Wild Storms and Wild Trees

Today began muddy after a long rain last night – too muddy to negotiate the rutted road to our lynx site – so we had a day in the office. I spent the morning putting range water troughs on the map for the upcoming birdramp project, then ran out of useful things to do. Kate had a range management meeting to attend, so I was on my own for the afternoon. I decided to take a crack at finding a few of the closer water wells on the range.

I knew that storms were on the way – a tornado warning had been issued near Jackson – and before I could locate my first well in the maze of gasfield roads I was reversing my route down the two-track roads – trying to get back to a road that would not be liquefied by the advancing downpour. Check out the photos of the day to see the wall cloud that preceded the storm.

I reached a well along a decent road in the middle of the storm and tried to wait it out, but rather than pass quickly like most storms out here, the rain mellowed but kept coming, with no sign of lighter skies to the west. Finally, I had to head back toward the office – along a different road that would take me past another well. As it happened, the rain stopped just as I reached that well, so I took my data and moved onward.

Farther up the road I reached an area of construction – cutting back a bank along the road – that for some reason had not stopped during the rain. I was confronted by large machinery occupying a stretch of 6-inch-deep clay mud with a small torrent crossing the road. A dump truck dropped a load of gravel in the stream, and a guy waved me through. So I threw the big Chevy in 4-low and chugged through without incident, soon finding myself back on hard surfaces leading me to Pinedale.

I am finally reading The Wild Trees, a book with a number of small-world stories involving birds, a friend’s mother, and Ecuador. The book describes the adventures, near-death experiences, and personal lives of a group of scientists exploring the high canopies of redwood forests. The story begins with my freshman year RA, Zoe Anderson, a studio art major. Reluctant to leave Carleton after graduation, she stayed on as a fifth-year intern with the art department. It so happens that Zoe has a mother who likes birds, and who came to visit Carleton this past spring. Zoe asked me if I would lead a bird walk in the Arb for her mother, and – never one to pass up an opportunity to watch birds – I agreed. The birds appeared for us – warblers, meadowlarks, even a Henslow’s Sparrow, and many species to add to Zoe’s mom’s life list. As we walked, the mom recommended a book she had read – The Wild Trees. People recommend books all the time, so I wasn’t particularly piqued. A few weeks later I find a package from an unfamiliar name addressed to Michael Lutter. After the post office informed me that no one with a name at all similar to Michael Lutter attended Carleton, I opened the package to discover that Rosemary Anderson had not forgotten the book but had obviously never asked how to spell my name.

The second thread of the story begins in Ecuador with professor Leah Larsen, a sparky and beautiful young woman with a passion for botany and tree climbing. Leah climbed trees with lanyards – basically two extendable ropes attached to different high branches that allowed her to move safely in any direction. She taught us the basics, and we all enjoyed climbing around the large but not really tall Podocarpus trees of the cloud forest. Leah spent most of her graduate school experience in the tops of redwood trees, learning the ropes from Steve Sillett, who just so happens to be the main character in The Wild Trees. Leah even merits mention in the book.

Kind of makes me want to go climb some trees….

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