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I stood straddling my bicycle and took a long drink of water. It was high noon, and the sun was beating down on the dry forest. The low-lying mountains of southern interior British Columbia stayed bone-dry because the east-flowing Pacific air dumped most of its rain on the coastal mountains, which stretched two hundred kilometers from the ocean, to twenty kilometers west of here, leaving this interior blue sky with nary a drop.

I was on my way to see my brother Kelly compete in a rodeo, among the cowboys and horses where he belonged.

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I peered down the valley a handful of kilometers to where a river ran through a hollow cloaked in sage and grass. Those rugged, knee-deep perennials were the only plants that could find footing in that arid soil. Trees needed too much water to survive down there. But up here there was just enough water for trees to establish in recesses among the grasses, forming open woodland.

An afternoon haze was developing, likely from a wildfire, but it was still clear enough to see the valley rise a thousand meters to the next ridge, yet another half-dozen kilometers away. As the elevation increased, so too did the rainfall, and the branching gullies soon filled with curvy lines of trees tracing the flow of water.

The trees up the gullies eventually spilled onto the knolls, and the forest filled in to form a continuous cover.

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As the mountain forests rose further still, the trees again grouped on hummocks to escape the cold, wet soil, until they dwindled altogether to be replaced by pale green alpine meadows. I dropped my bike and took a short walk into the grassy woodland for some shade, through patches of Douglas firs and under parasols of ponderosa pines in depressions where trickles of water collected.

I scrambled onto a knoll where a single ponderosa pine grew, its long needles in scanty bundles to save precious water. This afforded ponderosa the distinction as the most drought-tolerant of all the tree species in these parts. This one was in an especially precarious position, where even the deep-rooted bunchgrasses had turned brown and shriveled to minimize water loss. I turned my water bottle upside down to give the pine the last drops and laughed at my gesture. Only its taproot could save it in times like this.

A grove of old Douglas firs occupied a shallow gully, and I beelined toward it. Puffball mushrooms blew clouds of brown spores at my face; grasshoppers clicked their legs. Kelly and I used to collect the mushrooms to make puffball soup, and I picked one, fungal thre flowing from its fulcrum.

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The crowns of the elder firs cast ample shade. They grew in these draws because their dense bottlebrush needles required lots of water, at least compared with the sparsely needled ponderosa pines. This restricted where they could grow but also enabled them to become taller and form denser clusters than the pines. But Douglas fir and ponderosa pine were both better than the spruce and subalpine fir at minimizing water loss, helping them cope with the drought.

They did this by opening their stomata for only a few hours in the morning when the dew was heavy. In these early hours, trees sucked carbon dioxide in through the open pores to make sugar, and in the process, transpired water brought up from the roots.

By noon, they slammed their stomata closed, shutting down photosynthesis and transpiration for the day. Taking a break, age twenty-two, under a Douglas fir between Enderby and Salmon Arm, My friend Jean and I spent many weekends in the early s touring the interior ro with only our sleeping bags and ten bucks in our pockets.

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I had lost my wallet that day, and when I got home a motorist had called Dad to say he had found it on the side of the highway with my and ten dollars tucked inside. I sat eating an apple under the generous crown of an old Douglas fir, the seedlings on the outskirts of its apron a that the ground was cool and moist. The brown furrowed bark absorbed the heat and protected the tree from fire. It was thick, too, to prevent water loss from the underlying tissue, the phloem, which transported the photosynthetic sugar water from the needles to roots in an inch-thick ring of long tubular cells.

The orange bark of the ponderosas also protected the parasol-crowned trees from the fires that swept through every twenty years or so. These seedlings were growing happily where there was barely any water, while my seedlings in the Coast Mountains to the west were dying where there was plenty. The awn of a renegade grass seed head tickled my bare leg as I glanced at an ant crawling over from a nearby nest as tall and wide as my seated silhouette. The nest quivered with thousands of workers. Moving, stacking, and stockpiling millions of Douglas-fir needles that littered the forest floor.

The ants also carried spores of brown decay mushrooms on their legs and in their fecal pellets into the nest, accelerating infection and decomposition of the needles, which settled and stabilized Dark blue sex chat mobile truckthe forest thatch.

And into stumps and fallen trees, aiding decay otherwise hindered by the summer drought. I remembered the saprotrophic oyster mushrooms at Mabel Lake, their smooth, creamy caps attached to the fallen leaves and logs of dead birch trees.

Trees that had been killed by the pathogenic honey mushrooms. The oyster mushrooms, their decay skills so efficient, also killed and digested bugs to meet their needs for protein. Mushrooms were as varied as their roosts, and they were masters at multitasking.

Somehow, in the ravines and hollows of this parched valley, the saplings and seedlings sprinkled around the Douglas firs and ponderosa pines seemed fine—without the benefit of a deep taproot of their own yet.

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Could the old trees be helping the young ones by passing them water through root grafts? Grafts were unions where roots of different trees spliced into a single root, with phloem shared in common, like veins grown together in a healing skin graft. He rode bulls because it was the cheapest event to enter, and he was always broke.

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Still puzzling over the water enigma, I headed back to my bike and noticed a cluster of aspens across the road, their bark smooth white. These too had spread up from the wetter gullies onto rockier slopes. They had big flat quivering leaves that surely emitted gallons of water every day.

Trembling aspen are unique in that many stems of the same individual spring from subterranean buds along a shared network of roots, and I wondered if the aspen copses were accessing water from the ravines and passing it upslope through their shared root systems.

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Under their crowns, wild roses sprouted, pale pink petals wide open to flaunt bright yellow stamens. Knots of purple silky lupines, golden heart-leaved arnicas, and rosy pussytoes spread from the shade into the sun. Was the root system of the aspen leaking some water into the soil for them to access?

Maybe this was how the riotous plant community survived in the shallower, drier soil. But I had no clue how the water got from the old aspen trees to the little flowers without first evaporating in the sun. Menu More Topics. Get the App. Suzanne Simard.

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