ECO-Tours only purchases trees and dirt to plant them in...

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Building A Forest

One of the most rewarding things that I have found is to look back after twenty or thirty years and see a maturing tree where there had been no soil to speak of a few decades ago. One of the most difficult tasks is to reestablish harmony and balance in an ecosystem that had been systematically tortured for decades, but it can be done. The trees are capable of giving the outward appearance of normalcy, but only if they have the essential ingredients that help them to thrive. Sick trees don't cut it. If they are in the proper type of habitat that would normally allow them to flourish, but they are still unhealthy or dying, it just means that the land was too played out to support them. I have seen many hundreds of trees die for no other reason than that they were the only thing available to be eaten. The great void that we have created where nature used to exist has created, in some areas, a drastic lack of viable habitat for both plants and animals. Sometimes the best first act is to build life in the soils, protect it from the sun and then add the trees.

Our organization has put thousands of trees in the soil in a day, only to have the weather take half and wildlife to eat the other half. We have seen dry spells so hot that even weekly watering could not save our seedlings. We have even protected trees for several years only to have the landowner mow them down with impunity. In spite of all these set backs, we continue to plant. Hundreds of thousands of seedlings have made it to heights that make it difficult for critters to stunt them. Thousands of them have reached heights that dwarf humans and thousands more dwarf houses. We honor and respect the fact that it is not possible to build a forest, forests require the participation of the wildlife that they attract, forests need all the players within them to be healthy and only naturally functioning cycles of energy, water and nutrients are required to truly make a forest. We continue to build the soil and plant more trees, but in reality, all of our work is like building and dressing a set in the theater and dressing the talent. Only the living players can bring the story of a forest to life. 

One of my favorite experiences is when forest life comes out to visit the planting site. Birds are usually the happiest to see the new trees and often, before we pack up our shovels, there are birds resting their wings and perching on their newest neighbors. The real soil building begins when they prepare for flight and leave behind their nutrient dense extra weight. I have returned to planting sites and roused a variety of creatures that were just enjoying the shade, or hunting amongst the seedlings. The rewards are not just for me, the whole cast of characters that normally enjoy the woods are an active part of the restoration process. I have often let my mind wander into the future, imagining how rewarding it will be when the successful trees fall, after a life well-lived, age or a particularly wicked storm will finally catch up with them. In a sense, my job will be complete, because the primary decomposers will have a place to begin the life cycle again, taking up residence in the fallen logs that began with a prayer, my two hands and a sip of cool clear water.

It is hard to fit the depth and quality of love that I feel into mere words, but trees, especially the native species are my life. I know the life cycle of the birch as if it were my own. I know the medicines that come from the sap, catkins and leaves. I know and have utilized most of the dozen or so uses of elderberry, of oak, cedar and pine. I have tried to hone my senses to feel each unique site, understand the moisture content of the soil, feel the slope and understand where the sun will come up in each of the four seasons, to help make good decisions on placement, so the tiny sprigs and smaller potted plantings that we make have the best chance possible. It seems that the Fall rains have come early this year, so this fall planting season looks like it will be longer than normal.

We are always looking for help in purchasing trees. If you can afford to spend a bit on recovering the denuded parts of the planet, helping us to purchase more trees, we have volunteers and the will to get them in the ground. Acorn harvest is coming into full swing and walnuts, as usual, are spreading their seed. The elderberries are also putting out their fruits and are giving us their seed as usual. We are on track to plant another million or so elderberry seeds again this year, pioneer species that help set the stage for future growth. To put our efforts (and their cost) into perspective, it costs about ten dollars per tree to get them from the nursery to the field, protect them and occasionally weed around them. All of our labor and administrative activities are provided by volunteers. The only things that we pay for that are not trees are tools for planting and enhancing the soils, soil for potting up trees that we hold in our nursery and protection for the newly planted trees. 

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