March Visit (3/5/2020)

At the beginning of March I set off to hike the full loop up to Blue Ridge, down the spine of the ridge, past the homestead and back along the creek trail. It is only a five mile hike, but one that I generally do not have time to do given that I stop to draw to frequently. Blissfully ignorant of the new reality that was about to descend on all of us, I marveled at the opportunity to get the full perspective of high and low habitats at the Reserve.

I started by trying something new: marking the spots where I stopped to draw and noting the thing that had caught my attention there. (I drew the map in advance and added the cartoons of the flowers after the fact.)

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I was extremely pleased to find California pipevine in bloom! Last year, I caught the flowers once they had dried out, so was determined to find them fresh this year. They look so stunning when backlit with the light glowing through their hollow, yellowy-green bodies veined in red.

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Variable checkerspot caterpillars were plentiful on the ridge. I originally misidentified the first one I saw, but realized my mistake when I came on a crowd of them feeding on woolly paintbrush, one of their main host plants.

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Two of my favorite tiny wildflowers—purple sanicle and miniature lupine—were growing in bright exposed areas along a steeper part of the trail.

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An anise swallowtail (originally misidentified in the drawing) held still long enough for me to do a careful drawing. The grey hairstreak was not so patient, so I drew it based on memory as it flitted from twig to twig.

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This is the first year I’ve seen fruits on the manzanitas that were burned!

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So many beautiful colors on the hike: so hard to remember to keep moving and not try to draw every single new flower I see.

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The effects of our extremely dry February were abundantly evident in the creek, which was incredibly low and filled with algae. It was completely dry near the entrance to the Reserve.

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Now that I know that this was my last visit for a long time, with Stebbins closed to support the shelter-in-place rules, I am so grateful for this wonderful gift of a hike.

Journaling #GoodFire (Oct 2019), Part 2

Saturday 10/12 started with a relaxed morning in a meadow below the second burn site, West Sims. John Muir Laws and Laurie Wigham engaged three local children in some nature journaling exercises and Miriam Morrill showed us some examples of how she captures her fire observations visually.

Frank Lake, Research Ecologist with the US Forest Service and member of the Karuk Tribe, is a multi-talented scientist and artist. He generously showed us a variety of cultural objects using plants managed with fire, including some of the tribal regalia and other artwork he has himself made.

Frank then accompanied us to the West Sims site so that we could observe some of the day’s burning up close. The terrain at this site was steeper than the day before, and overgrown with blackberry, so we observed some different techniques for starting and managing the fire.

We watched a few large trees go up in showers of spark and flame.

We watched the progress of the burn from above using a drone, and learned a little about fire investigation techniques.

Toward the end of the afternoon, we moved to a site below the area being burned for a different perspective. Frank talked more about how fire keeps the forest healthy, and demonstrated healthy vs. infested acorns. Fire helps control oak moth infestations in tanoak.

Our last evening in Orleans was a community event where we were fortunate to hear talks by Elizabeth Azus and Margo Robbins about basketry plants and fire; Frank Lake about fire and forest health; and Lenya Quinn-Davidson about the movement for community involvement in fire. We nature journalers also presented our work from the weekend and had an opportunity to share our sketches with the community and with the all of the participants in the TREX.

I found this entire experience deeply moving and enlightening; it gave me so much better an understanding of the work of fire in the landscape and what that looks like up close. I can’t wait to see how we develop this project further!

Journaling #GoodFire (Oct 2019), Part 1

In October, I participated in a landmark experience in the Klamath Mountains, sketching prescribed/cultural burning as part of the Klamath TREX training event. I met so many amazing people and watched such dedicated and skilled fire practitioners; I am filled with gratitude. I was there with a group of talented and highly experienced nature journalers: John Muir Laws, Laura Cunningham, Laurie Wigham, Marley Peifer, Miriam Morrill, and Fiona Gillogly. The training was hosted by the Karuk Tribe and the Mid Klamath Watershed Council and our participation was thanks to support by The Nature Conservancy and Bureau of Land Management.

Miriam was the guiding force that made all of this happen, and I accompanied her to the site a day early to scout locations and prepare for the workshop. Everything was made more dramatic by the PG&E power shutdowns that week in response to high winds. We drove up on Wednesday 10/9 and spent the first night in our hotel with no power. Flashlights and battery packs to the rescue!

The next morning, we set out to visit some of the planned burn sites and other good spots to journal from. The Karuk Tribe and TNC obtained an unprecendented exemption from the statewide ban on burning, since the conditions in this area were entirely within acceptable burning parameters.

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Learning about measuring moisture content in the forest and about what to expect when observing fire the next day:

A map of the burn sites we will visit over the next two days and some more details about Bull Pine, tomorrow’s site:

The next day, 10/10, we started out early at the daily briefing for the TREX participants and then went out to the Bull Pine site to watch final preparations for the burn that day. We got to see the checks of moisture conditions using the tools we had observed the day before.

Finally, at about 11:00 am, the conditions were right and the This was our first experience with live fire, watching the cultural/prescribed burn. It was such a thrill to see the drip torches prepared and follow the flames and smoke as they moved away from us into the forest. An inspiration to see #goodfire given back to the community.

Watching the eerie tree shadows cast by the flames and following air movement in the patterns of the smoke:

In the afternoon, we were given an inspiring talk by Margo Robbins, the President of the Cultural Fire Council of the Yurok Tribe, about how fire maintains all of the plants that are important for basketry and other cultural practices. She showed us the progression of a couple of nearby sites that are burned twice a year and how the basketry plants look as they regrow.

Bill Tripp, the Deputy Director of Eco-Cultural Revitalization for the Karuk Tribe, met with us at an overlook in the late afternoon to talk about the history and significance of cultural burning. He also gave us an overview of Karuk cultural geography and the importance of the landforms around us.

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From where we stood with Bill, we could see the smoke rising from Bull Pine, the site we  observed at the beginning of the day. It was a great way to learn more about smoke and its behavior in the atmosphere as it encounters warmer and cooler air layers. It was the perfect way to make the day come full circle.

Spawning Chinook in Putah Creek

Anadromous fish do not make their way into Cold Creek, but Cold Creek is a tributary to Putah Creek, which does have salmon and steelhead.  Water quality in Cold Creek (including impacts from fire) has a direct impact on water in Putah Creek and on the organisms that rely on Putah Creek.  Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) and steelhead trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) return to Putah Creek to spawn after spending several years in the ocean, and are dependent on cool, clear water free of contaminants for their survival.

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In November, I watched Chinook salmon traveling up Putah Creek in downtown Winters, just under the old railroad bridge.  I made some sketches onsite:

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And then developed a more detailed depiction of the scene at home:

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Wragg Fire Map (8/5/2015)

The Wragg Fire started just over the ridge to the west of Cold Canyon, rushing quickly over the hill and down into the canyon.  Once there, it remained in the canyon, generating winds that caused it to cycle within the canyon, according to Jeffrey Clary, Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve Manager.  This greatly increased the intensity of burning in the canyon.  The differences in fire intensity across the landscape burned will lead to interesting opportunities to compare rates and types of regrowth in the coming years.

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