaptation, while we fidget with our cables and connections on a wireless stream. Flooding, winds, and forest fires will always trump technology. Climate will make refugees of us all, and alter the landscape beyond our recognition. I think only the plants and a few animals are getting the memo, and it’s a lot like that book where the dolphins sing- “So long and thanks for all the fish!”
This grass, with endless utility and growth potential, also garners invasive tendency. Though here at EEC Forest Stewardship, we’re a little underwhelmed by it’s potential thus far. If you are going to plant bamboo, take care in the verity you select, location, and a sturdy management plan. In some bioregions, bamboo can be catastrophic to native habitat, and building foundations. It’s also one of the best raw materials for a diversity of construction needs from lattice and fencing, to framing a structure, depending on the verity you select. Here at EEC, we wanted a sturdy stalk for lattice and waddle fencing, with a moderate growth rate. We planted three bunches along a fence line where soil is fertile, sun is abundant, and a good buffer screen from the neighbor is warranted. The bamboo is established to stabilize the ground towards the bottom of a slope. It’s been alive and well for almost five years now, but new growth remains illusive. I took a few stalks and reburied them along teh ground like runners to see if they would spread. They did, and the re-root is solid, but there is still little new stalk growth- for use as material, to show.
Inevitably, this bamboo will take root and spread. All the informative literature on this species warns of a slow start, ending in impossible to control exponential expansion (if left unchecked). How do you check bamboo? Well, it depends on the verity. This plant spreads through a rhizome, a thick root structure that throws out long tendril roots through the soil to harvest nutrients and water for the plant. It’s a grass, and if you thought cutting turf was challenging, wait till the sod has a 3 foot thick root structure to dig out. That imposing root mass is limited to a certain depth, which is how to control the spread. Thick plastic sheeting can be buried into the ground below the rhizome’s deepest leads to block spreading. You can also simply dig a deep trench around your stand and monitor for the occasional runner that slips under. So far, we are not in need of a barrier, and I will continue to spread the stalks out along the ground in a line parallel to our pallet fence. The stalks I’ve already planted out are showing promising node buds, which should eventually shoot up new stalks. We’re a long way form viable material harvesting for fencing and lattice, not to mention privacy buffer, but in time, I’m sure this bamboo will live up to its reputation.
What is the long term control plan for this aggressive grass? In a word, shade. This strain of bamboo needs abundant light. Our planting plan puts the bamboo on the south side of an 80 year old Douglas Fir, which will prevent the bamboo from growing north, into another neighbor’s property. To the west is the fence line, and beyond that another evergreen forest with ample shade. On the south and eastern sided of this modest stand, human harvesting will prevent expansion for the next lifetime. After that, the entire property will be established forest, growing tall enough to shade out the remaining bamboo entirely, as it does with any other grass once canopy is restored. This thought allows me to cultivate this invasive without too much worry. Bamboo has a reputation because people who plant it don’t think about the long term stewardship of the landscape it’s been introduced to. This is the case with many planted spaces- especially poorly managed urban landscaping. There you can really see foundational compromise in action, when people put bamboo on a property line with cement foundations all around, and no thought to what the powerful rhizome will do to the rock around it. Back on the mountain slopes of its native terrain, bamboo plays a role in braking down rocky mountains into sediment over ecological time. In a city or suburb, bamboo will upend parking lots, house foundations, and basement walls, earning its reputation as a monumental destructive force. At EEC, we hope to harness the structural strength of bamboo, and provide a good material resource for the short term human cultivation nearby.
What would the world be like if we ran economy in a fair exchange model? Without obscene dividends, abundance would come in the form of spreading wealth out, rather than up a hierarchical scale. How can we broadly, rather than hierarchically? The very nature of subconscious human thought revolves around an ego. Yet selflessness persists in our human nature, why is it not cultivated more? Considering the major religions require it as attribute most favored in paradise, how have we fallen so far into greed as a species? Fair seems such an idealistic word, but the inequality of our lives often tips fairness out of balance, and global perspective becomes a sort of curse. The nature of things assumes we already evolve in fairness, and judging something to be balanced is possible because we are all, as a species, operating under the same rules of engagement- but we’re not, so how do we make life fair?
I hear a lot about mindfulness, and being present, aware of our actions, and the consequences- this is all well and good, but then takes us fully into our own ego, revolving once more within, rather than without. Without might be a better goal- what can we, with so much, do without? It was always my fantasy as a child to become a Buddhist Monk- yes, a monk. My wise Mother pointed out I would have to take a vow of poverty and give up everything except a pair of sandals, my eating bowl, and a robe. She asked if I could give up everything like that and I knew I could not, and said as much. But the fantasy of simple living continues to this day, and with a lot of privilege, I have home/land, self employment, and thriving community. Also internet, personal vehicle, privet stock, and a full larder. What is of most value? My life? We’d all like to think so, but human life- especially quality of life, is robbed from most people- even the wealthiest, though money always helps, a lot in our current economic exchange.
What is life, but a struggle? Why? Because of scarcity- usually brought on through economic instability, due to global manipulation, and exploitation for personal gain. Those of us sitting at leisure reading this screen may have no direct action involved in the violence around us, but just by sitting here enjoying the internet, we’re advancing the economic violence across the world without too much direct imposition on ourselves- so we can reflect. In collage, I dove deeply into Montaigne, a French nobleman who locked himself away in a tower, waited on by his wife- hand and foot, while he expounded on vice, habit, and accursed gallstones. His writing on self was profound, to those privileged enough to read and sit with his lessons. Vice forms habit, and if I’m starting to sound like some fevered religious zealot- it’s not far from the truth. To live a life of quality and soundness, you have to be tenaciously present. Food, water, shelter, and mind have to be free and abundant. How many of us can claim this to be true- especially the mindset, but for so many, even the basic survival conditions of food, water, and shelter are far from present.
In North America, we hide it well, all our struggles, and then people break, reach for violence, and murder themselves with hate. The Nation is shocked- our thoughts and prayers are for ourselves. Think about when an Amazon package should be arriving and how much a co-pay at the pharmacy will be to keep the drugs coming. Think about our collective abandonment of education, the lifelong journey of learning, and what tomorrow’s children will be taught. Pray for a light at the end of this dark, winding tunnel. I walked one last summer, a dark, cold, damp tunnel- through a mountain in The Cascades. We knew there was another side, and eventually saw the light, but we also knew we would have to come back through this tunnel a second time, in our return. That could be part of human thinking, that life’s a line that starts at one end and goes to another, terminating at a certain point, never crossing back or coming around- you can see how Buddhism appealed at an early age. This linear thinking is an idealistic conception- great for certain survival situations, but if you can only go one way, you’re trapped in a predictable model of stagnation.
Nature, in all her wisdom, embraces a template for life. It’s more a grid, with species intricately woven into one another in a complex system as a whole. Predictability does embed its self deeply within this fabric- life must consume to thrive, when imbalance happens, nature corrects its self in time. The pendulum swings, never quite landing in the same place twice, yet bound within a landscape of finality. Her carrying capacity is vast, yet limited, and we as the human species have forgotten this simple truth. We’ll keep sending our thoughts and prayers, but not change our habits to aid in a better future. Or we will struggle, perhaps forced, by nature herself, to prevail in our evolution forward. Here in Western thought, it’s exactly that- the mind, which is our greatest hindrance or help, depending on how we use it. Sadly, through decades of criminal neglect, our thoughts are now prayed upon, and our lands are scabbed- cankers of consequences.
Our ewes have started dropping lambs, and it’s a very exciting time here at EEC Forest Stewardship. This is the first year I’ve had the help of our Kangal, Gill. He’s really been an amazing support as the season begins. I’m learning all kinds of new communications in bark, yelp, crooning, and howl. There are moment when I get it wrong, and wish I had not climbed out of bed in the middle of the night, but it’s my agreement as a 24hr. livestock steward and working partner with the sheep and dog- if only more producers could cultivate such awareness and connection. This working collaboration goes back thousands of years. Most of our work is instinctual, though Gill has a mush better sense of the animals, having retained his more primal instincts and sensitivities. I’m typing in front of this screen right now while he’s still out on the land patrolling, and his senses are many times more acute than my own. At night, he sleeps a few feet from the flock and knows their every rhythm. This awareness and instinct gave him the skill to know when a ewe was giving birth (he’d never experienced this before), and sent out a call for me to come.
The bark was new to me, in the night, as I lay hoping he would calm down, that it might just be another passing sound in the woods nearby, but the dog’s keen sense compelled. His call was steady and pleading, not loud and rapid like alerts, a bark ending on a higher note, sometimes crooned (a muted howl). Earlier that evening I had remarked to my partner that one of the older ewes looked ready to drop her lambs. Crawling out of the vestiges of sleep, warm bed, rest forfeit to obligation, a seasonal cycle I love and sometimes struggle with in the life of tending a living place. I was not suprised when, upon opening the from door, I heard more noise, a ewe bleating in her own rhythm, a birth song to her new offspring. They usually come in the night, like dark slimy nightmares if you don’t know what you are looking at. In the torchlight, a dark mass of curly brown hair was being nudged some what frantically by our grandmother ewe Hattie. She was only half way through her miracle of life bringing, hence the anxiety in her bleating. Gill was now quietly laying in his bed nearby, relaxed and calm. He had not been frantic at all, seeming to know it was all part of the natural cycle, and that I was now on the scene to stand watch.
The first lamb was still very wet, so I used a dry towel, on hand nearby for this occasion. I keep a stack in the barn during lambing season. The nights are still below freezing, and even in a barn, a newborn lamb can freeze if not dried off quickly. Hattie was doing her best, but labor still overwhelmed her body and she frequently turned to paw the ground in her contractions. I gently rubbed the afterbirth off the chocolate hairy mass, sexing it as a female- two holes under the tail, males have only one. She was shaking and quaking with life, the first few minutes acclimating to an alien environment she was dumped into without much warning. Watching this is an experience I recommend to everyone. It’s humbling, because the next thing that happens is in stark contrast to any human babies first few moments on Earth. The lamb struggles to stand. It’s pure instinct, spasming muscles in a survival struggle; thrashing, flimsy stilts supporting a rickety frame of barely developed skeletal sketch. In a few more minutes of experimental movement, the animal holds its self up on tittering edge, and then control falls across the bed of straw, collapsing in a pile again at the foot (hoof?) of its dam.
Twins are not unusual in sheep, and are preferable in trait selection. Usually, when a sheep has her first “joining” (exposure to a ram) with successful conception, she has only one lamb. Second time breeders will have two- or more, depending on breed, age, and countless other variables. Hattie is a mature breeding ewe, producing twins at EEC the past two years. Last year she threw two females, this year, she’s produced a male and a female- named Mork and Mindy. I helped deliver Mork. Hattie was tired, and it was easy for me to gently hold the producing hooves of the lamb as it began to come out. It’s not necessary to assist Katahdins, but Hattie is older, and she was laying down and looking stressed, so I helped- a little. Mork oozed out, flopping onto the hay in an awkward heap of jelly and blood. It’s not pretty, from what I’ve observed in birthing (including human), there’s a lot of body fluid and strangeness. The puddle of lamb was slurped up by his mother the moment she turned to face him. In that split second, she finds the umbilical chord and severs it with her teeth, then begins cleaning off the afterbirth, but more chaos ensues. Hattie now has two lambs, and cant see them both at once, so she bawls and turns back and forth, sniffing one, licking the other, and dancing around me.
Meanwhile, Gill continued to rest in his bed, and our new ram has been watching quietly from his stall too. Hattie has her twins, and I have to get them all into a safe little pen of their own before I can go back to my own pen to rest. Both lambs are now tottering around, and that’s enough activity for me to feel good about stepping away. I isolate the new little family unit in it’s own pen for bonding, and protection from other less careful ewes. The new mamma and her babes are corralled into a pen right next to Gill. He gently licks each lamb, sniffing and registering them into the flock. Then Hattie turns her bloody butt his way, and he supports in the best way a dog can. Afterbirth is still dripping out of her, and the dog enjoys a tasty treat while helping the old ewe clean up. This ewe was raised with a Kangal at her previous home, so she’s familiar with this ritual and the dog. Gill is also bread as a shepherd animal- I would not invite you to offer the bloody butt of your ewe to the family pet- it might get ugly. This instincts and bond between the two species also goes back thousands of years. They have a trust that not all sheep and dogs can share, and that’s very important to reference in this situation.
A few days after Hattie dropped her twins, Gill was barking at me again in the middle of the night. I jumped up, recognizing a new bark, and got dressed to head down to the barn, excited about more lambing. When I arrived on the scene there was no lambing in progress, but our new ram, King, had jumped in with the ewes and was covering Pepper, one of our sheep that had not been bred in the last season. She was eager to be a mom again, and King was happy to oblige, but I could not have them jumping around the same pen where lambs were resting with very pregnant ewes, so I corralled the lovers into another stall nearby, and thanked Gill for more great work in watching after his sheep. It amazes me that the dog knows when something is “off” and wants me to know about it. Though I must note that there are times when he barks, and I can’t tell what’s happening, so I go down to the barn in the middle of the night to find nothing out of place. This does not mean Gill is wrong to bark, it just means my human senses cannot pick up on something the dog is alarming about, and that’s my issue, not the dog’s. I am careful never to get upset with Gill when he is alarming- his bark is my safety gauge for the livestock, and predators are very real here in Western Washington.
We’ve fenced our pastures to keep Gill in, and avoid direct confrontation with predator species, as they have a right to be in the area too, and we want to avoid physical fights at all costs. Our livestock guardian dog is a partner, but not in charge. If he had it his way, he’d spend all night roaming the area, but he is tethered in the barn with his sheep for everyone’s safety. The barking is enough to deter, and alert me to any issue, though I will not always jump up and go outside when I hear him alerting. Often times there are coyotes way off in the distance crying, or someone just getting home late, which is out of the norm for the dog, so he lets us know something is different. This can seem tedious for some, and I would not recommend getting a Livestock Guardian Dog if you live in an urban or suburban environment, your neighbors will hate you, and the loud barking nuisance you brought home.
Kangals, like most LGD’s, are a serious working breed, which, if left without a real job, will find one trying to dig out of your small yard (anything under 4 acres) or attacking neighborhood dogs. I was on a trail hike with a friend, her infant son, and my Australian Shepherd (without my Kangal) a few weeks ago. We encountered a woman who shouted at us from quite a ways up the trail that she had an LGD with her and needed me to hold my dog so as not to let them fight. It was a completely out of control situation for that woman and her dog as they approached, and I was concerned for my friend and her child. The LGD was an Anatolian Shepherd- as the woman proudly proclaimed. I tried to be friendly, but also firm. I stated that I too had an Anatolian (Kangal), but I knew since the breed can be very aggressive towards other dogs, that he stayed at home with his flock, working. She got defensive- no suprise- (remember, we are on a public trail), and said she was at home, that this land was hers, and her dog had a right to be there. My friend and I hiked on by as calmly as we could, and my pup Valley was a model K9 citizen, sticking to me like glue and ignoring the woman and her dog- who was going unhinged and jumping to eye level as the owner struggled to hold the collar. It was a train wreck, and I felt sorry for the woman, but even more so the dog. Kangals are not pets, and should not be in suburban home environments without a job.
Even with all the instincts, Gill is still an LGD in training, meaning we spend a lot of time observing, communicating, and training together. When we brought home the new ram, King, it was important to recognize that there was an introduction period between sheep and dog. The two were allowed to sniff and greet each other through the fence, before being face to face in the fenced paddock. Things went very smoothly, and the experience was another lesson in pure instinct. The ram has never been with LGDs, yet he tolerated Gill almost immediately. The two were acclimated, and King folded into the herd nicely. These slow acclimation sessions should happen with any livestock we introduce to the land we’ve given to Gill as territory. He is not allowed into the living area where people are most active- he is not a personal guard dog, just a stock guardian. We don’t want him to think the human territory is part of his patrol, though some people do invite their Kangal to wander the property as a whole, especially at night. Because EEC is a teaching forest, we must create space where people can gather and observe without the need for a dog to be present. Gill does alert bark when someone enters at the gate from our guest parking, but he is removed from the entrance and unable to directly engage with visitors. Keeping clear boundaries with Kangals is crucial to cultivating a healthy dog and comfortable guests.
One of the most challenging partnership agreements between Gill and EEC is his barking. The Kangal, like most LGDs, alert barks. This can be a few short yips, or turn into hours of continual yelps. Guarding instincts “turn up” during the nights, so if neighbors or anyone living within a few miles are light sleepers, there’s bound to be conflict over the Kangal. I’m writing this after my second near sleepless night as Gill learns about changing Spring sounds around the farm. He starts up at dusk with the frog chorus, and went till about 1:00am last night. Then he started up with the owls at 3:30am this morning. It’s a challenge for me as the clueless human who cannot hear, smell, or feel any presence of danger, though there could be a cougar or bear just beyond sight in the woods- Gill knows, and I have to trust his guardianship, especially during the night when I’m “off duty” -in the sense of getting some sleep, well, trying to. Hopefully this continual barking is just an episode related to the seasonal changes. I would say it is most unusual to have him “singing” all night. Our work together is a duet of experience and learning, and I’m so grateful for this new layer of support at EEC.