Friday, December 2, 2011

Logs, Clogs, Shifting Rivers, an Uncertain Future (a sentimental post)

Winter is trying to build in to Vermont and displace the second warmest fall on record.  There is a chance of snow squalls today, perhaps mixed with rain, and tonight the temperatures will plunge to the teens and low 20s.  The battle with the warmth isn't over yet, though.  It will warm up a bit by the end of the weekend, and the forecast is for a VERY SLOW MOVING cold front to pass over the area over the next few days, bringing rain, becoming colder and colder and colder until the rain is BARELY not snow.  Then, we may get a quick inch or two of snow and hopefully the storm will be gone.  Maybe by the time it leaves we will have set the record for the wettest Vermont year on record too.

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While the season hangs dangling on loose hinges, repetition and slowness seem to be a theme all around me.  The river has risen and fallen, and ice has formed around its edges.  The oxbow cut erodes a few inches every time the water rises, but it still appears unlikely that the river will make its big jump before the big spring thaw.  It keeps trying to snow or freeze, but keeps thawing.  There are changes in the lives of my friends, of various sorts, that ripple through my life as well.  But, in my own life, I am still waiting.

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(note the rock in the water, nearing the edge as erosion slowly eats backwards)

I love this place, the river, the people, the mountains, the way thunderstorms ripple down the front face of the Greens in the summer.  I would love to stay here, but I don't know if that is in our future beyond spring.  I'm not leaving Vermont, unless someone physically drags me out, but I am starting to face the fact that I may not be able to remain in this little town.  Do I accept a job that is totally unrelated to my field and try to keep this blog going?  Or do I accept a job an hour or two away, that would require moving?  There are many, many exciting prospects in my life right now, but many of them are blocked by financial issues - I have so many projects I'd love to work on, but ultimately I can't work on them forever, without a more solid job.  I don't know what the future holds and I am trying not to overplan.  It's too uncertain.  But, I do need to wrap my head around what may be necessary to survive winters beyond this one.  It may be that at some point in the next year or two, I end up in Montpelier, the Burlington area, or somewhere else in Central Vermont.  My hope is to stay right here, but we will see.


Meanwhile, the same water issues seem to pop up everywhere.  The LA Creek Freak blog had a very interesting post about a massive flood in the Los Angeles area in the 1800s that brought piles and piles of huge logs, and a dead grizzly, down from the mountains into the flood plains.  I'm fascinated with the past natural history of the mountains and canyons around LA, and there is very little accurate information about what the ecosystems there were like before the Americans came in.  This article mentions vast quantities of huge logs in the river - hemlock (probably Bigcone douglas-fir) and cedar (actually incense-cedar, not a true cedar).  These days the bigcone douglas-fir trees are in retreat due to changes in fire frequency, invasive plant distribution, and perhaps climate.  The Incense-cedar trees are mostly restricted to higher elevations but a few hang on in wet places on the lower slopes - a hint of perhaps a forest from centuries ago that extended further down the slope.  The chaparral still blankets the lower slopes, but is threatened by the same changes that threaten the bigcone douglas-fir.  The old ecosystems are in retreat, and new ecosystems to replace or act as companions or blend with the old have not developed yet.  We don't know how long that takes - it could be thousands of years - but that is a topic for another day.


In any event, the LA Creek Freak blog post came with this link - a collection of scientific studies cautioning against overzealous log removal from rivers.  As I mentioned in a past post, sometimes log removal is necessary for safety or infrastructure protection, but in many (if not most) cases it causes more harm than good.  The rivers of southern California are very different than the ones in Vermont, but some things are the same everywhere.  And, if it is true what some people say and we are heading into a period of more severe storms and increased precipitation in Vermont, it will be important to pay attention to what was done under the auspices of flood control in southern California.  Not as an example mind you, but as a precautionary tale as to why overengineering, sprawl, and lack of good science lead to increasing problems in the long term.


In the short term, however, I will put my worries aside for the time being.  I'm heading out on an explore with a friend, and I am hoping we pick up a dusting of snow rather than a slushy mess of wet wintry mix.  Either way, though, I'll make it a point to enjoy what comes, because ultimately things will get 'unstuck' again.  They always do.

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