I planned to take notes and photographs when out in the field at the Andrews Forest so I wore thin glove liners. My fingers quickly became too cold to do anything but shove my hands in my pockets for warmth. I eventually gave up on the idea that I would record anything and just left it all in Fred’s car.

We wandered around to a few locations without a specific purpose in mind. Fred, my favorite geomorphologist and willing collaborator, showed me some alluvial fans. When looking at a map I had to naively ask him to tell me what a fan is. We were in fact, practically standing on one without me even realizing that. I obviously know very little about geography. But mostly, Fred told me stories about the land, starting from a very long time ago:

  • Huge rocks from glaciers in Canada helped block a watershed to create a lake that once existed where we were standing. Evidence of that lake was found in the smooth layered rock exposed by Lookout Creek;
  • A very thin layer of ash from Crater Lake’s Mt. Mazama eruption 7,700 years ago covers some of the rock, helping to date the layers of rock where it is found;
  • Countless signs of the 1996 flood are still found throughout the forest. The flood that rearranged some of the forest also clearly illustrated to Fred and other scientists how natural networks, like streams, are affected by man-made networks, like packed snowcat ruts on a snow-covered road.

Fred’s stories helped me see the forest in a slightly more nuanced way. But trying to tease out some place to start from the complexity of the forest has been challenging. It’s an overwhelming environment with the amount of textures and colors that it presents. A friend once commented as we were kayaking that he had never known that so many variations of green existed before moving here from Wisconsin via Texas. Which layer is a good one to start with when it is connected to so many other layers?

Usually, an overwhelming place finds some order in my mind through posing a simple question. But simplicity was eluding me once again in that place. There was too much to be able to focus on any one thing for long.

I asked Fred what he would like to see, something that he hasn’t seen before. His first answer was the verticality of the trees. It didn’t make much sense to me at first. We all know that trees are vertical. But I think that he’s on to something that could be quite interesting. At first look, it appears a pretty simple sounding question to ponder, and I like that. But it’s also a question that once you get to pondering it for a while, you find that it’s not as simple as it first seemed. As I played around with the idea in my head I thought that this is just the type of question that I had been looking for: a tangible starting point with the possibility to venture into deeper and deeper investigation. In other words, it can be the simple start I was looking for to a very long, complex project.

Looking at the differences in the verticality of an old growth tree compared to a plantation tree is a logical place to start. Fred said that I would need to go up – I would need to climb some trees. I agreed with this also. So, the next line of business is to find a willing person to help me climb a very tall tree or two. Any takers?

Trees point to a bigger concept that Fred is interested in seeing: networks and patches. How do the networks and patches of old growth trees compare with plantation trees? How do those networks and patches relate to other networks and patches found in the forest, both natural and man-made? How do the man-made networks and patches affect the natural ones, and vice versa? The questions beg for more questions to be asked.

Many thanks to Fred for helping to tease a starting point for this project out of the vast complexity of the forest!

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