My left borrowed rubber boot had a little hole in it. Sarah and I stood calf-deep in muddy water by the edge of the Coyote farm site. She bent over one of her PVC well stems, dipping her Crayola streaked tape measure down the stem to measure the groundwater depth. I stood next to her, pad of paper in hand, ready to record the numbers she read to me. The depth of the water in the well is visible on her tape where the marker streak remains intact. We had only begun a long day of this when I realized my left sock was already wet.
After measuring the depth, she then pumped the water out of the well. An unpleasant stench soon permeated the air. Wetland water farts. This was the water that was slowly infiltrating my boot. A pleasant thought. Once the water was emptied, we left the well to wait for it to gurgle back to full so she could then collect a fresh sample.
We repeated this process with many wells, then began to make our way to the other side of the field to the entrance of Coyote’s restoration field. We walked up the outer edge which is covered with vegetation and some blooming wildflowers. Sarah looked across the muddy field, her gaze stopping on a darker brown strip of mud, fairly consistent in width. She concluded that a farmer had recently taken some farm equipment out to test if the ground was suitable to begin farming.
Once we reached the back edge of the farm area we ventured into the mud. Traversing thorough the dormant field was not an easy task. I lost some ground with each step as my foot slipped back. To make things more difficult, I needed to walk a bit flat footed. My boots were too big for my feet. They had the tendency to want to stay behind as my feet threatened to become unshod. Each time my foot lifted from the foot bed of the boot my sock incrementally slid off my foot to bunch up in the toe box.
When we reached the tractor path, we found that it was not made by farm equipment at all, but instead by elk. Where the ground looked as if it had been tilled was actually deep hoof prints. They had ducked through the barbed wire fence. Their left-behind fur confirmed this. It was hard for me to believe that animals that big could duck through a gap in a barbed wire fence, but it was impossible to deny the clump of fur that marked the beginning of the deep hoof prints.
It’s almost a relief to reach the Coyote restoration area. The field is isolated from the dirt road and surrounded by tall trees. There are green paths mowed in long arcs through the field revealing the new bright green growth that covers the field. Only the rest of the field also has last season’s old brown grass. Although the field looks very healthy in the restoration area, Sarah’s wells take an exceptionally long time to refill after she empties them. She speculates why that is. The effects of years of heavy farm equipment filling the natural cracks in the soil? I don’t mind waiting for the wells to refill. The restoration field is beautiful and I have a respite from standing in malodorous, muddy water.
I had wondered why the wetlands were not more treed as the perimeters are. Fires. The Native American people managed the land with burns keeping the trees and undergrowth in check. Of course we are now fire adverse. Now the edges of managed fields are thick with trees and undergrowth. If completely unmanaged, the edges eventually become inundated by thorny blackberry bushes that make the areas virtually impenetrable.
After all of the data was collected in both Coyote fields we made our way to Fischer Butte, the nature preserve area. Driving out to the wetlands, I was dismayed to see that all of the fields were still brown. After painting so much brown for the fall and winter months, I was looking forward to some verdant green. Fischer Butte surprised me. From the perimeters the fields look solidly brown. But once we stepped into the grasses and sedges, all of the color revealed itself. The verdant green was there. As was delicate purple from the blooming camas and brilliant yellow-green new shoots. The brown is a cover. Last season’s dead grasses completely hide the vibrancy of the life beneath. The only way to experience the beauty is to physically step into the prairie. It’s even hidden from view from the adjacent path.
Not far from Fischer Butte is Dragonfly Bend. Sarah and I both admitted that it’s not our favorite site. The field is delineated on one side by the suburban housing tract. After trudging around in my tall rubber boots all day, hole and all, I can’t imagine anyone thinking that it would be a good idea to build, not just a house, but an entire housing tract in the wetlands. The idea is just asinine to me.
Across the street is a ditch, full of water and trash. A no dumping sign presides above the broken television sets and other bits of random debris. Next to that is a field with a “For Sale” sign posted by the road. Sarah said that she was perplexed by that sign until she learned that it is an area designated to be bought for trading carbon credits. If you buy a section of an field next to a ditch full of garbage, you can use poor environmental business practices elsewhere. I will not get into my thoughts on this here.
Dragonfly Bend is a restoration area. Looking at my paintings, I can tell that the color patterns are not as close to Fischer Butte as the Coyote restoration field. Coyote’s colors are more vibrant and diverse than Dragonfly’s. I mentioned that pattern to Sarah. Her explanation was that they began restoring Dragonfly first. They didn’t get the seed mix right: there are too many grasses and not enough sedges. They resolved the problem when they began restoring Coyote. Interesting.
As I’m wrapping up the Fern Ridge project, I’m looking into the next. Although I haven’t yet seen it, I’m intrigued with the Finley Wildlife Refuge near Corvallis. This area, like Fischer Butte, is a preserve for migrating birds. An adjacent field is in the primary stages of restoration. Over the next few years, it will be managed to integrate into the existing nature preserve. I’m hoping that this will lend itself to a long term look at the ecology of the area through painting.