Table of Contents
(c) 2003 by Skipping Stones. Opinions expressed in these pages reflect views of the contributors, and not necessarily those of Skipping Stones, Inc. In the spirit of ecological sensitivity, we choose to print with soy ink on recycled & recyclable paper.
Long Live Belovka Village!
I spend every summer in Belovka with my granny. The whole year I look forward to the time when I get close to nature. Every morning, I can hear the songs of a rooster and the voices of the hens. I gave them all names and I never forget them. I observe the hens in my spare time. When it's hot, they all run to me in the shade and lie around me, even on my legs, and close their small, popping eyes.
I also like the village because of the fresh air. Cars pass by very seldom, so neither smoke nor gas appears here. It's easy to breathe and get exercise outdoors. My friend Sveta and I run, jump, skip rope or ride bikes near the railroad tracks, trying to follow a faraway train.
In the middle of July, Sveta, her older sister Valya and I go to the river Sakmara. We need to go through the forest to get to the river. The forest is huge and clean, with big trees and bushes. Birds, woodpeckers, and cricket songs are heard, too. Walking through the forest, we usually catch grasshoppers, which we set free at once. We also pick brightly colored red berries or mushrooms.
The quiet murmuring of the river is close by. White sand sparkles in the sun. People lie on towels getting tan. We pull off our clothes quickly and run into the cool water of Sakmara. The water is very clear, so we can see our feet and small stones on the bottom. A dark log floats near us; children push each other into the water. We are not afraid of the river because it's narrow and not very deep. Adults can easily cross it. We spend the whole day by the river and come home in the evening.
In June, a lot of strawberries, raspberries, and cherries ripen in our garden. Every morning before breakfast, I run impatiently with a plate in my hands to pick them. When the cherries are ripe, I climb on the roof of a shed to reach them. They're very tasty, so I eat them 'till my stomach gets full. Sometimes, I throw a berry to the hens and they roll it around the yard, trying to take it from each other.
In the evenings, I drive the cow up to the house. I find it very romantic because I need to jump on stones and run in the wormwoods, trying to bring her home. When I return from the meadow, I'm all hung with burrs.
The nights in Belovka are warm and dark. The sky is covered with stars, like tiny grains are being thrown on a black ground. The moon is like a small piece of cheese. When it's not too late, I lie on a camp-bed and admire the stars. My pet dog Sharik is sniffing next to me. It's great to imagine different star pictures, especially when my best friend is very near.
I love my village with all my heart and wish it could exist forever. Its nature is only a small part of the nature on Earth, but we all know that the small makes the great. We all have to take care of places like Belovka.
-- -Natasha Abramova, 11,
Gymnasia #77, Togliatti, Samara, Russia.
* Do you visit a special place in nature,
The Quilt of Our Nations
In the summer of 2003, lightning struck Glacier National Park, and under the stormy sky, the forest began to burn. Flames licked the towering trees and devoured the groundcover. Grasses flared into curls of ash, and weakened trees fell while the hot flames rushed onwards through the valleys, flickering hungrily in the night. The inferno raged for over a month, until now. In its aftermath, more than 40,000 acres lie bare to the smoky sky. Raw earth has replaced the vibrant, green juvenile trees, bushes, moss, grass and other annual plants. Charred and broken, the surviving older trees stand naked, without their thick evergreen canopy or undergrowth.
I stand amidst the acres of burn and think to myself: This is a beautiful scene, if you're a Ponderosa pine.
Forest fires have existed for as long as the forests. They're a natural part of the ebb and flow of life and species diversity. As a new forest rises up over the hillside, combustible material continuously accumulates. Given this fuel supply, all that's needed is a spark from natural or human sources (lighting, escaped campfires, arson, etc.) and the whole landscape ignites.
But for many forest species, the ensuing blaze isn't necessarily a bad thing. Life is resilient and adaptable-think of the persistent dandelions that grow in sidewalk cracks. The blackened ground of a recent fire is good news for Ponderosa and Jack pines because without it, they can't reproduce effectively. Their seed cones are covered by a waxy outer layer that can melt to free their seeds only in the heat of fire. By saving their seeds until after a fire, these pines are guaranteed that their offspring will land on sunny, open ground that may previously have been shaded by understory.
The Giant Sequoia, a member of the redwood family, is another species that has adapted to take advantage of the destruction of fire. With flame-resistant bark up to two-feet thick, established sequoias withstand all but the most intense fires. While the sequoia saplings can grow in moderate shade, they thrive and out-compete those of other species when in full sun. Thus, after a fire roars through a redwood grove, most of the older redwoods survive while other trees species of similar age don't.
With the post-fire increase in sunlight exposure, new redwoods grow faster and taller than their competitors-up to seven feet in a season! Speedy growth is important for the young trees as taller trees get more sunlight and thus produce more energy via photosynthesis than those below.
But there are catastrophic fires that burn too hot for even these flame-loving plants. The most destructive fires to a forest ecosystem are those that burn so intensely that they actually sterilize the soil. Healthy soil contains a fertile mixture of organic parts, like decomposing leaves, wood, berries or animal carcasses. When a fire burns all the soil's organic material, the seeds of the new plants have far fewer nutrients to grow on. Also, without a stabilizing mesh of plant roots, the burned soil is more prone to erosion and landslides, which leaves hillside plants with even less usable topsoil.
When I walked through the burned areas of Glacier National Park this summer, the charred trees reminded me of another forest in Oregon's Illinois River valley. Backpacking there with a friend in 2001, I saw the forest several decades after its last major burn and one year before its next one. The ridges our trail switchbacked up were surrounded by tall, large-diameter trees that dwarfed the blooming rhododendrons and purple lupines. Nearly all of these larger trees bore charcoal scars of previous fire.
The Biscuit Fire that ravaged southern Oregon the summer after our hike was truly violent. But it is only one fire in a long list of fires that the forests of the Illinois River valley and Glacier National Park have managed to withstand over the centuries. Fire is a cyclical event; tree ring data show that Ponderosa forests have a history of burns every 20 years.
Fire ecology is the scientific study of fire's role in a healthy ecosystem, to better understand its cyclical nature and interplay with plants and animals. This knowledge will allow us to make better informed choices as stewards of the Earth. Already, because of new information learned about burn cycles, the U.S. Forest Service has begun prescribed burns in various areas to allow fire-dependent plant species to reproduce and combustible material to be reduced, in the hope of preventing hotter, more catastrophic fires.
This information has also raised new questions though, such as how much should we fight to control natural wildland fires? Obviously when human lives or property are at risk by wildland fires as in San Diego, CA, in 2003, all available resources should be used to contain the blaze. But what about forest fires that don't pose such risks to humans? Should these be left to burn as they did before we had the technology to attempt to stop them? Is letting a forest burn a waste of valuable resources or a destructive yet necessary part of a healthy ecosystem? The Forest Service received over 23,000 comments from citizens if they should allow harvesting of the Biscuit Fire timber in Southern Oregon.
What about increased human habitation outside of city centers on the fringes of forest lands? These houses are closer to potential forest fires and farther from urban fire fighting resources. Should such housing developments be limited or even banned? Should they change the way fires are fought in the surrounding wildlands?
All these thoughts ran through my mind as I stared at the smoldering remnants of one of Glacier's famously forested valleys. But remembering the lushness of the Illinois Valley years after its last burn, the Glacier vista didn't seem as final, depressing or like such a waste of timber and beauty. It only felt inevitable. Cyclical. Natural. As my hands explored the char on a broken branch, I realized that saplings are the forest's Phoenix rising.
-- Amanda Marusich is now exploring
the forests of New Zealand.
To learn more about wildland fires, their impact on plants and fire control policies, visit: www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/fire/
What Would You Do?
The Ability to Feel
Skipping Stones Magazine