Saturday, September 16, 2017

Pass Lakes - A Picture of Perfection

Pass Lakes, Colorado

The ascent begins in the foothills and gradually transforms into an alpine environment where only the strong can survive. Ultimately, the wide open wilderness emerges from a dense woodland called Arapaho National Forest.

High on the Continental Divide, a trio of cobalt-colored lakes dot the tundra landscape. The shimmering, blue jewels are set in a spectacular, flower-filled basin just below the summit of Loveland Pass.

Taking place above tree line, a ring of purple peaks towers over the scenic cirque. Fixed boulders have cascaded onto the plain in a random arrangement, forming a nice foreground for a picture of Colorado perfection.

As beautiful as anywhere in the state, the convenient locale sits smack in the middle between bustling ski resorts. A persistent jaunt will lead you away from the pack and into a paradise of mountainous proportions.

After spending such a glorious day so close to the sun, it's hard to imagine that in a couple of months this place will be buried under deep snow. It's still summer in the lowlands but up here the cool air and swept grasses indicate that a drastic change is blowing in the wind.

Arapahoe National Forest

Cobalt lakes dot the tundra landscape

A flower-filled basin

Just below Loveland Pass

Purple peaks

A scenic cirque

A cascade of boulders

Colorado perfection

A beautiful locale

Mountainous paradise

Windswept grasses

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Old Stone House - A Crumbling Reminder

The old, stone house

Deep in the sandhills of western Nebraska, the old stone house is ruined. It's settled in a secluded valley, serving as a crumbling reminder of days gone by.

One can only imagine what it must have been like during its heyday. Maybe a peaceful retreat far from the bustle of city life as the nearest town was across the river bridge some ten miles away.

It was probably a difficult life dominated by the region's circulation of seasonal weather patterns. The summer sun was searing and the winter storms were brutal.

Raising cattle was the only way to make a living with lush prairie grasses supplying the perfect subsistence for the grazing herd. A deep well was dug and capped with a windmill that poured precious water into a rock-hewn tank.

Wooden planks and posts are scattered across the yard, indicating where the horses were once corralled. Out back in a ravine filled with purple wildflowers, a now rusted pickup would have been a more modern mode of transportation.

There's not another living soul in sight but the dilapidated homestead is haunted by more than just ghosts. Real-life creatures that have learned how to survive in the high plains are still thriving.

The eerie cry of coyotes, echoes through the canyon and prairie rattlesnakes wind their way through spiked yucca. The white-tailed deer moves cautiously through a dry creek while a gray jackrabbit leaves you in his dust.

The mountains are where I like to be but it's always nice to get back home because here, the world's a simpler place. At the end of the day, it’s fitting to watch as that humble box turtle so eloquently expresses this land's slower pace of life.

Deep in the sandhills

The old, stone house is ruined

Settled in a secluded valley

A crumbling reminder

A broken windmill

Horses were corralled here

A rusted pickup truck

A dilapidated homestead

Snakes wind through the yucca

Saturday, September 2, 2017

A Talk with the Woods - Learn How to Listen

A Talk with the Woods

“Go sit under a tree and listen and think.” ~ Walt Whitman

This week's post is written by my uncle, Jerry Covault. Jerry is a retired United States Forest Service Ranger. During his 33 years spent working on National Forests in Oregon, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana, he has learned about the relationships between mountains, forests, soils, weather, fire, animals and people.

Jerry shares some of his unique experiences in his new book "About Forests and People". He resolves to stimulate interest and curiosity about trees and forests and how people use them both through the ages and at present time. Jerry also discusses the problems our forests and environment have today and he suggests a few things that can help.

The following essay by Jerry Covault is taken from his book "About Forests and People".

A Talk with the Woods

Fragment: From the Alfoxden Notebook (I)

And never for each other shall we feel
As we may feel, till we have sympathy
With nature in her forms inanimate,
With objects such as have no power to hold
Articulate language. In all forms of things
There is a mind

~ William Wordsworth

The forests’ brilliant colors, spring wildflowers of many kind, is how urgency looks. There’s growing to do! And only a short time to do it. Every plant, from the tallest tree to the smallest forb has to gather “food” and energy to itself and convert that into leaves, stem, roots and flowers. Each flower competes with every other flower in the neighborhood to attract a bee, a wasp, or other bug or breeze to do the pollination so a seed can grow. The motivation for all this activity is nothing less than the life for the individual and perpetuation of the species. That is purposeful action.

But, I’m here in the fall, the season of intensity is over for what we people call “this year”. The growing during the intense season is done, the flowers have done their job, or not. The grass has turned brown, the leaves of the mountain maple and the nine-bark are red, the pine needles are getting a deeper green and the larch needles are beginning to turn yellow, soon they will fall away. On this day the woods are very quiet, here-and-there is the skeleton of a gentian, spring beauty, balsamroot, or any other plant that was green a few weeks earlier. The seeds they produced are tucked into the small spaces between fallen pine needles, grass stems, shallow roots and bodies of insects that made their living eating such stuff. It’s a quiet time. And the woods will tell you that, -- if you listen.

“Listen?” “Listen to what?” “Trees and forbs can’t talk.”

True. But, there is tremendous pleasure in listening, feeling, seeking what the poets know about nature. For millennia those special people have talked about a “consciousness” that exists throughout nature.

“Consciousness?” “What’s that about?”

Start with us, we are conscious beings, that is, we are aware of ourselves and what’s going on around us, and, we have a subconscious somewhere deep within us. If we listen, that subconscious can guide us, more or less, to our own good. It lets us know what we should do and it may provide premonitions. Also, we people have a big, powerful, “what’s happen’en and what to do now” brain that can, and often does, override our subconscious mind. All this is pretty much common knowledge (wives tales) that is now being backed up by the scientists studying the human brain, mind and behavior.

Let’s take that “consciousness” thing into the forest. Every individual there performs certain actions at certain times to perpetuate its individual life and its species. That would seem to qualify as a consciousness, even if there is no big powerful brain to override it (as far as we know). The poets “feel” that consciousness in nature, and so do a lot of non-poets. American Indian stories are about people being “plugged into the natural world” and so are the stories of other cultures. With the fall of a waring and cruel Assyrian king, (700 BCE) the prophet Isaiah wrote about the earth’s reaction saying, “The whole earth is at rest, and is quiet: they break forth into singing. Yea the fir trees rejoice at thee, and the cedars of Lebanon, saying, Since thou art laid down, no feller is come up against us” (Isaiah 14: 7 and 8).

War takes a huge toll on forests, Isaiah is making it clear that forests have a consciousness and awareness of abuse.

Try this. Go to a natural place, leave your troubles, leave economics (not the national debt stuff, the “I want --” stuff - whether it’s catching a fish today, or getting rich), leave science, leave political stuff, leave religion in the rig. Get out and walk on the land -- mountain, plain, forest, grassland, wherever, with your mind like a clean erased blackboard. Be in the now. Really see beauty and feel what there is to feel, let nature write on your blackboard. Sense what’s going on in this place, how it’s doing. What is right and good for this place will start to seep into your mind. You’re becoming aware of the consciousness of that place. The sense of urgency in spring, the sense of quietness in fall, a sense of deep concern when there are threats (fire, disease, human impact), or, if the ecosystem is ill. This is the place’s consciousness.

OK, that sounds like knowing the science of nature, and it is, but science is about collecting and analyzing data to draw conclusions. This is different, if you walk quietly and let awareness rather than facts seep in, that awareness is about the place’s consciousness, that place’s capabilities, purpose, health and susceptibility.

So what? Will all that make anyone any money? Will it help write a paper that will be accepted in a peer reviewed scientific journal?

Probably not. But, it’s a tool that we have never tried to used. We make decisions concerning using natural resources based on economics, laws (influenced by economics), political power (influenced by economics), and (hopefully) science. By now we should be figuring out that there is another player in this equation, NATURE. We need to be consulting nature. What we’ve been doing is like the health insurance company and the doctor deciding to operate without ever consulting the patient. Seeking nature’s consciousness is outside science, outside economics, outside politics, outside man-made laws, and we don’t know how to determine what it is or how to take it seriously in our decision making. We need to learn. We’re facing some big questions that could use some insight - and input - from Nature.

Should we genetically alter animals to grow more food? Have we done right by genetically altering plants to produce more insecticides within their bodies, or resist certain herbicides? Should we be deep drilling for oil in the oceans? Are we right to bring back wolves? If so, where? What do the elk think about that (what’s their consciousness)? What do the aspen forests think about wolves? How many people can our Earth support? At what life style? Global Warming - human caused or not - is telling us something. How can we listen beyond science and economics? How can we use what we and nature “feel” in decision making? How can we use what the poets have been telling us? You can fill in other big questions, and small ones.

Understanding Nature’s consciousness can be the next big tool to help people live better with one another and with our home, Earth. That kind of knowing is beyond science and it is not the pure faith that religion requires. It is an area of knowledge we haven’t developed the tools to investigate, we need to get to work on it, because this Earth is talking to us.

The Tables Turned

Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your Teacher.

She has a world of ready wealth,
Our minds ands hearts to bless --
Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health,
Truth breathed by cheerfulness.

One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.

~ William Wordsworth

There is a real good chance all this will illicit the response, “This is just nuts.” “This would cost us money.” OK, -- Assume that NATURE has no consciousness, no purpose, and we will just forget the whole thing and keep doing things the way we’ve always done them. But, WHOA, do we really think that’s working all that well? Will the way we’re doing things sustain the Earth and us people for the next 400 generations, 10,000 years, and help us to live in harmony with each other and nature? Our present performance isn’t that reassuring.

It’s clear, if we will listen, Nature is not without its own purpose - not without “being” (as in “to have or to be”) - and, she has a lot to say. We can benefit by learning how to listen.

The Logos is Eternal

One must talk about everything according to its nature,
how it comes to be and how it grows.
Men have talked about the world without paying attention
to the world or to their own minds,
as if they were asleep or absent-minded

~ Herakleitos (5th century B.C.)

If you're interested in exploring more about the relationship between people and our forests, please check out this link: About Forests and People

Trees and forbs can't talk

Do trees have a conscience?

Go to a natural place

Go out and walk on the land

Walk quietly

Understanding nature

Let nature be your teacher

Live in harmony with nature

Nature has a lot to say

Saturday, August 26, 2017

The Old Stump, Elk Ridge - Colored Pencil Drawing

"The Old Stump, Elk Ridge" Colored Pencil

The morning after a spring storm, Elk Ridge is buried under a blanket of fresh snow. Irregular shapes undulate across the drift's smooth surface as blue shadows exaggerate the billowy folds in the landscape's white tapestry.

Scattered across the high ground, a few resilient evergreens call this hostile place home. The subalpine zone is a harsh environment where few organisms are adapted to survive.

A single cloud, floating just above the horizon, is a last remnant of the passing storm. The sun's warm rays stream through the brilliant, blue sky inspiring hope that better days lay ahead.

Twisted by ferocious winds, the old stump is a weather-beaten warrior that fought until the bitter end. The bare tree trunk symbolizing the strength and perseverance required to survive at such a high altitude.

A fantastic Englemann Spruce forms a dark halo around the poor tree snag. In the background, smaller spruce are a new generation eager to fill their role in this extraordinary ecosystem.

As these long-lived conifers reach maturity, their individual traits imbue each of them with a unique personality. Their will to survive and perpetuate the species seems almost superhuman.

Do trees have a conscience, a spirit or soul? I don't know but if we take the time to listen, I believe the forest speaks to us in ways that we can comprehend.

Their verbal testimony, though, would be of priceless value to anyone investigating nature's great, unsolved mysteries. If only trees could talk.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Mule Deer Buck - The Crown Prince

Mule Deer Buck

While hiking up Elk Ridge on a blue, summer evening, the mountainside is drenched and surprisingly cold. Colorful wildflowers hug close to the muddy trail as the crackle of rolling thunder echoes from down in the meadow below.

Around the bend, occupying a nook in the forest, a young mule deer buck grazes on shoots of lush grass. His orange coat is glistening wet from the downpour of steady rain that seems to develop every afternoon.

If the bull elk is the undisputed monarch of the Rocky Mountains then the mule deer buck is the crown prince. This time of year, these regal animals are bestowed with an extraordinary rack of velvet antlers.

He moves gracefully across the rugged terrain that characterizes the Front Range foothills. The elegant creature seems undisturbed by my presence as he’s become accustomed to sharing his territory with our strange kind.

The new weather pattern tells us that the seasons are changing so this lone deer is feeding with a purpose. He’s going to need all the strength he can muster because the annual rut is just around the corner and soon after that - another harsh winter.

A blue, summer evening

Thunder echoes across the meadow

Grazing on lush grass

The crown prince

Extraordinary antlers

They move gracefully

Undisturbed by my presence

Seasons are changing

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Pacific Ocean - A Peaceful Sea

Palm trees on the Pacific

Our blue planet is dominated by the five great seas from which the Pacific is the biggest, deepest and most inhabited. The vast ocean fills the gap between the Americas on the east and Asia and Australia on the west.

The massive body of salt water is an astonishing 64 million square miles and it's spread across one-third of the earth's surface. In the northwest section there's an incredible chasm known as the Mariana Trench. At 35,797 feet down, it's the deepest point in the world.

The ocean's current name was given by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan during the Spanish circumnavigation of the globe in 1521. He called it Mar Pacifico or the Peaceful Sea because after sailing around the treacherous Cape Horn, the expedition entered into much calmer waters.

The place is hardly peaceful, though. Enclosing the ocean, the volatile land that forms the Pacific Rim is known as the Ring of Fire because of all the volcanos and earthquakes. Tsunamis born from underwater earthquakes have taken a devastating toll on countless inhabited islands.

I've only experienced the Pacific while in southern California where a blue-green surf smashes into the rocks and cliffs, sculpting a coastline of unsurpassed beauty. The exotic foliage of palm trees and colorful wildflowers enlivens the laid back atmosphere.

Since the very beginning, powerful waves have pounded the land in a therapeutic rhythm while shaping the malleable earth. Today, eternal waters continue to churn with relentless force in a graceful sequence sure to last until the end of time.

The biggest, deepest and most inhabited

Mar Pacifico

The peaceful sea

Hardly peaceful

Southern California coastline

Unsurpassed beauty

Exotic palm trees

Colorful flowers

Powerful waves

The waters continue to churn

Until the end of time