Friday, January 04, 2008
WATER AND FORESTS SHARE SYMBIOTIC RELATIONSHIP
I was soaked by blasts of mist blown into my face by the intense pounding of water on rock at Englishman River Falls during the last high water event. The relatively narrow cleft in the rock, carved out by the constant onslaught of water, funnels the river down into a deep canyon worn over the course of centuries.
A swirl of mist sprayed into the air with a chaotic pulsating rhythm. The moisture either dropped back into the foaming rage of the waterfall or became airborne and drifted high up into the canopy of the forest.
Heavy rains combined with the rapid melting of a recent snowfall combined to swell the river to the point that it spilled over its regular banks at several places along the length of the river. A thick mat of tree and shrub roots covering the forest floor, help slow the flow of water during heavy rains and retain moisture during the dry seasons. This dual function allows the forest to survive through all the seasons of the year and prevents massive erosion during extreme weather.
I remember watching the miracle of clouds being created by the ancient rainforest in the Walbran Valley. It was late spring, heavy rains had been pouring down for several days, when the weather broke into a beautiful clear sunny day, which warmed the air and my bones.
From my perch on a massive cedar stump in a clear-cut provided by TimberWest, I had a perfect vantage point of the entire low valley bottom forest surrounding Anderson Lake. The ancient rainforest is intact for several kilometers between the clear-cuts of TimberWest, on the south side of the valley, and Weyerhaeuser on the north.
Unlike a second growth tree farm, the canopy of this primeval forest is far from uniform. Much of the forest is made up of a mixture of Western Pacific Hemlock, Balsam Fir, with a few thousand-year-old yew trees as well as a smattering of deciduous trees along the river. In the foreground I could see thousands of old growth Pacific Red Cedar trees, with their broken crowns and bare wood exposed, poking out of the canopy.
Many of these Cedars have been recorded as being over 1000 years old with a few veterans noted at over 1800 years old. In the distance I could see the towering trunks of Sitka Spruce, dwarfing the other tree species by reaching to nearly double their height. A stand of these massive Sitka, registered as being between 700-900 years old, grows in the fertile soil along Walbran Creek.
I could see everything with perfect clarity through the clear air when I first sat down. Then slowly I began to perceive a slight haze forming over the treetops. I watched a humming bird work the salmon berry bushes below me for the pure sweet nectar of their pink flowers for a while, when I looked up the haze had turns into a soft mist.
Slowly, wisps of mist drifted between the treetops and began to form swirls of delicate clouds. Small pockets of dense fog were forming all across the valley, and some of them were blending into each other. Soon the tops of the giant Sitka Spruce were obscured completely by the rising fog.
Then things began to change rapidly. A blanket of thick fog formed over the entire valley and soon I could not see any of the trees below. In a few hours the entire valley, several square kilometers, was socked in by dense fog, reaching from one mountain ridge to another.
The forest had pumped the moisture from the ground back into the atmosphere. The roots had sucked up a large volume of water, dumped by rain clouds blown in from the Pacific Ocean. The water was then pumped up through hundreds of thousands of trunks to the needles of the predominately coniferous forest and released into the atmosphere with the help of the sun. The resulting bank of fog remained in the Walbran Valley until the next day when an off shore wind picked up and blew the massive cloud into the next valley and beyond.