Sunday, November 25, 2018

Sierra Sequoias

On our most recent family holiday back in America, I wanted to take the kids to see the Giant Sequoias of the Southern Sierra Nevada. I hadn’t seen the enormous trees since I was a teenager visiting colleges at the end of high school. I’ve read a bit about how there is concern that these beautiful organisms may be susceptible to drought and climate change, so I figured better to squeeze them in than regret. We ended up going to Mineral King, a remote southern part of Sequoia National Park. Our main activity there was a hike up into the alpine lakes of the high country. However, we did manage a short walk through the big trees.

The forest had an overstory of sequoia and sugar pine, with some ponderosa (and/or Jeffry) pine and an understory of white fir and incense cedar. By early July the forest was already quite dry, and even at 7000 feet elevation, it was still warm. It was obvious that there had been fire come through some parts of the forest- many of the firs, and some pines and cedars had been singed.

The coexistence of the Sugar Pine and sequoia trees did surprise me a little bit. After all, both trees have evolved to tower over the canopy, survive fires, and reseed afterwards.  It seemed a bit odd that both species would be growing side by side. However, an unrelated article on droughtproofing Australian grazing land made me wonder.

Although the Sugar Pine and the Sequoia have similar above ground growth strategies, they are quite different below the surface. Sequoias have a very shallow root system, while sugar pines have a substantial taproot. And in the most severely fire damaged areas, it appeared that the Sequoias were re-establishing best in the gullies and drainages, while the pines (sugar and ponderosa) were doing better on the more exposed slopes. Either way, the sequoias seemed to be doing just fine- old growth, secondary post-logging regrowth and saplings all seemed to be healthy. If anything, the pines seemed to be suffering worse than the sequoias.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Book Review: Sharp Ends, by Joe Abercrombie

Sharp Ends is a dozen short stories of the sword and sorcery variety (more sword, less sorcery), set in a bleak, dark ages type setting. The stories are bleak and brutal, but the writing is beautiful. I found, however, that the action generally unfolds very slowly. The scenes are painted exquisitely, but there is not a lot of urgency to the stories. This book was my first introduction to Abercrombie’s work; it may be that having read his novels would yield context that would make the stories more enjoyable. As a standalone work, some stories are tied together by the recurrence of several characters, the most memorable of which are Javre and Shev, a gritty modern feminist version of Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser.

Despite the excellent wordcraft, I did not find the plots particularly gripping, or the characters particularly compelling, or the fantasy particularly illuminating. Perhaps if I had read the novels first I would feel differently, but I’m not a huge grimdark fan to begin with, and without the supersonic pace of a Harry Connolly yarn or the grand vision of G.R.R. Martin I found the florid prose tended to drag.

Monday, November 05, 2018

After the Fires

Back in 2003, western Canberra was ravaged by bushfire. One of the most heavily damaged areas was the Mt. Stromlo observatory and surrounding pine plantations. The pines were mostly P. radiata, a coastal California species which grows very well in Australia- with 2 growth whorls per year, each up to a meter. A small corner of this plantation was P. ponderosa, however.  This Western US mountain species is a slower growing, longer lived species, and is better adapted to survive fire. The fire break provided by the Mt Stromlo access road allowed one stand of ponderosa to survive, and in the aftermath of the fire, the surviving ponderosas reseeded. That 15 year old regrowth has been putting on some extraordinary growth rates. Bike for scale.