Tuesday 31 December 2013

Way of the Ponderosa Pine: Excerpt from the Book of Ways

Excerpt from the Book of Ways: Lore from the Keeper of Ways and Builder of Paths

Way of the Ponderosa Pine

Consider the Ponderosa Pine.  In Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado, the presence of this pine mark the edge of the Plains, for they are found in the hills at the western edge, but not out onto the plains themselves.  In the hillls to the south of the Northern Frontrange, they grow among Gambel oak thickets.  In the Foothills to the west, they grow on southern facing slopes with juniper primarily, with the north facing slopes mostly lodgepole pine.  In the Highlands to the north, they grow on the ridges and hills, with scattered shrubs below them.

Ponderosa pine have a much shorter fire cycle than lodgepole, with fires occurring naturally every two to fifteen years.  Unlike the lodgepole, which has thin bark and is easily killed by fire, Ponderosa have thick bark that protects them, the fires killing off the seedlings and clearing the forest floor and leaving the mature trees scarred but alive.  As a result, natural Ponderosa forests have tall trees with very few small ones, other species making up the ground cover.  The fires in Ponderosa stands are also very low intensity, compared to the raging fires of the lodgepole.

The bark also makes this pine more resilient to the western pine beetle, so even though it is still a threat, not near as many are killed by the beetle as are the lodgepole.

The thick bark just mentioned it the most clear offset of the Ponderosa from other species.  It has yellow to red bark that is very thick, with dark to black crevices in it, giving it two of its common names, the blackjack pine and the western yellow pine.  It also has tufts of long needles, setting it apart.  In the Rocky Mountains, most have three needles per tuft, or occasionally two.

The Ponderosa has had many indigenous uses.  The pitch was used as an ointment for various things including sores and scabs, back aches, ear aches, rheumatism, and inflamed eyes.  It was also used to help infants sleep.  The needles were used for female reproductive issues and for skin issues, and for insulation in storage pits.  The roots were used for blue die.  The boughs were used for muscle pain, hemorrhaging, and treatments for children.  The wood was used for building fences, housing, and snowshoes.  Logs were made in canoes.  The bark was used for roofing.  Pollen was used with needles in healing.  Pitch, seeds, cones, bark, buds and cambium were used for food.  There is no part of the tree without a practical use.  It is a tree that provides and nurtures.

It also provides for and nurtures the animals that make their homes in its forests.  Birds roost and nest in its limbs and use it as protection from birds of prey.  Chipmunks, squirrels, and many types of birds eat its seeds.  Grouse use its needles for nesting material.  Rodents and porcupines use its bark for nesting.

A specific example is the Albert's squirrel, which lives only in Ponderosa stands.  This squirrel doesn't gather food to live through the winter nor hibernate like more squirrels and other rodents.  Through the winter, it feeds on the inner bark of the branch tips of the Ponderosa.  It feeds near the top of the tree, chewing off a needle clump, removes the outer bark, then eats the inner bark.  They always return to the same tree each winter.  The Ponderosa has a symbiotic fungus, the EM fungus.  Like the blue stain fungus of the lodgepole, EM fungus for root systems with Ponderosa.  These act as extensions to the roots, helping the tree draw in more water, nitrogen, phosphorus, and various other nutrients from the soil.  In return, the tree provides carbohydrates that the fungus needs to survive.  This is relevant, because the main source of food for the squirrels during the growing season is the sporocarps of this fungus.  The spores survive in the squirrel's digestive tract and are spread through the forest by them, where they join with other pine root systems.  It is possible that the fungi concentration effects the inner bark the squirrel eats, drawing them to return to certain trees, and also that the stunting the squirrels cause on those trees and the reduction in those trees in reproduction as a result to the squirrel effects its relationship with the fungus, causing more sporocarp production.

The Ponderosa grows best in well draining soil, mostly loam, but it will grow in sandy soils as well.  In does well in dry climates and can handle the heat of the sun quite easily.

The Ponderosa pine is outer earth and inner fire.

The outer earth nature is evident in its bark. The bark is similar colour to much of the soil it grows in.  Like the surface of the earth, it protects what's inside, from fire, from cold, from heat, from insects and other threats.  And like the earth, it nurtures and provides for those that come to it, not just animals, but humans as well.

That outer nature is nurturing and and very mother-like, though the fire inside is unforgiving of those that don't respect the tree and can be dangerous to those who don't approach in a respectful manner.

This fire is evident in its intolerance for moist undraining soil, its ability to grow well in hot climates and full sunlight, and its short fire cycle that leaves mature trees unharmed.  These fires are part of its nurturing and providing, as it is important for the health of a forest to be cleaned out periodically.  It provides for both the creation aspect, by providing what those under its care need for life, and the destruction aspect, cleaning things out every so often, but with low intensity and less risk to the animals than a roaring fire would be.

Earth over fire.

Consider this well, and think on it.

Monday 30 December 2013

The Wind has Teeth: Excerpt from the Book of the Lost: Lore from the Keeper of the Lost and Builder of Storms

The Wind has Teeth
Excerpt from the Book of the Lost: Lore from the Keeper of the Lost and Builder of Storms

There was once a woman who loved fire.  She was a wanderer, never living in one place for long, and every time she moved on to a new place, it followed a fire, maybe a grass fire or forest fire, maybe a building.  She loved fire.  She might have been someone known by many, or she might have been unknown, blending in to her surroundings.  She wasn't either of these, but somewhere in between, known by some, a friend to some, but forgotten when she moved on.  And she always moved on.

One day, she knew her time in the place she was at was running out.  It would be time to move on soon.  It was early summer, the hills starting to dry out after the spring rains.  It was as good of time as any.

She packed light, a pack with only the essentials, a bit of something to burn, the things needed to start a fire, only a small one, that was all it ever took.

She left at dawn, making her way slowly on foot up through the river valleys, working her way to the highlands above.  It was a cloudy day, with strong wind, and she sometimes had to bend her back against it, walking slowly, but she kept going.  It was as good of time as any.

The higher she went, the more wild the winds got, and stronger, and the lower the clouds got, the landscape becoming almost misty, not quite fog.  She walked with her head down, bowed before the wind, taking one step at a time, only looking at the ground in front of her feet.  The wind wasn't steady, not blowing from one direction, but gusting and changing, coming from everywhere and no where.  She had never experienced anything like it.  But she kept going.  It was as good of time as any.

Further up and further in she trudged, and morning gave way to afternoon, and afternoon gave way to evening, the light of dusk fading to the darkest night she had ever seen.  The clouds hung low, so low she almost thought she could touch it, and the wind was biting, strong and gusty, bringing tears to her eyes, making it hard to see, even harder than the darkness.  She could barely see, but she trudged on.  It was as good of time as any.

She had walked many places and much distance in her life.  She was one who could never call a place home for long, enjoying more the freedom of the road, and the wonders of new places.  Wanderlust, some called it, and maybe it was.  She couldn't see spending life in one place.  How could others abide that?  And she couldn't help but leave her mark before leaving.  How could she not?  She loved fire.

Each place she went was as different as the place before as she could make it.  Northern logging towns, desert tourist traps, fishing towns, mining towns, big cities, a ranch out in the country, a wind swept light house.  She could do many jobs, she was a woman of many skills, and in each place she went, she picked up a few more.  She collected vocations like some collected coins.  She was a smith and a fisherman, a weaver and a carpenter, a naturalist and a logger, a tour guide and an activist.  There was nothing she couldn't do, if she chose to, and the more varied her jobs, the more varied the locale, the less likely anyone would look into her past.  She was a private person.  And she loved fire.

Her name changed with her profession, and her appearance as well.  Who was she really?  She didn't know this herself, so how could anyone else?  She had lost that somewhere along the way, burned away who she really was.  The flames had scourged it from her, leaving a changling, a woman with no past, no future, a wanderer, ever moving.  A wanderer who loved fire.

And onward she trudged, into the dark, dark night, the wind whipping around like a thousand hands, reaching for her, pulling at her.  Or a thousand teeth.  But she pushed on, ignoring it as best she could.  It was as good of time as any.

But the wind had more than teeth, it had eyes.  Or so she thought as she plunged on.  She felt watched, not by a person following her or waiting for her, but from anywhere and no where, like the wind itself watched her with a thousand eyes, eyes that glistened red in the darkness, eyes she couldn't see, but could swear she thought she could, a glimpse of thousands of eyes where there was only darkness, eyes that watched hungerly, eyes with teeth.  The wind had eyes and teeth, she thought, and shuddered as the hairs rose on the back of her neck.  But still she kept going.  What else could she do?  She loved fire.  It was as good of time as any.

But the sense of being watched got worse, as did the conviction that the wind had teeth.  What did that mean?  She wasn't certain.  A memory came to her, a story she had heard as a child, a story of something called the Wild Hunt.  The details were wrong.  She didn't have the sense of horses or dogs, of riders or something moving across the night.  But the name stuck in her mind.  The Wild Hunt.  Somehow the details didn't matter.  She was sure it was the right name.  And she named the wind the Wild Hunt.  The wind that had eyes and teeth.  She shuddered in fear, the hairs on all her body on end.  She wasn't sure what to make of it, whether it was a fancy of her mind or real.  But she kept going.  It was as good of time as any.

And on the wind, she thought she heard a voice, not heard but heard, a thousand voices, from a thousand mouths full of teeth, the voice of the wind, not heard as much as felt.  She struggled to make out words, knowing she was just hearing things, they weren't real voices, just a trick of the mind, a trick of the wind.  A hiss, a thousand hisses, the tongues of serpents, yet one voice, the voice of the wind.  And she made out words, whether spoken or her mind playing tricks.

You love fire, do you?  I hear you do.  These hills have eyes and teeth, this wind has eyes and teeth.  Burn us, you say?  Why do you burn?  Try.  Try to burn us.  We dare you.  Can your fire outlast ours?  We've known the fire of a thousand blazes, years without end.  Fires that burned hot and mild fires.  We are no strangers to fire, yet still we endure.  Why do you burn?

I don't know, she thought.  I love fire.  And I must move on, and must leave my mark.  Wanderlust, firelust.  And move on she did, keeping going despite the hissing serpent words, despite the whipping wind, the teeth, the eyes.  It was as good of time as any.

We have eyes, we see you.  You don't see you.  You are blind even though you see.  You are lost, you know not where you wander.  Or why you burn, why the fire burns.  But we have eyes, the wind has eyes.  We see you.  Do you see us?

I see nothing, she thought.  All is darkness, all is wind.  Maybe I am blind.  But she knew she wasn't, just as she knew she didn't really hear the hissing whispering voices, just as she knew she wasn't really watched by red eyes in the darkness, just as she knew the wind didn't really have teeth, that the Wild Hunt was a myth, and didn't look or feel like this anyway, it was a different thing.  It was the darkness and the wind playing tricks on her.  And maybe it was.  It was as good of time as any.

We have teeth, we smell you.  You smell of fear and prey.  We are hungry.  Our teeth can burn like fire.  You can find fire, you can burn.  What do you seek when you wander?  Do you seek true fire, tongues of fire, teeth of fire?  Do you seek our hunger?  Are you prey?  You fear.  You fear like prey.  We hunt, you fear.  Can you run?  Will you run?  Will you run like prey?  The wind has teeth.

And she did run, as best she could in the mist and wind and darkness.  She ran with all she had, pushed forward by her fear.  And the wind had teeth, she was sure now.  The wind hungered.  The wind smelled her fear.  So she ran, she ran like prey.  She ran hoping she could outrun the wind.  It was as good of time as any.

She ran and ran, as fast as she could.  She stumbled, fell, but rose and ran.  Onward and upward, further in and further up, trying to outrun the wind, the wind that had teeth.

And she fell in the end, fell with pain and breaking bones.  She struggled to rise but could not.  She could run no more, and she couldn't fight.  How can you outrun the wind?  How can you fight the wind?  The wind had teeth, she found, and they were sharp and hungry.

And she was no more in this world, and the next day, a rancher found blood across the grass of the hill, as he had before and would again.  And he muttered something about the lost and shook his head, and moved on, and never spoke of it.

But in the hills it is whispered that there are dangerous things, and that there is a wind, and the wind has teeth.