Burn3: Smoke in the Trees

Prickly burnt-orange redwood needles have been raining onto the back deck for a few weeks now.  I remember the first time this happened a couple of years after our move to Live Oak Avenue in the mid-80’s – it took a call to a trusted arborist to reassure me that the tree was only drying, not dying.  Now I know it’s truly a drought when I’m sweeping the deck every other day in August.

Two weeks ago there was a wildfire down the street in Schwan Lake [State] Park.  Lots of smoke & sirens – we’re lucky to live in an urban area with highly responsive (& highly paid) IMG_0282firefighters.  It ended up being just a small grass fire.  The trees, animals, & other folks near Yosemite aren’t as fortunate.

Wildfires are traumatic for humans & seriously damage animal habitats.  We’ve had some bad fires here in Santa Cruz County over the past few years.  The coast range is heavily forested, & includes large stands of non-native & less-than-beloved eucalyptus, which can pose extra fire danger.

There’s no disputing the wildfire risk of drought & the Big Warming.

On the other hand, wildfires have been a part of earth’s life cycle for millions of years, & many plants are adapted to them.  We saw tiny leaves of regrowth today in the burned area of the park.  Giant Sequoias, one of the oldest living organisms on earth, actually need fire to be able to drop their seeds (- firefighters are right now trying to save these ancient trees near Yosemite, & no doubt they’re doing it in a way that will help future propagation).  Wildfires, like any burn, create huge amounts of carbon dioxide, however, & reduce the number of plants & trees available afterward to produce oxygen.  We live with the good & the bad of Fire.

Moving beyond Burning Man, daughter Z, grandson D & I were planning for the first time to go to the Strawberry Music Festival near Hetch Hetchy this coming Labor Day weekend.  I’d already gotten out my old guitar (& I mean old…definitely antique at this point) to practice Gone for Good by the Shins (have no idea where I first heard this but love the tune, if not the words so much).  We found out a couple days ago that the festival was cancelled due to the Rim Fire, & that Camp Mather, where it’s held, is either within or immediately adjacent to the fire line.  Obviously, our small disappointment pales in comparison with the significant trauma of this disaster.  But it’s a lesson in how our future with rapid climate change will transpire:  trauma, lack of oxygen, stress, contaminated resources, disrupted energy, desolated landscapes.

Disappointment will be the least of it.

So (..always the question..), what can one do?  What can 7 billion do?  My latest (admittedly small & pathetic) effort is to carpool more often.  My friend Sue & I chatted the whole way to the Land Trust party Saturday evening (carpool to this?..uh, duh..) & it was totally fun; so: positive mental & emotional reinforcement for teeny tiny habit changes.  No, it won’t be enough to counter the inevitable tides of the Big Warming, but spending car time with friends & family is one way human primates will be able to survive these upheavals…at least, while we still blithely drive cars.

In the meantime, I hope you’ll support continued science-based management of our national forests.  And thank you firefighters near & far.

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9 Responses to Burn3: Smoke in the Trees

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Thank you for taking on this topic. The fire is very unsettling, and your writing reminds me it’s all part of the cycle. Our family had four days in Arnold, nearer the fire. No one went out until midafternoon when the wind took the smoke chocked air away. Then, like clockwork the smike poured back in about midnight. Home now with my pillows filled with the smell of smoke, but I like it.

    • liveoaklinda says:

      when we’re camping (as our families have done together many times in the past xo), i too love the smell of smoke on our jackets & pillows. as long as it’s from a benign source. just found out (heading off to plaskett creek) that no open fires are allowed in los padres national forest due to fire danger.

  2. Donna Maurillo says:

    I get more of the Monterey pine needles all over my driveway. I sweep. They fall. I sweep some more. They fall faster. Maybe there’s a correlation there. If I didn’t sweep, would they continue to fall??

    Two years ago, I woke in the middle of the night to see my neighbors’ home burning down. It was likely from a bit of charcoal fallen from their grill. Our Scotts Valley neighborhood is thick THICK with pine trees and other chaparral-loving plants. So they sent fire trucks from as far away as La Selva Beach. Our hilly, winding road was choking with at least a dozen trucks, most as back-up in case the trees caught fire. But they didn’t. I don’t know why not, but they didn’t. In fact, there was hardly a scorch mark.

    We neighbors gathered around in our night clothes and robes, comforting the home owners and wanting to watch, but not wanting to watch as the flames reached higher and higher toward the black sky. Axes tore open the roof. Water flooded in from hoses. Smoke poured out, mixing with hot steam. The house was a total loss… furniture, clothing, cars, a boat, years and years of handmade quilt projects. All gone.

    But the trees stood. And a new home was built. And the owners moved back in. Like redwood seeds sprouting, life went on.

  3. Jean Brocklebank says:

    Ah well, this is a complicated topic.

    First and foremost, as you have described, fire is a natural part of any biosystem, be it grassland, shrub-land (sometimes called scrub-land), chaparral or forest. Fire is natural; that is why I dislike the term “wildfire.” Makes it sound like runaway…and bad.

    Next, the biosystems of our bioregion, be the City called Scotts Valley, the unincorporated County area called Live Oak, or the town called Ben Lomond, have evolved with fire. Stopping fires while humans settled the areas, with their homes built in the forests, grasslands, or chaparral, was a prescription for trouble. We reap what we sow.

    The largest cost of firefighting in this nation (and probably elsewhere) is to protect homes, because forests thrive with fire, and I mean everything natural that calls a forest “home.” One has to ask why a policy allows human homes to be built in forests if the owners are not willing to accept that their homes may burn someday. This is not being crass. Every time we go against nature we pay. Eventually.

    As someone who began touting science-based management of the national forests in the early 1970s, I know that scientists have been trying to get policy-makers to accept the natural role of fire in the health of any forested biosystem. Science always gets shoved away, however, when politicians are lobbied by their constituents to do something to save their homes. That “something” always turns out to be, surprise, cutting trees (euphemistically called “thinning”).

    Climate change (the culprit for everything from drought to obesity) is not to blame. Poor planning, lack of understanding of the role of fire in biosystem health, an exponentially expanding human population and the destruction of the natural world it creates — these are the culprits. Pogo was right. But we cannot seem to acknowledge our role in these fire tragedies; easier to blame climate change.

    And finally, this: I would not like my home to burn, so I sincerely feel empathy for those whose homes have been destroyed by a fire (note I deliberately do not use the word wildfire).

    • liveoaklinda says:

      well, as far as going ‘against nature’, we humans are a part of nature, even though we like to think differently & by our actions, we’re affecting ‘nature’ in ways otherwise unseen in the 3.5+ billion years of life on this planet. re the impact of climate change on the incidence of wildfires, this isn’t a question any more & while we may agree, jean, that it’s ‘easier to blame climate change’, many have their head buried in the earth about how much human activities are rapidly changing this planet. one things we can do is direct more resources toward fire management, in all respects.

  4. Sue g says:

    It was fun Linda, and a great reminder that small changes in our habits can not only contribute to a better environment, but they draw us closer as humans.

  5. liveoaklinda says:

    also see this link about how this fire didn’t need to happen (…yes i know what ifs are tiresome, but sometimes they are lessons…): https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=563464753714573&set=a.352867368107647.80532.352857924775258&type=1&theater

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