Be careful what you wish for: Department of Unexpected Consequences

Things are very odd around here right now. Our spring has become much more silent.

A post or two ago I was rhapsodizing over the appearance of a bird we believe is a merlin, a species of falcon. This bird preys on other birds. It likes to pluck them right from the air or from the ground where they are feeding and devour them, leaving only a pile of feathers for evidence. And there are plenty of feather piles around the meadow.

Result: Most of our birds have moved out. The flock of juncos that hung around the yard have disappeared. I haven’t seen the kinglets all week. The robins, newly back from their winter residence, have done the same. The hummers are fine. I suspect they’re not worth fooling with. As Ben is fond of pointing out, it would take at least 1,000 hummers to make a decent hummingbird tongue sandwich. . .

I’m not too worried yet. When you live in the country for awhile, you discover that everything is cyclical. It’s like the logging. It’s a necessary function, and where we live the trees grow back so fast you hardly have time to notice they’re gone. (That comment will probably get me some hate mail, but I’m tough, and I actually believe that. In my tenure here, most of our valley has been logged. If it’s done with care and replanted promptly, it just makes for healthier landscape.)

My prediction: As his food supply dries up, the merlin will move on. Then the birds will come back. We have one of the last largely undisturbed good-sized parcels of property in the area. The birds love that, and they’ll be back. But in the meantime it’s weird.

For those of you who think nature is largely kind, serene, and beautiful, well, all I can say is that you’ve probably never lived with it. I just hope the merlin likes squab and sticks around long enough to lay real waste to the pigeons. We don’t use poisons and such. You just need to find the right natural antidote to whatever is causing you grief.

But spring keeps on springing–trilliums poking up everywhere, today the Solomon’s seal is up in my back yard, a real (purple, not the yellow “wood” kind) violet is blooming in the backyard, the plum trees in blossom. It’s lovely. But I’m missing the plethora of songbirds.

Yesterday I was treated to the non-stop operation of two brush saws for several hours. Ben and Ralph were clearing the salmonberry and ferns that shelter the rodents that do so much damage. If we eliminate their cover, our owls will take care of them for us. The guys made a heck of a mess, but I’ve put my trusty new pink rake into action, and it’s getting cleared away.

Unless something untoward happens, I’ll be MIA tomorrow. I’m going to take a run up to Portland for an evening meeting, spend the night at my daughter’s house, visit the tax man on Wednesday morning, then go on a profligate shopping spree at Kitchen Kaboodle and New Seasons. I have a long list, and the advantage of going to the store instead of the Web site is that you never know what else you might find.

I’ll stop on the way to town for a visit with my brother and his wife. His interim radiation treatments (to try to shrink the size of the tumor and relieve his headaches) start tomorrow morning. I know he’s feeling housebound after being so active, so I’m taking him my Gibson Hummungbird guitar to fool with. I play my little Guild F20 when I play anymore, so maybe this will take his mind off some of the ugliness.

He heard from the Boston hospital and they’ve told him to sign up as a patient. Then they mentioned that they’ve lost all his records and need to find them so they can do the evaluation. As Ralph says, there’s never a sense of urgency unless you’re the one who’s dying. So it looks like a trip to Boston may be in my near future. It’s probably my favorite city in the U.S., but I’d rather be going for different reasons.

Now it’s time to get the heck off of here and go put the vegetables in the pot roast. The bread is cooling on the rack.

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9 Responses to “Be careful what you wish for: Department of Unexpected Consequences”

  1. ombudsben Says:

    “If it’s done with care and replanted promptly”

    This is my favorite part of your logging bit. I’ve never chained myself to a tree, but if it took chaining myself to get logging companies to leave a few interspersed saplings behind and cultivate their next crop, I’d, I’d …

    probably grumble and complain about it and feel silly but I’d do it.

    Many years ago someone told me a story about clearcut loggers laying waste to a whole ecosystem, and a guy who asked them to leave one tree. They laughed at him, but he persisted and they let him buy a tree and tied a rope around it so they’d leave that one alone — and in a few years the whole valley was recovering, quicker than it might have had it been utterly stripped.

    I guess it doesn’t seem to me that the two sides are that far apart. And I suppose, on th extremes, the treehuggers seem as silly to some as the folks jeering about “kill a spotted owl, save a job” seem to others.

    My sense, Marianne, is that you and I agree that a few bucks less profit is a small price to pay to save ecosystems by leaving behind those saplings.

    I hope your songbirds come back soon (we are enjoying the robins–they’re here year round, but give voice now) and soon the towhees will be back.

    God luck to your brother. He lives in Oregon but will go to Boston for treatment?

  2. whitishrabbit Says:

    New Season’s market is neat. Whole Foods has gotten pretty yuppy, we still go sometimes in the Pearl District when we’re headed to Powells. Have a good trip, M.

    Ombudsben- I liked your story about the one tree, I’m glad a logger *cared*. About a year ago I delved into the watershed education locally, and learned about salmon habitat because it’s a big deal here. I was amazed how closely forestry issues were linked to salmon. Without the big wood and natural tree fall of a healthy forests, salmon didn’t have the shaded, protected places to grow and gather strength for their migration. When loggers replanted, they put too much of one kind of tree in, and it spread and this kind of tree being planted caused problems for other trees because it grew so rapidly, and saplings of other plants were choked out. There has been some rehabilitation of the forest, but there aren’t any old, large trees to provide the wood pieces so much of the salmon habitat is kaput. People have actually tried air-lifting in large trees to place over creeks, but it’s very expensive and you’d need a lot of wood to salvage the habitats.

    All these complications. That’s the trouble I guess with people thinking they can reconstruct a delicate, balanced eco-system in a couple decades that it took nature hundreds/thousands of years to create.

  3. ombudsben Says:

    We’ve had orcas this winter outside the Golden Gate, near the Farrallones. I believe the thinking is that the comparative shortage of salmon in the Pacific NW has them coming farther south and eating the salmon coming through the bay.

    I found one of the articles:
    “5 dozen killer whales believed to be hunting salmon off S.F. coast”
    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/01/30/BAGGTNR5FK1.DTL

    Marianne, are our comments further evidence of unexpected consequences?

  4. mklekacz Says:

    Ombudsben, I thought I posted this earlier, but I can’t find it, so I probably just dreamed it.

    Lovely as your logger story is, it is probably apocryphal. It takes several trees per acre to regenerate a forest naturally. Our laws are very strict here. Logging companies have to leave quite a few trees, replant within two years, or pay the state a huge amount of money (more than it costs to replant). So most of them just opt to replant.

    Rabbit, the ecosystem is incredibly complicated. I hop[e one of these days you get to see our tenderly nurtured salmon spawning beds.

  5. ombudsben Says:

    I heard the logging story in the late 60s or 70s, and, presuming it happened, it was in the eastern forests before that, well before Silent Spring, back when clearcutting was common.

    Actually, we’re still in touch, so I could ask the person who told me and get back to you, if he remembers. The point of the story was that, denuded, the sprouts and saplings from that tree wouldn’t have been in the area at all. Because the treee was left, recovery was quicker than it would have been without.

    Does your brother live in Boston or in Oregon?

  6. mklekacz Says:

    My brother lives here in Oregon, about an hour and a half from where we live. The treatment, which requires a $200 million piece of hardware, is only available at three places in the U. S. Mass. Gen’l is one of them, and it looks like they’re going to accept him as a patient. That’s why I may be disappearing with only a little notice. I’ll fly back to Mass. with him to make sure he gets there OK.

    Clearcutting is common here, and in reality it’s probably the best way to manage forests (more hate mail coming, I’m sure). But there’s a big difference between clearcutting 20 acres and clearcutting 2,000. And what really matters is what happens afterward.

    I love forests, and I’m particularly fond of mixed growth forests. But that takes more planning and care than most timber companies are willing to invest.

  7. ombudsben Says:

    Marianne, I asked the person I first heard the story from (all those decades ago) and was a bit surprised to find out, coincidentally, that he’d just last year purchased a copy of the book the story derives from! I’d asked if my memory had it right; here’s his answer:

    “Your memory is good, the story is not apocryphal. At least not according to Virginia S. Eifert, in her book, Land of the Snowshoe Hare. In chapter 18, “The Twenty Dollar Pine,” she tells about Sidney Fell, a Wisconsin high school teacher, who did indeed buy the tree in question, a white pine on a patch of land he owned near a lake in northern Wis. The land was about to be clearcut. Fell talked the foreman out of one good tree. From that humble beginning began a new forest and, eventually, an industry of harvesting greens and ferns of one sort and another, while allowing nature to heal the land. I think Fell died rich, having supplied florists all over the Midwest with forest products. It’s a wonderful book. Eifert was a popular nature writer 40 or so years ago. I was lucky enough to get an autographed copy a year or so ago and I treasure it.”

    How’s that for a coincidence? I swear, we haven’t discussed that story for at least three decades!

    I agree with you that what matters most is what happens afterward, and I’m with you on the importance of mixed growth forests. Beyond that, i’m a big believer in diverse ecosystems. I heard recently that the Swedes now regret planting so many forests of the same species — vast monocultures.

    No hate mail over issues like this, Marianne. Flaming, why that’s so twentieth century. {smile}

  8. mklekacz Says:

    Well, if it appears in print, it must be true (echoing smile). I suspect it is possible for a forest to regenerate from one good tree. But probably not in any reasonable interval, particularly in the area in which I live, where the brush grows so fast. It’s hard enough to get trees to grow when you tend them.

    If I have a real bone to pick with the timber industry, it’s that propensity to monoculture. It isn’t good for the trees, and it sure as heck isn’t good for the rest of the ecosystem.

  9. Nancy Says:

    It’s a little strange to be reading comments about my grandfather while doing a random search! Sidney Fell, as talked about in Land of the Snowshoe Hare, really did pay $20 for a tree to be left behind. Yes, the forest did fill in, and that pine became one of the smaller trees in the area. However, I’m here to tell you that he did NOT die rich. For maybe 20 years, my grandparents shipped boxed of greens all over the U.S. and beyond. Each box contained 7 pounds of different evergreen boughs along with a “bouquet” of ground pine. This only happened from about Thanksgiving until just before Christmas. In the final years, which ended in 1976, they were shipping out almost 5,000 boxes of greens a year! It was a great venture, but paying all those packers and collectors and shipping charges didn’t leave much left! Grandpa died in 1959, long before the greens business grew as big as it did. Thanks for helping my little happy trip down memory lane!

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