Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Rain of Change.

Drops of water fell and made a sparkling sound softly in the background of everything. The rain was not falling hard enough to make the classic rhythmic rain sound. It was real rain and it made a steady sound that was easily recognizable to a local as the sound rain makes when it intends to rain for hours. Maybe even rain all day without much of a break. If you want to get anything done you had better resign yourself to getting wet. The woodpeckers stay in their holes. Even the little frogs are quiet for a little while.

And then it shifts. The little birds seem to know ahead of time. Drops get fatter and fall faster. Even though the sun is out and it is almost noon the sky darkens. Now it sounds like real rain. For a moment it makes sense and it sounds coherent and like rain does in many places all over the world. Drumming on everything with a steady tropical beat there is a certain sanity in it that is lost a moment later. The drops are so fat now that they look almost like hail or like snow. Each drop carries a small reflection of the Grey sky so that they are all quite visible these tiny worlds. They began to fly every which way these drops. The wind seemed to be set on scatter. Rather than a distinct downpour it became a real rain. Humboldt county style rain. Inch an hour rain that makes the river rise a foot an hour. It can just get going and fall like this for hours and hours in a row. Sometimes all night. The huge ridges that rise up to meet the onshore weather and winds from the great pacific ocean take the most water on these days. Sometimes they get over seventeen inches in a single night. Even if you step outside for a stick of firewood or to hop to your rig you just have to expect to get wet. Even with a good golf umbrella and stout shoes you can just plain expect to get wet.

When it rains like this it is good to try and stay dry, however if you want to really get anything done you can just expect to get wet.

Unless its raining this hard the locals don't even put on a jacket. Any amount of water that can dry off the first five minutes inside a grocery store is not worth bothering over or hardly worth mentioning. Once the ground is soaked and it can hold all that it can hold everyone notices when the real rain comes. That is when you find out about your roof and your driveway and the way your new shop sits on the land. The real rain is like a local news broadcast brought to you by your current conditions. You don't have to read the paper you just need to take a walk down to the end of your own driveway and figure out if you did your run-offs correctly. You just have to look at the river to see who has been doing "road work" with big machines; the telltale plume of silt tells all. If there has been logging and improper roads there is a sign of it when the rains come like this. When Wiley logged off that upper section and created his "meadow" you could see it in the river every year when it started to jump up and run like this. Greedy homesteaders using their "homesteads" as factories with employees driving in and out the frail old logging roads to get to "work". Greedy logging companies stealing trees from alongside the road, alongside the river. Sometimes it takes ten or more years for the huge redwood and fir stumps to break down. The natural newspaper comes ten years late in those circumstances. Even though its no mystery to the old timers and the loggers and the forest defenders it always seems to surprise everyone else when the rivers of mud start wandering through a town or a residential stretch. Regular as rain the results of these actions.

Restoration is truly possible. This rain is as useful as it can be destructive. At the mouth of the river lies the results of all of this greed combined. Chocking the river as it tried to clean its bed.

The mouth must be dredged. Its hard enough on the two rivers, the eel rivers, that the flow in the largest incoming portion is diverted in great part to the Russian river and the grape farmers. Lots of suburban developments drinking from that northern troubled wild river without realizing that they have bought in to unsustainable, untenable positions. Hubris is not a strong enough word for the arrogance of these engineers of a bygone era. Road paving right over the river, old totally borked railroad falling in the river and causing more harm, low flows and a hundred years of logging and resource extraction bringing silt that takes the river out of being a useful road. Just down the hill here in old Phillips Flat the river barge would come all the way up from Loleta. There is so much silt in the river now that it is hard to imagine. The channel has a hard time even staying clear and with enough water in it for a boat of any kind. Especially up here on the smaller fork. The Eel River is like the Nile river, in fact it is the only other large river in the world that flows north. Like the Nile it has two tributaries that flow together. Two headwaters arising from completely different watersheds. The South Fork of the eel, the little dragon, gets its waters from the coastal mountains of Mendocino. The home of the Furthest West gate of General Qwan Tai, the waters of this dragon come curling out of mountains that have sacred white and grey deer roaming on them. The deer roam the mountains that provide a natural barrier to regular life and trucking commerce in Humboldt County. Wild places like rattlesnake ridge and strange narrow passes like trees of mystery. Just hours from a major global city the deep strange wildness of these hills and the river flowing from them removed Humboldt from the flow of money and resources and transparency and freedoms.

The river mouth can be dredged.

Its exciting because with a restoration of flow to the larger more eastern section of the river we can still save our salmon. The Coho are even still running some. All of the restoration work done out here in the last thirty years has made a difference and even though the rest of the world is just waking up to the loss of species ark saving has been a past time here for quite a while. The sound of wild turkeys bleeping to their giant clutch of babies as they move through the early twilight of dawn is a reminder of the ingenuity and resourcefulness of these people. The ranchers who like to ride trails together got into the idea of restoring the game to the hills. Along with the larger program to bring the Elk back several of the guys decided to try their hand at. The secret is the silkies, the funny chickens with feathered feet and crazy looking white fluffy feathers all over. They are tremendous brooders and they will sit on any eggs. First they worked on raising up quail, since the eggs were pretty easy to get and it was easy to imagine the hens having some success. When that worked out they moved on and tried some wild turkeys. This was back in the mail order days, when the miracle of xerox meant that simple typed up catalogs could be sent round. In about five or six years you could actually see wild turkey groups every now and again in the communities where these guys lived. Ettersburg, McKinleyville, and out towards Alderpoint you could even see them by the side of the road.

Nature has tremendous powers of recovery which is why dredging the river is so important. With just one or two real rains the mouth would probably start to have to fill up all over again with silt from all of the logging, and all of the improper roads and buildings put in since. Once the river has been dredged at the mouth it will start to clean out silt from the tiny streams outwards. We just need to probably dredge it several times. We can begin to really repair and rebuild our estuaries and wild places radiating outwards from existing wild places.

Its really possible to fix the damage on the creeks and streams once the river is actually clearing itself out. Its hard to imagine but most of the river exists and runs underground. When that part of the river is not clotted with silt and debris then it can run in a way that really encourages the Salmon, the crabs and the eels. If we are careful and we re-plant trees over the water and stop trying to build roads right up on the river, stop having people squatting right on the edge, we can actually lower the temperature of the water. We can bring back the fish and the frogs and the salamanders and the bees.

We can change the ways the river is affected by these rains that come almost every year. We can use technology and careful basic forestry techniques to restore this Nile of the North of California. When it rains like this it is hard to think of anything else.

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