Ancestral Care

IMG_8359.JPG

Took some time today working on an old trail to the top of a sacred mountain in Snoqualmie Valley. This place has a powerful vibe, to put it lightly, and I helped my elder friend and family today in keeping the path alive. My mentor has had vision quests here many times, and supported others in doing so at this special place.

Stewarding land goes beyond Leafhopper Farm; it lives within, and down the block, around the corner, up the street. Backyard can be the stoop, a balcony, or two-thousand acres. The purpose of stewardship is just as broad, from self stewarding (in my case, putting bare feet on the earth and digging my hands into cultivated soil), to whole earth stewarding, we all play our part. Some are better at it than others, like any gift, but it’s a necessity for survival.

IMG_8361.JPG

Place is so important. Cultivating relationship with that space can be fragile, like peeking into a thin veil, which snaps like a spiders web as you walk though, or spooking a wren into screeching alarm while you try to move quietly through a damp forest. Have these experiences, to stay alive and thriving. Too many of us have walked away from nature, the nature of self is fading with it. Who are we now?

IMG_8366.JPG

The trail stewarded today has been walked by many people. One such animal, besides humans, is Puma concolor. The picture above shows old scratching marks on a downed log. Ever look at a house cat’s scratching post? Well, this kitty does the same thing. for the same reasons; territory. They tend space, to survive, and will fight fiercely for said space. Right now, in the neighborhood of Leafhopper Farm, cats like this, perhaps this very cat, because the farm is well within the normal territorial range of this animal (lowest range 10 miles, upper range 300-500) at about ten miles away from the farm.

Last month, a person was killed by a cougar in this very forest. Not more than a few miles from where I took this photo. It was the first time a human was killed by our apex predator in Washington State in almost 100 years, so this occurrence is VERY rare. You are more likely to be struck by lightning than attacked by a cougar. However, certain behavioral choices on your part can greatly increase the possibility, like running, as the 13 year old boy who was last killed in 1924 did, or ride bikes early in the morning up in the deeper forests of The Cascades, as the most recent victims did in late May.

Here’s where the story does take a turn; in this more recent attack, the two bike riders chased off the cat with aggressive stand your ground tactics and even lifted their bikes up to look larger, threatening to throw them at the animal in defense. The cougar was chased off successfully, and that should have been the end of it, save for a few other circumstances which led to the death of one person, and serious mauling of the other.

It has come to light that the two people attacked were “transitioning”, and likely on hormones for the initial stage of shifting from one biological gender to another. These hormones are strong, and sweating off into the air during physical activity, like bike riding. The cougar got an initial whiff in his first attack, then, compelled by the hormones exuding from the two people, returned for another encounter. While gnawing the head of the female to male victim, who would most likely have been on testosterone in one form or another, confused the male cougar into think another male was in his territory (behavioral speculation). Meanwhile the other person, in pure panic, ran. This is the fatal action in most predator attacks, because the prey drive is compelled by fast movement. Having by now, tasted blood and been triggered by phenomenal ambush attack, the cat quickly dispatched the fleeing person and began feeding.

Wildlife biologists for The State of Washington said the cougar was emaciated. Below is a picture of the cat, reported to be a 3-4 year old male cat, weighing over 100 lbs, well within a healthy weight of a male mountain lion. (photo taken by Deedee Sun)

Ddmxbm0UwAAZu-4.jpg

Our impact on the environment knows no bounds. and this is a great responsibility. There is always risk in going outside, but the most risky thing we all do in life is get into a vehicle on a daily basis. Fear of wild things is a reflection of our inner fear of rewilding. Our wild selves are very much alive within us, and without proper stewarding, we become monsters, unhinged by our addictions in dysfunctional living or flat out ignorance. I’m sure to be carrying any one of these faults within, and work to change them by connecting to what’s real around me, starting with the ecosystem I live in. That place can tell me everything about who and what my place is.

IMG_8362.JPG

Another ancestor who “walks” the trail to the mountain is old growth Pseudotsuga menziesii. There are several along this steep slope, and they were only spared because they grew out of scree fields, and would have shattered into worthless splinters if cut onto the rocks below. This steep side of the climb up is the only grove. All other angles of this small peak were clear cut, and are still managed in active timber plans. It is special to have a grove of old trees standing close to home. The others I know of in my “back yard” are at Cherry Falls.

If the commercial forestry business. which owns and manages these old giants wanted to, they could fell these trees and have them air lifted out without harm to the priceless trunks, but then another problem arises. There are no more mills in Washington State to saw up old growth sized trees. They would have to go to Cananda, and that shipping cost alone would make the lumber price beyond marketable retail, but who knows what money could buy in the future, and I do not assume these trees are safe. Eventually they will die, as do we all. Let’s hope for them, like us, a healthy and happy long life.

IMG_8365.JPG

Along the trail, this pillar of Dryocopus pileatus reaches all the way up the trunk. Peeling of this bark from a Thuja plicata was intentional, and done by someone with skill. I cannot guess exactly when the harvesting occurred, but it easily could have been before my lifetime. If this tree does mature, its growth rings will gradually re-envelope the dead core with living tissue as the tree matures. Nature always inspires, with durability and lasting action; a structure of exquisite beauty and violent memory. How many other eyes have gazed upon this forest and felt truly wild?

 

Cedar Tree Cutting

A stand of red cedars came down at Leafhopper Farm over the weekend. This grove was severely compromised by bark stripping, which happened when the previous owners of this land had their horses penned in during the winter without enough forage. When animals are left in a pen without enough food, they will strip trees. It’s a sad fact that most horse owners keep there animals in too small a space, where they eventually kill the trees unless they are fenced for protection. Because my cedars were stripped, they were rotting at the base, making them unsafe around all the buildings. Cutting them down was our only option. We will mill the wood for building, so the trees are not wasted. Also, a group of basket weavers came to pull bark on Sunday.

IMG_8326.JPG

My tree team consisted of Mark and Nate, two seasoned arborists who are incredible at what they do. Above, these two gentlemen assess the grove and plan what order to drop the trees in. Then they geared up for climbing and rocked the tree felling with impeccable precision. I was so glad, because the trees were coming down around my barn and coop structures, which meant a lot of limbing up and machine anchoring for the successful drop of some of the more precarious trees.

IMG_8340.JPG

Working a chainsaw is challenging, but working that saw 20ft. up in a tree takes some amazing skill, and Mark was the man for the job. It was my first time to watch these men working, and I have to say, it was quite a show. For anyone planning to have large trees dropped on their land, make sure you can be there to see it done. The work was wonderful, and so quick! They dropped 7 trees, limbed (also called chasing), and decked (stacked) the logs in about 4 hrs. That’s efficient!

IMG_8349.JPG

You can see the rot already advanced on the oldest log pictured above. Now we’re putting together a lumber package for our local mill, which will soon be closing. Local tree felling is becoming less and less prevalent as logging technology advances. I know Mark is quitting his tree cutting antics, and Nate has shifted to union machine operation as a more sustainable occupation (one that’s much safer too). Logging is still one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, and I can see how even a small mistake can cost you your life in this business.

Thankfully nothing tragic happened during the tree felling at Leafhopper Farm. The logs are waiting for pickup, and there’s now a lot more sun shining down around the cultivated land at the farm. We’re putting down lots of quick cover crops like summer wheat and oats. The chickens are on a role sifting through all the branch material for juicy bugs, and the goats are still looking around in puzzlement when they come out of their stalls into the bright light where a stand of cedars used to offer shade.

Another challenge in removing the trees, is the loss of shelter from sun and other elements. We’ll plant new smaller trees for cover, like locusts, and make sure that the new design of animal structures will be well ventilated for animals in all seasons and weather. It will take some time to work out the new space without trees, but the farm continues to cultivate good habitat and ecology, which will, in time, create new shelter and more diversity of species at Leafhopper Farm.

Boulder Retainer Wall

As the original designer of Leafhopper Farm, Steve, used to say; “It’s all about entropy.” This is true, especially when you’re living on a hillside. The area below has been slipping south, and I’ve had plans to build a retaining wall for a while. Now the rock is in, and hugaculture beds set for more garden growth. This area will be planted with natives and cultivated as an amazing sun trap. The rockery also offers unique habitat options for our local wildlife, and I hope a lot of snakes call it home in future.

IMG_8321.JPG

We’re also trying to remain aware of human use in space, part of the permaculture inspiration at Leafhopper Farm. A footpath established from the parking area to the main living spaces compelled access, so a ramp was put in to allow for human foot traffic, and the use of a wheelbarrow. This freshly establish bed space will receive a cover crop and some good watering in the coming weeks. Bare earth is not good, and in these hotter months ahead, establishing ground cover will be harder, but not impossible with some good irrigation.

 

IMG_8323.JPG

This new rock wall is also addressing drainage, as much of the water falling during heavy rain further up this slope sheets off down the hill and into the driveway. Now the retaining wall catches that runoff into beds, and many new plants put in will suck up that moisture with enthusiasm. There will still be overflow drainage planning, and in future, perhaps a rain garden instillation will go in. Though we are getting less and less rain, when it does come down, it pours, impeding the slow soak in which this environment is better suited to.

IMG_8329.JPG

This parking space is also now well defined for future use. Creating clear transition zones in more often used areas of a landscape helps direct smooth flow and clear design. Anyone approaching this wall will naturally move to the ramp to go past the barrier. The landscape is held in deep planting beds behind large rockery stacked boulders. The form is pleasing and well shaped in a curving flow along a south facing slope. The solar heat bank within these igneous giants will keep the beds warmer, and reptiles happy too. Our snake and lizard populations are allies in the control of insects and gastropods.

With the use of natural material from our area, we have sculpted a topographic anchor, improving the landscape and addressing one of our greatest challenges on a hillside, erosion. The project took an afternoon to complete using a bucket loader, a delivery of stone from another excavation site near by which wanted them removed, and biomass from the farm to build up our new planting beds. Having a practiced operator for the machine was also priceless, doing a project like this yourself would take several days of boulder maneuvering in unskilled hands. Another great shout out to Mark for knowing his machinated helpers so well.

Cascade Scouting

IMG_8311

The spring melt is well underway in the Cascade Mountains near Leafhopper Farm. My partner Bernard and I went out to scout some beautiful places and found some great waterfalls and perhaps, a fossil or two. In our enthusiasm to get into the alpine elevations, we assumed the warm weather had taken care of the last snows along mountain roads leading up to the peaks. Well, not yet!

After forwarding a few very hair raising spots where avalanches had come down earlier in the winter, we decided not to forward on into the ice and snow, for fear of getting stuck or slipping off the ledges. Though we were unable to summit, we found a few great water features in their peak spring flow along the gullies in our beloved mountains.

IMG_8312

It was impressive to see many fresh fallen logs and other woody debris at the base of some falls. The winter activity in these mountains can be rather dramatic, from ice snapping trunks, to high wind blow over. Remanence of this forceful weather lay across the road and in ditches along our drive. Rock slides were also evident, and we even spend some time clearing small boulders from our path.

The spring buds had not yet bloomed at higher elevations, and the trip backwards in time was a little confusing. At the start of our drive up, red alders were fully leafed out, and salmon berries were rip for eating. At a few thousand feet up, trees were just starting to leaf out, and some salmon berry had not even gotten that far yet. In some areas, more south facing, fire weed was popping up, but on the north face of the slopes, only a few ferns had leafed out at all.

IMG_8313

At one waterfall, we stopped to have a closer look at the rock formations, seeing a sprinkling of granite and some more familiar metamorphic fluvial deposits, which are known to have good fossils within. We looked hard, and even thought we’d identified some shapes, but no official confirmations were made. I took the picture below to show a form which looks a lot like a palm frond, something common in our finds further north in The Cascades.

IMG_8314

It is always so special to visit our nearby peaks, enjoying some good mountain time, while exploring the endless back roads and forest service trails all over Washington. We were able to see so much, make notes on future foraging sites, mark spots to go back to for more exploring, and enjoy the general splendor that is The Central Cascade Range.

Megaladon Magic

IMG_8297.JPG

An amazing machine showed up early in the morning to help work on large scale at Leafhopper Farm. There’s been some tree work done, and a lot of debris needs to shift around the farm to new homes where we’re setting up hugaculture beds. What about top soil to cover the branches you ask? Well, the other major porjects for this week’s machine work involve leveling space for our 20,000 gallon cistern and a future greenhouse/biomass storage shed.

IMG_8300.JPG

All the sod and top soil from the building site was trucked around in a matter of minuets. It was fabulous! For someone who usually does everything with a wheelbarrow, the expediency of a few good machines and a day’s work has done more than I would have been able to manage over a month of continuous labor. This “megaladon” work, an affectionate name I give to all the earthworks machines that come onto the farm, has been planned out over a few years, making the week long rental of the machine count for every task. We’re moving lots of material, and grading, and setting a large rock retaining wall down by the well house. I could never have achieved this along with just a shovel and my truck for hauling.

IMG_8303.JPG

A machine’s “footprint” on the land is quite large, and a lot of recovery time will happen after the work is finished. But the work will happen fast, and get large scale projects completed in a timely manner, leaving more time for me to plant, tend, and manage the farm as a whole. None of the biomass is leaving the property, all trees fell will be milled and returned in a lumber package for future building.

 

The large pile of dirt pictured above is all top soil and sod leveled off the building site. Our magical operator, Mark, who also runs Allied Tree Care, has put a lot of time and planning in as well. I am so grateful for his experience and support in this series of large scale projects, because I would be at a loss on how to drive the machine, much less drop 2-3 ft. diameter trees. Mark has supported Leafhopper Farm in all it’s earthworks projects, as well as water feature design, swales, drainage, road work, and so much more. It really is special to have a friend with the knowledge and network to acquire all the equipment and material we need, without any hassle.

IMG_8301.JPG

We had rock and sand delivered to make a “bed” for the water tank (pillow) to rest on. The dumpster hauling truck made it easy to fill one bin, while he went to pick up more materials in another. Then he would dump one and haul the other to a new part of the land where the topsoil would be placed. It was a great way to stage and move material without interrupting the flow of machine work.

By the end of the day we had our topsoil staged, tree branches moved, new hugaculture beds established, one tree removed, power lines located by the electrical company (always call before you dig!), and even a habitat snag placed where the old spruce hybrid Christmas tree once stood.

IMG_8306.JPG

Day two of the large scale project time was delayed by rain, something you don’t want to move heavy material around in if you can help it. We’re hoping things will dry up this afternoon so we can renew our work in shaping more landscape. We’ll get a delivery of rock today and have a retaining wall set with the help of the megaladon. The final big push will be next weekend, when we drop a grove of bark stripped cedars next to the barn sheds and chicken coop. That biomass will take a few more days to stage and set for erosion control in some of our healthier forest groves. More to come at Leafhopper Farm.

New Perspective

08CC298C99B66E5AB2AA02C6CB60D975.JPG

We went up a few hundred feet to see how things were getting on at Leafhopper Farm. A good friend brought over her drone for some fun flying, and it was wonderful (though loud). The evolution of landscape in the last six years shows across these acres, and there’s so much rich terrain, it’s hard to pick a place to even start. Above, using the central turn around drive like the center of a clock, we’ll start in the top right corner at one o/clock where the pond is. Currently, the water is a third of the size designed when we dug. It’s still an impressive feature, and will seal in time, making a fabulous habitat for wildlife and people alike.

Moving down to about three o’clock is the double cabin and sunken garden space where a raised bed stands. There is room for more raised beds as production demand increases, and irrigation from rain catchment off the roof into a 5oo gallon cistern. Note that just to the south of the cabin, at four o’clock, we topped a western red cedar to protect our structures, and bring more light to the gardens to the north of the tree. Just to the left of the tree in photo, is the green house, which is hosting mostly tomatoes right now. Our starts are out in the kitchen and front gardens now. Due south at six o’clock is the driveway, but just to the left of that is another cut tree. A hybrid Christmas tree planted by the previous owners was a cause for concern to structures, and again, we cut to also let in more light to the upper gardens, which has made a HUGE difference in production this year.

Between seven and eight o’clock are the swales, ready for planting this fall and winter, after our 20,000 gallon tank is installed to flood irrigate. Our well house stands at nine o’clock, and by eleven, we’re looking at a cedar grove slated to come down later this week. Below is a close up of that grove and the buildings, including the shop and tiny house structure at noon in the photo above. This grove was stripped of much of its bark by livestock overwintered without enough fodder. Horses are notorious for this behavior, and it’s killed a lot of trees here in The Pacific Northwest. The grove just to the north of the barn structures will also be thinned, giving us a load of wood to mill locally and build with.

E2A1B8CC660F8FB80E14684DA33CA6C3.JPG

The current barn and coop structures are in desperate need of rebuilding, and some good lumber will aid greatly in making repairs, as well as putting in a new biomass/greenhouse structure for rain catchment to fill our new bladder tank. This will be the only planned “logging” of Leafhopper Farm during my stewardship of the land, and hopefully the last. However, we’ll have King Conservation District out this week to talk about the farm’s forestry plan, and hope it’s all conservation and restoration planting from here on out. On another note, we’ve already planted replacement trees equivalent to this grove on other parts of the property, and will continue to reforest in our stream buffer area, and other groves on the land that could use some diversifying.

In navigating the drone to look at different aspects of the landscape, I could not help but notice how green and lush the property looks, and yes, it’s Spring, but the land still looks diverse and thriving, without bare spots or dead zones due to over grazing or chemical abuse. There are tended garden spaces, human and animal trails, earthworks, and so much vegetation, I love it! The shot below of the main house and garage show how much gardening is going on in zone 1.

8E113234090F1E823163A3CEF197C9F2.JPG

A lot of the kitchen garden space has turned into native plant nursery, which will continue to lead our gardening plans as we shift more into perennials and under-story stock. Hedge plants also thrive here, and once established, can be cultivated as “mother plants” to new offshoots. We can take cuttings and root stalk from the natives to perpetuate more of each species on the landscape. I’ve already been experimenting with some of our cultivars, most recently lavender, which I pulled from all the herb gardens, as they were becoming too big for small rock gardens. I did leave rooted branches behind as I dug up each main shrub, and those branches are now filling out as new shrubs themselves. In replanting, I doubled my lavender population.

In the photo above, you can see there are three main gardens, the kitchen, front, and raised beds. All planting locations have hose access from a spigot, and in future, a more elaborate drip irrigation will be implemented. Right now, we’re still using primitive sprinkler heads and a single hose. It’s a passive system, but I move the sprinkler around and get the focused weeding done in the process. We have more in the gardens this year than ever, with a third planting happening in the next few weeks, to fill in the last open spots for food crops this summer.

A lot of the drone footage was video, and too large to upload onto this platform. We’re hoping to upload them on our Youtube channel this week with more commentary.

 

 

 

Goat Grazing

IMG_8244.JPG

The goats play an important role in maintaining the landscape at Leafhopper Farm. By grazing and browsing, these ungulates replace the wild species no longer roaming this area. Cervus canadensis are native, and some roam the valley not far from here, but they are not migrating through in vast herds as they once did, and the undergrowth has changed drastically in response.

The introduction of Rubus armeniacus by Luther Burbank, a famous plant breeder, and infamous eugenicist, to temperate climates across America from seed catalogues, left our region with an invasive legacy. Without intensive management, this plant will take over any open space. That’s where the goats come in, and they are very efficient at consuming the quick growing shrub.

I’ve spent a lot of time talking about how goats help maintain the farm grounds, and they can also be good lawnmowers in the fields. This helps keep grass seed down, and turn fodder into meat and more goats. In the picture above, Branwen stands at the edge of her finished grazing area. It’s easy to compare eaten swath to untouched pasture; what a difference!

IMG_8265.JPG

Above you see a recent cleared space the goats moved through. This area was infested with thick blackberry, which is still rooted in the ground, but not getting much sun anymore. That’s how the goats win out in the end, by taking the photosynthesis away from the bramble, curbing its expansive growth. Below you see another pictures of bramble takeover. It’s a patch of blackberry which will be mowed down to the nubs of rooted plant, then left to bake in the hot summer sun.

IMG_8267.JPG

The goats are keeping the grounds manageable, but they are not the long term plan for the landscape. Eventually, we’ll establish enough under-story and new trees to shade out the bramble, because in an intact forest, the ground cover of blackberry cannot establish, because not enough light penetrates through the layers of evergreen branches to the forest floor. If it does, I can easily clip the few that try to reestablish. Eventually, we’ll phase out goats at Leafhopper Farm, in favor of cultivating continued rich diversity of plants, without invasive bramble taking over.

Finally, a picture of the same space above, after goats graze it down for a full day. They really are amazing transformers!

IMG_8272.JPG