Notes from Windward: #57

Signs of Spring

Tulips in the garden
It's hard to imagine a lovelier herald of spring than the tulip. Almost as the snow is melting, they're pushing out their green leaves, then topping it with a burst of most welcome color. These tulips are nestled in a corner of the kitchen garden, and while they aren't edible, they certainly do bring a measure of cheery beauty to the table. While Windward is still very much at the practical stage, we always try to have some time for beauty just for the sake of beauty.

Not that there isn't a practical side to beauty too. The ten tulips you see in the picture started out as three bulbs planted three years ago. The bulbs divide on a steady basis, year after year, slowly but surely beautifying their little portion of the world. It's not a bad metaphor for the good life. "Out there" folk are always looking for ways to make money; at Windward we're focused on finding ways to create value. That may only seem like an issue of semantics, but I believe it's one of those differences that makes all the difference.

Here, we have decidedly wet and dry seasons. For lots of plants, that doesn't work; they want one or the other. We do what we can to accommodate them by selecting a bit of ground that has more water by virtue of the runoff patterns, or conversely that is higher up and less likely to have saturated soil for extended periods of time. The topography of our land is such that we can find a place for just about any plant's preferred lifestyle.

Over time we're learning more about the plants that are especially well adapted to what we have. It's a truism that satisfaction in life is based not so much on getting what you want, but in wanting what you've got. One of the more intriguing plants that "wants what we've got" is the saffron crocus. It's preferred lifestyle is one with a dry, dormant summer season. It comes alive during the fall rains, lives under the snow, and finishes it's growth cycle in the spring. Once the ground drys up, it hunkers down and waits for things to get better in the fall.

The Saffron Crocus
photo by Judy Gibson
Saffron, the spice that's sometimes called red gold, is actually the dried stigma of the crocus flower. When they bloom in the fall, the stigma are picked with tweezers and dried to create one of the most precious of herbs. It's used in a range of dishes, many of them of Spanish heritage, and imparts both a unique flavor and an appetizing color to rice dishes.

While picking the spice is labor intensive, the rest of the plant cycle isn't. Every few years you need to dig up the saffron bed, sort out the bulbs and replant them in a larger bed to relieve overcrowding. The master gardener who's helping us with this project planted 150 bulbs, and five years later, dug up more than a thousand. It takes a lot of bulbs to make a pound of saffron, but since the spice retails for ten dollars an ounce, it does add up. While it's unlikely that we'd ever grow commercial quantities, but it's nice to know that we could if we wanted to.

For more detailed information on saffron, click Saffron

Logging starts to the north of us
Windward is a big place. While 106 acres may not sound like a lot on paper, given the diversity of our topography, it certainly feels very large. Part of that psychological size has to do with the forest land that surrounds us providing a valuable buffer zone.

The development of our buildings has been concentrated in one area of about ten acres. This was partially due to the topography of the land, and partially because of the ease of accessing power and phone lines from that spot. Windward is five-eighth's of a mile wide, and power lines aren't cheap to run, so there was a great incentive to start our development reasonably near to the county road where we felt that the trade off between isolation and access was optimum.

On the downside of the ledger, this put us right up against our northern boundary. Since the land north of us is timber land, that was fine, but this year they're timbering it, something which comes as a bit of an emotional shock. Now, when you look northward, there's much more sunlight than there used to be.

I'm pleased to report that the logging company is doing a good job; it's not a clear-cut, but rather a selective harvest. While the farmer in me knows that it's harvest time, and that these trees are really just another crop (there's no "old growth" anywhere around here), and that it was time to remove the mature trees, still it's an emotional thing to see. But then again, we all get emotional when critters have to go to the sale, and this is really no different.

We often joke about city folk who seem to think their food comes from Safeway and that "chicken" comes plastic-wrapped on little white trays. When most people eat meat, they never give thought to the living animal that produced it. Well, sitting there on a stump watching the trees being stacked up for shipping to the mill, I had to reflect that when buying a 2x4 at the hardware store, I didn't ever give any thought to the living tree that was felled to produce it. In the long run, it would be hard to argue that there's much of a difference.

Counting the rings
Here's a closer shot of one of the trees they're harvesting. By counting the rings, I can see that it's almost 90 years old, which is much too old for a tree less than 2 feet across. We're located right at the transition zone between the wet forests of western Washington and the dry eastern forests. At Windward you'll see Douglas fir and Ponderosa pine growing side by side, something that only happens in the transition zones. Depending on the decade-long swings in weather cycles, one type will gain in the competition for a while, and then die back when the pendulum swings in the other direction.

While it's wet enough for fir to grow here, it's obvious from this stump that it's only marginally so. A tree should reach this size in half the time, and in the wetter, western parts of the county, they do. The too-slow grow back of trees in this area was a prime reason that the local lumber mill closed down. While the forestry people work hard to replant and insure that new trees are grown to replace the ones they harvest, there isn't anything much they can do about the amount of rainfall we get.

And so, the era of logging in this area is drawing to a close. It'll be another thirty years before there'll be anything worth logging again, and by then there's no telling what sort of compromises will have been worked out between market demands and ecological concerns. In the meantime, we'll do our best to steward the land that owns us, and to care for the life that it supports.

Now that the mud's gone,
it's time for basketball
Winter's hard on everyone, especially kids who're cooped up inside over the long winter. Once the weather begins to warm up, kids burst outside and work hard at catching up on all the play they've missed out on. Patrick is especially active, and is always outside looking for a goat to pet or a game to play.

The backhoe isn't our only
piece of heavy equipment
While older kids can be slow to find the joys of life beyond the mall, younger ones like Patrick (he's three) greet the goats like long lost friends and find an endless string of things to investigate and explore. It's truly a delight to see the wonder in their eyes.

Index for Notes Issue # 57 ---- The Windward Home Page