Remember the Heat Dome

October 14, 2021

Remember the Heat Dome

The Hemlock (Western Hemlock/Tsuga heterophylla) needles have blended into the soil, the cracks in the patio and the gravel of the driveway. Falling leaves have further obscured them. But just one month ago, they carpeted the ground. They dropped en masse after the “heat dome” event at the end of June, bright green and silver fading quickly to gold. But the carnage continued through the summer: green-and-silver photosynthetic units kept falling, falling, an ongoing loss. I don’t want to forget.

Driving up over Tiger Mountain at the beginning of September, we noticed mature Douglas Firs (Pseudotsuga menziesii) growing along Highway 18’s right-of-way; every branch tip was orange. The tender spring growth was all killed before it could harden.

What will happen next year? How can the trees survive? How many “heat domes” does it take to kill a tree? That event should inspire us to strive to find both small- and large-scale solutions for the climate crisis. We cannot let ourselves be lulled by Autumn’s coolness.

We noticed the suffering Douglas Firs on our way back from Mt. Rainier. We hadn’t noticed fresh needle-fall or toasted new growth on the mountain conifers up at Paradise. The excessive heat (106 degrees F. in Ashford!) must have hit before the new needles came on, so the higher-elevation trees escaped instantaneous damage.

Our hotel’s manager told us that the Nisqually River rose dramatically in the days immediately after the excessive heat. Rushing melt-waters flowing under the snow, softened the snowpack. Several hikers fell through into the creeks; one person drowned. The glaciers on The Mountain are melting.* Its slopes are bare of snow, all the ridges exposed.

Though I feel grief for what I can see with my own eyes we are losing, The Mountain and all it encompasses had a restorative effect on my soul. As we drove through the forest on the lowest slopes of the National Park, we took our time, pulling over frequently to let cars pass. So many people were in a hurry to “get there.” But we were greedily absorbing the view of the forest understory beside the road. So much GREEN. So much diversity. Huge patches of Scouler’s Corydalis (Corydalis scouleri), Devil’s Club (Oplopanax horridus) and Vanilla Leaf (Achlys triphylla). Most of the species we saw were familiar to us, and many we grow (or attempt to grow!) at Tadpole Haven Native Plants. In one spot the size of my kitchen, we also identified 15 forest floor species plus a few we didn’t know the names of AND we weren’t counting trees or mosses and lichens.**

At last, we emerged from the shadows of the forest and ascended to the meadows of Paradise. The experience was as spiritually transporting as it sounds, though our huffing and puffing as we hiked up the steep paths and our wobbly legs as we descended reminded us that we are still mortal! Brilliant shades of green–again with the GREEN–predominated on the steep subalpine slopes. Groves of Mountain Hemlocks (Tsuga mertensiana) and Noble Firs (Abies procera), shrubs kept low by winter snows—huckleberries, mountain ash, spirea and every square inch between them packed with smaller, soft-stemmed wildflowers. Some I knew the name of; most I did not. A VERY few, we try to grow at Tadpole Haven. I am glad that most of these successfully defy the greed of gardeners and growers. We can only enjoy them if we come to them in their mountain home.

We came home to our lowland home fortified by The Mountain, a little bit stronger to deal with the harsh realities of life in 2021.

*check out the Seattle Times front-page article, Sept. 5, 2021, “In the Cascades, a landscape of dramatically shrinking glaciers.”

**Vaccinium membranaceum/Black Huckleberry

Trientalis latifolia/Broad-leaved Starflower

Trillium ovatum/Western Trillium

Maianthemum stellata/Star-Flowered False Solomon’s Seal

Maianthemum dilatatum/Wild Lily-of-the-Valley

Mahonia nervosa/Cascade Oregon Grape

Linnaea borealis/Twinflower

Goodyera oblongifolia/Rattlesnake Plantain

Gymnocarpium dryopteris/Oak Fern

Gaultheria shallon/Salal

Cornus unalaschkensis/Bunchberry

Blechnum spicant/Deer Fern

Athyrium filix-femina/Lady Fern

Aruncus dioicus/Goatsbeard

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