For the last few weeks in Arcata, I have been killing lots of Douglas-fir. My pulaski and handsaw have felled or girdled seedlings, saplings, and young trees (no older than 80 years). Douglas-fir/Tanoak forests dominate the Coast Ranges of NW California. In these mountains there are pockets of prairies, offering ecological heterogeneity to wildlife and vegetation. Similar to the story all over the USA, wildfire suppression has deprived grasslands of their main safeguard against forest encroachment. And since it isn’t practical to bring prescribed burning crews and engines to all BLM-managed prairies on their historic burning intervals, I have been lending an unnatural hand (evolutionarily speaking) to the grassy strongholds.
As my hours here quickly dwindle, my fondness for this area continues to grow. The mountains and redwoods seem taller now. The eyes through which I perceive the landscape have changed dramatically over the last 4 months. As my understanding of the area increases, I have been aware of a deepening of my vision. Here follows the timeline of my blossoming understanding.
When I first arrived, Arcata was nestled between hills and coastal plains. About a month later, when from the ocean I saw a full moon rise over the town, in my mind the “hills” became mountains (of course they have always been mountains). A month after that, with my radius of exploration expanding, I could feel how the mountains east of Arcata fit into the context of ranges extending along the coast and east to the Central Valley. A few weeks after that, as I visited new vantage points, the estuaries on the coast were integrated (in my mind) with their river valleys penetrating multiple ranges. I learned the directions the rivers travel to their origins, as steep as 6,000’ above and 113 river miles from their estuaries. Recently, I comprehended the entire canyon shape of a BLM-managed tributary to a larger creek. In the diverse landscapes of The West, the potential depth of understanding is limitless! And I have only been here for 4 months, so I know that my eyes are only absorbing a fraction of what a lifelong local sees.
My ability to assimilate the details of a Northern California landscape is infinitely greater now. My two CLM internships have taught me that it takes me months to graduate from seeing a landscape to seeing a landscape IN ITS CONTEXT. This is the natural progression of understanding in general. We can only increase our understanding so much at a time. But once our circle of understanding is expanded, we can build more circles starting from that circle. Pretty soon, a bigger picture emerges – the Flower of Life. Perhaps this is the most appropriate symbolic representation of my time working for the Chicago Botanic Garden!