Yesterday, as I ‘deeply considered my mossy glen,’ something unwelcome quietly snuck up on me. Amid my young plantings forming islands and peninsulas of native plants under the climax trees, here and there among the mosses and selaginellas, an unfamiliar visitor crept into my developing vision for my little open space in the woods. Not the monsters my daughter once feared, or Sasquatch stealing laundry from the clothesline while “RE-ENACTMENT” flashes across his chest. There it is, though: self-doubt. A creepy little beast.
The Yellow cedar I have planted singly or in pairs make ethereal shapes as they bring the forest edge forward; Subalpine fir lend twisted exclamations of green. Several Mountain hemlocks bend gently near low hummocks of rotting stumps. While all grow wild just a few short miles (at a gain of 1000 feet of elevation) east of me, none existed on the property prior to my planting them.
The Shore pines that were among my earliest plantings also are common just a couple of miles away to the west, but contort in my clearing with just each other for company. To find the analogues to my Evergreen huckleberry and kinnikinnik, I only know to go to the parking medians at City Hall (ironically enough). This place that I am creating, a merging of sea level rainforest and low-level mountain forest, is purely the product of my imagination…and at the same time, this hybrid is very real. It is the forest behind my clearing, the second-growth woodland of this plateau that forms the midpoint between sea level and mountain range.
Except there is no clearing there to guide my hand or my eye. I can tell you what IS happening there, though. The vine maples that grow at the top of the slope are as thick as my thigh and covered with mosses and liverwort. They bend toward the earth under the weight of their trunks and many are beginning to crack. The branches of the great post-mature bigleaf maples are losing their strength and are already calving off with regularity–an alarming occurrence when you are nearby. As the ground becomes exposed, the rains will push the forest duff toward the wetland, eventually filling the boggy margin. Birds and animals will carry seed. The forest will change from shaded understory to open scrub. Opportunistic weeds will root in the newly bare soil, and seeds that now lay dormant will spring to life in the new warmth of the unfamiliar sun. In short, it’s gonna make a clearing, and it’s going to look a lot like mine did before my house was built. When will it happen? How long will it take? What will it look like? Nobody knows, but it is what forests do.
I boost my confidence with that knowledge, and with the words of my father’s neighbor on Orcas Island, who used to manage re-forestation projects for the State of Washington: “You can’t mitigate a clearing.” That is what the Mitigation Planner tried to do, and she used plants that didn’t exist on my land, either: Beaked hazelnut, Pacific crabapple, Bitter cherry. None of these plants survived. I felt very strongly then, and still do, that if the clearing must be planted, then to plant the area properly the natural patterns of the forest need to be emulated. Since the plants the Mitigation Planner selected failed so miserably, I would be insane to duplicate her choices. It is difficult to garden with the feeling that someone is going to call and say, “I know what you did last summer,” at least so far as re-planning the plan and re-planting it. It would be even worse to be shackled to the original mitigation plan: it would be horticultural Groundhog Day. I finished my coffee and felt better. It’s my clearing and I am the boss of it.