Saturday, March 04, 2006
Ebb and flow
Since the Dotter was young, we have taken her on nap drives on weekend days. OmegaDad has his favorite routes; I have mine. My most favorite is to drive out on Three Lakes Road, out past Lower Dam Lake, Upper Dam Lake, and out to Big Natural Lake, then turn around at the wildlife lookout on the bluff, and back into town. It's a lovely drive, and very restful. The changing of the seasons is very noticeable along this drive, what with the march of the flowers bringing succeeding waves of different flowers dotting the roadside in spring and summer, and waves of golden flowers covering the hillsides in early fall, then the coming and going of ice floes on the lakes and snow dusting the hills or burying them, as the case may be. Then things warm up, the ice floes melt away, and springtime arrives with the mountain bluebirds and the nesting bald eagles. Last year at this time, there was water everywhere. We had had two years' worth of precipitation in the space of four months. Over the course of those four months, I watched on my drives as the water came pouring into the Dam Lakes, and the extent of the lakes was pushed further and further outward. Finally the time came when water went rushing over the spillways--something that hadn't happened in years. People from Small Mountain Town drove out on the weekends to park by the spillways and gawk at the water flowing over and down. There was so much water that the parking lot at the boatramp was halfway under water, and the various trees whichhad been safely high and dry for years were girdled with water up to their lower branches. Everywhere you looked, there was water. Pouring down little hillside rivulets, rushing down the dry washes, flooding the lower-lying spots in the forest. Big Natural Lake, which had been bone dry for years, began filling up in March, the ground was so saturated. (The folks that were used to four-wheeling through the dry lake beds were bummed, and it was amusing to see the signs declaring "No vehicle traffic beyond this point" barely poking out of the lake.) That spring and summer, the plants grew rapidly, the grasses sprouted lush and thick, the flowers put on a stellar show, and all the pine trees--which had been dying off rapidly for the previous two years due to drought and a pine bark beetle infestation--looked healtheir than they had for quite a while. Alas, since we got two years' worth of water in such a short span of time, this year the Weather Gods are laughing. We have had, as noted previously, no rain. The big southern California storm which dumped 10 inches of rain in a day a few weeks ago moseyed our way and dropped a trace. A trace. We now have lots of lovely grayish-gold grasses, tinder dry and waiting for a spark and a bit of wind. We have pine trees which are already showing signs of dying off again. It starts at the top, with a few clumps of yellow or white needles, and then, amazingly rapidly, it sweeps through the whole tree, until, in one or two short months, the entire tree is golden brown rather than green. The next year, the pine needles have weathered to a silvery gray, and then they get blown off in one of our autumn or spring windstorms, and the following year they are tall gaunt black skeletons. So, while the drive was lovely as usual, I couldn't help but notice the newly dead trees peeping out here and there, and the trees with the disastrous touch of yellow up top, heralding another dead tree to come. Two years ago, there were some stretches of the forest where up to 90% of the trees died off; I'm hoping nothing similar happens this year. I console myself with the realization that the current thickness of the woods is not natural, but an artifact of 100 years of fire suppression, and that this is Nature simply taking her course. But it's still sad to see.