An Oasis of Calm, Cool, and Quiet
The air instantly cooled a few degrees and the sound of traffic faded away as if by magic. The light had also changed, especially after the harsh glare of mid-afternoon sunshine, the light was now calm, filtered, and green, everything even looked a little cooler.
It is mid-August and we are in the middle of another drought. Yet in the urban forest near my home, the creek flows down the ravine the same as it always has, uninterrupted for hundreds if not thousands of years. Hermit’s Trail is what the locals call this place, the name slightly scary to kids, maybe a good way to keep them from falling behind on a hike… According to local legend, in the early part of the last century, a commercial crab fisherman made his home here, living to an old age, he spent his days burying coffee tins of coins in the forested hillsides of the ravine. Any shack or evidence of his existence is now lost to time and the growth of the forest. There is not much that can outlast the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest, not even a tin can of coins. If you leave something in the forest long enough it will either rot away in long wet winters or soon be hidden by the fallen leaves, ferns, and moss.
I was struck by how healthy and resilient the forest looked despite the recent heat and lack of rain. Having been completely logged starting 150 years ago, this area near my home looks how I would imagine it 150 or even 1500 years ago. The forested ravines leading to the ocean have small creeks and invasive species are kept to a minimum by volunteer horticulturalists and naturalist organizations.
The power of nature to regenerate and heal herself has always fascinated me, maybe more now than ever. Even though the area where I live lost most of its big trees long ago, the wild creatures and plants were never completely gone. Most have recovered in numbers with no help at all, the healing process taking a full century to get the point where we are today. But that was then, and this is now. More than ever we need healthy, mature forests to help fight the effects of global warming and to prevent biodiversity loss. All parts of nature, from the smallest insects to the biggest trees, work together to help the planet maintain its health. It seems humans are the only ones bent on destruction. For some reason, most people talk about economic progress and the desire to build great things as the main metric of measuring human achievement, like it’s the only part worth quantifying. But I think it is also in our nature to work with nature, to make sure that it is able to support us and our future generations. It is simply in our best interest as a species.
As I continued my walk, I thought of a video production company in New Zealand that my partner shared with me last night. Happen Films produces short documentaries about nature and the environment. They are beautifully shot with meaningful interviews, cinematic footage, inspiring music, and a depth of human emotion that parallels how I truly feel about nature. I can tell that they too respect the role of nature in humanity, and while they do acknowledge the current global climate situation, they also focus on the positive changes that good people make, and maybe help others to feel hope.
One such video is called From Weedy Forests to Grassy Woodlands and explains how a guerilla forest rehabilitation group is using goats to help nature regenerate forests. Decades of invasive weed exploitation from species like Himalayan Blackberries and Scotch Broom are managed quickly and effectively and yes, you read that right, they use goats. Goats. Their herd of regular farm goats eat all the nasty, noxious, and prickly weeds and leave the stronger, less tasty native plants. In a few short seasons, their system of foraging goats can help large tracts of weed-filled lands regenerate to a natural self-sustaining level that would have taken many decades to achieve with no intervention. The typical alternative to goats would be heavy machinery, herbicides, or the use of fire in controlled burns. All three will remove the weeds in the short term, but also kill and destroy the native trees, plants, and animal habitat, forcing the creatures that live there to either move or perish. Worse yet, the very things that grow back the fastest and benefit the most from this type of destructive intervention are more weeds, so it is at best a temporary solution. By using goats to selectively remove weeds, the resulting woodlands are more like what they would have been had the non-native species not ever taken hold in the first place.
As I descend further down Hermit’s Trail, I feel my mind clearing and tension sweeping away. Partway down is a short trail that leads off to the West. At the end is a lookout point where I can see the San Juan Islands in Washington State. At the right moment, I might see Dall’s porpoises, or maybe even gray whales as they migrate to and from Mexico.
I enjoy the view for a moment and continue back down the path. In a few minutes, I will be at the beach at the bottom of the trail where a beautiful sunset awaits those with the patience to stick around long enough.
I sometimes used to wish that I was born a century earlier. I would have been able to know what this place was like before the chainsaws and locomotives came. But that was a tough time in its own way. Not many people here at that time would have had the leisure time to be able to go for a walk to the beach on a regular basis. Most of them viewed the forest only as a resource to be exploited and if someone did recognize the beauty and value, they would certainly have been appalled at the era of clear cut logging. Despite the problems of today we live in a time of change where the old ways are being challenged in all ways and I feel privileged to witness this time of darkness transition to one of lightness or maybe the better word is enlightenment. Not all will come along quietly, but they can’t fight a rising tide for long.
Where I live, the forests are coming back, and with them the animals and biodiversity that is so important for the future. We are in a time of transition, and a new awareness of what we need to do and how we need to do it. Mother nature is strong and resilient, and when we do take the pressure off of her, the forests of the world are able to regenerate, and we all are able to breathe just a little bit better.
Happy Eco News, August 17, 2020
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