Late summer is a stressful time for a forest. That’s especially true for a forest that evolved to survive the wild fires started by the August thunderstorms. When a thunderstorm comes through, it’s common to see hundreds of lighting strikes, each of which has the capacity to kindle a wildfire.
Before human intervention, wildfires would sweep through a forest every few years and clear out the dead wood lying on the forest floor. The rapid burn would trim back the dead branches we now call “ladder fuels” since they can enable a fire to climb up to the tree’s crown and kill it.
The fires would last until a heavy rain swept through in the fall, drenching the embers, and blanketing the soil with fallen leaves. One day the forest would be decked in the colors of fall– yellows and reds giving way to browns–and then a heavy, windy rain would change all that. When the sky cleared, the forest would be dressed for winter, but it wouldn’t be a somber dress–instead our forest would be transformed into neon green as if it were decorating itself for Halloween.
Herland Forest is a permaculture forest that’s home to fir, pine, and oak, but it also offers a home to hawthorne and chokecherry, and now thanks to the Guardians, chestnut and ginko, hazelnut and cherry, walnut and plumb, dogwood and alder. As each Guardian picks their place in the forest, and the tree that will become a memorial to their vision, the forest’s diversity increases. And that makes it a better place for the birds, bees, and people who come to Herland Forest to celebrate life.
Our oak trees are ancient–some of them are more than three centuries old–and they provide a home for the birds, squirrels, and lichens of Herland Forest. For most of the year, the lichens are hidden by the leaves, but when first heavy fall rain washes the dead leaves and the summer dust to the ground, the lichen’s electric green shines bright.
We did a burial a couple of weeks prior to that heavy rain, and when I went to check on the grave, I was delighted to see that the grave was sprinkled with bits of lichen in a way that reminded me of how families sprinkle flower petals on a loved one’s grave. The sentimental part of me felt that now that this person had become one of forest’s beloved Guardians, the forest had decorated the grave in welcome.