PJ Forests

PJ Forests: Pinyon-juniper forest mixed with shrubs, cacti, and sage blanketing the mesa. Courtesy US National Parks Service, Austin Tumas, Photographer
Pinyon-juniper forest mixed with shrubs, cacti, and sage blanketing the mesa top
Courtesy US National Parks Service,
Austin Tumas, Photographer
As I write this, I’m babysitting grandkids in Cedar City. I find relief from the little rascals by
handing them off to grandma while I retreat to surrounding pinyon-juniper forests, affectionally titled PJ forests.

Bird calls instantly transform my thoughts to these pygmy forest’s abundant offerings- muffled laughing calls of pinyon jays, twittering of juniper titmice, raucous scrub jays. Drawn by
swooping ravens, I approach a juniper overlooking the canyon below. Thirty feet away, an immature golden eagle sits on a Juniper branch expressing its displeasure by twisting a gold-
mantled head to face the marauders with fierce eyes.

Further up the trail, five mule deer dart though the shadows. A black tailed jackrabbit bolting from its sage hideout startles me. Wishing for binoculars, a flock of sparrow-sized birds fly
across. I attempt to imagine them as juncos, without success. Tomorrow I will return with optics in hand to solve the mystery.

Pinyon Juniper are the dominant forest type in Utah. Much like the sage Steppe biotic community, at first glance one is deluded by the apparent lifeless monotony of this landscape.
To the contrary, both have a high biodiversity. These forests have around 450 species of vascular plants living alongside pinyon pines and junipers. Additionally, over 150 vertebrate
species of animals including elk, mule deer, and bear call pinyon-juniper forests home either seasonally or throughout the year.

Junipers are a birders paradise. The trees offer sites for perching, singing, nesting, and drumming. They also yield plentiful berries (actually spherical cones) and house a high insect
diversity for birds to consume. Mammals also eat the berries while seeking shelter in hollow juniper trunks, taking advantage of the trees’ shade in hot temperatures and the trees’ thermal
cover in the cold. Pinyon pines offer similar benefits to forest-dwellers. Pinyon mice, Abert’s squirrels, cliff chipmunks, Uinta chipmunks, wood rats, desert bighorn sheep, and black bears
all eat pinyon pine nuts.

For millennia, our own species have been dependent on the pinyon pine for their variable bounty of highly nourishing pine nuts. A staple of the Paiute, Goshute, Ute, and Shoshone, their
lives revolved around the fall harvest with elaborate ceremonies to pay homage for their life sustaining food value. It continues to the present, and we Euromericans have joined them in fall
harvest here in the Intermountain west, including my children and grandchildren.

Like the sage steppe, the pinyon juniper forest has been misunderstood, and under-appreciated for its critical role in the lives of so many species that would not exist without it, nor would
atmospheric carbon be stored in their fiber and their soils. Chaining and other “treatments” are highly controversial given the aesthetic impact of once vibrant forest replaced with piles of
uprooted trees and torn soils. Compounding this, recent decades have witnessed more severe drought and heat events making them vulnerable to insect and disease attacks, and catastrophic fire. We must practice utmost care in how we manage this priceless resource.

Jack Greene for BAS, loving wild Utah and its PJ forests

This is Jack Greene for Bridgerland Audubon Society, loving wild Utah and its PJ forests!

Credits:
Pictures: Courtesy US National Parks Service, Austin Tumas, Photographer
Audio: Courtesy & Copyright Kevin Colver, https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections as well as J. Chase and K.W. Baldwin, https://upr.org/
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Lyle W Bingham, Webmaster, and Jack Greene, Author, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading:

Jack Greene’s Postings on Wild About Utah, https://wildaboututah.org/author/jack/

Pinyon-Juniper Woodlands – Introduction & Distribution, National Park Service, US Department of the Interior, https://www.nps.gov/articles/pinyon-juniper-woodlands-distribution.htm

Pinyon-Juniper Woodlands – Species Composition and Classification, National Park Service, US Department of the Interior, https://www.nps.gov/articles/pinyon-juniper-woodlands-species-composition-classification.htm

Tausch, R.J., Miller, R.F., Roundy, B.A., and Chambers, J.C., 2009, Piñon and juniper field guide: Asking the right questions to select appropriate management actions: U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1335, 96 p., https://pubs.usgs.gov/circ/1335/circ1335.pdf

Plants, Natural Bridges National Monument, National Park Service, US Department of the Interior, https://www.nps.gov/nabr/learn/nature/plants.htm

Noah’s Ark Trail, Dixie National Forest, USDA Forest Service, https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/dixie/recarea/?recid=24930

In Equal Measure to Our Fears

In Equal Measure to Our Fears: Utah Juniper (Juniperus osteosperma) Drawing water from a stone: this juniper grew out of just a few fractures in the surface rock. Courtesy US NPS, Neal Herbert, Photographer
Utah Juniper (Juniperus osteosperma)
Drawing water from a stone: this juniper grew out of just a few fractures in the surface rock.
Courtesy US NPS, Neal Herbert, Photographer
Doubt is a tricky thing. It’s neither good nor bad, it is simply the axis upon which the scales of hope and fear balance. It is the prerequisite of faith, belief, disbelief, and nihilism, all equal paths of equal circumstance. It is the fork in the road which Berra told us to take all the same. In Equal Measure to Our Fears

When I go outside, breathe in the thick charcoal air, see the dribbling water in the once-mighty streams, and hear more stories of growing sickness, I’ll admit that I have doubts which edge on fear. I doubt that this is the last year of record-breaking heat. I doubt that this is the last year of record-breaking drought. I doubt that this is the last year of record-breaking hospitalizations. Such doubt can make you feel hopeless, powerless, and just plain sad. What have we done? How did we get here? Wasn’t this all avoidable? It takes me some time, then, to remember to move on from that doubt and to take a path, but to never forget the place in which drove me to rest and reflect. Though it can feel like a good place of respite, a shady tree to rest one’s laurels or wallow and say uncle to what we’ve sown, there’s still work which can be done. To rest in doubt is to be a bump on a log and not the tree itself. I remember the lessons of the humble tree.

The tree lives because of doubt’s prodigy of conjoined fear and hope. We must also harness both in equal form and measure in order to grow, and to live. In seeing the unified balance there is motion. The tree’s roots reach downwards, clinging to the earth in fear. In this way the world is its. The tree’s branches reach skywards, opening to the sky in hope. In this way it is the world’s. The tree’s roots drink water and move the earth: from fear comes motion and matter. The tree’s leaves drink fire and move the air: from hope comes life and form. Without fear, we would shrivel. Without hope, we would rot. Without fear, we would fall. Without hope, we would suffocate. To be subject to hope, you must make fear a part of you. Latch onto it, and feel that this shade of love is life given purpose. Then you may reach upwards and see that you do so only because you contain that which you cling to.

The fear I feel when I breathe in our Utah air, see green lawns, and hear new numbers on the radio is necessary for hope, and both are only possible because of the blessings of doubt because the future is not fixed. And yet, there is another hidden secret to fear and hope, and that is action. The tree is not a static being. Like all of us, it is in a constant state of becoming. We may be where we are, but where we are does not mean we must remain. Trees grow over boulders, thrive upon cliffs, and so can we. We can move on from La Brean doubt on what shall be. We can continue our journey in becoming. Given this, we then have a question in which to answer for ourselves: the question though is not what shall we become, but towards which light do we choose to work towards in equal measure to our fears?

I’m Patrick Kelly, and I’m Wild About Utah.
 
Credits:
Images: Courtesy US National Park Service, Neal Herbert, Photographer
Audio: Courtesy & © J. Chase and K.W. Baldwin. https://upr.org/
Text:    Patrick Kelly, Director of Education, Stokes Nature Center, https://www.logannature.org
Included Links: Patrick Kelly & Lyle Bingham, Webmaster, WildAboutUtah.org

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Posts by Patrick Kelly

Stokes Nature Center in Logan Canyon, https://www.logannature.org/

The Indomitable Juniper, Canyonlands National Park, US National Parks Service, US Department of the Interior, https://www.nps.gov/cany/learn/nature/utahjuniper.htm (Image source)

A Questionably Lodgepole Pine

A Questionably Lodgepole Pine: Lodgepole Pine stand Yellowstone Collection Courtesy US National Parks Service, Bob Stevensoon, Photographer October 27, 1988
Lodgepole Pine stand
Yellowstone Collection
Courtesy US National Parks Service,
Bob Stevensoon, Photographer
October 27, 1988
Sometimes I have a hard time coming up with fun or fancy things to say for the radio. It’s just a thing that happens. A Questionably Lodgepole Pine

When that happens, sometimes I’ll just go outside and pick something happening around me, or something I think of when outside and write about that. Sometimes or almost always, creativity for me is not clean-cut. It can be kinda formulaic: talk about things you see, feel, and think in a way that hopefully helps folks balance listening, their imagination, and hopefully hope all at the same time. It’s at least an ideal.

But sometimes instead what comes out when you’re outdoors, is stuff that is kinda dumb and pretty funny. Truth be told, I prefer dumb funny things. I think stuff that is funny is better than stuff that isn’t funny. Funny stuff is fun.

And so, here’s me sitting in a big gold puffy coat and well-napkined Carhartts in a foldable lawn chair under gray winter sky, and jack is happening around me. No birds tweeting. No fresh tracks. Not even no dim ray of sunshine. Just hands as cold as cold hands can be. Then I see a dead skyward and questionably lodgepole pine. I thought it could maybe have a second life as a flagpole, the name I thought it could be and all. And then I wondered…

If trees wove a flag
What color would they fly
Regardless I doubt they’d much care if it was green
Beings they’ve got no eyes

No eyes no ears no tongue no nose
Not even fully developed human hands which spring from their roots so

And then I thought…

If ducks could sing opera
Like dark Verdi arias
I think they’d quack less good
But dig in no less mud

No lips no fur lays eggs webbed toes
Brains like walnuts, only knows where south goes

And then…

If clouds could pick
What unit of measure that they preferred
I’d reckon volume’d be tricky
Be hard to pin down where the mass does now occur

No lungs no feet bring snow turns sleet
Don’t even got clocks to keep time.

And that’s where it ended. Stream ran Utah dry. And that’s ok.

And even though when I read what I wrote to my partner she gave me that look of, “you sure?” I couldn’t help but think, “yup!” so I laughed and smiled wide.

So here’s me saying to you that sometimes, when you go looking for inspiration about the world from that old all-about-us well that is the world, don’t turn up your nose on silly things. Funny things that pop into your mind, even if they are dumb. Because once, someone probably thought something wild and dumb that ended up being kind of neat. Or something that they thought about. And who knows, maybe one day we’ll have to ask ourselves again…

If trees wove a flag
What color would they fly?
Would they measure it in cubits,
Or some other unit from the sky?

I’m Patrick Kelly, and I’m Wild About Utah.
 
Credits:

Images: Image Courtesy US National Park Service, Yellowstone Collection, Bob Stevensoon, Photographer https://www.nps.gov/features/yell/slidefile/plants/conifers/pine/Page-3.htm
Audio: Contains audio Courtesy & Copyright Kevin Colver https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections
Text:    Patrick Kelly, Director of Education, Stokes Nature Center, https://logannature.org/
Included Links: Lyle Bingham, Webmaster, WildAboutUtah.org

Additional Reading

McNally, Catherine, How to Cure Writer’s Block: Go Green, Medium, October 7, 2019, https://medium.com/@catherine.mcnally/how-to-cure-writers-block-go-green-e0c00e8e614

Lodgepole Pine, Range Plants of Utah, Utah State University Extension, https://extension.usu.edu/rangeplants/shrubs-and-trees/LodgepolePine



Christmas Trees

Christmas Trees Planted Outside Courtesy & Copyright Ron Hellstern, Photographer
Christmas Trees Planted Outside
Courtesy & Copyright Ron Hellstern, Photographer
With the loss of millions of trees recently, due to fires and drought, it’s good to be reminded of the many, many benefits that trees provide to people…as well as the planet. Remember that they clean the air of impurities, produce oxygen, raise property values, provide homes for wildlife, prevent soil erosion, clean rainfall as it percolates down to groundwater, produce shade in hot summer months, provide building materials, produce food, and this list could go on. The point is that most everyone will agree that trees are a real plus factor for Earth and its inhabitants.

And, not meaning to bring up a point of controversy, some people are starting to wonder about the connection of trees to the Christmas Season.

Christmas trees started as a pagan ritual in many countries where people believed that evergreens would keep away witches, evil spirits, ghosts, and sickness. But Germany is credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition, as we now know it, in the 16th century. Even in the 19th Century most Americans felt that the indoor tree was still a pagan symbol.

Eventually, the tradition was accepted in England and East Coast America when popular Queen Victoria, and her German Prince Albert, were shown standing around a Christmas tree. Soon, trees from floor to ceiling were hauled into homes and decorated with fruits, nuts, popcorn, and homemade ornaments.

Big Box Store Trees Courtesy & Copyright Ron Hellstern Photographer
Big Box Store Trees
Courtesy & Copyright Ron Hellstern Photographer
There are current pros and cons to this tradition and it’s now being viewed by many as something to be reconsidered. If our current tradition is maintained, and as human population continues to grow, more and more trees will be harvested, whether it’s from U.S. Forest land, or Tree Farms. Consider these numbers: It takes about 6 to 8 years for a tree to mature. More than one-million acres of land are planted for Christmas tree harvests, and around 36 million trees are cut and sold by Christmas tree farms each year.

Big Box Store Live Trees Courtesy & Copyright Ron Hellstern, Photographer
Big Box Store Live Trees
Courtesy & Copyright Ron Hellstern, Photographer
So, now as we consider the historic losses of trees, and their numerous benefits, many people have dropped the Christmas tree tradition feeling that having a cut-tree in their home for a week or two is wasteful even if it is eventually chipped and recycled. Some have opted for artificial trees, but that brings up issues about plastics.

The best option more people are trying is buying a smaller, live, potted tree that can be planted outdoors. But that can be tricky. Keep the tree indoors for only a few days, then place it outside in its pot, insulate it with mulch, and water it if the soil dries out. Or perhaps there is space near a window inside your garage. Then plant it in late March or early April to enjoy and contribute to the many benefits of trees that were mentioned at the start of this program. Whatever your choice, have a Merry Christmas.

This is Ron Hellstern, and I am Wild About Utah.
 
Credits:

Images: Courtesy & Copyright Ron Hellstern
Lead Audio: Courtesy and Copyright
Text: Ron Hellstern, Cache Valley Wildlife Association

Additional Reading

Hellstern, Ron, The Hidden Life of Trees, Wild About Utah, August 26, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/the-hidden-life-of-trees/

Wohlleben, Peter, The Hidden Life of Trees, Jane Billinghurst, Translator, Greystone Books Ltd., 2016, https://www.amazon.com/Hidden-Life-Trees-Illustrated/dp/177164348X

Kuhns, Michael, Utah Grown Christmas Trees, Extension Utah State University, Extension Forestry Specialist, November 4, 2015, https://forestry.usu.edu/forest-products/utah-grown-trees

Sagers, Larry, Using A Living Christmas Tree To Decorate Your Home, KSL, December 3, 2011, https://www.ksl.com/article/18337807/using-a-living-christmas-tree-to-decorate-your-home