The most notable feature of my forest glen is a great rotting stump just a few feet from the patio. Taller than I am, the sides are crumbling away and yet it is still several feet wide. Once upon a time it was a grand tree, the royalty of the woods; just beyond, about fifty feet away, is another just like it, and beyond that, another. So it goes as you venture deeper into the woods, every fifty feet or so a giant stump. Perhaps Sitka spruce or Douglas fir (a cedar stump would not show nearly the same decay), these are the remainder and reminder of the logging operation that once cleared my land.
In the fifty-foot interstices of the long-ago forest, there would have been salal and sword fern, some vine maple and alder; it would have looked quite like it does now in the deeper forest, only much, much larger. What is now my clearing would have been in one of those spaces and would have
benefited from the protective canopy and forest cycle of the tree once attached to the stump. Without the tree and its kindnesses (shade, duff, and so on), the newly-cleared land was at the mercy of the open sky. What was once climax forest became barren and nearly sterile, as the humus washed down the slope and into the wetland.
The canebrake-like scrub that borders the wetland has likely remained unchanged
throughout. A mix of mostly willow and alder, salmonberry and red currant, the thicket loves the rich decay of the moist- to wet boggy soil. The thicket didn’t march up the slope and fill the clearing because everything the thicket needs came to it.
I am recreating the appearance of mid-elevation climax forest, only using the more well-behaved or stunted plants that thrive a short thousand feet of elevation above me. Nature wanted this to be a clearing, and so the mitigation plan should have been to weed out the noxious invasives and leave it be; but the requirement is that it be planted–that camel has already set up housekeeping in my tent. Given enough time, maybe another fifty or one hundred years, perhaps the clearing would have ‘mitigated’ itself: as the forest litter continued to wash into the wetland, eventually the slope would have leveled, the wetland margin working outward from the swamp, the forest undergrowth advancing layer by layer. I’d like to think the city and I could agree on one point: what we are trying to do is skip that process entirely. If anything, I am turning back the clock, rather than trying to advance it.
Gardeners like to say, ‘the right plant in the right spot.’ I can easily tell by looking at my stumps and the naturally occurring vegetation what the right plants are, and by performance what they are not: the wetland thicket planted at the Mitigation Planner’s direction didn’t ‘take.’ I knew that it was a clearing and have attempted to treat it as such; I am not trying to preserve open ground, but rather open space and sky, as that was here before I was.
Never does Nature say one thing, and wisdom another. – – Juvenal