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Regrowth and the Rim Fire

19 Jul

The day after the EcoSummit I headed to Tuolumne County to attend the Forestry Institute for Teachers. The workshop was amazing and I learned a ton. I even got to go on a field trip to see areas of the Rim Fire burn that are still closed to the public. The week was so packed with new ideas, opposing viewpoints, and information that I’ve sat down to write about it nearly ten times, and I struggled to get it into words.

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Just for reference, here’s a picture I took in July of 2012, from a popular view point on Highway 120, called Rim of the World. It overlooks the Tuoloumne Canyon in the Stanislaus National Forest. The Rim Fire was started along the riverbank in this canyon on August 17, 2013. This is what it looks like now:

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The Rim Fire was huge, the third largest in California, and it spread at a truly frightening rate. There were several factors affecting this. The weather conditions were perfect for fire; hot and dry. More importantly, the fuel load, after nearly a century of suppressing the small fires that would have removed young trees and dead or downed material, was enormous. The result was a fire that was awe inspiring in it’s power, and truly frightening for the people and communities in its path.

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I knew going into this that fires are an important and natural part of Sierra Nevada ecology. I also knew that forests have a way of recovering after a fire. Post burn, the area gets overgrown, first with grasses and herbs, then shrubs and bushes, and finally, trees. This is called succession and it actually increases the diversity within a forest. But seeing this in action was so much more powerful than knowing about it from a textbook.

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This picture was taken near the center of the burned area looking back towards the Rim of the World. You can see that it got hot here, the trees burned all the way up into their crowns. But when you look in the foreground you see grass and flowers that have sprouted since the burn. In the background there are patches of green on the hillsides.

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Every patch of green seemed like a miracle in this landscape of charcoal and dust.

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But they weren’t really. They were just a natural part of succession. The forest was growing back, as it has for thousands of years.

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There has been a lot of controversy over what should be done in this area post burn. Some are pushing for a hands-off approach: Leave it and let the massive burned areas recover slowly without any artificial replanting. Others are advocating salvage logging to remove snags, and jump-starting the process of succession by replanting and the suppressing shrub growth long enough for the trees to take over again.

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The thing that I really and truly admired the institute organizers for doing was walking this volatile minefield. They worked hard to create a dialog between the many conflicting viewpoints of people who care deeply about what happens in forests. I won’t say that I agreed with everything I heard this week, but I appreciated hearing it.

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In terms of acreage Stanislaus National Forest was the hardest hit by the Rim Fire. The Environmental Impact Statement, the document that will guide the management of this area in the future has only been released in it’s draft form. I hope when it is finalized that it will offer compromise, a representation of the dialogue I heard over my week at FIT.

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Meanwhile, this summer has been hotter than last year, and the winter was so dry and mild that there were parts of the Rim Fire that were still smoldering in the spring. Everyone is tense, worried that the next mega fire will sweep through our neck of the woods.

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~Robin

Art Adventure: Young Lakes

16 Jul

I’ve been slowed down a bit by a relatively minor foot injury this summer, but I did manage to haul myself out to Young Lakes with a bunch of supplies for a mini art-retreat.

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Ragged Peak and Young Lake

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Ragged Peak (Western Approach)

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Emily told me the third lake was the best. She was entirely correct.

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I spent a lot of time with my Law’s Guide

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Someone else was here before me.

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Does this landscape look ominous?

It was. I had the very exciting- but not very pleasant- experience of waiting out a hail storm hunkered under my tarp. I didn’t take any pictures, but I’ll recreate it for you:

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After it cleared though?

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Breathtaking.

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I took a well-worth-the-extra-walking detour to Dog Lake.

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And the rain held out long enough for me to paint.

~Robin

Sierra EcoSummit

23 Jun

Over the weekend I headed to Groveland for the Sierra EcoSummit in Groveland. It was lovely. It was held at the Mountain Sage, which is a delightfully eclectic mix of coffee shop, nursery, concert venue, art gallery, and market. The summit hosted a number of workshops, and while I wasn’t able to attend all of them, the ones that I went to were fantastic and inspiring. This genius cob sculpture by Misha Rauchwerger also serves as a rain barrel. I had a ton of fun playing in the mud at his cob workshop.

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Most of my drive to Groveland, took me through areas burned during the Rim Fire last August. The Rim Fire was mostly on the edge of my little world in Yosemite. While I’ve definitely felt a few impacts from it, going through a big chunk of the burned area, and then talking to people from a community that was deeply impacted by it, has widened my perspective substantially. I’ve spent a lot of the past few days thinking about forest fires and learning about them, and I’m planning to write more about them in the near future.

Until then enjoy this blurry picture of a llama. At a sound check.

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~Robin

P.S. The sound check was for The Little Fuller Band, and The Good Luck Thrift Store Outfit.

25 lbs.

14 Jun

Jackie: When you go to the grocery store can you get some carrots for juicing?

Me: Sure. How much should I get?

Jackie: Get the giant bag.

Me: The giant bag?

Jackie: yeah.

Me: The really big one? The one that’s like….I don’t know, fifteen pounds?

Jackie: Yeah, that one.

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So apparently, I suck at estimating the weight of giant bags of carrots, Jackie grossly underestimated the quantity of carrots available at our grocery store, and we both need to work on our communication skills.

~Robin

Photo Adventure: Winter Backpacking (In May)

6 Jun

I should have known better.

We were getting ready for a backpacking trip, the weather was beautiful as we packed our gear; not too hot, not a cloud in the sky. And then I said the stupidest thing possible.

“It’s May. How bad could the weather possibly be?”

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Three days of every form of precipitation and chilling dampness you can imagine. It snowed on us. It hailed on us. It rained on us. There was lightning. We even got fogged in.

And yet, through all of the heinous weather, I had a great time. The company was first rate. There were ZERO complaints, and they didn’t rise up as one and hang me by my ankles from a tree for tempting fate.

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It even cleared up for us just the tiniest bit. (As we were hiking out.)

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Two days later I was sweating in 93 degree heat.

~Robin

Not What I Was Expecting Purse

3 Jun

Sometimes things just don’t go the way you planned.

Yesterday I pulled out my sewing machine out with a project in mind. Years ago my mom made a purse out of an old pair of pants. I wanted to make my own version and create a tutorial based off of April’s round bottom bag tutorial. I had an old ripped pair of black work pants set aside for the project and some cute fabric scraps tucked away for an appliqued planet earth embellishment.

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This is how the finished purse turned out. Aside from still being a purse made from pants it looks absolutely nothing like what I envisioned, but I freaking love it.

Sometimes things just don’t go the way you planned and turn out FANTASTIC!

~Robin

P.S. Sorry, I didn’t make a tutorial either.

Photo Adventure: Yay! Mountains!

26 May

I’m not even going to attempt to string all of these photos together in a logical way. Sometimes life is just crazy, chaotic, and awesome, especially when it is full of mountains.

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Eastern Sierra near Mammoth Hotsprings

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White Mountains over Hot Creek

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Mystery flower. My best guess is Dessert Peach

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Dike and Cathedral

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Glacial Erratic and Cathedral

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Western White Pine or Foxtail Pine. I can’t decide which.

I’m 0 for 2 on this plant ID thing.

~Robin

Photo Adventure: Ribbon Falls

17 May

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I will never get tired of this spot.

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Paint Brush

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From the Ampitheater

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Love this

~Robin

Earth Day: The Carbon Diaries

30 Apr

Earth Day Banner

I started reading The Carbon Diaries 2015 by Saci Lloyd as part of a work project but I was totally fascinated by the concept. The story is set in London in 2015 where, following a catastrophic hurricane, the government has started carbon rationing. In her diary sixteen-year-old Laura Brown writes about how her family and friends cope with this new way of life, against a back drop of climate related natural catastrophes and social upheaval.

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I have to confess I wasn’t totally enthralled by every story line in the book. (Feel free to take this criticism with a grain of salt. I don’t read a lot of YA fiction.) The thing that really hooked me was seeing how the reduction in carbon emissions impacted Laura and her family’s day to day lives. I started to wonder what it would look like if I had to cut my carbon emissions down to 40% of the national average. How dramatically would my life change?

To help me answer this question I turned to a few carbon footprint calculators:

Carbon Footprint Calculator

Cool Climate Calculator

EPA Household Carbon Footprint Calculator

Nature Conservancy Carbon Footprint Calculator

As I learned last year when I looked at water footprint calculators, none of these calculators are perfect. They all use slightly different methods and questions to assess and calculate carbon emissions, and some may work better for your situation than others. I try to compensate for this by averaging my results from several different calculators. I also found that the carbon footprint calculators were a little bit more data heavy than the water footprint calculators. I had some difficulty using them because I didn’t have information about my utilities, and milage for every car in my household handy. And none of the calculators I looked at could really account for the fact that I carpool pretty regularly, or that my house has solar panels and solar heating.

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Even though my carbon emissions are already lower than average, a 60% cut would still have a pretty big impact on me. It would mean that trips to visit my family in Ohio would be a thing of the past. I would need to rely on public transportation more often than driving or carpooling to work. I even wonder if this blog would continue to exist in this world. Thinking about it this way puts into perspective how truly tough it is for the characters in the book, and why they act so put-upon by the whole rationing system.

Although a sudden 60% cut in carbon emissions doesn’t seem very likely, there are parts of this book that feel eerily realistic. Tradable Energy Quotas, Cap and Trade, and Carbon Taxes are all real world specimens similar to the book’s carbon ration system. It’s not hard to imagine the protests and riots that erupt in Laura’s world, or the droughts, snowstorms, and Katrina scale floods. And while I wasn’t captivated by Laura’s love life, there was something very real about the way she carries on obsessing over the boy next door.

I’m still plotting to get my hands on a copy of The Carbon Diaries 2017. In the meantime I’m wondering: What do you think your life would be like with carbon rations?

~Robin

Earth Day: Literary Irrigation

27 Apr

Earth Day Banner

I started to write a long winded step by step explanation of the irrigation system I rigged in my garden to save water during this years drought, but the draft was long, dense, and unforgivably boring. Then I remembered Greg Johnson’s clever treatment of the IPCC assessment report that I posted earlier this month. I like this version better.

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could a veggie patch
planted in a drought be green?
neighbors said “DO IT!”

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“sprinklers waste water
but behold the wonder of…..
drip irrigation.”

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into the unknown
some method, mostly madness,
learn from my mistakes.

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a leaky faucet
nearly killed the project dead,
YouTube saved the day.

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a tough decision,
to buy soaker hose or drip?
ease trumps efficient.

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garden hose costly
numerous short lengths needed
new fave: hose couplings.

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take beat up old hose,
cut out crappy part with knife,
screw on new fitting.

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a highway of hose
takes water to the soakers
nestled in their beds

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stop leaks at the joints
gaskets are your new best friends
also, rubber bands.

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water earlier
to slow evaporation
early mornings best….

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Not. Gonna. Happen.
I’m not a morning person.
I bought a timer.

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mulch over soakers
traps in water and cools soil,
reuse paper bags!

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one last mulch layer
looks good, keeps paper in place
but cheap mulch stains hands

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sit down in the shade
survey your accomplishment
sip refreshing drink

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In conclusion, this project was challenging for me. I had to learn a lot of new skills, and use quite a bit of trial and error, to make the whole thing come together. Even though I had to buy new soaker hoses I’m proud that I still found ways to repair, repurpose, and reuse other stuff. I was particularly pleased when I successfully MacGyvered a rubber band into a gasket to fix a broken soaker hose coupling. No wonder that dude had so much swagger.

~Robin

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