red aspen in snow
Most days we’re down by the river. You can’t hear it or see it but it is there. Like blind faith. Or common sense. Dormant under the frozen surface. Silenced by the season.

Underneath, I know she rages. The Mighty Rio. Uncontained by elements and as strong as tide, she flows.

Without concern to her, we are on top, dragging logs, back and forth by snowmobile, snowshoes, culling dead trees, wondering if any will remain. Looks like we might be working here a while.

I thought it would be healing. Maybe eye-opening is healing.
littel one 2
The things we are seeing.

We’re deep in dead wood. Dang it, you can’t even find an undisturbed aspen grove around these parts without a great percentage of death.

But the spruce, the once blue spruce. That is what I see. Red.

I don’t know the numbers. You can look them up yourself. All I know is we’ve been watching the beetles kill mountain after mountain year after year. Like a wave. Starting at the top and spilling down. Then onto the next. And going back to finish off the stragglers.

Please don’t tell me to cheer up. I’ll be just as likely to tell you to wake up. Open up your eyes. Get out here and see for yourself.

It’s quite ruthless. Not what I have seen in other parts. I read we’re not the only ones, but right now, we got it bad. And there’s no end in sight. I just came back from a snowshoe on this side of the river and saw the tell tale signs. Again. It’s making its way down Pole Mountain and hitting the trees behind us. Pin holes, sap and slipping bark. Will they be red by summer?

I’m not hiding the truth or sugar coating this to find the pretty parts. I’m telling it like it is. Don’t read it if you don’t want to know what’s happening in this part of Colorado, here in the Rio Grande National Forest, here where the Weminuche Wilderness borders our land. It’s easy to avoid. There’s not much out there on the subject. I’ll share with you what little I’ve found. Though some of it is nonsense, and the rest, well, you probably don’t want to know.

Remember the year the deer and elk were trapped by the sudden snow? Remember how many of us had broken hearts watching our wildlife starve to death? We started to feed, until finally the Department of Wildlife was tired of being the bad guy telling us it was “natural” as if that would make it all OK and they got in on the action too and tried to help by distributing feed. Sometimes sticking with your heart, doing something rather than nothing, helps. It didn’t save most of the deer. I remember driving to Gunnison that spring and seeing a carcass rotting on every hill, far too many for the coyote and crows to finish off.

But do nothing? Easy to do if you leave. Go home. Don’t see. But if this is your home? You would do something too.

What can I do except share with you what I see?
denim wood
Secrets unveiling.

For those daring to dive into the depths, dig in, cut through to the dark blue wood.

Bundle up ‘cause the sun don’t shine down there where we’re working, the sugar snow is deep and loose, and the wind still blows.

There, I’ll show you what I see.

Nature’s foul infanticide. As small as we see they can grow, we see they can be killed by beetles. It only takes a few pinholes.

Mistletoe on most every tree. Odd. I’m not going to turn into a biologist and claim to have the facts but sometimes, many times, I wish I knew more. Why are these parasites thriving as the tree puts out their last sap, and then goes down with its sinking ship shortly after?
Last night two owls were talking back and forth in the tall green trees behind my cabin. What are the chances of those trees being green this time next year?

A chickadee lights above me on a branch of healthy aspen as I’m fiddling with my camera. I talk to it. It chirps back. We discuss what will become of all of this. We agree (I think) we will adapt.

Next tree over is a big old spruce. One of the elder trees. At the base is a pile of loose bark chipped by the woodpecker seeking out the larva already within. Farewell for the old wise ones.
big ones
Knowledge. How do we find answers? I would have thought quoting science would give me backing. Instead, it seems, if I mention “climate change” or “global warming” I become political. No thanks.

I grew up in lefty liberal world; my husband in a righteous right wing one. We chose to sit back, watch, and think for ourselves. What a concept. What I see is this. People accept politics as they do religion, with just as much blind faith, but lacking a god or the golden rule.

I’m for thinking, observing, making up my own mind. I’m not going to try to convince you to believe what I believe. Beliefs are personal. You can (and should) make up your own mind, be smart enough to think for yourself, change your mind when you learn and grow (assuming, that is, you do…), and then… keep it to yourself.  Those with the loudest voices tend to have the least to say. One more reason to stay up here on the mountain and keep away from town. I never was much of a conversationalist.

So this isn’t about science, data, or personal beliefs. This is about cold hard facts. OK? What I see before me. That’s it. Maybe you see something different. Like a paved street or sidewalk or another concrete building or pretty suburb street with groomed lawns and a shiny new SUV in every driveway. Fine. Whatever.

Me, I see trees. Dead standing. Hillsides of them. Big hillsides. Entire mountains you can find on the map with names like Ute Ridge and Simpson, Pole and Finger Mesa.

Come stand before my kitchen window and look outside with me now.

Tell me what you see. Not what you want to see. Not what you are told to believe.

I don’t care about who or what you believe in. I care about what you see.

dead tree
Enough, already, I hear you say
So I’ll save the rest for another day.

14 thoughts on “Down…

  1. Anxious to read “the rest” on another day! I don’t get sick of hearing about it because even though I hate “it”… (what is happening…the beetle kill) …out there is still where I love no matter what and reading your posts helps me not feel as far away!

    • Thank you, dear Beka. Of course, it is never not going to be beautiful. But is beautiful enough? Or shallow. What is happening now can not be overlooked. What is it, and why, and who are we to just accept rather than question and wonder why? And so we stand by our mountain. Even from afar. For our memories and histories,our current hopes and expectations of what it means to each of us, and mostly, for our children.

      • In my opinion, beauty comes from within and transcends what we see on the surface… therefore us seeing the beauty of the mountain through the death cannot be shallow… kind of hard to explain! :) But the ones that can stand by in the midst are those that truly care… and who will always. Finding myself missing it all the more lately!

        • Beka, that’s beautifully said… truly… and I know you’re one of those. Missing is good. It means feeling, caring. Write any time (on my g-mail if you want too). I will try to keep posting. And remember you can be with in heart and soul if not physical presence. Heck, Forrest is in the South Pole and I love him as much as ever and am just as “close” as ever. Space and distance are relative matters.

  2. Gin, thanks for your posts. I live in a different world where we too have our own problems on the Baltic.

    Your writing reminds me of the tone expressed by Barbara Kingsolver’s book Flight Behaviour, an awesome read too and a writer I very much enjoy reading.

    Hugs from Poland where it should be winter, but it’s more like spring..

    • I have not read that, and look forward to it. Enjoy your wild winter. Here, surprisingly mild as well. Up on the mountain. Far colder in the valley below. Go figure… (though I dare not complain!)

  3. Crying…for the birds and all the animals for whom these trees have provided shelter and life. The photo of the tree made me cry, too, well, after I let out a little gasp. Seeing the life blood oozing out of the once majestic spruce.

    • Karen, I thought about this a lot. You’re right. The loss of the big ones is … breathtakingly heartbreaking. But somehow I was prepared. I was warned we’d lose them all. Yes, all. So I walk among them and thank them for having been a part and shared and lived so much longer than i ever will. i think of what they have lived through, what they have seen, and now they are being destroyed by a tiny little beetle and our change in climate which allows them to flourish.

      However I still held hope for the little ones. Seeing them taken so easily… forget about what’s fair and trying to find the good and the justice in this…

  4. It pains me to hear this. I hear nothing in the news media about it. Our last visit was in the warmth of summer in 2010. I could see the death chasing the beautiful Blue Spruce into Rio Grand Valley as far as the reservoir then. We camp just above your ranch in an Aspen grove just below what my daughter named Castle Rock Mountain. That area was still beautiful and alive then. Our planned return this summer will surly be filled with despair and sadness.. It’s not just the trees but all of the little beautiful things that depend on them. Nature is a balancing accomplishment and when something of this magnitude happens…well, we may see change for many years to come. I share your post with my family and friends. Folks are grieving with you and this disaster. I want to see through your words. Please keep us posted. We have been going up there and that area since 1974.

    • I am sorry, Rick, and I do understand. No, the media doesn’t cover this area. Not even much mentioned state or nationwide when over 100,000 acres burned this summer. That’s good and bad. Good because the last thing any of the businesses need is people scared away unnecessarily. Bad because it’s too easy and convenient to ignore this situation. I can promise you and your daughter this, and we all must always remember this. It will always be beautiful (though true beauty isn’t always pretty) and it belongs to us all. So, if it’s going through a hard time, we won’t turn our back and say we’ll just going somewhere where we don’t have to see what’s happening. Most folks, we find, don’t want to miss it. The mountain is a part of them. The good times, the bad times. As a good friend reminds me, this too will pass. Don’t miss the passing, be here, be a part of it, see the changes, and then like the rest of us, try to understand why… and watch to see what Mother Nature will do next. Because her forces are resilient, mighty and… beautiful.

  5. I cannot imagine seeing a beloved, familiar, essential forest being decimated in waves like you describe. If this is happening because we’ve screwed up our ecosystem such that these pests thrive in warmer weather, then we’ve doubly screwed ourselves.

    I read an article by BC Parks. Here’s an excerpt:

    ” Q. When will this epidemic end?

    Severe prolonged cold weather or a loss of host trees is the only way to stop the spread of mountain pine beetle. In the Cariboo-Chilcotin, the infestation in the early 1980s continued for ten years, before this weather pattern reduced the spread of mountain pine beetle. ”

    I saw a part of that forest and it was heartbreaking. I’m so sorry you have to watch it happen under your nose in the environment you’ve come to understand and cherish.

    • Thanks for sharing that, Amy. Been reading everything I can get my hands on. Something will surely stop the spread, and these mountains will someday recover and regrow. Not in my lifetime. So we must find answers for the next. Seeing it is shocking. That actually helps. People begin to open their eyes and then open their hearts. Gosh, I could go on forever… I guess I am doing just that in the next book. I don’t want to be a scientist (well, maybe, but that’s out of the question) – I just want to share what I see. It’s a nagging obligation I can no longer ignore. It’s in my face!

  6. Your style is so unique compared to other folks I have read stuff from.
    Thanks for posting when you have the opportunity, Guess I will just bookmark this site.

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