Who Will Hold Back the Floods of Change?

A Forest of Dead Trees Killed by the Pine Bark Beetle

The following is a reprint from an Autumn 2009 post to my blog site on the late, unlamented Multiply.Com.

I first became aware of the problem in 2003, especially at Bandolero State Monument in northern New Mexico. For mile after mile, Martine and I saw dead forests with dry brown pine needles. When I asked a park ranger what was the matter, I heard for the first time about the pine bark beetle and its many relatives, which has been ravaging the forests of the Rocky Mountains in the United States and Canada.

There are approximately 220 genera comprising some 6,000 species of bark beetle. Trees which are healthy due to normal rain tend to be resistant to beetle attacks; but in areas of prolonged drought, the trees are successfully attacked and end up as tinder dry skeletons, waiting for a spark to set off a giant conflagration.

As weather patterns change, I see bad times coming for the drought areas of North America. We have already seen the worst year in recorded history for brush fires in Southern California—and they are still raging in San Bernardino County [in 2009]. While these are unrelated to the ravages of bark beetles, they are all part of a new pattern that will result in massive changes to the type of vegetation growing in the mountainous areas of the Southwest. Gone will be the giant pines, to be replaced by fast-growing trees that can withstand the increasing heat and dryness of the region. What these forests will look like is anybody’s guess.

I realize as I write this that one result of living a long life is to mourn the changes from the world of our youth. I remember the cathedral-like stateliness of the elms at Dartmouth College—all fallen prey to Dutch Elm Disease. The American South has been overrun by kudzu and other non-native plants. The face of the earth is changing, but, alas, our memory is still there. And with photography, we have a record of the world of the recent past.

But what of the massive forests of the 18th and 19th centuries, with flocks of millions of passenger pigeons and huge herds of bison. Read Chateaubriand’s novels Atala and René and the works of naturalist William Bartram for a picture of America’s interior that you will not recognize today.

Montaigne’s words on mutability in his Apology for Raymond Sebond come to mind as I think about this subject:

And we and our judgment and all mortal things else do uncessantly roll, turn, and pass away. Thus can nothing be certainly established, nor of the one nor of the other, both the judging and the judged being in continual alteration and motion. We have no communication with being, for every human nature is ever in the middle between being born and dying, giving nothing of itself but an obscure appearance and shadow, and an uncertain and weak opinion. And if, perhaps, you fix your thought to take its being, it would be even as if one should go about to prison the water; for how much the more he shall close and press that which, by its own nature, is ever gliding, so much the more he shall loose what he would hold and fasten. Thus, seeing all things are subject to pass from one change to another, reason, which therein seeketh a real subsistence, finds herself deceived as unable to apprehend anything subsistent and permanent, forsomuch as each thing either cometh to a being and is not yet altogether, or beginneth to die before it be born.

Then I ask myself, “Is this as dire as it seems, or is it all just part of life?”

In Tofino, next to Jamie’s Whaling Station on Campbell Street, there is a huge cedar which is buttressed with steel and held standing by massive cables. It is called the Eid Cedar, after an early resident, and is determinedly protected by the ecology-conscious locals. Will this be the fate of the great Ponderosa and Lodgepole Pines of the Rockies? Will they be watered by irrigation and protected by a plastic shield from voracious bark beetles? Who will hold back the floods of change?

No one.

So Much for This Rainy Season

I Doubt We’ll See Another Drop for Many Months

The rainy season of 2017-2018 turned out to be something of a bust. Oh, we had one good rain that killed a lot of poor people in Montecito. That whole range of hills that abuts the Coast Highway between Santa Monica and Gaviota is subject to mudslides whenever there is a short period of intense rain. It happened to the pretty little coastal town of La Conchita in 2005, and this time it was Montecito’s turn.

I just looked ahead to the forecast for the next 10 days. On Thursday, April 19, there is a 20% chance of rain—which probably just means a few droplets in the mountains and foothills. Most of Southern California will continue to be bone dry until the end of the year, if not longer.

The term “April Showers” doesn’t have much meaning in a Mediterranean climate zone such as the one I live in. If you were to drive for an hour and a half east of here, you would wind up in the Mohave Desert. Drive eight hours north of here, and you would be in the wetter Northern California zone. There are some 20 climate zones of 24 possible classifications to be found in California. I just happen to occupy one of the drier zones.



Fire and Water

Well, Which Is It To Be?

Well, Which Is It To Be?

As I sit here writing this, I hake my head in total perplexity. On one hand, today was so hot that I felt my face burning off. On the other, a mega El Niño event is predicted for later this year and possibly lasting through next spring. Of course, predictors hasten to add that it wouldn’t put an end to California’s historic drought. (Sounds like nothing would, short of another Noah’s Ark flood.)

The way it looks, I will be burned by searing heat, and then drowning in an incredible flood. Will there be any transition between the two? Will there be a day with not a cloud in the sky and 120 degree heat, followed immediately by waves of heavy rain fronts? Or will it be a slow transition?

In the end, the only person who, to my mind, has ever shed light on what El Niño means is the late Chris Farley, in this video clip on YouTube.


Land of Little Rain

Is This Where We’re Headed?

Is This Where We’re Headed?

The title for this post is the same as a that of a classic book by Mary Austin about her life in the Owens Valley. While there is little doubt that deserts can be starkly beautiful—as for instance Death Valley or the National Parks of Southern Utah—it can be frustrating to have forecast rain turn into little more than a dirty drizzle.

I call it a dirty drizzle because there’s only enough rain to smear my windshield when I run my wipers. As my windshield wiper reservoir is leaking and its replacement costs a small fortune for my twenty-year-old Nissan Pathfinder, I spend a good part of .L.A.’s so-called rainy season driving around looking through a coating of dirt.

I have no faith in weather forecasters. Why? Because they are only intent on selling advertising. Therefore, they tend to wildly exaggerate any rain forecast. Even if there’s so much as a 10% chance of showers, newsmen will spend hours telling us to look for the forecast in the next fifteen minutes, er…, half hour, er… hour. What usually happens, the mountains to the north of us get the rain, or the deserts beyond the mountains. What we get, at most, is a pittance.

People in the Northeast must be looking at us with ill-suppressed envy, as they struggle with snow and cold and “polar vortexes,” whatever those are. In the meantime, we continue to dry out. Our state’s agriculture, once the envy of the nation, is looking at a potential dust bowl.

Front Lawns and Drought

Where Does Our Obsession With Front Lawns Come From?

Where Does Our Obsession With Front Lawns Come From?

There is something wrong with our obsession with front lawns. Other than serving to set back a house a little further from the noise of the street, what purpose does it serve? Kids don’t play on front lawns so much as they do with back yard lawns. (Actually, in this era of video games, they are not likely to play outside at all.) Yet it seems that manicuring a front lawn is one of the badges of middle class life in the suburbs.

We are now experiencing a terrible drought in California, probably the worst in recent history. Although we are now between rainstorms after receiving a good drenching last night, we are so far from normal that March would have to be the wettest on record to move the water gauge any appreciable amount. Perhaps now is the time to consider front yards that are more in line with the flora of our tropical savanna climate, such as succulents and other xerophytic plants that typically grow in desert regions. As a simple matter of aesthetics, I don’t see why a green lawn such as the one shown above is preferable to a mix of desert plants, which can be quite beautiful, especially when they flower.

Please note that my comments are directed more to the apparently decreasing rainfall of the American Southwest than to other parts of the country, where desertification is less of an issue. If you are currently under water, feel free to sow those grass seeds wherever you can.


The Great Drought of 2014

Baldwin Lake—Now a Mudhole

Baldwin Lake—Now a Giant Mudhole

The California drought of 2014—the worst recorded in the State’s history—was brought home quite suddenly to Martine and me when we visited the Los Angeles Arboretum today. Baldwin Lake, which in normal years looks so beautiful (see photo below) is now a giant mudhole. Typically, the lake is fed from runoff from current rainfall, of which, for iall intents and purposes, there has been none this year.

Migrating ducks and geese still made it a stopover, and Martine was ready for them with some day-old bread. But the fish in the lake looked as if they were gasping for breath. It was heartbreaking.

Baldwin Lake in Better Times

Baldwin Lake in Better Times

We still had a good time at the Arboretum. The Canada Geese were actually not too proud to accept Martine’s bread, The mallards and squirrels also came up to her for handouts.

I am hoping that our drought will eventually come to an end. I would hate to think that Los Angeles would become like Chile’s awful Atacama Desert, where there is almost no measurable rain over an entire century.