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chopped willows - source of "live stakes"

chopped willows – source of “live stakes”

I slid a branch out of the twiggy thatch and squeezed my clippers with both hands, cutting the dry end from a branch then snipping the thin side branches and trimming the top, so what remained was a short willow stake with frog-green bark.

wattles or live fascines

wattles or “live fascines”

I was one of seven volunteers with the Oregon Natural Desert Association. We had driven two hours north of Bend to a wild plant nursery sandwiched between a river and steep hillside and surrounded by a tall wire fence. When we arrived, Rick, the nursery manager, was tying six foot long willow branches into bundles called wattles. Later he mentioned these long awkward bundles would be laid horizontally in trenches to stabilize stream banks and that these “live fascines” would quickly grow into a hedgerow. But our goal was to cut twelve hundred live willow stakes. Rick explained: the willow stakes should be 30 inches long and tied with twine in bundles of a hundred.

willow nursery - cutting live willow stakes for revegetation

willow nursery – cutting live willow stakes

We had been advised to wear hiking boots and I imagined we would be trekking along a river or climbing a canyon but instead we stayed on flat ground within an area about a hundred feet across, although the going was as rough as any rocky hill. We worked among clusters of woody willow stumps in a boot-grabbing mat of mown willows.

I had not thought of purposefully cutting willows for replanting. In Alaska, we chopped brush to get rid of it—so a pasture wouldn’t become overgrown, and when a swale was no longer cut for hay, within a few years the brush took over, and within a decade that area had become a birch forest, and a seasonal stream had vanished.

There is something poetic about returning things to a former, and presumably wilder, state. At the wild plant nursery, in late February, we cut and bundled fifteen hundred live willow stems, tying and wrapping the bundles in heavy plastic for freezer storage.

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Willow brush along the Deschutes River

In a couple months, when the bundles of live willow stakes are planted, I hope to be there, helping, and seeing for myself the condition of the stream and how planting the “live stakes” might change the habitat and stabilize the stream bank—I imagine the “live stakes” becoming a line of willow brush like we saw last spring along the Deschutes River.

The poet, Moya Cannon interweaves water and trees, ancient times and mystery. Her poem Crannóg begins with an ash bush in a lake and a ring of stones that had become visible because of drought. Interleaved is the idea of abandonment but also regrowth (“Trees have reclaimed the railway line behind us;”). This poem entices with various states (of being)—the lake at a lower drought level or a time of flooding (“but this necklace of wet stones, / remnant of a wattle Atlantis,”), embodies mystery (“We don’t know what beads or blades / are held in the bog lake’s wet amber”), and calls attention to very distant relationships:

“A troubled bit of us is kin
to people who drew a circle in water,
loaded boats with stone,
and raised a dry island and a fort
with a whole lake for a moat.”

Each generation, people do either what they think best or what they must. Moya Cannon draws the circle of kin tightly. I think, though, we’re all kin one way or another.

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Read all of Moya Cannon’s lovely poem Crannóg published in 2010 in The Wake Forest Series of Irish Poetry, Volume Two, edited by Jefferson Holdridge: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/21353