Greens and Browns

Remember this picture?  I posted it on Facebook a few weeks ago, asking people what this looked like. Or what these colors brought to mind:

20140405_140528Lots of people responded with answers from ‘shamrock’ to ‘Princess Leia’. With apologies to Star Wars, I had something a bit different in mind. The colors reminded me of the meadows and pine trees I’d just walked though earlier that day. Most of Rocky Mountain National Park was still under snow, but I found a lower meadow near the east entrance and just walked through the not-yet-green meadow. While the ground looked somewhat bare this time of year (after the snows had melted but before the shrubs, grasses, and flowers had greened up for the year), there was a lot of green to be seen in the trees.

20140316_110141(Yes, that is Longs Peak in the distance, but the point is the trees.)

Anyway, I saw those colors and knew I could surround myself with that landscape, at least figuratively, whenever I wanted. The result are these:


What do you think?


A Few Random Thoughts Before the Weekend

1)      It has been a long week. I’m tired. I feel like I got a lot done at work. I still have a few projects pending, but most are waiting on the outcome of policy decisions with one of our client agencies. So I couldn’t move forward either way.

2)      I am wondering if I will have peace at home this weekend. Why, you’re probably wondering, would I not have peace at home, since I am single and have no pets to chew up the furniture? Well, the apartment complex I live in is in the process of replumbing all of the buildings. Yes, while we are living there. And no, there is no rent abatement for our inconvenience. I have received both of my written notices announcing they will be working in my apartment in 7-10 and 1-2 days, and so far, nothing. I really want this process to be over with. It’s supposed to take 5-7 business days, and they are ripping out drywall in various places to get to said plumbing. I’m wondering how much mold and mildew they will stir up and in turn, how much my sinuses and allergies will suffer.

3)      In the meantime, my baby garden is sprouting away. I have radishes, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, rhubarb, cantaloupes, butternut squash, peas and a few little herbs – basil, dill and cilantro coming up. After the squirrels and the last two freezes/snows, a few little lettuce and spinach plants are holding on but the green beans didn’t make it, so I reseeded. I have lots of tiny lettuce and spinach sprouts showing too. Hopefully, the green beans will catch up. This weekend, I’m going to work in some homemade fertilizer into the soil and use some egg shells around the tomatoes.

4)      I still don’t have any bird feeders up. I would love to get one. I need some more flowers too. My milkweed seeds have sprouted, but the plants are tiny still. I’d also like to get some mint and hot peppers either started from seed or buy some transplants. I haven’t really found a good nursery in my neighborhood though. Sad face.

5)      Now that my spring knitting orders are completed, I’m going to finish up two scarves and a sweater for myself – all of which I started last fall. I’m so behind. But with a good cup of coffee and a nice late breakfast tomorrow, I’m going to spend a bit of time on projects for me. Pending no construction work in my apartment.

6)      If the plumbers are taking over this weekend, I’m going to spend the whole time at Barnes and Noble, reading books and pretending like everything is fine at my apartment.

The Next Generation


Yesterday, a park visitor came into the Kawuneeche Visitor Center and after the customary ‘Hello’ asked about the dead trees in the park. My friend Stu was on desk duty, and with his jovial smile asked the woman, “If a village is made up of only 85-year-old people, what happens when they all die off?”

Stu discussed some of the basic details of the pines and then he shared with her his conclusion: that we need to let the next generation of trees stand up and be counted.

I loved the way he phrased his conclusion. I thought to myself, the forests are just like that.

We have these really old forest stands that are composed of old trees. An epidemic came through about a decade ago that wiped out the old guys.

So what is left?

We could have a funeral for those that died.

Or better yet, we could hike through the stands of grey trees, dead braches drooping, and instead of looking at the old skeletons, we could take a chance and notice the little geen sprouts struggling for their place and time in the sun. We could look with sad eyes at what was, or we could look with hopeful eyes at what will be.

These even-aged stands with most trees of the same species, age and size are not typical of our native ecosystems. All you have to do is take a drive between Mount Rainier and Mount St. Helens in Washington state to see exactly how odd a monoculture forest stand looks. After the logging industry clearcut millions of acres in the Pacific Northwest, the logging industry replanted. But you can see that the crowded stands, shaded and homogenous, just do not match written descrptions in settlers’ journals or early photgraphs of the region.

That is because nature is always in flux. What we see during one visit to a national park is just a snapshot in time. It is one quick glance. But we tend to only notice a blooming flower or a bird flitting between branches, going about his or her daily routine. We don’t really pay attention to the fact that the bird’s nest is in a cavity of a dead tree, devoid of its leaves and branches, still standing right next to the aspen with its white bark and fresh green leaves.

So when we stop and study a stand of trees, all of the same size and shape, (even if it isn’t the first thought that crosses the mind), we should get an inkling that something is off. Or something is about to go wrong.

This is what faced the forests of the Rocky Mountains. One (or, arguably two, if you look at both insects and fungi) species thrived in certain conditions and caused the downfall of a third.

And whether we like it or not, humans played a role in both this thriving and downfall.

First, we had little understanding of natural forest processes, and that which we did know, we manipulated for our ‘good’. Simply put: we did not allow forest fires. We see them as scary and damaging. But in reality, fires are probably the best natural recyclers and agents of cleansing that our natural world has at its disposal. Without this episodic ‘house cleaning’, some pines cones’ resin never melts, seeds are not released, and new generations of trees never come into being. Without fires, minerals trapped in dead plant matter on the forest floor are never released, the soil isn’t replenished, and acres of land become less hospitable to certain species.

While we successfully eliminated fires as a natural ecosytem process, we added things, in the form of greenhouse gases that have warmed our climate a tiny bit. Even a tiny rise in temperature affects plants and animals that have adapted to and lived for centuries under slightly different conditions.

If we refuse to acknowledge and take responsibility for altering our world in these ways, I believe we will never be able to get to the significant roots of our forests’ problems.

You see, it was the perfect storm. We had ‘protected’ forest stands that were all older, very homogenous in composition, and drought stressed, thanks to years of lower rainfall and winter snowfall.

Add to this a series of warmer-than-average winters, and a native species of beetle was able to thrive. Whereas previously cold winters had killed off significant portions of its larval population, the warmer winters were making survival for the larvae inside the trees’s bark much more plausible. So the population of Dendroctonous sp. ballooned.

Fire would have taken care of some of the older trees and thinned some stands a bit. But without fire, these drought-stressed iconic communities were crowded and became the perfect accessible hosts for the pine beetles. The beetles found what they needed and the trees didn’t have the resources to defend themselves.

Thus, we have the vast expanses of dead pine forests along the backbone of our continent.

But all hope is not lost.

There are locations where forest processes are being allowed to continue and the plant communities are standing up and trying to get our attention. If only we will listen.

In the last couple of years, there have been two fires within the boundaries of Rocky Mountain National Park. If you choose to not just look at the blackened, charred pine boles, you will see a thriving community of pine, fir and spruce seedlings, mixed with abundant arnica, wild raspberries and members of the Pea family (which help fix nitrogen inthe soil, creating better soil conditions for even more plant species).

None of these arnica, raspberries, and others were intentionally planted by us humans. Rather, they were right there all along, waiting for the right conditions. Just about six weeks after the Big Meadows fire in 2013, I hiked up the Tonahutu trail, through part of the burn scar, and was joyful to see the forest showing its green carpet. I was not surprised, but I was relieved. We need to point out these often-overlooked steps in forest succession, if we are to come to a more complete understanding of the world in which we live. As a ranger in the park, it is part of my job to not miss these little details and steps – and it is also my priviledge to point out these steps to park visitors.

It is rather remarkable to see the stages of forest succession in my own backyard. Granted, I have visited Yellowstone several times and witnessed what our forests can accomplish in a few short decades. But it is more fascinating, at least to me, to watch the little steps month to month and year to year in a place that I know so well.

Stu was right. We need to let the next generation take their place in the sun. It is an awesome sight.

Scarfless – A Little Preview

There was a little girl who lived in a very cold, snowy place. She waited all summer just for those first few sparkly flakes to fall in the late autumn. Soon it would be time for snowmen! And snowball fights! And snow cream! (For who doesn’t love ice cream made from the white goodness outside on a winter weekend?)

But there was a problem. This little girl just couldn’t keep on her scarf. No matter how Mom tucked and tied, that silly scarf just wouldn’t stay in place and the little girl always got cold outside. She needed a hat or a coat or something with a scarf built right in.

So the thoughtful Mom sent an email to a creative knitter she knew, asking for something to keep her little girl’s neck warm.


This exerpt is from my latest pattern, Scarfless, which will be available on by this Friday, April 4, 2014.