Summer of Love…and plants

Field work is really hard! Especially in the desert!

Sometimes it feels like the desert is playing tricks on me, warping my perception. It has been a struggle finding viable seed to collect for our seed banking efforts. Many of the plants that are most important for post-wildfire restoration have produced little to no seed this year.

About a month or so ago, Mike and I took a walk through the site of the recent Long Valley fire. It was pretty spooky. There was no sign of any herbaceous plants and all that remained of the shrubs were blackened twigs. At first glance, the area looked like a desolate wasteland. Then I looked closer. Ants scrambled around the charred gravel. A lone mushroom stood, flushed by all the water from the firefighting effort. Desert peach sprouted from the bases of charred bushes.

What had appeared to me as a lifeless landscape was actually full of vitality and regeneration. It reminded me that the apocalyptic rhetoric that we conservationists often use to galvanize support for our cause can overlook the innate regenerative potential of threatened ecosystems. How often have seed banks been billed as “doomsday vaults”? I think that this sort of apocalyptic thinking is not only destructively pessimistic, but also endows us conservationists with a false sense of self-importance. As soon as we start believing that the earth is dying because of us, we start believing that we alone can save it. Not to say that we haven’t caused irreparable damage to this planet. But I think it is important to acknowledge that ecosystems are incredibly resilient and that they will recover from our impact regardless of whether we welcome a few sacred species onto our ark. Granted, this recovery might not take place on a timescale that is acceptable to us as users of the land. It will probably be millennia before natural antagonists evolve to put a check on invasive organisms.

On a lighter note, I went to Lake Tahoe this past weekend. Such beautiful, such wow, such boats. We went on a gorgeous hike to the top of Twin Peaks, visited an “authentic Scandinavian castle” and swam to a small island in the middle of the lake.

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