We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

The Weather on Shadow Mountain

Fall                                                                       Harvest Moon

20171015_071504Jon put brackets around the pole for the Vantage pro2 weather station. Secured to the deck now with the anemometer up maybe 20 feet off the ground, I’ll attach the weather station itself to the pole this morning. It’s out there right now though and functioning, sending information back to the console.

These are the conditions at 7:20 a.m. this morning, October 15th. Temp outside, 35. Humidity outside, 15%. Barometric pressure 22.60. No wind. No rain or snow.

Next step is to set up the console so I can toggle various data points such as wind chill and dew point. That requires digging back into the manual. After that comes linking the weather station to the internet so I can both share my data and collect it in files for future reference.

tornado-risk-mapThis system is not as important on Shadow Mountain as it was in Andover because we have no orchard or a garden, but it feeds a lifelong interest in the weather, a hobby of sorts. Alexandria, Indiana, where I was raised, is in tornado alley, as is my home state of Oklahoma. The weather could get you.

A group of Twin Cities’ residents shared weather data and commentary on the Minneapolis Star-Tribune website for a couple of years. I used my weather station for very localized weather reporting. That was fun, but it got onerous. It made me realize how much work it is to forecast or even comment on the weather each day, throughout the day.

Vantage pro

Vantage pro

Here in the Rockies our weather changes from valley to valley, from altitude to altitude, mountain to mountain. Many, many microclimates. That means weather reporting and forecasting is often too broad in its sweep to accurately predict what’s going to be happening on, say, Black Mountain Drive.

The weather itself here, unlike the tornadoes of Indiana or the deep, dangerous cold of Minnesota, is not so severe, but the local effects of the weather can be devastating. When the humidity is low, winds are high, and there’s been no moisture for a while, then we get red flag warnings. Wildfire danger goes up and down with these conditions. Since winter is our humid season, it’s usually less worrisome in that regard.

It’s fun to have the console up and the weather station functioning.

 

populus tremuloides

Fall                                                                     Harvest Moon

Aspen in our yard

Aspen in our yard

Lower down, toward Evergreen, many of the aspen have retained their gold leaves, but up here many of the leaves formerly known as gold have turned brown and black, then begun to fall off. When the aspen leaves fall, their gray-white bark still makes them stand out against the green of the lodgepole pine, but the effect is stark, skeletal.

Aspen’s are interesting. If you’ve ever had one in your yard, their most distinctive characteristic can be quite a pain. They reproduce from roots, sending up new trunks at different spots. This means that in aspen groves the trees are genetically identical, or, said another way, they’re all the same tree spread out over a considerable distance.

This has prompted a curious competition between my adopted home state of Colorado and our immediate neighbor to the west, Utah. Which one has the world’s largest living organism? Aspen groves can be quite large, large enough to qualify by mass as the world’s largest living organisms. For example, from this article: “…the Pando grove in Utah’s Fishlake National Forest contains around 47,000 trunks, which collectively weigh more than 13 million pounds.” That’s pretty damned big.

20170923_065501When I post a picture like this one, in other words, you think you’re looking at many aspen trees on the side of Black Mountain. In fact you’re looking at only a few distinct trees with many, many trunks.

I’m going to investigate this a bit further because it has just occurred to me that this doesn’t, at first glance, seem to be a wise evolutionary strategy. Each trunk of the aspen grove requires nutrients from the soil which means to me that each trunk of this widely dispersed single tree has to compete with the other for a limited amount of nutrients. Over time it would seem they would deplete the soil of the nutrients they need. Curious.

The aspen grove did a lot of heavy lifting at Beth Evergreen over the High Holy Days. The comparison of a synagogue to an aspen grove meant we were all connected to each other, our communal life linked in an intimate way. A somewhat strained idea in my opinion, but you see the point.

aspensThe aspen grove is a wonderful example of the confusion our senses can bring to us. When we look at the grove, we see individual trees. But, no. There is an occult connection, hidden below the earth’s surface, that binds them together and makes them one. It’s not hard, when contemplating the aspen grove, to return to the angel with the flaming sword guarding the gates of Eden. As I suggested a few posts below, that angel can be seen as language, which both conceals and reveals; it reveals itself as language, but conceals the pathway to the Tree of Life. Behind the angel lies paradise.

In a similar way our senses give us individual trees in an aspen grove, but that perception conceals the aspen’s true nature as one organism. Each time you see an aspen grove, you experience in miniature the true experience our senses give us: Where there is an underlying unity, we see discrete things. The aspen grove can help remind us that our senses lie, if not by commission, then certainly by omission.

 

 

Mowing the Fines

Fall                                                                 Harvest Moon

January, 2017

January, 2017

As the post below shows, we’re setup to get our first winter storm. We’ve had some snow, though it came and went in Colorado fashion, fast. This one will likely change things here by chilling the ground and preparing the way for snow that actually hangs around a bit. It’s early October, so that’s a bit of a surprise. Looking forward to it, in the way only retired folk can. No commute down the hill, slipping and sliding as everybody tries to remember how to do this. It is way too early to put on the snow tires, isn’t it?

Yesterday was beautiful and today is predicted to be the same. Highs in the 60’s. Mowed the fuel yesterday. Four times this year, I think. We don’t really have a lawn, just lodgepole pines, a few aspen, some rock and bunch grass, though the leach field has a nice plot of green. All those nutrients we send out each day. Reason to mow is to keep what the wildfire folk call “fines”, as in fine fuel, not trees or shrubs, from growing too high. When the fines dry out, they can spread a fire quickly and if there are low hanging branches (below 10 feet) fire can spread from fines to trees. This is known as ladder fuel. The grass burns, a branch catches, then the tree, then its neighbor. After that. Forest fire.

Mitigation, 2015

Mitigation, 2015

Wildfire mitigation has been a primary concern for me since we got here, but after reading Megafire, by Michael Kodas, I have a different perspective. Most of the wildfire mitigation strategies are for ecosystems lower than ours where the ponderosa pines predominate. They tend to have the lower branches, though they are also much more fire resistant than lodgepoles. Much thicker bark and generally bigger, more widely spaced trees. Kodas points out that lodgepole/aspen forests,  dominant in the higher elevations of montane ecosystem between 6,500 and 9,500 feet (we’re at 8,800.), tend to have forest clearing fires every 100 to 300 years.

That means we have less frequent fire risk than the lower elevations, but, when the fire comes it will likely be a crown fire, jumping from treetop to treetop in the closely spaced groves of lodgepole pine. No fire mitigation will protect against a crown fire. When I had the deputy chief of the Elk Creek Fire Department out here to talk about fire mitigation, he said when it comes, a fire will sweep up from the valley through which we drive to get to Evergreen. “Nothing will stand in the way of it,” he said.

crown fireIn a localized fire, mitigation can help a lot. Our house is now pretty well protected with the ignition zone, about 30 feet out from the house, cleared of trees and the trees just at that zone and somewhat further out have had their branches cut to above 10 feet. We have fire-rated shingles and I mow the fines. I’ve not had the gutters cleaned, which is a potential problem, but we’ll get to that next spring. With a flat, short driveway, access from a well tended county road and mitigation our house stands a very good chance of survival. In a crown fire though, no combination of mitigation strategies will keep it standing.

All this means we’ve done what we can. There’s not been a burn here for over a century so our risk, though not high, does exist. We have a lower risk of fire at any one point in time than our lower neighbors. But, when it comes, better be out of here.

So, the key for us now is to have a good disaster plan, a way to make sure we get out what we want and need if we have to evacuate. On Oct. 15th a member of Beth Evergreen is doing a presentation on just that. We’re somewhat of the way there, but we could use some sharpening up.

Gasthaus

Fall                                                                                     Harvest Moon

Bull and doe, Evergreen Lake, 2015

Bull and doe, Evergreen Lake, 2015

Coming out of Beth Evergreen last night the full harvest moon hung over the town, silver and wonderful. It limned the mountains, highlighted the blue in the spruce tips on the drive back up Shadow Mountain. Earlier in the evening we saw several mule deer on the way down the mountain, does and bucks, then five or six of the much larger elk wandering around, ironically, right below a flashing Elk Crossing sign.

The Arapaho National Forest wraps around Black Mountain Drive/Brook Forest Drive so as we make our way up and down the mountains into Evergreen we’re surrounded not by residential development, though there is some, but mostly by forest, lodgepole pines, aspen higher up, Colorado blue spruce and ponderosa pine lower down that come right up to the road, as does the slope of the various mountains we pass.

Black Mountain, 2017

Black Mountain, 2017

At night this drive activates my fantasy life. I imagine the mountain lions and bears, the mule deer and the elk, the skunks, pine martens, pikas, Abert and red squirrels, an occasional bull snake all living there, either in hiding or bedded down or up and stealthily pursuing their next meal. Though the portion of the Arapaho National Forest where we are is not wilderness, it does abut the Mt. Evans Wilderness Area and Staunton State Park. Once in awhile moose come through our area, too, though they’re mostly toward the west, in Staunton and toward Bailey. This is the WUI, pronounced wooee, the wildlife/urban interface.

You could say we don’t belong here, we humans, that this mountainous land belongs to the mountain lion and the bear, the magpies and the Great Horned Owls. And you would be right, of course. Yet the truth is we humans do not have a place uniquely ours. We’re an adaptable species, able to live on islands, on the coasts of great oceans, lakes and rivers, on deserts and vast fertile plains. We’ve spread from Africa, where we roamed the veldt, hunting and gathering over vast stretches of land, to colder climates in the north and to all the continents of the planet.

Black Mountain, September, 2017

Black Mountain, September, 2017

I say we do belong here, but only as guests, as itinerant cousins of the wild animals, the sturdy pines. But, then, we are guests, too, on the Great Plains stretching north and south in the center of North America. Guests, too, on Iceland, Greenland, Britain. Guests as well in the Himalayas, in the jungles of the Congo and on the Sahara. Guests in the high Andes and on the distant lands of Tierra del Fuego.

As guests we have to realize we share our living space with species not as adaptable as we are. As guests we owe it to our neighbors to make our presence as unintrusive as possible, as honoring as possible. One manifestation of this honor is driving with care, going more slowly than perhaps we might want because our neighbors could need to cross the road. Another part of it is to see that the land we own (ha. that we temporarily inhabit) is as friendly to the locals as it can be. That we don’t poison the land, that we don’t build more than we need.

I tend to think of it as living in a vast apartment building. Our noise level, our lights, our motors, our driveways all impact the folks living in the next place. So we need to be considerate. When we leave our apartment, when our time as guests of Shadow Mountain and the Arapaho Forest is over, the neighbors remain. They own the condos and they can’t move. Leaving the place better than we found it is the least we can do.

Painted Ladies on Shadow Mountain

Lughnasa                                                                     Harvest (new) Moon

Belle-dame_(Vanessa_cardui)_-_Echinacea_purpurea_-_Havré_(3)Under the category of awe. In passing I noted a reference to butterflies being around in some numbers. One commenter on pinecam.com referred to them as painted ladies migrating.

This might have passed in and out of my attention, but I noticed a butterfly on Black Mountain Drive. Curious, I walked up the driveway to the road.

Sure enough, spread out sort of like the cross country runners in Ruth’s meet last night, there were butterflies going toward Evergreen, all of the ones I saw using the open space created by the road as a flight corridor.

I watched for a bit and they kept coming, isolated individuals, groups of two or three, sometimes more, flapping their apparently fragile wings, moving, just in my observation, great distances for their body size.

In Europe they migrate from Africa to Britain, as far as 9,000 miles. In our case they’re headed for New Mexico, Arizona and northern Mexico, just like the snowbirds who leave temperate climes for those warmer stretches of mother earth during the winter.

That such tiny creatures can travel so far, flying the whole way, then turn around and do it again, made me pause for a moment of awe. In retrospect it would have been appropriate to have crowds along Black Mountain Drive, cheering, applauding, “you can do it!”, “all the way to Mexico.”, maybe little sugar stands set out.

Those were the painted ladies on Shadow Mountain.

Falling

Lughnasa                                                                     Eclipse Moon

- Nancy Drew, “Morris Louis, 1959″, (96 x 92) acrylic, flock and glitter on canvas, 2002 (This piece was created as an homage to Morris Louis, influenced by his work from 1959) Dana McClure

– Nancy Drew, “Morris Louis, 1959″, (96 x 92) acrylic, flock and glitter on canvas, 2002 (This piece was created as an homage to Morris Louis, influenced by his work from 1959) Dana McClure

The eclipse moon, still in the sky, now three weeks after blotting out the sun at midday, has become a crescent. I just looked up the moon calendar and noticed that the new moon falls on the two days prior to the fall equinox. The beginning of fall on the Great Wheel comes, this year, with the new energy of a rising and waxing moon.

Golden spears have begun to show up among the lodgepole pines on Black Mountain. Fall here announces itself with a subtle show of a single color, gold amongst green. As fall progresses, the subtlety disappears in wide swaths of yellow gold splashed across the mountains as a colorfield artist (Morris Louis, for example) might. Mountains become three dimensional canvases, temporary installations, a visual treat announcing the coming of the white season.

The angle of the sun has changed, it’s lower in the sky now, spreading its considerable energy over wider and wider areas, lowering the amount of warmth we receive over the course of a day. The trees and the birds and the bears and the elk and the mountain lions know this. The elk rut has begun and there are reports of bugling elk with large harems of twenty five cows coming in from many locations. A photograph and video collection on a local facebook group showed two bull moose with their velvet recently scraped off, clacking their wide racks against each other in a marshy area about twenty miles from here.

The Mt. Evans’ road has been closed for two weeks now, not to open again until after Memorial Day, 2018. OpenSnow, a website for skiers, announced the first snow of the season in the Cascades, noting that it should help fight the wildfires burning now in the northwest.

This turning of the Great Wheel brings with it, at least for me, renewed energy, an eagerness to engage the world fully. Heat saps me, makes me want to put on one of those funny hats that has room for two beer cans fitted to plastic hoses for constant cooling sips, sit down, and wait until, well, now.

I’m grateful for this seasonal change, though the growing season has its definite charms, too. It’s just that the temperatures important for plant growth are not so pleasing to me. And, BTW, Kate has pulled off a mountain gardening trick. She has several tomatoes ripening in our single 5 gallon plastic bucket container garden. My Demeter.

How can we remember?

Lughnasa                                                                  Eclipse Moon

Large Wildfires burning now

Large Wildfires burning now

We’re still under the Eclipse moon that brought us totality across the U.S. That same moon has now shone on Harvey, as he devastated the western Caribbean, then Texas, and Irma, as she moves through the eastern Caribbean on her way to landfall in Florida. Meanwhile, Jose, another Category 4 storm is following Irma’s path for now and Katia, a Category 2, is going ashore in the Mexican state of Veracruz. An earthquake 8.1 on the Richter scale struck southern Mexico on the Pacific side shaking much of the nation.

Lost in the darkness of totality, the shaking of Mexico and the powerful winds, rains and storm surge of the hurricanes, at least on national news, are the wildfires rushing through the forests of the West. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, 8,081,369 acres had burned in the U.S. from Jan. 1 through Sept. 9. This well exceeds the average from the last ten years for the same time period: 5,558,384 acres. Worryingly, the average number of fires per year over the same Jan thru Sept period is 50,857. The number of fires in 2017 so far is 47,854. Fewer fires and more acreage burned means larger fires with more destructive potential. These are the megafires Michael Kodas has written about in his book of that name, published last week.

Warning today for Irma

Warning for Irma

The Eclipse Moon of 2017, its lunar month, might well change its name to disaster moon. My mind often feels overwhelmed by the magnitude of the catastrophes during the month of the Eclipse Moon. I’m able to notice them as they present themselves, but unable to hold my attention on any but the most recent, most horrific news.

This is a problem because each of these disasters: hurricane, earthquake, wildfire brings devastation to wide swaths of land, over multiple populations, concentrated and rural. The news predicts their coming, at least in the case of wildfires and hurricanes, then sends out pictures and text of their immediate, painful encounter with whatever is in their path. But this season, the wildfire this time has been followed by the hurricane now and the earthquake, then more hurricanes. And the critical phase, the recovery and rebuilding phase, does not begin until the event has finished.

all oneThis means that across North America, in Mexico, the U.S., the Caribbean and Canada we have centers of destruction that have not even begun to pick up the debris and sort through wreckage before the next catastrophe has hit. Millions of people, millions of acres of land, buildings, millions of wild animals are suffering and will continue to suffer. Right now. Which one has priority? How do we marshal our collective resources across so wide a swath of pain?

Perhaps an even better question is, how do hold in our hearts and minds all of these, the burned forests, lost homes and devastated wildlife? The buildings and lives inundated by waters from the Atlantic and Caribbean displaced by wind and rain. The cities and towns and villages gripped by a moving earth. Will we go forward from the month of the disaster moon, watch football, go back to school, prepare our homes for winter and forget about them?

 

Elemental

Lughnasa                                                          Eclipse Moon

Indian Paint Brush

Indian Paint Brush

That was the idea I was reaching for in the post below about the West. Wildfire. Precious Water. Mountains and high plains. Blue sky and fancy clouds. Of course versions of these are everywhere, yes, but here they’re in your face, unavoidable and unmissable companions of daily, even hourly life. Not the wildfire, you say? Live in tornado alley? On a hurricane prone coast? In an earthquake zone? You’re always aware.

Earth, air, fire and water. Not a 70s disco band, but the notes of a changing composition of seasonal change. Right now we’re in the transitional movement between the allegro of the growing season to the andante of harvest, the celebration of senescence. Human activity does become more frenetic during the harvest, a sort of false allegro, but only because the plant world knows winter is coming. You can hear those bass notes as seeds form and disperse, plant stalks brown and wither, green fields become tan or golden.

20170814_172230Up here in the mountains the occasional aspen has begun to turn. The grasses in the mountain meadows have lost their intense green. The angle of the sun has already lessened, casting deeper shadows. Orion is visible in the dark, clear night sky. Moose, elk and deer bucks have begun to drop the velvet on their antlers, preparing for the quickening of the rut. The bears become more brazen as their need for calories, more calories, before hibernation makes them feel an urgency.

Somewhere around us in the Arapaho National Forest, up in the Mt. Evans Wilderness Area, over in Staunton State Park, the fox and the marmot and the fisher and the pika, the Abert squirrel and the red squirrel can feel their coats beginning to thicken. The mountain lions know the seasonal changes in their prey and change their hunting patterns.

lughnasa1The orchestra of life plays this symphony all year as it responds to the conductors spring, summer, fall and winter, each with their own favorite tempo. The elemental nature of the West makes the composition here often raw, sometimes going as far as dissonance during the chinooks, or a dry summer month, during a blizzard, yet it is usually majestic with soaring blue notes and the babbling background music of mountain streams and bugling elk.

Just sit back and enjoy the show.

The High Road

Lughnasa                                                                  Eclipse Moon

summit lake park, the highest city park in North America

summit lake park, the highest city park in North America

In fact, the highest paved road in North America. Which happens to be only 46 miles from our front door, the Mt. Evans Road. It’s a joint project of the Denver Parks System and the National Park Service with the NPS controlling admission to the road leading to the summit and DPS controlling access to three fee areas: Mt. Goliath (bristlecone pines at the krummholz level), Summit Lake, which is a clear mountain lake with a small glacier poised high above it on Mt. Evans, and the summit itself.

Last year Ruth and I drove up, but were too late to get any further than Summit Lake, the road continuing on past there closed for the season. This year, today, Ruth and I went again. This time we made it all the way to the top. But. The Mt. Evans Road closes every year the day after Labor Day and the summit had a huge number of people with the same idea we had. I knew it would be that way, but it was an incremental improvement over last year.

mt. goliath natural area

mt. goliath natural area

Next year, during the week, early in the morning in June, July or August. It opens on Memorial Day, if, that is, it has no snow.

The road itself, especially the segment after Summit Lake is narrow and, as the orange sign said, Damaged. That makes crawling up and down it with others entertaining. The downhill side of the road, which shifts as it snakes its way up and down the mountain, has no barrier and for much of the road virtually no shoulder.

Since Colorado has many bikers, both bicyclists and motorcyclists, sharing the road with a car in the other lane and a bicycle or two can be challenging. Not to mention the road damage which can include, and in fact often did today, chunks of road missing, eroded away. This phenomenon almost always presented itself on the downhill side of the road. So there’s that big SUV pushing its way up, you’re on the way down, a good long drop with plenty of over and over and over and over again potential if you make the wrong move, and a bicyclist or two, bless their VO2 maxed out hearts, struggling up or down. Yowza.

In visiting it next year I plan to visit it as a mountain deity, one which took my breath away today, even sitting in my internal combustion powered chair. Mt. Evans is our weather god, altering the flow and intensity of weather patterns as they come from the west and cross the continental divide not far away. The result, in our little Evansonian microclimate, is increased precipitation both winter and summer, but more in the winter. Remember that 200 inches plus we had the second winter we were here? Mt. Evans for the assist.

Mt Evans Summit

Mt Evans Summit

There was one mountain goat visible to me today. Improbably it was standing among a bunch of hikers above the Meyer-Womble Observatory, which, until an Indian Observatory opened in 2001 was the highest operating telescope in the world. Apparently the mountain goats lick the soil on the summit to obtain needed salts.

If you ever visit during the summer, let’s go. I’m always up for a visit to the mountain top.

Here on Sufferance

Lughnasa                                                               Eclipse Moon

20170519_060312Vast, blue sky with puffy white clouds. Jagged mountains and flat plains, forests and wildlife. Wildfire. Snow, rivers, a few lakes. Air, earth, fire and water. The West is so elemental. It’s no wonder that it has enlivened the imagination of those who visit it or read about it, yet is so difficult a place to live. Here the natural world apart from the built world (also natural in its way) dominates. The cities like Denver and Salt Lake City, Cheyenne and Boise, Vegas, Tucson, Phoenix are islands, admittedly big islands, but islands nonetheless, of concentrated human habitat. They disappear around the bend of a mountain pass, or are obscured by arid land with few towns.

It is obvious that we humans are here on sufferance, ravaged by fire, made thirsty by drought in an already arid land, moving slowly even in our cars and trucks across mountain reaches, unable to grow enough to eat. It is, I think, this stark contrast between the wealth and power of human civilization humbled by the land and the sky that makes the west mythic, much like northern Minnesota and Michigan.

The west has begun to seep into my bones, become my home. I live here and have begun to feel it, the place. Still learning, though.

 

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