Friday, February 6, 2009

Better Off Dead?

One of my favorite places to hike, read, write, think, pray is an arboretum at Heaps Peak in the San Bernardino National Forest. The trail is only about a mile long with gradual inclines, rich foliage, and woodland wildlife. Self guided tour leaflets containing information about the various views associated with numbered markers along the path are available at the trailhead.

I currently take Mondays off. Whenever possible, I try to get away from town and enjoy much needed alone time. There's a tasty barbecue joint in the nearby mountain community of Running Springs (former town of residence). I headed there for lunch this past Monday only to find the owners have decided to close shop one day a week. Guess which day. ARRGGH! So, I rerouted to another of my favorite haunts, a little restaurant overlooking close by Lake Arrowhead. On my way home, I stopped by Heaps Peak.

As you come to the first small clearing along the heavily wooded trail, you find a split rail fence guarding a grassy slope.

"If you look at trees down slope in front of you, you should be able to notice the scorched black trunks from the Old Fire of October, 2003. It should also be evident that those trees are healthy and green. Over millions of years pine trees have adapted to fire so that their bark acts as a protection against fire. These large knobcone pines, Coulter pines, and white fir survived the fire and continue to grow and flourish. Some of the much smaller seedlings did not survive, which encourages forest health by naturally thinning out trees, thereby reducing competition for scarce resources such as water."
As you round the third bend on the trail, you come into a large clearing—a creek wash fed by a small spring. You cross a narrow bridge and begin a modest ascent to a landing that hosts one of my favorite views. When you reach this point, over your left shoulder, on a clear day, through the lush green forest you can make out the distant snow covered peaks near the Cajon Pass. In sharp contrast, directly in front of you, you find a barren, somewhat menacing slope studded in towering, dead tree trunks.

"As you look across the drainage to the far slope you will notice a large group of standing dead trees or ‘snags.’ Although these trees burned in the Old Fire they did not die from that fire. These pines succumbed to the Western pine beetle infestation during a recent drought, before the fire burned through this section of the forest. Unlike the living green trees at the Arboretum, which resisted the fire very well, these trees were dry or ‘brown,’ thereby providing fuel for the fire and they burned easily. The large burned snag that towers above the other barren trunks is a Ponderosa pine. After a year or so the scorched bark tends to fall off the dead trunks leaving the white inner core wood exposed."
These words and images catch on something deep inside me every time I visit the arboretum. I’m seriously considering this as a teaching topic soon. Thoughts?