15,000 years ago the Missoula floods broke the Columbia River Basin ice dams and poured fertile layers of silt from Spokane all the way down to the Willamette Valley where I grew up. My favorite farms still grow their produce in soil rich with glacial melt from Montana. I don’t know much about geological sedimentation but I know it’s good for crops.
Some 7,000 years after that, a volcano erupted in the Pacific Northwest, exploding pumice and ash all over Oregon. Mount Mazama stood 12,000 feet tall before it collapsed. We don’t think of volcanoes as living things that grow but geologists do. Mount Mazama had been growing for half a million years before the lava rich with silica erupted a final time, its last cataclysm. The caldera it left in its wake became the deepest lake in the U.S.
Residual eruptions created a platform we now call Wizard Island — it peaks from Crater Lake, whose stark beauty cannot be underestimated. The blue is so deep and clear that even Pantone terms like “cerulean” can’t really prepare you for the first time you experience it.
And somewhere in the late 2000s, about 125 miles away, a quiet couple brought their own gloves and hand trowels, per the email details, to the Long Tom Watershed. I don’t remember the year but I remember how cold and damp it was, the kind of damp you can smell — soggy and mossy.
Every nearby creek and two rivers empty into the Fern Ridge Reservoir, surrounded by swampiness and intermittent stands of trees. Once flooded, and once covered in volcanic ash, this massive valley is prone to erosion. So we were there to plant trees.
What waterlogged nature lover wouldn’t want to plant trees for Valentine’s Day? It is a life-giving act. And taking a break from the warm and cozy comfort of our indoor life always makes us appreciate it more.
A group of volunteer do-gooders had gathered in the fog and mist on a weekend morning, noses running, and got our instructions. Those with big shovels would be digging the holes. The ones with hand trowels would be scooping up horse shit in the pastures next to the riparian zone and carrying five-gallon buckets of it to mix with potting soil and pack the saplings into their new homes.