Flyer of the dusk
Pursuer of six-legged
Caller of echoes
So I was looking out my window yesterday morning and noticed this recently-purchased false indigo plant sitting on the ground outside of its pot. At first I assumed it might have been a wandering ghost or something that removed it from the pot. Then I noticed a herd of seven mule deer quietly leaving my yard and glancing over their shoulders at me. Hmmm…
I recently went on a Deschutes Land Trust hike just west of Bend, OR to learn about fire ecology. The area we hiked in is known as the Skyline Forest. There were fires in this vicinity in 2010 and 2014 and together they burned about 6,000 acres. The area is currently privately owned but the Deschutes Land Trust has been trying to acquire it.
Our guide, Pete Caligiuri with The Nature Conservancy, informed us that this area has about the steepest environmental gradient in the world. In the Cascade Mountains the precipitation can be as high as 160 inches per year while less than 25 miles away, it can be as low as 10 inches per year. Plants respond to the extreme amount of variability in this gradient. In the past, fire and moisture limited the number of trees in the forest. Now there can be as many as 800-900 trees per acre in this area.
We looked around to see how many large stumps left over from timber harvesting we could see. There weren’t many at all. At one time this forest had the trees much more widely spaced. We noticed the high number of young trees with branches reaching down closer to the ground. There was also a thick growth of underbrush that included bitterbrush and manzanita. The forest floor was covered with pine needles and fallen branches. The closer spacing, higher number of shrubs, and accumulation of litter on the forest floor makes this forest more vulnerable to fire.
Changes have occurred in local forests due to fire management practices, tree harvesting, and grazing of livestock.
After fires, the plants that begin to grow can be broken down into five categories. Invaders, such as fireweed, are adaptable and take advantage of the changed environment. We saw fireweed and thistle near the trail. Evaders, such as Ceanothus, can burn above ground but be adapted to sprout when the conditions improve. Ceanothus seed can sit dormant for up to 100 years. We saw quite a bit of Ceanothus and manzanita in this fire-affected area. Avoiders include plants such as mountain hemlock, Western white pine, and western juniper. They are not well adapted to tolerating a fire but if they avoid the hottest part of a fire, they may survive. Resistors, such as Ponderosa pine, have special adaptations such as thick bark that allow them to survive a fire. Ponderosa pine can also cast seeds up to 300 feet away. Endurers, like aspen, can sprout from their roots after the fire has passed. The aspen in this area is sprouting like crazy since it no longer has the competition for light that it had before the fire.
Due to long term changes in climate, some areas are changing from forested to non-forested habitats. Some habitats will only become drier over time. The warmer temperatures can also benefit the pine beetle and other insects that can destroy trees. We may experience more precipitation in the form of rain instead of snow and this will have long term consequences.
Five years ago several people from diverse backgrounds got together to form the Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project. The group is working together to improve the health of local forests in a way that will benefit the needs of the community. For example, a land owner in a forested environment will have different needs than someone who just goes to the forest to recreate. The group is trying to work on active restoration before a fire rather than after it.
There are several ways people are trying to do a better job of managing forested lands. Homeowners that follow some of the guidelines suggested by the Firewise program have a better chance of protecting their homes from wildfires. Development could be limited in forested environments. The acres could be used to preserve and grow trees rather than houses. The Deschutes Land Trust and The Nature Conservancy are a couple of organizations that work towards preserving land in this area.
One of the management tools used today is prescribed, or controlled, burns. Forests used to be “messy” with some areas affected by localized fires, windstorms and other weather events, and insect infestations while other areas remained relatively untouched. The litter layer and understory beneath the trees was managed by these events. Now, due to fire suppression, too much litter and too many trees and shrubs per acre have accumulated. Remember Smokey the Bear saying, “Only you can prevent forest fires”? Since fires are used as a management tool now, it’s been changed to “Only you can prevent wildfires”. Many people do not understand the concept of prescribed burns and do not like seeing and smelling the smoke from them. Prescribed burns, along with selective cutting and other tools, can reduce the chances of severe fires.
Due to the magnitude of acres burned in recent fires, less money is going into forest management since more is going into fighting fires. It only makes sense to have funds to fight fires come from the same funding source that manages other types of natural disaster events. It also makes sense to put more money into research so that we are better equipped to do what we can to manage wildfires based on the best available data. Okay, I’m jumping off of my soapbox for now.
I visited Yellowstone National Park this summer and try to go there every other year. In 1988, I was saddened to see firsthand the effect the big fires had on the land. The fires burned nearly 800,000 acres – more than a third of the park property. After decades of fire suppression, the area was long past due for fire. The fires burned in a patchy sort of way as a fire would do in nature. The National Park Service was criticized at the time for not putting out all of the fires but fires are a part of the cycle of nature. I knew the park plants would regenerate eventually and that the habitats would end up being a mosaic rather than a monoculture. Some of the trees in Yellowstone are slow growing so the changes may not be apparent for quite a while. I close this post with a shot-through-the-window-during-a-storm photo from Yellowstone that shows a healthy forest coming back after the fire. Fire equals destruction, but it also equals a new beginning.
A fluttering of wings draws my attention.
Looking out of my window, I see a Townsend’s solitaire beating its wings and attacking its reflection in the side mirror of my parked car. It has been there for hours. Long strokes of white droppings adorn the side of my car. At first I assume the bird must be a male defending its territory.
Townsend’s solitaires are a drab gray relative of the American robin that most people wouldn’t even notice. They are not showy.
Male birds are usually the ones with colorful plumage but that is not the case with solitaires; the male and female look almost identical. I guess they decided not to follow the theory that a male is more brightly colored to attract females and the female has duller colors so she can sit undetected on a nest.
I watch the bird pause in its attack on my car as it flies into a nearby Western juniper tree. An orange crescent of plumage flashes on its outstretched wings only to disappear again as it settles into the tree. The bird is camouflaged by the gray bark on the twisted form of the tree. Its darker flight and tail feathers blend into the cracks and crevasses of the tree’s bark. It pulls off some of the juniper cones, tilts its head back, and gulps them down quickly. I see the flash of orange again when it flies up to the top of the tree.
In the fall and winter months, solitaires develop a one-track mind about what they will eat. They feed almost exclusively on the small purplish cones, otherwise known as berries, of the juniper tree. While we may think of these cones as being good for nothing but the production of gin, they provide all that solitaires need. The adaptable and much maligned Western juniper tree is being removed in parts of the West but solitaires and other animals often rely on it for food and shelter.
As their name implies, Townsend’s solitaires spend much of their time alone. They are a Greta Garbo type of bird. Solitaires often perch atop a juniper in a very upright position like a guard standing at attention. The bird will remain quiet and motionless until there is a need for defense.
The bird in my yard opens its beak to sing. The melodious song is surprisingly complex. The clear flute-like notes ring out and fill the sky. It starts calling. The one short note is a loud attention-grabbing whistle that is repeated over and over again. It’s like a bird version of a smoke alarm.
Male songbirds defend their territory by singing and calling around its borders. They essentially create a musically-charged “fence” around the boundaries. Townsend’s solitaire females also defend their territory. They will aggressively defend an area long past the breeding season. The females take an active role in protecting a productive juniper patch.
The solitaire returns to my car and perches briefly on the mirror. Its head is cocked to one side as it peers at the image of its perceived foe with a dark eye lined in creamy white.
I have learned to accept the unexpected. Those that first appear drab and dull may surprise you. Their colors may be hidden. Their voices may be quiet. They might be female. Give them a chance – look for the flash of color, listen to their song, and admire their strength.
A fluttering of wings draws my attention.
Last week I went to the Metolius Preserve on a short hike with the Deschutes Land Trust (DLT). This 1,240 acre preserve is located about ten miles west of Sisters, OR and was acquired by the DLT in 2003.
Ponderosa pine trees dominate the landscape but there are also Douglas fir, grand fir, incense cedar, and western larch trees. The pine trees near the kiosk are spaced about 30-40 feet apart and bunchgrass forms the dominant ground cover. Though the habitat appears natural, the forest has been restored with the help of Pacific Stewardship. The forest has been thinned and prescribed burns have been planned to foster an old-growth type of habitat. They have even created snags so that some of the 13 types of woodpeckers that live here find a good place to feed and nest. Bunchgrass has also been planted.
October is a great month to visit the area because the vine maple trees are in full color and the western larch is turning its distinctive golden-yellow color. Western larch, aka tamarack, is an unusual type of conifer tree because they drop their needles in the winter. This region is at the southwestern edge of the larch’s range.
We learned that grand fir competes with western larch in this area so DLT has taken steps to manage it. They host a Christmas tree-cutting event in December where visitors are encouraged to cut grand fir so that the larch can flourish.
One of the first things our guide, David Miller, pointed out to us was lichen. Lichens are a partnership between a fungus and an alga and/or cyanobacteria. The lichen we were looking at is called Brown-eyed sunshine. Isn’t that a great common name?
We paused at a small lookout dock to look at Lake Creek and learn about some of the fish in this area. Redband trout are in this area and if they can manage to get all the way to the ocean and then come back, they are then known as steelhead. There are also bull trout here. Kokanee are a landlocked type of salmon and if they go out to sea and come back they are known as sockeye salmon. A lot of effort has gone into making sure some of the kokanee can make it back. They are trucked around two dams. It is hoped that Chinook salmon will one day be a major player here.
DLT employed the help of the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council to improve the habitat for fish on the preserve. A road and culvert were removed. Plants were put in by the stream in the riparian zone. We looked at some of the plants near the creek including black hawthorn, mountain alder, ninebark, chokecherry, serviceberry, willow, mock orange, wax currant, Nootka rose, bald hip rose, bittersweet nightshade, and horsetail. We saw lots of bulrush in the streambed.
In drier areas nearby we saw vine maple, Oregon grape, green-leaf manzanita, chinquapin, snowberry, dwarf bilberry, bracken fern, Virginia strawberry, yarrow, trailing blackberry, and Peck’s penstemon. We saw a silky lupine and also a dwarf form of lupine. We saw some pearly everlasting flowers (another one of my favorite common names), round-leaf alumroot, flax, and salsify. There were few flowers left at this time of the year. Dried tarweed plants were on the trail that we walked on.
Here are a few tidbits I learned about some of these plants:
Fall begins with joyous laughter and warm caresses that
Nod and wink as they cloak you with a touch of frost
Standing there entranced, you are enveloped by color
Yellow, orange, and crimson
North winds swirl about you encircling you
Snaps and crackles sound under your feet
Inviting you to grab handfuls and throw them into the air
Warmed by a shower of brilliant laughing tones
Emanating from falling leaves readying themselves for winter
If you type “John C. Frémont” into a search engine you will turn up places named after him in over a dozen states in the U.S. So who was this guy and why were so many things named after him? To find out, I visited the Des Chutes Historical Museum in Bend, Oregon to see their current exhibit about Frémont. The Museum was lucky to get the exhibit and it will be on display there until the end of December 2015. This exhibit focuses on Frémont’s Second Exploring Expedition that occurred in 1843-1844. Many consider it to be the apex of his career. The purpose of this trip was to explore the Oregon country. Frémont and 27 handpicked men, including the explorer Kit Carson, set out to map the second half of the Oregon Trail.
One of the first things you see as you enter the gallery is a life-sized model of Frémont dressed in uniform with a presentation sword in his hands. The actual sword is displayed nearby. Frémont’s presentation sword and scabbard are described on one of the display boards. Photos show close ups of the hilt with a snake twisting around its length and a small map of Oregon on top of a rounded section. A gold wash coats most of the scabbard and hilt. Another case displays his presentation revolver. It is a .44 caliber 6-shot Colt Dragoon.
The exhibit displays some of the tools of the trade of early American explorers. A compass, sextant, and artificial horizon tool were essential for surveyors. A brass telescope sits at the ready to view
distant landscapes. A compact case holds a drawing set used in making maps of previously unexplored areas. In Frémont’s travels he looked for rivers, lakes, and trails that could be used by future explorers and settlers.
There is a large three-dimensional map in part of the exhibit that shows some of the locations he passed through during the Second Exploring Expedition. There are
photos of the various locations that note the date he was there. He named several geographic features in Oregon including the Great Basin, Summer Lake, Winter Ridge, and Lake Abert. Though more people have moved into the areas he explored in eastern Oregon, many locations look much as they did during his explorations.
In the 1840’s there were few plant collections with specimens collected in western North America. Though many specimens were lost en route, Frémont’s expeditions collected 32 plants new to science. He studied botany in college and documented vegetation and land features on the trips. At least 23 of the new species discovered on the trip contain “Frémont” as part of their name. Frémont cottonwood, Populus deltoids Fremont, is one example. The exhibit shows examples of some of the preserved plants in part of the display.
The expedition transported a cannon with them and a cannon carriage was attached to a horse or mule’s harness. There is some confusion as to why he wanted to carry a cannon with him into an area known to be relatively safe. He said it was to defend himself against “hostile Indians” but some conjectured that he wanted it to support a revolt against Mexico and protect California’s annexation into the U.S. He fired the cannon at the Klamath Tribe members camped near Klamath Marsh. Due to that action, he was unable to get any of them to work as a scout for the expedition but they did provide useful geographic information. The cannon was abandoned on January 29, 1844 along the route. Parts of the mountain howitzer cannon were discovered in 1997 and 2001 along the Nevada-California border by a team of searchers who called themselves the Fremont Howitzer Recovery Team. A re-creation of the howitzer is displayed in the exhibit.
The exhibit also features the work of photographer Loren Irving. He followed the route of Frémont and documented his journey with photos and diary entries. There are large framed prints of some of the locations hung on the walls of the exhibit area. Loren compiled his work into a book entitled Finding Fremont.
The exhibit at Des Chutes Historical Museum will teach you about one of Frémont’s five expeditions and give you a glimpse into his many other accomplishments. A copy of his book, Memoirs of My Life, is shown in a small case in the exhibit. It is easy to see how his life as an explorer, military officer, politician, and family man would be difficult to summarize in one book.
John C. Frémont was born in 1813 in Savannah, Georgia. He had a tough life right from the very start. His mother, Mrs. Anne Beverley Whiting Pryor, left her husband since she had fallen in love with her tutor, Louis-Rene ‘Charles’ Frémon. John was the product of that affair. Anne and Charles tried to marry but were denied a license by the state. The couple had two more children but John’s father died when he was five years old.
The family moved to Charleston, South Carolina. John was a bright student and he won scholarships that helped him advance in his education. He entered the College of Charleston and continued to do well academically. He took a leave to help care for his mother and siblings and due to that decision, was expelled for “incorrigible negligence”. He worked as a mathematics teacher and went on to become a mathematics instructor for the military. He was the protégé of United States diplomat Joel Poinsett, who helped him get the position.
He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Corps of Topographical Engineers in 1838. He was mentored by Joseph Nicollet who referred to him as “Frémont” instead of Frémon so he adopted that name in 1840. He led five expeditions over a 12 year period beginning in 1842.
United States Senator Thomas Hart Benton was a proponent of Westward expansion and he sought out Frémont and Nicollet to talk about their expeditions. After frequent trips to the Benton home, Frémont began courting the senator’s daughter, Jessie Ann Benton. The senator did not approve of the relationship so the couple ended up eloping.
On the Second Exploring Expedition, Frémont had been instructed to return by the same route but he chose a different way instead. There was a legend that a river known as Rio Buenaventura flowed from the Rocky Mountains to San Francisco Bay. He intended to prove or disprove its existence. Due to harsh weather conditions and low supplies of food, he only made it half way. He made his way to Fort Sutter in New Helvetica, now known as Sacramento.
He left in March of 1845 and travelled south. One of the places he camped at and named was Las Vegas or “The Meadow”. He travelled along the Wasatch Range and mapped the Great Basin’s periphery. Again Frémont disobeyed orders from his superiors and took a different route – this time to the west.
Topographer Charles Preuss traveled with Frémont and compiled data from the first two expeditions into the Frémont – Preuss map that was created in 1845. Many emigrants traversing the Oregon Trail relied upon Frémont’s maps in their travels west. He earned the nickname of “The Pathfinder”.
In 1846, Frémont participated in the Mexican-American War in California as a U.S. military commander at the Bear Flag Revolt. His service while in the military was controversial but his actions caused General Pico to surrender thus ending the War in California. He refused to relinquish his appointment as Military Governor of California to General Kearny and ended up being court martialed. He was pardoned by President James Polk but resigned from the military in 1848.
He served as a Senator for the Democratic Party in the newly-formed state of California from 1850 to 1851. In 1856 he became the first Republican candidate for the office of President of the United States. Frémont was warned that his election may lead to civil war. Democrat James Buchanan won the race.
In July of 1861 President Abraham Lincoln appointed Frémont to be the major general in command of the Army’s Department of the West. A month later, Frémont issued an emancipation proclamation – more than a year ahead of Lincoln’s. He oversaw troops in Missouri and Kansas – states that had problems with sympathizers, guerilla warfare, and Confederate units. After a major defeat in the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, he imposed martial law in St. Louis. This included seizing slaves from citizens who aided the guerillas or Confederates. Lincoln ordered him to rescind the order since he had hoped for a political end to the war that included having a balance of free and slave holding states. He did not want to offend the Union states. Frémont refused and his wife ended up pleading his case with Lincoln. Frémont was relieved of duty in November of 1861. He was criticized for the way he prepared defenses. However, his decision to choose Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant over more senior officers was considered to be his greatest contribution to the Civil War.
Frémont was then given command of the Mountain Department in 1862. The Department only lasted from April to June of 1862. It was one of three unsuccessful armies that engaged with Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign. Frémont was offered another position working under Major General John Pope (who used to work under him) but he refused. He moved to New York City and waited for another call to duty but none ever came.
He was nominated to be president again in 1864 by the Radical Democracy Party (a party formed by a group of dissident Republicans) but withdrew and threw his support to Lincoln who was elected to a second term.
For the remaining years of his life, Frémont was troubled with controversy and financial problems. He was unsuccessful with his investments in railroad and real estate. He served as Governor of Arizona between 1878 and 1881. His wife, Jessie, wrote books and articles that were popular with the public and the couple eventually relied upon the income garnered from them for income. Jessie is thought to have helped with editing her husband’s writings. In 1887 John C. Frémont published the first of two proposed volumes entitled Memoirs of My Life. There was little profit made from the first volume so the second was never published. He was finally recognized for his service and given a $6,000 annual pension in the spring of 1890 while working in New York City but died three months later on July 13. His wife, who was at their home in Los Angeles, was not able to attend the funeral due to their dire financial status.
The Frémont legacy lives on in several ways. Many places and plants bear his name. A commemorative stamp was issued in honor of him in 1898. The U.S. Army 8th Infantry Division (now inactive) was called the Pathfinder Division. The Fremont Cannon trophy, awarded in college football, is a replica of the cannon that was taken on the Second Exploring Expedition. Frémont has been recognized for his many achievements in several books, movies, and television shows.
Source for map of Second Exploring Expedition route:
“John C. Fremont,” http://factcards.califa.org/exp/fremont.html (accessed October 10, 2105).
Sometimes you will be happily flying along in life when – WHAM!
A gust of wind comes out of nowhere and hurtles you to the ground.
Pick yourself up, preen those damaged wings, and remind yourself
You are stronger than the wind.
I had several comments on my Facebook page about how to caption the tree photo I posted here a couple of days ago. If I was guessing what was going on, I might have said, “Tree Hugging 101 class”. Here are captions from Facebook:
The thing that was really happening in the photo was that a volunteer naturalist at the High Desert Museum was leading a walk and he had people smelling the Ponderosa pine’s bark. It has a sweet cinnamon-like smell.
Here’s a link to an article that talks more about the tree and its unique scent. Ponderosa pines sweet smell.
The year is 1905 and you have traveled thousands of miles across the country. You spot a fort-shaped rock formation in the distance and know you are finally close to your destination. A sage thrasher perched atop sagebrush seems to be singing its melodic song to welcome you. As you draw closer, you see several buildings clustered around a windmill-driven well. The wind blows the desert dust into your eyes. Blinking to make sure it’s not a mirage; you can’t help but let out a sigh of relief. You made it – you are finally here.
Though that account was fictional, it would be easy to imagine that kind of scenario as you tour the Fort Rock Valley Historical Society Homestead Village Museum. The site currently contains 12 buildings from the early 1900’s that were moved to the site from various locations in Central Oregon. A replica blacksmith shop was constructed at the site in 2006 using reclaimed wood and other materials. Volunteers restored the buildings and carefully furnished them with artifacts. As you walk into a house with the table carefully set, you really get a feel for how the early pioneers lived. You will be impressed by the attention to detail. There is a small store with items related to the area on the front of the property.
There are buildings of businesses representative of what would have been present in a small town of that time period. A small doctor’s office sits waiting for the next patient. The Fort Rock General Store welcomes visitors with a wide selection of goods. It is the only building original to the site. It supplied goods to 1,200 people at one time. Sunset School has lessons on the chalkboard and rules for teachers to abide by near the door. The pews at Saint Bridget’s Catholic Church are empty now but were once full of people at the only building in the vicinity built expressly for worship. It still serves as a place for weddings and memorials.
Six buildings served as homes for pioneers in the early 1900’s. There was a major influx of settlers after the Enlarged Homestead Act of 1909 increased the allotment of land from 160 to 320 acres. Fred and Hannah Stratton moved to the area from Michigan in 1912. Their sons, Frank and Lewis, grew up in the house and Frank later married Vivian. Frank and Vivian founded the Fort Rock Valley Historical Society and opened the Museum in 1988. The Widmer cabin was moved from the Bend area and now houses a large collection of arrowheads and other ancient tools crafted from obsidian collected in the area. George Mekenmaier built a cabin in 1910 before he married Hazel Penrose. Their children, Beatrice and George, played in the area now known as Fort Rock Cave. Many years later, Hazel encouraged anthropologist Dr. Luther S. Cressman to explore the cave. He excavated the cave and discovered nearly 100 sagebrush bark sandals that were later determined to have been made 9,000 to 13,000 years ago. They are the oldest ever discovered and they were arranged in a ceremonial pattern. Simon Boedigheimer came to Fort Rock around 1912 and built one of the few two-story houses in the area. He left his wife and two children in the Willamette Valley while he worked on the house. A carpenter by trade, his house included special features such as built-in shelving and a stairwell closet. The Websters and their six-year old son moved to the area in 1912. They bred Hereford-Shorthorn cattle and were very successful. Their son Carl went on to become a successful trapper and he kept careful records of his trap lines on the bedroom door casings. Alex Belletable and his wife came to Fort Rock in 1911. He was one of the wealthier homesteaders in the valley. The couple were French immigrants and they tried farming in the area but were not nearly as successful as they had been in France. They left the area in 1922.
Fort Rock is a short drive away and it is now part of a state natural area. After a short walk uphill, you enter an amphitheater-like setting. The formation is part of a 6,000 foot wide caldera. About 12,000 years ago this area was covered by ice hundreds to thousands of feet thick. Temperatures warmed and a 900 square mile lake formed over the site. Three thousand years later sagebrush replaced the marshlands.
The Brother’s Fault zone lies beneath the site. Faults allow magma to get to the surface. As the lava hit the water, it caused a massive explosion. This explosion, and the prevailing Southwesterly winds, caused the horseshoe shape of the Fort Rock formation. The tuff walls are all that remain as it collapsed upon itself. Terraces formed by the pounding action of the waves can be seen on surfaces of the tuff ring.
When I was there in May of 2015 on a Bend Parks and Recreation field trip, wildflowers were in full bloom and cliff dwelling birds flew around the site. There was a thick stand of death camas in the crater. A few bitterroot plants bloomed nearby. Early pioneers quickly learned from the resident Native Americans that the camas was poisonous while the bitterroot root could provide sustenance. Meriwether Lewis ate bitterroot during his explorations and brought specimens back east. The scientific name, Lewisia rediviva, reflects his discovery of the plant.