Saturday, December 27, 2008

Baskett Slough NWR

Full in the midst of his own strength he stands,
Stretching his brawny arms and leafy hands.

Oaks cover the low hills of Baskett Slough NWR in a microcosm of olden-days western Oregon. A short year-round trail and a longer spring/summer trail allow a glimpse back in time to what much of the Willamette Valley must have looked like almost two hundred years ago when David Douglas arrived.

On a pleasant, sunny fall day, we walked the short Baskett Butte Loop Trail, crunching over the brown oak leaves. Overhead, we heard the purring call of white-breasted nuthatches, who so love the oaks. Deer repose and graze, only cautious, not fearful, of us human invaders.

Management of Baskett Slough is evident here, where the undergrowth is sparser than a typical westside forest. Nature and natives used to perform this management; lightning and purposely-set fires cleared the undergrowth, preventing conifers from taking over, as they have done since fires have been supressed.

I have fond memories of oaks from childhood. The grounds of the school I attended had incredibly huge oaks in them. The smell of oaks in the fall takes me right back to grade school, when we'd run around at recess stomping on what we called “puff balls.” I didn't learn until much later that these little spotted balls are the tree's reaction to gall wasps. The wasp lays its eggs inside the oak leaf, causing the creation of a shell to form around the larval wasp. We'd stomp on them after they'd fallen to the ground, breaking the shell open, and a little puff of some powdery substance would issue forth.

Baskett Slough NWR is located near Salem, Oregon and nearer to Rickreall. From Highway 99W turn west onto gravel Colville Rd and go just about 2 miles to the trailhead. Two other areas of white oak rehabilitation in the Portland area are the Tualatin River NWR and Mt. Talbert.

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