Sorry for the delay in my most recent update. These short days sure do pass fast. Right now, Dave Jacke is up here with me in Burlington, VT visiting and taking an opportunity connect, share resources, and plan the next stages of our project. Dave along with several conscientious and generous assistants continues to sift through the existing research on coppice, compiling these incredible resources into an invaluable spreadsheet which we'll then use to support and flesh out the points I've been developing in the text. It's a huge endeavor - and it continues to grow.
It's remarkable how much data there is out there and how extensively these systems have been studied despite their relative obscurity. The other night I did a Google Scholar search for 'Robinia fodder yields' to see what data I might dig up on the productivity of our beloved black locust in silvopasture applications and two hours later I had sifted through probably over thirty dense but engaging articles on black locust coppice, silvopasture and much more. We keep finding these deep veins of data and research which we're eagerly anticipating integrating into our work.
In the mean time, I'm planning the details for my return trip to Europe on February 9th. I've got six weeks there and plan to spend it very actively (with a day or three of vacation mixed in here and there). Tentatively my itinerary looks like - 1 week in the UK, 2 weeks in France, Spain and Italy, 2 weeks in South East Europe - namely Croatia, Slovenia, Bulgaria and Macedonia and a week in Greece. I've been reaching out to coppice researchers and practitioners in these regions to build connections and help make a more active, informed and networked experience all around.
And because I don't want to drop the ball on reflections on that reflective thread from my last trip to the west coast (which I unbelievably completed over 1 month ago!), here's another profile:
Margaret Mathewson - Alsea, Oregon. As Sasha and I came to find out in our exchanges with other folks out west, the circle of coppice and traditional ecological knowledge is a tight one and it's one who's orbit passed clear through Margaret Mathewson's gorgeous home in the Oregon Coast Range. Our trip to her homestead proved to be an adventure in and of itself - Google Maps sent us along a remarkable route, traversing several watersheds over the final 5 or so miles on some rugged US Forest Service roads. Luckily we had a big ol truck to make the trip (though we never would have even tried without it and probably would have found a much more approachable route). As we emerged from the depths of the backcountry, it began to hail and we were greeted by a lightning storm (the first of my life in the month of December) and before we knew it, we'd reached her home - easily recognized at 45 mph because of the vibrant stand of willows lining the road.
Margaret welcomed us as we arrived and showed us the beautiful willow stands she manages. She explained that some of the willow had been established by the previous property owners though she's worked to further expand it. She has somewhere between 30-40 willow varieties total and her favorite for weaving is a variety brought to the Williamette Valley by a Polish man from his homeland over half a century ago called Polish Purple. This variety has since been shared with weavers throughout the country who collect cuttings and propagate it at home.
She invited us into her studio where we met her current interns and got to see an array of gorgeous baskets representing both European and Native American styles. Margaret has been studying the art of basketry and ethnobotany for over thirty years and is an absolute master. She shares her skills with students around the country and today is primarily contracted by Native American tribes to help restore a connection with plant management, harvest, processing and weaving.
Margaret and her student Canon showed us how to process willow by splitting first year stems into thirds - a challenging process but incredibly rewarding once you get the hang of it. We went on to discuss stand management, weaving traditions and skills and thoughts on the role short rotation coppice may play in future cultures.
We left Margaret's the following morning feeling thoroughly inspired by her work and her breadth of knowledge and experience. For those folks who want to engage with coppice as soon as possible, there's probably no better way to do it than by establishing willow beds. In just 2 seasons you'll begin harvesting vigorous, supple young stems, and all you need to get started are 2' long cuttings from quality stock 3/8" diameter or larger. Hey spring's not all that far away!!
Happy new year friends,
This is Mark writing and I'm happy to say I returned to Vermont on Sunday night after an extended road trip home. After just a few days back, I'm starting to plan a six week research trip to Europe in February and March. Whew, I guess there'll be time to slow down in 2012?!
The remainder of my visits to eco-designers, innovative land managers and coppice craftspeople was wholly inspiring. My traveling companion Sasha Rabin and I spent a week and a half meeting with over a half dozen people in northern California and western Oregon. This is the first update installment about that trip with more to come over the next few weeks.
Two of the first people we met with include:
Frank Lake; Orleans, CA (in the gorgeously remote Klamath River Valley) - a native Karuk, Phd candidate, and US Forest Service employee who has been researching the use of fire as a management tool to improve habitat, mitigate fuel hazards and provide native peoples with access to high quality shoots for basketry and other crafts. Integrating a deep and interdisciplinary scientific background with the traditions and experience of his culture, Frank helped illustrate how the pre-contact landscapes of northern California were influenced by conscious, mutually beneficial management and is actively carrying out studies that monitor the regrowth and ecological impact of fire as a coppice inducing strategy on existing hazel and willow stands.Tom Ward; Applegate Valley, Oregon) - Elder permaculture educator, designer, craftsperson and visionary, Tom shared the inspiring homestead and farm he's worked to carve out amidst the white oak savannas in southern Oregon. In some of the most challenging ecological conditions imaginable (highly alkaline soils, 14" annual rainfall during the winter rainy season, significant fire danger, healthy populations of browsing wildlife and the potential for extreme summer temps) Tom and his friends and neighbors have been experimenting with a most inspiring vision of a model for what Tom calls, 'Social Forestry'. That is, a culture built around an engaged, conscious and participatory management of the forest, supported by the cities, towns and villages in which they reside. Tom has spent the past decade creating an off-the-grid (and road) life that as much as possible revolves around the resources available on-site. Thus, he's developing bio-char production systems as a means to help build fertility on this starved landsape and steer succession towards a more health, open, 'climax' ecology, while minimizing risk of catastrophic fire. And his house is a marvel of natural building principles and philosophy - built almost completely out of on-site materials. He even invented a new building technique, developing an infill system that utilizes the abundant bundles of available buckbrush (Ceanothus cuneatus) over which he applied light straw clay and earthen plaster. Tom's vision, lifestyle and on-the-ground trials have been an absolute inspiration.For now, I'm going to get back to work, but I'll post another update in the next few days with more overviews of the inspiring people and practice I had a chance to meet.
Thanks for your interest and support all!
Until next time,