A couple of weeks ago when the spring run off was at its peak, I was taking some pictures of the rushing creek when I saw a squirrel crawling out to the end of the skinniest branch you ever could imagine. I thought to myself: “That doesn’t look like a good idea.” But he’s a squirrel and does this kind of thing for a living, so I laid off on my judgements. Next thing I know I’m looking through the view finder in my camera and I see something fall from a great height into the creek. I put down my camera and look for the squirrel up in the tree, but he wasn’t there. Oh no! I jinxed the little critter. Suddenly 15 feet downstream, as quickly as it fell in, it leapt right back out again. It literally looked like a drowned rat. Poor thing started shaking off its fur just like a dog. It must have been freezing, that water is icy. I know because I nearly fell in it myself while I was hiking through it to get to the eroded section so I could scatter some everlasting sweet pea seeds in hopes they latch on and do something to help stall the erosion.
Since we moved here we’ve been keeping a close eye on the creek bank. Particularly a spot parallel to the State Highway and perpendicular to the railroad bridge. Each season we notice more and more erosion. About five years ago we started planting trees along the banks -the spots with the most trees suffer the least amount of erosion. Those roots are good at holding on to the soil. But in the section that was suffering the worst from erosion, we found our first plantings had been cut down. It was heart wrenching. Knowing we’d kept these dozen or so little trees alive for several years in pots next to the farmhouse and then spent an afternoon planting them all, taking bi-weekly hikes up to water them if the weather was dry, just to have them snipped clean off at ground level.
At first we blamed the electric company, since there are electric poles that run along that way. When Eric called them up to ask them about it the man he spoke to convinced us it wasn’t them. “We barely have time to cut limbs off of trees that are hanging over wires. There’s no way my men had the time or the energy to snip off a row of saplings.” Fair enough. We decided it must have been the railroad, though no one returned our phone calls to confirm it. They’re always cutting back brush along the rail. I love trains, but it makes me crazy to think they might have cut down trees that were in their “line of sight” when these trees are what is going to help keep the rail lines from sliding into the ravine.
It reminds me of that story I heard about the railroad worker who was spraying herbicide on the vines and trees that bordered the railroad. He accidentally sprayed the oldest grapevine in the world and it nearly died. The story goes something like that. Maybe I’m making it sound more dramatic. No, I just looked it up. That’s exactly what happened. Except it was a power company not a railroad worker. Well, goes to show how I’m feeling about the railroad right now.
Do you see that little dead pine tree in the middle of this blown out photograph? We planted that a few years ago, and we obviously didn’t plant it on a precipice. The edge has eroded at least two to three feet since we planted this tree. I’m concerned that we may have planted our trees too close to the edge for them to grow big enough to be helpful at all. So in the meantime I carried a paper shopping bag filled with everlasting sweet pea seeds back to spread along the bank. If you’ve ever tried to dig up an everlasting sweet pea you know they have deep taproots even the first year of planting. Come the third and fourth year of growth some of their taproots can be the size of my forearm (although I just noticed today that I have abnormally large forearms. So maybe not my forearm, but the forearm of a large child). I’m hoping that the everlasting sweet peas will take hold more quickly than the trees are able to, giving us (and the railroad, and the State Highway) a bit of relief from the eroding banks. I’ll let you know how it goes.