Forests are messy. They’re not like parks — all manicured and buffed and polished. Old-growth forests are even messier. They are littered with fallen trees, dead branches, uneven native grasses, and inconveniently placed boulders that have broken off rock outcroppings and tumbled into the middle of the very path my husband John and I want to take. In spite of all this, old growth forests are randomly beautiful in their disarray.
We live in such a forest in the backcountry of the Santa Lucia Mountains outside Cambria. Over the years, we have seen lots of trees come down. We have also heard the thunderous crack, crack, crack of a huge old tree before it thumps to the ground.
During wet seasons or dry, hot weather or cold, trees come down. How much of this is a result of our unremitting droughts and Mediterranean climate is speculation. Old trees die. Younger trees can be seriously stressed from continual lack of water and insect infestation. Whatever the causes, trees crash down, very often across our Jeep road or the main road to town. When this happens, our immediate reaction is, “Uh oh. Now what?” The “Now what?” usually means “chain saw.” This can be pretty inconvenient, if we are on our way to work.
The other day, a huge limb went down in a sweeping arch across the road, several miles below our house. Fortunately for us, it broke off high enough that it left us room to ease our Jeep underneath so we could motor on to our job at Hearst Castle.
Sometimes trees crash down in the woods. Sometimes they crash down way too near our house or our water system. A few years ago, one old tree narrowly missed our two 2,600-gallon storage tanks. Right now, one younger tree is leaning precariously over our water-collection tank. I rather hate looking out the kitchen window every day, watching it poised for a swan dive that would leave us temporarily without water. “Time to get that dealt with?” you might say. I agree. Past time, actually.
The only good thing about losing our beautiful old trees is that it gives us an endless supply of firewood. Last year we bought a log-splitter, so John doesn’t have to do all the splitting by hand. At age 75, he needs a better wood partner than wedges and a sledge hammer.
When we moved here from Salt Lake City in 2004, I knew it would be an adventure — living off the grid in the middle of nowhere. I never realized, though, how many minor wildland crises we would face. Mother Nature is full of surprises, that’s for sure. I just wish, when their time comes, she could coax her beloved old trees to fall away from our roads and our water system and our house.
Mountain Musings appears the second Thursday of each month and is special to The Cambrian. Email Marcia Rhoades at firstname.lastname@example.org.