Friday, September 29, 2006

Summer project

Our project this summer was spraying noxious weeds - Carduus nutans - in upper Joe's Valley on the Manti La Sal National Forest.

The experience was an interesting illustration of the mixture of earthly corruption and transcending beauty. The great mountain peaks surround this high valley, wreathing the area in thunderheads and frequent rain showers. Up here the rainfall is up to thirty times more than the average in the lower valleys. Also the temperatures are consistently much cooler. It makes for a unique and beautiful ecology. And interesting parallel to a common characterization of the temporal world, where thorns and thistles abound to afflict and torment us.

At lower elevations and drier areas, the preponderance of vegetation is dryland species like sagebrush, juniper, and pinyon pines. In wetter areas this phases into aspens, and in cooler and wetter exposures it transitions into spruces and firs. At the highest rocky peaks there are a few bristlecone pines. Throughout this entire spectrum there are certain opportunistic weed species that can colonize and take over an area at a fantastic rate.

Most of our work was searching out areas that are infested with invasive species of thistle. These thistles were introduced from other areas. (Some of you will be interested to know that one of the worst pests is commonly known as "Canada Thistle"! Any suspicion of a conspiracy in this? ;-)

Due to certain usage and traffic patterns in this area of the forest, these foreign species proliferate at an unnatural rate. They crowd out the native plants and make an environment that is unattractive to humans and other animals that use the land. So we have been blasting them with chemical pesticides, to help reduce the invading population.

We spent most of the past six weeks camping out in the forest, hiking through the woods and up and down the mountains, admiring the wonders of nature. And, getting well paid for it!

We met some US Forest Service employees that are great people to know and to work with. Working with fine people makes the job so much more enjoyable. It was a learning experience for all of us, and turned out to be really a lot of fun, which is gratifying in so many ways.

Anyway, next summer we will return to the same forest area, to continue waging war against the encroaching thistles. Striving to restore paradisical glory to this earth, one weed at a time.

A guardian angel...

This week we spent a day on the mountain gathering firewood.

Getting firewood from the forest is a rather involved ritual for us. There are many dead trees in the forest just up Fairview Canyon, only a few miles from us. But gathering the wood from standing dead trees is not as easy as it might seem. It involves felling trees, cutting them up, loading and hauling, splitting and stacking. Hard work but rewarding, and sometimes very enjoyable. But sometimes hazardous too.

We were felling a group of tall skinny spruces on the hillside. One of them turned the wrong way and lodged against an adjacent tree. The 80-foot high tree was suspended there, leaning uphill against its neighbor.

This is a very dangerous situation, to have a precariously balanced severed tree with half a ton of wood, teetering just over your head. Attempting to extricate it, I laboriously sectioned 6-foot pieces of the butt end with the chainsaw, cutting angled pieces that could slide off from each other and release the upper piece.

Unfortunately, the top ended up coming up nearly vertical after I'd sectioned out 30 feet or so of the lower trunk. It was not safe to continue cutting short pieces off.

At that point we made a serious mistake in judgement. We decided to try to drag the butt end downhill, chained to the ATV. My friend Ricky drove the machine up to the tree and wrapped the chain around, and gave it a pull. But the tree was held fast on the ground, and the top started to tip over, instead of pulling out at the bottom. His chain was too short to put him clear of the top of the tree, and the top was coming straight at him.

We yelled to Ricky, "Watch out!", as the tree ponderously toppled over, right onto the ATV.


Ricky responded quickly enough to scramble just out of the way, but it was a very near thing.

The ATV was mangled but repairable.

Ricky was unscathed.

We stood there for a few moments, listening to the ringing silence that followed the resounding crash of big timber.

When we recovered from the shock of such a near catastrophe, we breathed a prayer of thanks for the dramatic delivery of promised protection.

Conference weekend

 Conference weekend is one of the best times of life.

October conference is timed to coincide with a natural sort of winding-down season, looking forward to the onset of winter. Time to take stock of summer events that we were too busy to examine closely through the last few months. In the garden, gathering up the last zucchini and tomatoes. Bringing in firewood to warm the home through the cold snowy months to come.

The mountain colors here look to be notably fine this fall. Maples in the mid-elevations are at their most fiery blaze orange. The higher-up aspens are just coming into their best golden shimmering cloak. Some of the early frost has even colored up the oakbrush.

I anticipate the counsels to come in this conference just as I look forward to the autumn splendor. The best words of wisdom will be delivered to the Lord's disciples in the coming few days.

May our hearts be open and our minds clear to receive the inspiration and beauty of these messages that have been prepared for this very day and time. And may the Lord find us to be ever willing and profitable stewards in His service.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Spinach crises

Difficult to imagine a world where spinach is bad for you. Goes against every cartoon principle of good nutrition created since the world began.

Popeye would be so ashamed.

(Note: Sorry for the long hiatus in blogging. I have been working in the mountains all summer. No Internet hookup. Have to figure out a remedy for that problem.)