Climate change, eh. Here at McLaughlin’s Canyon on the Old Trail to the North, the water that undercut the canyon wall is long gone, as is the fire that took the firs out of the canyon floor a few years back.
But look, the mock orange, saskatoons and choke cherries are all the same age. So are the firs below.
So is the grass among them (above), and so are the choke cherries (below.)
Simple things, really, but it does mean that the forest that was here was a new thing, less than a hundred years old. (I it were other, there would be trees older than a hundred years, and likely a mixed-age stand.) A forest represented a new thing in this place, a push by settlers to control fire by denying it the land in the same way that a bit more than a half century before that they denied the land to its other people, the syilx. There was a strong desire to profit from the land through forest harvesting, once its other qualities (game, grass, minerals, fish) were exhausted. Settlers came from tree culture and understood trees. In effect, by encouraging their growth, they made the trees into representatives of themselves. What’s more, the suppression of fire has a close link to that earlier suppression, as fire suppression was also designed to suppress Indigenous people by denying them traditional burning culture. Well, it was all for naught, because the fire came.
So, in effect, this fire is not the result of climate change. It is the result of a fire debt, that has been paid. Here’s a pine that paid the debt for settler culture. It is settler culture.
One more thing: the cycle shown here is not the result of climate change. That observation is not going to help with the very real problems of climate change, but I think we should be honest. If, for example, it is fitting to bemoan the loss of these trees…
… to fire, and the corresponding loss of their ability to store carbon, it would be fitting at the same time to admit that the carbon storage they provided was a false reading. The healthy state of this canyon is to be treeless, or to have the trees burn in a regular cycle; any loss of carbon storage their loss creates is not part of the effect of climate change. They were the climate change, and as unsustainable as they were, they created a false sense of climate security. Now that has been corrected, and it has hit us hard here, just as this fire has hit us hard by burning far too hot with all this fuel. Yet not everything has burned. For one, the plants that survive fire by growing quickly in its shadow are renewed by it. Climate catastrophe has made them healthy.
For another, there are older trees, out of the fire zone, high on the canyon walls. These aren’t spectacularly old pines, and they are certainly younger than settler culture here, yet the bushes growing among them are hardly different in size than those recently renewed by fire.
In other words, a fire casts a shadow. It should not be measured by its immediate effects alone. There are also thicker, denser groves of shrubs, such as in the extension of the canyon to the East, but this is not human habitat. You’re liable to get whacked by a bear or a wolf or a lion if you wander up here. It’s just a plain bad trail.
You have to go up, where the sun burns all that stuff away. The people of this land are fire. It is perilous to forget that.