March 22 (1979, 1987, 2001, 2006)
Bright Upon Bright

“3/22/79   morning. fog surrounds the cabin. a fire in the stove. yesterday I worked a bit over at the joyce's.

spring has been sprung. the day-before-yesterday i was uplifted in harmony with intense thunderstorms, accompanied by hail.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

“3/22/87   well, well, well: very well indeed! for the sun shines bright upon bright, fog swirls in the canyon, snow sparkles on the ground and slumps down from trees in miniature avalanches…”

[Russell Towle's journal]

Date: Thu, 22 Mar 2001 06:45:34 -0800
To: Karen Callahan
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Re: early wildflower
Hi Karen,

I took another photo of the Biscuit Root flowers and the red insects, yesterday. I can't see these guys at all with my eyes. They seem to like the pistils. Yesterday they were really swarming. The flowers are about 1/8 or maybe 1/16 an inch. The bugs, maybe 1/64 an inch or less.

An Introduction to—
The Natural History of the North Fork of the American River
[From Russell Towle's original website, 2001, now archived here:]
The plants and animals of the North Fork American and its surrounding upland regions are much like those of the Sierra Nevada at large. The Mediterranean climate of California, with mild wet winters and warm dry summers, is modified by the Sierra in many ways. The prevailing westerly winds bring moist maritime air masses across California from the Pacific, and these are forced to rise while crossing the Sierra. On an average, the lapse rate of an air mass (the rate at which temperature diminishes with increased elevation) is 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit per 1000 feet of elevation. Thus, as the air masses cross the Sierra, they are chilled, perhaps, chilled below the dew point, at which ratio of temperature and humidity, water contained in the air becomes saturated and condenses into droplets. A cloud results, or a vast army of clouds, stretching up and down the range. Let the air contain yet more water, or be chilled even more, and actual precipitation results.

On an average, precipitation increases about one inch per year per 100 feet of elevation. Suppose that Sacramento, say, at elevation 52 feet, receives 18 inches of precipitation per year. Then a location of elevation of 1052 feet in the foothills will likely receive 28 inches per year; at 2052 feet, 38 inches, and so on, until at about 6052 feet, and 78 inches of precipitation per year, a maximum is reached, and annual precipitation decreases slightly at higher elevations, as one approaches the crest. Above 5000 feet, most of the precipitation falls as snow.

East of the Sierra crest, the climate changes abruptly; the air masses have had much of their moisture wrung from them already, and as they descend, adiabatic warming tends to suppress further precipitation. The climate is much more continental, and less maritime, than on the west slope of the Sierra. There are greater extremes of temperature, notably, extremely cold low temperatures are common in the desert basins east of the Sierra. Bridgeport once recorded 56 degrees below zero.

In a crude way, we can say, big water, big trees. And in a similar vein, vegetation follows climate, and wildlife follows vegetation. As we proceed from the Central Valley up the west slope of the Sierra, it is much as if we were traveling north from San Diego to Oregon, Washington, and on up to the treeless tundras of Arctic regions. This is an extremely fruitful analogy, one which was codified quite a while ago, in what is called the Merriam system of ‘life zones’ of the Sierra. It has fallen out of favor in recent years, as more complicated systems have come to the fore. The Merriam system remains my own favorite.

The life zones are named in part after geographic regions: Lower Sonoran, Upper Sonoran, Transition, Canadian, Hudsonian, and Arctic-Alpine. Each life zone exhibits a characteristic mix of trees, shrubs, and wildlife. The life zones should not be taken as hard and fast and absolute indicators of plant and animal life. However; in the Sierra, micro-climate often overtakes climate, in its effects upon vegetation.

March 22, 2006

Dear Governor Schwarzenegger, Senator Feinstein, Senator Boxer, Congressman Doolittle, and the Supervisors of Placer County:

Enclosed please find my Open Letter to you, having to do with our historic trails, here in Placer County; they have suffered badly, obliterated during timber harvests, or blocked by gates and “No Trespassing” signs, as more and more people move into the Sierra Nevada, and so, We the People lose not only our ancestral Commons, but also our means of access to what remains of those Commons.

It is an emergency, and has been for decades.

A little over a year ago, Governor, I wrote you concerning the Big Granite Trail, giving access to the North Fork American Wild & Scenic River, here in Placer County. Very serious damage to the trail had occurred in the fall of 2004, during a CDF-approved timber harvest on lands owned by Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI).

I felt that far too many historic public trails had been ruined by logging, so I wrote to you, Governor. You forwarded my letter to Dale Geldert of CDF, who responded, in turn, to me (2/22/05), writing that “[CDF] does recognize the importance of protecting historically significant features such as historic trails.”

Ha! It would seem Mr. Geldert has not set foot on the Big Granite Trail, the Sugar Pine Point Trail, the Cherry Point Trail, the Big Valley Trail, the Big Bend-Devils Peak Trail, the China Trail, the Monumental Creek Trail, and many many others, casually obliterated during business-as-usual industrial timber harvests, all approved by CDF.

I wish him luck should he try to find and follow those historic public trails, nowadays. A few years ago they were intact. But that was then.

While apportioning blame, may I mention Tahoe National Forest (TNF), which actually took the trouble to obtain a deeded easement on the Big Granite Trail, and other of our historic trails, back in 1950, but then, as usual, stood by and looked the other way, while SPI bulldozers turned a mile of trail into a miserable hash of skid trails and slash and roads and log decks.

If you trust Tahoe National Forest to protect We the People’s own historic public trails, you may as well pin a medal on FEMA, to reward that worthy agency for its exploits in New Orleans.

I would like to change TNF; I would like to change CDF.

Much of TNF’s problem has to do with private inholdings; I believe we must pursue very much land acquisition, here in Placer County, in order to protect our trails, and our open space and wildlands, which are diminishing rapidly. When within or near TNF boundaries, such acquisitions likely ought to be managed by TNF.


Russell Towle

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