Unseasonal rains and changing views.

August 21-27, 2006

What a difference a week can make! Following a light sprinkling of ash from the recent volcanic eruption of Tungurahua to our east, the weather here has changed. Every day for the last 8 days it has rained. Not only is rain in August unheard of here, but we are receiving five or six hours of torrential rains. It is quite reminiscent of the February and March actually. The streets have puddles, the people have umbrellas and the trees have smiles! All our sites are thoroughly soaked and it gives us time to ponder—what on earth is happening!?! Although a blessing, the rains have stirred up “discussion” on nearly every street corner as to whether this is the influence of ash in the air or recent El Niňo-like changes in the ocean currents that have been reported in the newspapers.

Catherine has been speeding along with the inventory of our planted seedlings. Nearly half of the trees from last year have been tagged, measured and remapped. Right now it looks as though about 80% of our trees are still alive and well. The majority of the trees that we lost this year were those planted in the final week of the season. With the rains ending nearly a month early this year we were definitely caught offguard, planting trees into drier than normal soils. Hopefully this week’s deluges are a good indication for the upcoming winter planting season—wet and long!

Jaime and Ricardo Lopez continue to work with us during the week. Their local knowledge of the species and soils is absolutely invaluable. Our watering holes for each tree are working really well, with many trees now holding leaves and sprouting new growth. These trees are no longer just surviving, but living!

Last Friday we had a great meeting with Ramon Espinzoa, the owner of much land in El Toro. After an initially troublesome conversation about converting a nearby hillside into cornfields, we really began to understand each other. Although we are always open to people making a living on their land, doing as they wish, I only interject when a slope is potentially unstable or damaging. We are not saying the entire landscape needs to be forested—human settlement exists somewhere between forestation and deforestation. Could we do more with land that has already been cleared? In the end, Ramon only wanted to convert the slope into corn as he felt the corn plants’ roots would help the slope from sliding. Unfortunately, growing corn in coastal Ecuador usually requires the cutting of all competing grasses, shrubs, vines and trees (they pull the corn down to the ground). Although corn may add shallow roots to the soil, what we need are medium and deep roots to avoid the large-scale movements of soils we see during heavy rains.

The events of last Friday have reawakened a struggle that needs to been examined. Throughout recent memory, innumerous private foundations and foreigners have endlessly touted planting trees as the solution to environmental problems—water quality, erosion, air pollution etc. This unfortunately has endlessly been contrary to an ill-informed common sense. As was the case with Ramon, and recently the case in the local tourist community of Isla Corazon, planting trees is the solution. But in both cases, mature trees were or would have been cut down to allow for space for new seedlings to be planted. There is a saddening disconnection between seedlings and forest. 

This is where working with Planet Drum is a definite pleasure. Peter Berg and his Planet Drum family wish to pass the basics on to each individual we work with. We work with landowners to not only collect seeds from their forest, but then show them how those seeds are prepared, grown in the greenhouse and then planted on their land. Last Friday Ramon and I uncovered that his perception that corn could help stabilize the hillside was based on the fact he had never considered a tree having roots. After 30 years of farming and growing corn, he had seldom pulled a tree from the ground and examined its roots as he would twice a year with each plant in his cornfield. Every set of eyes sees the same hill differently, the same tree differently. As Ramon helped my eyes see his point of view, he began to see the rooted second half of each tree, and also our project. Through Bioregional Education and reforestation programs, we not only are planting trees and ideas, but also changing eyes.

Hasta pronto, 

P. S. We will be planting nearly 500 trees on Ramon’s property in the coming months!

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