October 2019 | Part II – “It’s rare to walk around the county and see a hillside of redwood sorrel surrounded by other native plants.”

Pacific Starflower and False Solomon’s Seal – Photos by Ellen

In September’s newsletter Ellen shares her story: Since I was a girl I’ve been programmed to experience and hold both the beauty and agony of the Earth.  She also told us about the feeling of grief for the Earth that her fellow environmental scientists experience, even though they might not express those feelings publicly.


Ellen manages a good-sized property of mostly woodland in Northern California. A biologist by training and vocation, she is well able to express her goals and plans for the land.
Family goal: to retain the biodiversity of the land in the face of accelerating human-induced change.
Key stressors: non-native invasive plants and microbes, including Sudden Oak Death (SOD), Climate Change, including fire risk.
Plan: varies by stressor and habitat zone.

Slope with ferns and redwoods

Ellen shares an example she has been working on, namely, removing all invasives from a six-acre area of redwood forest. Ellen explains, It’s rare to walk around the county and see a hillside of redwood sorrel surrounded by natives such as false Solomon’s seal, trillium, sword ferns and woodwardia ferns. It’s wonderful that lots of common plants now grow there in great profusion without periwinkle or ivy to strangle them. Trail plant, named for its silvery underside huge runs of chain ferns are growing in a big seep—there’s a spring there—followed by runs of sorrel. We’ve removed forget-me-nots and foxglove. Pacific starflowers abound in big mats.
There’s plenty of poison oak on old stumps. There’s one small place in the forest where a tree came down that allows light for a stand of perennial bunch grasses. They hold the soil with their deeper roots. They are easily overwhelmed by invasive grasses: velvet, orchard, and Spanish oats. I wander in geared up in a Tyvek suit to protect against poison oak. I kept this patch of bunch grasses for three to four years as a seed bank until another tree died nearby with a mass of poison oak growing in its top and fell right onto the bunch grasses. Ellen laughs, I had to take it as cosmic humor!


Some bunch grasses spring up where black oaks have died from Sudden Oak Death (SOD.) We’ve lost over 500 oak: black, tan-, and live. About twelve years ago we lost over 300 in the space of three years with a major outbreak of SOD and another 150 since then. I focused on two groves of black oak that didn’t have SOD, each of about 20 to 25 trees. We cleared all the hosts. First, we removed the bay trees and cut a swath around each oak so we could machete the poison oak. 
Every year on Valentine’s Day we go back there and make it a labor of love. SOD spores don’t ramp up till it’s warmer, usually around March 1st. These two groves are mostly all alive. One or two caught spores from long-range infection. The clearing can be done in less than a week. I get to celebrate the beauty with a forest that’s well and to see new species arrive, such as clintonia.

We can’t change that SOD is here, but talking to neighbors and the county, we can be mindful of what species we plant. For instance, we can start growing white oaks, which aren’t currently susceptible to SOD, such as valley oaks that need wetter places, and Oregon oaks on hillsides. We’ve planted acorns to make sure there are oaks in the eco-system. As you move inland, it’s drier and the oaks are more immune to SOD because there are less spores. 
It’s hard work going around in a Tyvek suit, crawling over fallen black oak trunks and poison oak. I’m very fortunate to have the help of Arturo as well as my husband and son.
Speaking of Climate Change, Ellen, gives her perspective: It’s going to take a whole portfolio of approaches and types of mind to come up with solutions. We do need that diversity. Ellen ends with a twinkle in her eye, quoting Wendell Berry, “Be joyful, though you have considered all the facts.”   

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front
by Wendell Berry

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion — put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

This Newsletter is entering its fourth year, thanks to you! Please keep sending your comments, photos, paintings, poems, whatever your passion in relation to this miraculous planet.

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