September 2017

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Pollen records show that mesquite mysteriously showed up in North America about 14,000 years ago.  They appeared suddenly in the desert southwest, 5,000 miles disjunct from the nearest native population in South America.  They can be locally invasive in the eastern Hill County (site scale), and in the drought prone, deep soil grasslands of Texas (and beyond), they have earned a terrible reputation for taking over.  Despite the occurrence of large, dense stands, according to recent transect data analysis, they occupy less than 1% of natural areas in the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone.

When our back is really against a wall, and there is nowhere left to go and nothing left to be done, we must be still.  We have no choice.  If we look carefully, somehow our life is always in this condition.  Still, there is also always activity.  So to realize the true urgency of our situation, we must not be tossed aside by necessary work.  Our task in restoration is to find this stillness amidst the urgent needs of the land.

The recharge zone reach of Onion Creek ran dry for about 2 weeks in the summer of 2016, following a long flow period, and then went dry again for about 8 weeks in the summer of 2017.  In late August, it flowed vigorously for another 5 days before drying again, and the abundance of aquatic life was truly remarkable.  The water column was teeming with all manner of frogs, fish, and water bugs, pioneering this new and unclaimed water.  The creek was characteristically indifferent to this zealous pulse of life.  Even on this shallowly-crusted plane of hard limestone, soil moisture begets base flow, and without that, a flood is just a flash and nothing more.

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This fellow is looking rather plucky for one whose creek has unceremoniously parched… isn’t that how we can be?

We are nearing the season when the most hands will be needed. For now we can stake out the best quality seed harvest sites, the ones to monitor steadily because they offer the greatest rewards. Also for now, we can stake out the spots with the greatest need for seeding: those bare areas where KR died, tree canopy declined, or those few, small, anomalous extremes of fire severity or flooding that left patches of ecological opportunity in their wake. We have until about mid-October to find them, and once we do, it is time to stay with them until all the seeds each site can afford to lose have been collected and redistributed.

The shortness of the “tall” stands this year reassure us that seeded bare spots from last year persist at no fault of our own.  It really has not been a dry year, but the rainfall distribution was never quite right for plant establishment.  The sometimes 12″ tall stands of Maximillian Sunflower (that have been established longer than memory) tell the story well.  Perhaps the months with the strongest pull over the thriving (or not) of native plants in Central Texas are October and April.  If those are particularly hot and dry, spread your efforts elsewhere from planting.

 

If one is so inclined, the late summer is a good time to travel.  Everyone knows that excessive heat exposure inspires surliness (though some are too surly to admit it), and if you get out a little early and come back after the worst is passed, you may lessen or stave it off a bit.  Travel reveals the largely unconscious assumptions and habits of first the land visited and then in turn of home.  The way people drive their cars, the things we are inclined to talk about, our most vital sources of pride, and subtle expressions of power or grace, all show in big and small ways, and all say something about who we are.  These are mostly unintentional and unexamined habits, but they don’t need to be.  We all contribute to the shared moral character of the cultures that we participate in.  In the same way that travel can help us see our lives more clearly (by breaking us from the narrow vantage of our routines and associated coping mechanisms), it can also help us see how everyone contributes to a shared sense of place, normalcy, and decency.  When we do restoration work together, we take that up with open eyes and open hands.

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Let’s go!

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