Sunday, November 16, 2008

Mt. Washinton high in the back, Mt. Willey on the left and Mts. Lowell, Anderson, and Nancy in right foreground, looking east from Mt. Carrigain

The following pictures and paragraphs comprise a brief history of the creation of the White Mountain National Forest (WMNF) to serve as a foundation for some of the articles to come. It’s a bit awkward to build a blog in which time, meaning the chronological order, goes up the page instead of down; where the last page (the bottom of the scroll) is the beginning, or oldest, and the first page is the end. It can be better managed by numbering the articles and pictures and having a table of contents which I will do soon. The pictures displayed with this narrative on the history are (almost) a 360 degree panorama of the WMNF from close to its center point on the summit of Mt. Carrigain (4700 feet).

Willey Range, looking north from Carrigain, August, 2008

The White Mountain National Forest (WMNF) came into existence in 1918 (May 16, 1918) after passage of the Weeks Law in 1911 that created the US national forest system. John Weeks, a Massachusetts Congressman, in 1906, proposed money be set aside by congress to purchase land in the East for national forest preserves. There were a few precursors to the national forests in the years prior to the Weeks Act in the form of “Federal Forest Reserves” most of which were located in the western states. Various groups advocating for eastern reserves used flood control, wildfire control, forest management, forest preservation, headwater protection for navigable rivers, conservation and recreation as the necessities for the new reserves. Some of the ideas were attempts to circumnavigate the opposition to the reserves in Washington who were shouting “Not a penny for scenery!” aimed at the conservation and recreation folks.

Looking west (top) to the Franconias, and (bottom) northwest across the Pemigewasset Wilderness towards the Twins

The WMNF had been envisioned earlier than 1906 by groups seeking forest reserves strictly for conservation and recreation. Their push to get the government to buy and set aside large tracts of land in the East had been galvanized by the destructive forest fire in what is now the Pemigwasset Wilderness in 1907. Creating the WMNF was the dream of these so-called “recreationists”,during the painful years when they witnessed the all-out destruction of the “majestic forests” of the White Mountains by logging moguls like James Everell Henry and were powerless to stop it. They witnessed horrific fires ravage the same forests in August 1886, May 1903 and August 1907, fires that were exacerbated by the logging industry’s cost cutting silvacultural practices that included leaving ‘slash’ on the ground where trees were cut.

Looking southwest across the Hancocks to Mt. Moosilauke, August 2008

The conservation-recreation alliance 100 years ago consisted of the AMC, which was founded in 1888 and created out of preexisting affiliations of White Mountain ‘groupies’, a strong contingent of mountain denizens in Randolph, NH, who formed the Randolph Mountain Club (RMC) in 1910 to address the enormously destructive logging occurring on the north slope of the Presidential Range. Many of the RMC members were also members of the AMC and vice versa. In addition, a founding member of the AMC, the famous path maker and meteorologist, J. Rayner Edmands, helped create the Society for the Preservation of New Hampshire Forests in 1901. Those organzations along with outing clubs and organization devoted to hiking and camping associated with colleges and universities and summer camps were also part of the loosely knit alliance that became a strong lobbying entity for the creation of the WMNF as it was directed primarily at unsavory logging practices.

Sandwich Range, looking south from Carrigain, August 2008

At the beginning of the movement that created the national forest system remember that what was being proposed was a means to “secure favorable conditions of water flows.” This was a more tactful way of saying “we need to buy the water rights to all important streams and rivers to keep them in the public domain (part of The Commons) and out of the hands of the logging industry”. Even saying “securing favorable conditions’ was a swipe at the logging industry of the late 1800s that had no such credo to protect watersheds. But the emphasis on water is important. When the Weeks Law was passed in 1911 the main thrust of the National Forest system was still the protection of the headwaters of naviagable rivers. For the White Mountain National Forest (WMNF) that meant, principally, the Merrimack and Connecticut River systems through there several tributaries with headwaters in the White Mountains with names like Pemigewasset and Ammonsuc, By the 1960s the term “Multiple Use” was a favorable way to interweave the diverse purposes of the WMNF, real and potential, and all the stakeholder in it and the other national forests. That‘s a small part of the social history of water in the White Mountains and is a bridge to studying the enormous role water has in the natural history of the forest.

Whitewall Brook, at Zealand Falls, August 2008

Water is astounding! It’s lovely and magical (in most contexts) and it’s essential to life. It’s a simple compound of hydrogen and oxygen, gases for all of that, combined to make this liquid that magically gives life to this planet. It joins every living thing to every other living thing, and, in turn, connects them to this earth. We can’t live without it nor can any plant or animal. Our bodies contain ridiculous amounts of water. What is it?…65 or 70 percent of our body mass, a lot, anyway. So our bodies need water but so do our souls, our hearts, our minds. Water replenishes us and it inspires us. When I look at this picture of Whitewall Brook tumbling down the granite ledges by Zealand Falls Hut, swirling through smooth, polished, bathtub-sized pot holes, leaping down the falls I remember how I used to play in water for hours as a child, mesmerized, totally engrossed in a timeless world. As kids in North Conway we used to play by the Saco on summer days. My chums and I would go in mid-morning with one of our mums. We’d swim and jump from rope swings but later we would hunker down and build these wonderfully elaborate ‘villages’ with slender twigs of oak and white pine. We’d build bridges and elevated roads and houses and the river would flow under them and around us all day. The sun would swing across the sky. Then a parent would yell that it was time to go and I would whine bitterly (one of my great talents) and say “We just got here!” only to be told that hours and hours had passed.

A lacey waterfall in Madison Gulf, the Peabody River catchment, June 2008

These are two favorite Robert Frost poem about water as a lovely, intricate phenomenon and are addressed to water as we experience it the spring in New Hampshire. By the way Hyla is another name for spring peepers, those tiny creatures with the loud, raspy song heard on spring nights.
The phrase "taken otherwhere in song" was a swipe at Tennyson for his perpetual references to "bubbling brooks" which raised the hackles on Frost's neck.

Hyla Brook

By June our brook's run out of song and speed.
Sought for much after that, it will be found
Either to have gone groping underground
(And taken with it all the Hyla breed
That shouted in the mist a month ago,
Like ghost of sleigh-bells in a ghost of snow)--
Or flourished and come up in jewel-weed,
Weak foliage that is blown upon and bent
Even against the way its waters went.
Its bed is left a faded paper sheet
Of dead leaves stuck together by the heat--
A brook to none but who remember long.
This as it will be seen is other far
Than with brooks taken otherwhere in song.
We love the things we love for what they are.

Robert Frost

Spring Pools

These pools that, though in forests, still reflect
The total sky almost without defect,
And like the flowers beside them, chill and shiver,
Will like the flowers beside them soon be gone,
And yet not out by any brook or river,
But up by roots to bring dark foliage on.
The trees that have it in their pent-up buds
To darken nature and be summer woods --
Let them think twice before they use their powers
To blot out and drink up and sweep away
These flowery waters and these watery flowers
From snow that melted only yesterday.

Robert Frost

Walker Brook on Mt. Lafayette, November 2008

Talking about water is like talking about money. That’s particularly true today. Money is disappearing quickly and so is water. Water, bottled water, is a multi-billion dollar industry in the United States raising the question “who owns water”. Coca Cola and a few other corporations are taking tap water, running it through a reverse osmosis filter and reselling it in a convenient plastic bottle and making fortunes. Corporations refer to water as “white oil”. Recently water cost more per gallon than gasoline. When the headwaters of streams and rivers were protected by the inception of the national forests an important precedent was set. Unfortunately no foresight has been exercised to protect artesianal water. A lot of the 'public' water in the US is undrinkable. Atlanta’s water supply is one example. Some water supplies are contaminated by things like disposed antidepressant medicines, estrogen, and mercury. Rain, in some parts of the US, is still highly acidic, rivers, too, are acidic in some regions or have become saline, lakes are contaminated by fertilizers or they’re drying up like the Caspian Sea. In 1959 the bottom of Lake Winnipesaukee in central New Hampshire was visible in 30 feet of water. Now it is only visible in 17 feet. What does this mean for natural systems, for all living organisms like ourselves that depend on an abundance of fresh water and what happens to the hydrological cycle itself? (I apologize for this editorial)

19 Mile Brook, on the trail to Carter Dome, October 2008

There are a few ways to look at the natural history of the mountains in the context of water. One is to look at the natural history of the water itself by looking at the biotic and abiotic content of the water. Water exists in all three physical states in the forest, as liquid, vapor (clouds), and solid (ice). It is found in a variety of 'container', in very fast flowing, high mountain streams, slower moving streams and rivers at the bottom of low altitude valleys, in marshes, bogs, beaver ponds, small, low altitude lakes and in high altitude 'alpine lakes'. In each of those there will a considerable amount of biota, or living organisms. Most of these are invertebrates, including microscopic populations of insects and unicellular animals like volvox and euglenas associated with green algae. There are bacteria some as large at the Giardia cysts that make it necessary to filter or treat mountain water before drinking it. White mountain stream water contains a lot of what is called Particulate Organic Matter (POM) which is vegetable in nature including small fragments of duff (part of the forest soil) fungi and and fungi spores. None of the items listed, with the exception of Giardia pose a threat to humans. More will be said about Giardia in a later entry. In the macro organism group we have crustaceans like crawfish, insect larvae like helgramite and mosquito larvae. There are dozens of species of fish including small mouth bass and brook trout. 'Brookies' are indigenous to the eastern US but are rarely found in wild strains. Most are now introduced, or hatchery bred. Brook Trout are used as a measuring tool for assessing the over-all health of streams and brooks in a studied area. Logging disturbs macro and micro biota in streams and rivers based on research I conducted in New Hampshire several years ago. One aspect is an enormous increase in the number of species and the total biomass of microscopic insects in the water.

19 Mile Brook, Cater Dome trail, October 2007

Another way to look at water in the mountains is to imagine the WMNF as a large filtering and water recharge system, or even a recharge ‘supra-organism’ since it is mostly living, that cleans and revitalizes the water. The White Mountains; the slopes, peaks, valleys, the forests, the trees and plants, the soils, the gravel, the rivers, the boulders in the rivers, gravity, sunlight, the wind, snow, and ice are all intricate parts of a highly efficient water catchment, filtering and recharge and delivery system. 19 Mile Brook (NMB) in the photo above starts high up on the northwest side of Carter Dome and the east side of Wildcat Mountain. It begins as springs, surface outlets for artesianal, or ground, water. (That’s water that has seeped into the underlying rock strata and is pulled by gravity sideways and downwards. In some cases it begins to ‘leak’ out at a surface point and is called a ‘spring’.) Of course the brook gets fed by rain and plenty of snow. At is tumbles and leaps down the mountain slope by way of V shaped ravines it gets oxygenated. When the leaves of deciduous trees are out and photosynthesizing sunlight the trees drink up enormous quantities of water in the soil and water from available sources like brooks and streams. Water taken up by plants is evaporated (evapo-transpiration), rises as vapor and later returns (condensation) as rain and snow (or sleet, hail, dog, cats, rubber boots, meatballs in one book I read, etc.) This cycle is essential for plants and people. For one thing it creates the atmosphere including the oxygen content that is kind of important for our lungs and blood, and for hiking, skiing, picture taking, etc.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Snow falling on beech leaves

Snow! Winter is coming! It's really exciting to see! There have been unseasonably warmish days in the mountains during the past few weeks but there is snow on the high peaks and more to come and soon. I love being out in the woods or even high on a ridge in a snowstorm. Anyway, winter approaching brings reflections, ideas, on things to write about for this blog. I have a long list of things. It's endless, really, and I've been getting positive reviews of the blog from readers and some have offered to contribute articles. That's very exciting! I look forward to the blog becoming an inclusive forum and would appreciate a diversity of approaches and perspectives for looking at the natural history of the White Mountains. For my part I'm kind of compulsively pulled towards fundamentals like the overall health of the mountain environment through water, soil, climate including air quality, and what I call 'perturbations' or disturbances in the landscape like landslides, hurricanes, and fires. Even beaver dams, to an extent, are perturbations. They momentarily change the status quo, or 'balance' of things. Finally, I want to get down to some of the details in the plant and animal communities and explore interesting concepts like 'range' and 'distribution'. The WMNF , from my perspective, is a healthy ecosystem measured, in part, by the health and diversity of the plant communities here. That diversity is one of the truly wonderful and unique things about the White Mountain.