Saturday, January 12, 2019

Wild forest floor

I grew up on Vancouver Island, in the northwest coastal forests, dense, lush, and silent, only marginally tamed along the edges. Across a creek that ran under my bedroom, a creek we crossed on a fallen tree, crawling (me) or dancing (my brothers) according to our sense of balance and scorn of danger, and through a hollow log that traversed a salmonberry thicket, we came out onto a fern- and moss-blanketed cathedral: unlogged Douglas firs, yards across at the base, towering high into the rainy clouds overhead. My brothers would race on through; I tended to find a dryish log and sit there a while, just listening.

On the Ridge Trail, I followed a sort of trail off the main trail; a deer track, maybe, looking for mushrooms. There were none visible, and I didn't want to disturb the moss, but stepping carefully around mossy roots and huge ferns, I got a brief flashback to my childhood wanderings. This was the forest floor I knew of old.

Healthy forest, mixed evergreen and deciduous, probably third-growth, after two or more loggings.

The trees on the ground are as essential to the health of the forest as the standing timber; they provide nutrients and shelter to new growth and the animals that make it their home. The moss on top soaks up the rain, releasing the moisture slowly to the thin layer of soil underneath; these forests sit on rock, sometimes barely under the surface duff. Without the moss, they would dry and burn with the first lightning stroke.

Evergreen fern.

It's not an ecosystem hospitable to humans, my brothers notwithstanding; any human trails are made with chain saws, constant monitoring, frequent traffic. Abandoned for a year or two, they disappear.

Sometimes I wonder at the early explorers who made their slow way across the continent, following ridges like this one, rivers like the one in the valley below, clambering at every step over slippery logs, stumbling into hidden holes, sinking through wood that seemed solid and turned out to be mostly wet rot, trying to find a dry, flattish spot to sleep after an exhausting day. Or at today's firefighters; at least they have helicopters and chain saws, but it's still a daunting task.

Much of Vancouver Island is logged off now, sometimes repeatedly. Entire mountain sides lie open to the sun and wind, the moss dry and brittle, the ferns dying. With the added burden of a warming climate, they are a bonfire waiting for the first match. I'm not looking forward to our next fire season.


  1. It's so important to have these forest floors that absorb all the precipitation the sky can throw at them.

  2. I lived there for almost 11 years and recently moved. I noticed the incidence of wildfire seemed to increase every year I was there until last summer when it seemed to be the worst yet. I fear for Vancouver Island and it's future.

    1. Yes, last year was very bad. Two years running now, I've cancelled a trip north because the roads were closed due to fire.


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