Tuesday, July 17, 2012
The land began around Mexico City and has been drifting northward for millions of years, picking up plants, mostly conifers, as it moved. It’s also full of sections of serpentine soil, barren hot patches on a trail hike where the soil chemistry is not good for growing plants. There is too much magnesium and not enough calcium in the dense hard rocks that came from the bottom of the sea. When the two continental plates rubbed against each other, the ocean’s did not slide below, as it usually does, but bobbed up to the surface “like a cork” and created long, slender patches of rough land, running parallel to the coast line from Southern Oregon down through California. There are plants that refuse to grow on serpentine soil and plants that only grow there and they switch off, back and forth, within a foot or two of the change. The lines between serpentine and not serpentine are really distinct; you can see them from a distance, from the road or across a valley. Geology directs evolution.
Southern Oregon is also a geological bowl and a crossing place—plants (and people) come up from coastal and inland California, and from coastal and inland Oregon—four distinct ecosystems border this place. When the climate changes, plants migrate in and either adapt and stay or die out. There are species that can only be found here…and lots of plants that look familiar, but a just a little different. When we hike in the Red Buttes Wilderness, I can hear Mark behind me, muttering… “Coral Root orchid. Forget-me-not, a little taller….ahhh, bear grass! Oh, nice wall flower.” as he recognizes the blooms. But there is also a lot of questioning mixed in…”What’s that? It looks like some kind of lily? Or is it an onion? And that one—a mint? Smells like some sort of mint, but look at those bracts underneath? What do you think?” It’s a constant commentary as he bends over to examine yet another plant. He’s not the only one; there are dozens of professionals who have spent their entire lives bent over these plants and they all showed up for the Native Plant Society meeting last weekend and gossiped botany and geology for hours.
Southern Oregon is also a catchbasin for people. It is where the alternative left and right come together, live and let live, just keep out of my business. Small holdings line the roads through rolling valleys and up the hills—off the grid wooden cabins, trailers covered in blue tarps, tidy ranches and split levels with yard ornaments, and a few huge McMansions are all mixed together on the back roads. We are always amazed at how many people are tucked away in the hills. Signs indicate the variety of view points; there are as many supporters of Ron Paul as there are references to Buddhist teachings. Recently, the Applegate Valley has been discovered by wine growers, and their huge iron gates with stucco pillars add to the landscape, but little has really changed. People move in when the culture changes, some adapt and stay, some leave. It’s all about evolution, a constant slow change in the land and landscape.