So far, this winter has given our corner of the Pacific Northwest a variety of storms – wind, rain, snow, and ice. (In fact, it is snowing as I write this but rain will return soon.) All winter storms take a toll on a landscape, especially in our old, protected urban forests. We are lucky here in Seattle as we have many such forests. One forest, in particular, is very close to my heart (and my house) – Carkeek Park. I began my career as a Forest Steward in 2008, under the tutelage of a retired, Scandinavian forester, Lex, who completed his PhD in Liberia decades before I met him. When I met Lex his interest was, and remains now, focused on the health and restoration of the forests of Carkeek Park, located in northwest Seattle. (My experience in Carkeek includes being lead steward of the Demonstration Gardens for almost 10 years, occasional forest steward since 2008, and work with the trails crew on occasion.) Carkeek forest is a mixed deciduous/conifer forest of Acer macrophyllum (Big Leaf maple), Alnus rubra (Red Alder), Abies procera (Noble Fir), Pseudotsuga menziesii (Douglas Fir), Thuja plicata (Western Red Cedar), Arbutus menziesii (Pacific Madrone), and many other conifers, deciduous trees and willows (Salix spp.). It is a beautiful, healthy, aging forest lovingly maintained by a truly dedicated, educated, and hearty group of volunteers who love the work. But, as I said, the forest is aging. And with age comes instability. Old limbs crack, break and fall under the weight of snow and/or ice, or when pushed by strong winds. In a forest as dense and varied as Carkeek, walking or working under such a canopy can be tricky – one moment all is quiet and safe, the next moment down comes a huge limb. When my work in the Demonstration Gardens ended, I resumed forestry work. And with the required permission of Seattle Parks, in 2019 I began work in an area populated mostly with maples and alders, and a healthy groups of ivy and blackberry vines. (Maples and alders tend to drop limbs more often than conifers.) After clearing the area of the undesirables, I began planting. As the area is home to many very large, healthy sword ferns (Polystichum munitum), I decided to add some native flowering plants such as Bleeding heart (Dicentra formosa), Redwood Sorrel (Oxalis oregana), False Solomon’s Seal (Smilacina racemosa), and a variety of other understory plants. I outlined a path to a sitting area that was just beginning to take shape and circled the area with vine maples and twinberry. Good results from the new plants were observed last autumn, and during my visit in early December. However, when I returned last week to check on the condition of my work, I found a mess. Downed limbs, a tree down in the middle of the path, and the sitting circle filled with wood debris too large for me to clear as the following pictures show.
Walking into my work area, showing the outline of the path. The downed tree trunk is visible ahead.
The path obscured and the sitting circle buried under debris.
So much for the path! A couple of ferns took it on the chin, also.
On the slope, most ferns are intact but there is much wood debris to remove.
I took a quiet moment to stand in the middle of my work area and take in the mess but soon heard a very sharp Crack above and slightly ahead of me. As in such a forest as Carkeek, that sound only means one thing! I turned sharp and fast and ran out to the main path. Another loud Crack and I hurried down the trail. I didn’t return to my area to see the additional damage but when I do, I won’t be surprised by what I find. After all, that is the nature of a forest. But as the day was beautiful and I had time, I decided to walk down to the beach. A day like this was not to be wasted.
On a beach, you can see a storm coming long before it arrives. Not so in a deep forest. In a forest, there resides a feeling of enclosure and protection, occasionally broken by a moment in time. And that is what we share – all forms of life on this planet – a moment in time.
I wish you sunny skies, bright days, and a moment or two to enjoy it all.