The border between sunlight and shadow—these are important locations for ecosystems. These borders have high levels of biodiversity, containing plants and animals that thrive in both light and darkness and those which thrive only in the demarcation between forest and meadow.
In the third week of field school, the FMIA team went to Fingerboard Prairie in the Willamette National Forest to investigate an ARPA violation that was a result of a Rainbow Family gathering at the site. Some of the individual meadows in the Fingerboard Prairie are in rehabilitation, being managed by the Forest Service so they can remain or become meadows again. Around the perimeter of the meadows, trees had been girdled in order to prevent them from continuing to encroach on the meadow. These trees are now dead or dying and will fall into the meadow, adding space to the meadow and contributing to the richness of the soil.
The diversity present in the meadows was spectacular to behold for a student who spends most of her time in the Seattle Metropolitan area. For me, biodiversity is seeing a different variety of toy dog, balcony gardens, and evergreens growing on the side of I-5 as I ride the bus to campus in the mornings. Meadows are not simply empty spaces in the forest, nor do they only support grass. Berry bushes grow in pools of sunshine, flowers draw honeybees into the meadow to pollenate all the flowers (and make Archaeology students nervous), and ferns nestle against tree trunks at the margins. There were things to be mindful of; we were warned of poison oak, we were careful of our footing around some very large holes made by very small mountain beavers (which are not even beavers), and beneath many fallen logs lay mountains on ants.
Amongst the threats posed to this prairie, the most dangerous was the one which drew us, archaeologically, to the Fingerboard Prairie—Rainbow Family. One of the first things pointed out to us as a danger were the poorly hidden latrines. As we surveyed the damage done to the site, we were forced to stop accounting for all the garbage we encountered after approximately an hour due to sheer volume. Fallen wood which would have enriched the soil was instead burned, either in personal campfires or in the large bonfire in the center of one of the meadows. According to the Forest Service Archaeologist, Cara, the actions of the Rainbow Family significantly set back the efforts toward restoration of the forest.
For centuries, Native peoples in the region maintained meadows through judicious… judicious use of carefully controlled fire which kept the trees from invading, enriched the soil, and promoted the growth of pyrophilic plants. The diversity itself was not the goal, but rather the variety of foods they provided, both faunal and floral; foods that were more numerous in a carefully maintained environment such as the meadows.
Meadows are important, both culturally and ecologically. This applies specifically to Oregon in this situation, but across the Northwest and beyond. They require maintenance as they are important and, ultimately, fragile spaces today and in the past.