01 January 2008

An Eventful Trip: Countryside

This should be a winner: photos taken from cars speeding along the highway. I'm putting that right out front to explain the blurriness of some of the photos, not to mention the occasional reflection of the side mirror in the window through which these photos were taken. I think I still managed to take some photos that will show what I want to talk about.

The first striking thing is the damage that was done to the countryside just north of Kamloops by forest fires in 2003. At the time, the highway and even the railway were closed for some time, as the fires raged and crisscrossed the valley. My parents, who live about an hour's drive north of the furthest extent of the fires, were affected by losing their telephone and electricity for close to two weeks, which had all of the rest of us quite scared as they barbecued breakfast, lunch and dinner. They remained cut off from the City of Kamloops, which is where the larger hospital and shops and such are located.

Below are three shots of hillsides with the burned skeletons of the trees that used to cover them until four and a half years ago.

The other big impact of the fires was that they were interface fires, meaning that they encroached on the towns dotted through the valley. Many homes were burned and, perhaps more devastatingly, businesses, including a couple of sawmills that have not since been rebuilt, meaning that those jobs are lost and the towns even further devastated. Below is what is left of one of these sawmills. The scene used to include a number of buildings housing machinery for cutting and planning lumber as well as stacks of lumber and of logs over that vast expanse that is now a large empty field.

The next striking thing is the other great destroyer of the forests in the area: the pine beetle (pictured below).

These things are very tiny and have been killing trees in BC for quite a long time. With warmer winters, they are not being killed off by sudden and long periods of cold as they once were, so they are spreading uncontrollably. (Apparently, when the cold arrives slowly, they are able to adapt by producing a kind of anti-freeze that protects them from the cold; a quick cold snap that lasts long enough might actually halt their spread, but this hasn't been happening very much lately. The other scary thing about them is their mode of travel. A cloud of them blew into Kamloops in a storm a couple of years ago and now almost every pine tree in town has been infested and killed.

Here are a couple of pictures of beetle-killed trees (they are the red ones). The other aspect of this is a proliferation of woodpeckers, which love to eat the beetles. The woodpecker action on trees that have already been killed also serves to strip the bark from the trees, as you can see a bit in the second picture.

My Dad and my little sister, who know much more about these things than I do, have told me a little about the various insects attacking the forests. Pine beetles are not the only ones: there are spruce and fir beetles, too, but the difference is that those two kinds can often be 'trapped' by setting up a deck of fallen trees, which can then be taken away and destroyed. The pine beetles only invade upright, living trees.

To end on a more humorous note, let me include this picture of a broken-down looking shed in the Cariboo region. My family has a game we always played when we drove anywhere, looking for falling-down buildings and rusting cars and attributing them to our parents and siblings. In that spirit, here is my sister Brandy's house:

Ha Ha!

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