Prelude to Winter

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Herland Forest lies under the jet stream, right where it comes in from its journey across the Pacific. That’s the atmospheric effect that gives the Pacific Northwest the steady rain and moderate temperatures that it’s famous for.

Located on the eastern edge of the Cascade mountains, Herland Forest gets half the rain that Portland gets, and twice as much as Spokane gets. It’s located precisely at the transition point between the fir forests of the west side and the pine forests of the east side.

As a result, Herland Forest is one of the rare places where you can find Douglas fir, Ponderosa pine and Garry oak growing side by side in an integrated ecology.

After the dry months of August and September, the October rain restarts the cycle of life in the high deserts. And as the dry forests soak up the rain, everyone breathes a sigh of relief because the rain signals the end of another fire season.

One of the reasons why we embraced the extensive use of wood chips in Herland Forest is the need to clean up the dead branches. Otherwise the forest waste–also called “fuel”–would build up to the point where, when fire eventually does come through, the results would be catastrophic.

The ecology in our area evolved in a context in which fires were  regularily ignited by the  thunderstorms of late summer. Coming every few years, these small fires would clear out the dead wood and the dense undergrowth, allowing the forest to renew itself.

Because humans have disrupted the natural cycle, we feel that keeping the forest groomed and healthy is our collective responsibility. This is vital work which the Guardians and Friends of Herland Forest make possible through their financial support. And we’re deeply grateful because that support enables us to make the forest less vulnerable to fire.

Herland Forest is 1,600′ above the Klickitat river. As the temperature drops, clouds form above the river, and for days, Herland Forest can be hidden in the clouds. When the temps stay below freezing, the clouds condense on the trees in the form of hoar frost. For those of us who steward the forest, it’s an ephemeral display that feels like a private performance.

The hoar frost is also a strong reminder that serious snow is coming any day real soon now. It’s sort of our “two minute warning” in the annual race to get ready for winter. Each year, we work to be a bit more ready for winter, but nature usually has a surprise or two in store–like last winter when the snow was the deepest we’ve seen in 18 years.

Grave digging is no fun when the ground is frozen and the snow is deep, but this year we’re going into winter with half-a-dozen graves already pre-dug for at-need situations.