Tasmania—southern temperate rain forest

 

 

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“Where is Tasmania?” asked my Minnesota parents when I Skype called their land line. “It sounds like a fairy land.”

It is a fairy land of gorgeous coasts, wild rivers, and high mountains that is an island state of Australia—the last significant land mass before Antarctica. I am spending a few days vacationing in Cradle Mountain National Park here in Tasmania between Australian work assignments.

Hiking from 900 meters up through the southern temperate rain forest to subalpine vistas of craggy peaks, I was struck how similar the forest felt to the northern temperate rain forest where I live. Temperatures are comparable in this shoulder season between summer and winter. Moss covers every downed log. There are very few understory plants because little light can get to the forest floor past the tall trees. Downed logs serve as nursery logs for young, upstart trees. Green is the operative color and big is the operative size of trees.

However, none of the plant or animal species are the same. Here there are three poisonous snakes. Back home there are none. Here there are no large mammalian predators. Back home there are cougar and bear. (Tasmanians could make a strong case for which scenario they prefer!)Here all the mammals are marsupial—wallabies, wombats, and pademelons. Back home there are no marsupials.

The King Billy Pine found only in Tasmania occupies a niche comparable to the giant Douglas fir, Sitka spruce, and western red cedar of home. The largest “leafy tree” here is the myrtle beech, which is not deciduous, unlike the big leaf maple back home.

Everywhere our beautiful earth has evolved with the changes of ice ages, volcanoes, tectonic plate shifts, and intruding meteorites. It is a stunning things to have the privilege to view so much diversity . . . and it brings me great hope for the future adaptations that must happen.

Northern Winters

Northern Indiana

Northern Indiana

 

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Swans Resting

 

Whidbey Island Snowdrops

Whidbey Island Snowdrops

In the northern latitudes of North America winter has many faces—from snow and ice to early blooming plants.

I have made journeys from one coast to the next and into the middle these last two months. What intrigues me is how many ordinary people are wondering about the changing face of winter in their area.

Folks in the northeastern U.S. who have recently been hard hit by snowstorms and Hurricane Sandy are seriously talking about global climate change. Unlike a few years ago when there was still a universal dismissing of “global warming”, people and their officials are having public dialogues about where and how to build.

In the central part of the U.S. in farming communities the weather has always been a part of winter conversations. Now it seems to me there is a wondering out loud about coming changes. Even with snow lying on the ground this year folks are remembering unprecedented early tornadoes in March of 2012 with a measure of unsettledness. . . and the droughts of last summer have not yet been quenched by mild winter snows.

In the lowlands of western Washington next to Puget Sound it is not uncommon for our maritime climate to have no winter snow. However, we had some of the highest ever rainfall totals in November and December. We are noticing that global climate change models for our area predict increasing warmth and wetness in the next decades.

Whatever continent you live on, I invite you into the dialogue about global climate change and its effects in your area. Talking about the weather really is an important past time!

The Outing

Photo by Dr. Chris Mann

Photo by Dr. Chris Mann

My little corgi dog, Gracie, and I often take a late afternoon walk to the beach. Last week on a cold, rainy winter day we trotted to the top of the community stairs. I was busy unlocking the gate, as we have done hundreds of times. 

All of a sudden Gracie started barking. I looked up thinking another neighbor might be coming up the stairs, but I could not see anyone. Her barking got more intense and then I saw it. Not ten feet from us perched on the top stair railing between two wild rose bushes was a full adult bald eagle. I squatted down and told Gracie I could see the eagle and we should be quiet.

The bird was staring at us from ten feet away. Hmmm . . . . I thought. We may not be going down to the beach. The bird had an intensity of presence and its wings were slightly hanging down as if trying to get dry in the rain, or perhaps it was injured. I was not sure.

Slowly, I opened the gate. Gracie was on a perfect heel. The bird remained motionless. We stopped. Three creatures sharing the same ten foot, wild edge of Whidbey Island sized one another up. In a split second the eagle raised its powerful wings and abdicated the space. Gracie bolted back through the gate. And the ordinary afternoon walker was reminded again of the potential for wonder in every outing.

The Elder

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This elder is generations old, twisted and gnarled by its journey of adaptation. Steadfast in its determination to live and hold place on this precious earth, it reminds me of my own father.

I am just back from my trip to Minnesota to be of support as he fights to recover from a stroke. The hearts of both the old bristlecone and my 86-year-old Dad pulse on. Other bristlecones in the high mountain grove of this old one stand in companionship just as Mom and Dad’s 65-year-community is offering good support.

Life needs other life. We cannot stand alone. My sisters and I have been sustained by the outpouring of love and help. The elder lives on for a while longer.

Small Creatures

On the last day of 2012 I headed out with my backpack to spend a quiet night with the earth to give gratitude for the year past and to set intention for the year coming. Temperatures were slightly above freezing. There was a light drizzle. Darkness fell at 5 p.m. and daylight rose about 7 a.m. The last creature I heard before total darkness and the first one at daybreak was the tiny golden-crowned kinglet. “Teez, teez, teez,” is their high-pitched call note.

How do they get through 14 hour nights at freezing temperatures? I had a warm sleeping bag, a good ground pad, and a superlative tent. This little, secretive creature is barely larger than a hummingbird. Scientists still have not figured out exactly how these birds survive—Do they go into torpor and lower body temperatures overnight? Do they huddle with others of their kind? Do they feed later and earlier in the day than other birds? You can read more about what a lone researcher in Vermont has spent decades trying to figure out: http://www.adirondackalmanack.com/2012/12/winter-and-the-golden-crowned-kinglet.html

My island home is only about 15 miles from my little solo spot. Every day sitings of golden-crowned kinglets and extensive vistas of mountains and sea are found in both places. I am reminded again that the secret to a calmer, more centered life at home is to attend to both the small and large wonders that hold my life in place. There is no substitute for time spent outdoors.

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Changing Seasons

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This Ginkgo tree is in its full fall glory. Imported to the U.S. and other countries from China, it is a species remarkably similar to fossil trees dating back 270 million years. Its kind has survived a very long time through enormous planetary changes. As we witness global climate changes like increasingly severe storms and melting ice caps, we can be encouraged by the adaptability of one humble species of tree.

Krumholz—blasted by the wind

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On one of my favorite island walks today I saw many examples of wind sculpted trees.

Roaring down the Straits of Juan de Fuca and across Puget Sound, the wind gains momentum and power and the trees grow with their branches away from the wind for protection. All living things respond to the forces of nature.

What is an example of how you responded to nature today?

First Post

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When we look at Mt. St. Helens, we see the mountain and remember the 1980 explosion.

But do we think about how incredibly remarkable it is that the forests have returned?

Nature is ever and always resilient.