Thursday, December 22, 2011

Winter Solstice

Since the windstorm of November, I have had this sense that, as stewards of this special place, we needed to find a way to begin the healing process. The evil force of the winds that had so ravaged the forests needed to be banished. I struggled for awhile trying to understand how to do this. Then, several weeks ago, it came to me - a healing ceremony on the Winter Solstice. To cultures around the world, this is a special moment and it would be for us too.

Over the last week we have selected and prepared the spot and collected the items we would need. We found the perfect rock to use as an altar, one that a bear had turned over several months ago searching for grubs underneath. On Sunday, following the trail left in the snow by a large herd of elk, we collected small pieces of all the trees and shrubs so affected by the winds. We moved from pine, spruce, fir and juniper to cottonwood, alder, birch, chokecherry and gooseberry, taking a piece from the broken bodies lying on the ground. From these pieces we prepared a bundle tied with string.

On Wednesday night, the night of the Solstice, we returned to the ceremonial spot. Using blue, yellow and white corn meal, and red chili powder, we marked the earthly directions then laid the bundle in the center. Over it we crossed the shed antlers of a deer and an elk. With just the sound of the creek flowing by we thought about what had been lost but also what would be renewed.

For us in the northern hemisphere, the Winter Solstice marks the longest night and the shortest day of the year. It also represents the point when we begin our journey back to the light. At this moment, on this spot, resting on an altar picked by a bear, with pieces of plants selected by the elk, the journey has begun.

From Fleur Creek Farm

Saturday, December 3, 2011

An Evil Wind

The Wet Mountain Valley is known for its powerful winds that explode over the Sangres and swoop down the eastern slopes, but what happened on Saturday night, the 12th of November, was more than anyone had ever experienced. The day started with persistent winds as the jet stream edged into the area and those winds increased in the twilight hours. By midnight the sounds of the wind were horrific and the earth trembled as huge trees crashed to the ground. We were plunged into darkness when the power went out shortly after midnight and only the waning full moon gave a glimpse of the destruction.

The scene at daybreak was unreal. Massive cottonwood trees surrounding the house and cabin were snapped off or uprooted, laying like matchsticks everywhere. Eighty foot spruce trees lining the creek were ripped from the ground, their huge root balls now standing perpendicular to the earth.

We dressed quickly and hurried to the barn to check on the horses and the situation there. Mandy and Cal were standing out in the pasture away from the buildings. They were nervous but quickly settled down as we passed out breakfast. Several large cottonwoods had fallen around the barn, crushing parts of the corral and one in particular blocked the horse's access to their water tank. That became our top priority of the day and with the help of our neighbors we chainsawed and cleared the mess away from the tank. Once that task was completed we spent the rest of the day helping others clear driveways and roads so that they could get in and out of their places.

Amazingly our house, cabin, sheds and barn were spared any serious damage though access to our front door required climbing over and under the broken trees. As we surveyed the forest destruction, we hardly knew where to start. We realized that the cleanup would not be a quick job but in reality would take months, even years. In fact some areas will never be restored. Mother Nature will have to reclaim those places in her own way.

We have hired several local young men to help us. They bring an energy and strength that we no longer possess. By picking small areas to concentrate on, we have started to bring order to a chaotic scene. Large trees have been blocked for future firewood, brush has been cleared and chipped. We will slowly expand as we make our way up and down the creek. Next year we will start on the pine forest area on the west side of the place.

I have heard various versions of the strength of the winds but the sheriff's office reported that the wind storm included sustained winds of 100mph for four hours, 112mph for 20 minutes and gusts to 135mph. Some private wind meters near Hillside at the north of the valley and another farther south reported 170 and 172 mph respectively before they were blown apart. Insurance adjusters who arrived on the scene in the days after the storm said they had not seen this level of wind damage from Katrina - a category 4 hurricane.

Some have called this a force of nature but it seems much more than that. To me it seems like an evil force that assaulted all of us residing here. On our place alone there are probably one hundred trees down. Magnificent cottonwoods and spruces and pines that have withstood so much over the last eighty to one hundred years were snapped like twigs. Trees with trunks thirty inches in diameter were splintered and thrown to the ground. There are places where forty foot ponderosa pine trees are laid flat like dominoes, one after another with their root balls ripped from the earth.

My hope is that we can find a way to heal this special place; to bring comfort and love back to a place that has given us so much. It will be the task that consumes the rest of my time here.

From Fleur Creek Farm