When I decided to move to Oklahoma’s countryside it was because I was faced with not being able to afford to live in California. I built the first house I have ever owned with $48,000 from my California State Teachers Retirement fund.
I built it with every environmental trick in the book that I could afford.
I moved to Oklahoma because I wanted to be close to nature. I have always, at least since the fourth grade, been committed to sustainability which meant living as lightly on the earth as possible. I wanted, in my golden years, to be part of the interconnectedness of Life, to get back to the basics. I believe that if you are not a part of the solution, then you are a part of the problem.
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My cottonwood tree, the tree that shades almost my whole house halving my electric bill in the summer, the tree I love with a deep and true love because of its dancing leaves and its sheltering of woodpeckers, hummingbirds, blue indigos, and all such creatures, was crispy brown and had only a few leaves left on a single branch. The saga continues.
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I’ve saved a small part of the cottonwood tree so far but not the tiniest sign of life (yet) in the rest of the tree.
I did it by daily deep watering. I have also put two applications of my special urine liquid fertilizer (recipe from Mother Earth News) in the same area. The new leaves are now deep, deep green. They’ve even begun to sprout on one side of the trunk. I have read that the best way to treat infestations of plants of all kinds is to make the plant stronger. Sounds right to me.
However, I found a cottonwood borer today. It’s an insect that looks like someone designed it as a piece of art for a boutique hotel. They are the little guys who cause “scorch” disease in all kinds of trees. They do this by boring into the base of the cottonwood and laying their eggs there, disrupting the xylem, which carries water to all parts of the tree. The tree eventually dies of thirst.
So today I was not charmed by the borer’s pretty self. Instead, I picked it up and dropped it on the deck and stepped on it with my clodhopper shoe. It was amazingly hard to kill. It has a really hard exoskeleton. I had to crunch it several times as hard as I could.
After the crunching I ran to my friend, The Internet, to see if there was a substance I could use to save my tree. I found an insecticide I was briefly tempted to use, a tobacco based poison that kills cottonwood borers. But it kills good insects, too. Like bees. I guess, if it is scorch that’s killing the tree, and not just heat and drought, it’s just gonna have to die. I have depended on it for a huge part of cooling my house without the use of manmade energy. It is a serious matter for me. Financially and morally.
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I think we have been above 100 degrees here at Chigger Lake for 23 straight days, with no end in sight. Climate change, folks. We humans use a whole lot of energy for our modern day lives which warms up our planet. Everybody needs big trees to shade their homes.
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My forest has the following species of trees in it:
Ash, two or three kinds of oak, red bud, wild plum, red cedar, dogwood, elm, and another tree I have yet to identify.
Violets grow in the forest, and moss, and poison ivy, snakes, and ticks, too, lest we think Mother Nature is just some kind of nice old lady. She’s got an edge to her, you know.
One species of oak is dying and redbuds, too. I see their brown leaves here and there in the woods. An old, pretty oak bordering the driveway is almost completely brown. I shake my head hard when I see it as I pass because I can’t stand to think it won’t be there much longer.
The Johnson grass is only a few inches tall compared to the four or five feet tall it got to be in past years. The sage is half its normal height. At the edge of the forest a huge red cedar’s branches are limp. The sunflowers are stunted except for one that always sprouts from my compost heap but even it sags in the hottest part of the day.
But, my goodness! The tree seedlings! They are everywhere! I imagine them grown tall and heady, shading my whole yard all the way down the hill to the pond. They will someday be the canopy for life here.
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I am not going to mow my grass while this drought is going on.
I watched the three (three)mower guys along Killer Highway 177 mowing on both sides of the highway. The grass was already stunted because of the drought but they mowed anyway, kicking up dirt as they went down the road. I am going to keep my grass long and green, especially during this drought. Plants hold water and when they are mowed too much, or dug up, or burned, or whatever, water evaporation from the soil occurs, leading to desertification. Desertification is a relatively new phenomenon on Earth and it is growing very, very fast.
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The drought preoccupies me.
I walked past a Yukon Denali in the parking lot of my grocery store yesterday. Someone had left it running with the air conditioning on. It (and the heat) made me really, really mad. When I went into the store the manager guy, making small talk, asked me how I was. I responded, “Too hot. I’m going crazy from it.”
Then he said something that agitated me even further. He said, “Yeah, but you can’t do anything about it.” With a big smile.
I looked at the cloth bags I had brought to the grocery store and thought about my trusty 2001 Prius and my cottonwood tree and my environmentally friendly house and thought, “What the hell! I have been lugging these bags around since 1989 trying to stop global warming and this guy doesn’t even believe in it. Probably thinks it’s a hoax.”
So I said, “Actually we can do something about it,” and looked him straight in the eye. He looked confused. And thought I was crazy.
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In this hideous heat I have discovered iced coffee again. Lil, my dear second Jewish mother-in-law, introduced me to iced coffee in the 60s in New York City. I hadn’t liked coffee. I drank it black, if at all, in Oklahoma. She was amazed I drank it that way and said I should try it with milk and sugar, “Regulah,” she said, and when I obliged, I fell in love with it. Iced coffee. Regulah. Mmmmmm. And it’s perfect for heat waves. It caffeines you up and cools you off.
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The dogs are so hot they are no longer afraid of the water sprayer and gallop up to get watered down. The mud they’re covered with from lying in it to get cool, slides off them onto the ground.
The hoses have holes in them where Diego and then Abby the Neighbor Dog bit them. They actually make great sprinklers while I’m watering in another part of the “yard,” making a fine mist in four or five places here and there. Affordable sprinkling system!
The tomatoes are almost massacred by the heat, even though I water them deeply every day and even though they have the benefit of being planted on top of the compost pile. Watermelon seeds have sprouted – volunteers – in some straw I spread out when I almost had a vegetable garden. I only got as far as the finely constructed raised bed (thanks, John) and straw on that project. Never could get enough good dirt together to make a real garden. Besides the critters would have eaten everything.
I wish my fairy godmother would bring me a pickup full of bales of hay and dump it in my north yard. Masanobu Fukuoka would be happy. I think of him a lot as I water my plants and watch their withering or sprouting or blooming.
Saw the great blue heron again down by the pond early one morning this week. He comes when things are dry and hot. When he takes off he looks like a pterodactyl. I saw a hawk there the next day. He was looking for fish. I didn’t know what he was until I yelled down the hill to make it move. Then he spread his wings and lifted into the air. This pond, mucky though it is, means life.
I love living here.
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I stumbled across these paragraphs just now when I was looking for photographs of leaves so I could identify one of the tree species in my forest. It is from the Oklahoma Forestry Service. (I love government!)
“According to the southern forest resource assessment, in 1630 Oklahoma had 13.3 million acres of forests with 133 tree species. By the 1930s less than 200,000 acres of virgin forest in eastern Oklahoma remained. The U.S. Forest Service estimates we now have 7.665 million acres of forest-58 % of the original acreage. Forest surveys have shown increases in the forest during the past 20 years due to better management and reforestation.
Elbert Little, Jr., who studied several forest sites in southeast Oklahoma over a 60 year period described the burned out (my italics) and cutover woods he first witnessed in 1929 as ‘almost worthless for any purpose.’ It would be some time, he said, before it was of any value.
Despite early excesses, poor land use and lack of foresight, some exciting stories of forest reclamation are also woven into our history. For example, during the first 10 years our agency was in business an intensive public education campaign was launched. As a result, the percentage of southeastern forests burned annually dropped from 80 percent to three percent.
By the 1980s when Little revisited the area, he reversed his earlier position about the worthlessness of the land. He wrote that he wished he owned some of it. ‘The progress in management of southeastern Oklahoma’s forest lands is far greater than anyone would have predicted a half century ago,’ he wrote. ‘The changes, mostly beneficial, are beyond anyone’s imaginations or dreams.’
The state’s vast pine and oak-pine forests have recovered well and presently support a huge forest industry, wildlife populations and recreation opportunities.
It is important to remember forests change naturally over time-they won’t remain the same unless we manipulate them intentionally. Early French explorers in east central Oklahoma north of Wilburton named the mountains San Bois: treeless. Now they are covered with woodlands.
Large pine trees scattered in tall-grass savannah characterized the virgin forests of southeastern Oklahoma. Quality hardwoods such as walnut and ash were growing in Oklahoma along the west Texas border thousands of years ago. Very large red cedars have been unearthed near Chickasha that are estimated to also be several thousand years old.
Grasslands and the woodlands are in a constant tug of war as they respond to long-term climate changes. Humanity is one part of the equation.”