November 17 (1975, 1988, 2000)
Life Zones

11/17/75   quite clear, quite cold, with a strong north wind. leaves flying everywhere, oak leaves, pine needles. and so very clear. cumulus clouds persist over the crest, and oddly, no snow plumes off the peaks this morning. with this wind i would have expected to see a few wisps at least.

for me a good part of the soul of the land is the weather (climate) in that locale. vegetation is the most sensitive measure of climate that i know of. ‘weather’ is here one day, gone the next. ‘climate’ is the sum of days, months, years, centuries of weather. california, with its rugged relief/topography, is an excellent place to learn about the responses of vegetation to climate. the famous ‘life-zones’ of merriam—how excited i was when i first read about them. i had, in beginning to blithely inquire on my own time, ‘what goes on here,’ looked about me in the santa cruz mountains and noticed that south-facing slopes often were clothed in chaparral, a thick-leaved sclerophyllous elfin forest, oak, manzanita, chamisal, ceanothus, et. al. and north-facing slopes, receiving much less insolation and thus retaining water better, were often tree-covered, douglas fir, oak, madrone, et. al. the tree-clothed slopes, which can only exist because of a generous (relatively) water budget, in fact engender a feedback loop of more water = trees = shaded ground + cooler (therefore, the development of humus partly resulting from more input from the trees, partly because cooler = less bacterial activity, thus slower breakdown of organic material) = better water retention = denser forest, etc. water does not ran off a humus-covered slope as readily as it does a relatively barren slope, such as often exists in sunny chaparral places, where bacterial activity is high and scanty water makes for less leafy growth and leaves that stay on the branches longer. evergreen. thus chaparral is stabilized by another feedback loop: scanty water = evergreen bushes = more exposure of soil to insolation = drier; and humus cannot compete with bacteria in those circumstances… to find out that chaparral is in the ‘upper sonoran’ life zone of merriam, and douglas fir & co. in the ‘transition zone’ was exciting for me. in fact, my first trips to the sierra on my own were mainly in order to witness the other merriam ‘zones,’ found in increasingly high elevations.

the realization that these vegetation types/zones exist in correlation to climate, and that climate is an average over many many years, excited me. i wanted to know the soul of california as it had been in its pristine state before its occupation by the technological civilization of the dominant white race. now, in vegetational zones, i had a clue. i could, by studying these zones of climate/vegetation, reconstruct from any given cemented-over or logged area what it had once been like. i could look at chaparral and douglas fir forest and realize that they have existed in their same spatial relationships of slope exposure and altitude for much longer than man has sowed the earth. it was kind of neat to think of a chaparral-covered hillside being that way beneath the sun, wind, rain for thousands of years. but when i learned about the indians in california, and their use of fire to clear brush and promote grassland, i had to give up on wholesale extrapolation from present climactic vegetation types to infer what past reality was. for a chaparral hillside in california today may well have been a grassy bald a hundred years ago; a dense forest may well have been an open forest, or no forest at all. now, even though i had to abandon or at least use much more carefully certain ways of determining what california ‘before the flood’ had been like, i wasn't disappointed or let down. i was thrilled. everything was much more exciting once i realized that forests, brush lands, grasslands were not firmly nailed in place. anybody can look at present vegetation patterns and infer that that's the way it has always been. suddenly i, with my wish to really see it as it really was, had a new way of looking. but i was sad when i realized that no one will ever see california as it once was. it has changed in some areas to an astonishing degree, irrespective of its ‘development’ by humans. overgrazing has fairly destroyed the original bunch grass/grasslands, while fire control has encouraged denser forests and the advance of brush into what were grasslands. it's hard to weight exactly how much the indians had to do with california's visage, for fires from natural causes were probably widespread. but i am fairly sure they had a tangible, measurable (?) effect.”

[Russell Towle's journal]


11/17/88   Finally, a day with sunshine; it seems that all of November has been worse than cloudy, it has been unrelentingly gloomy, bitter, hard-edged, anxious. And cold cold cold. [...]

[Russell Towle's journal]


Date: Fri, 17 Nov 2000 11:17:31 -0800
To: GJohnson
From: Russell Towle
Subject: RARE II
X-Attachments: :Macintosh HD:18:RARE II.JPG:

Here is the RARE II FS map with some boundary adjustments on north boundary.

Click to view the map larger.

November 17, 2000:

Closeups on Kit Kit Dizze (Chamaebatia foliolosa) also called Bear Clover and Mountain Misery, in light and shadow:





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