I finished her book “Grit” today. She refers to “Peak,” which I finished last month. They go together in many ways. I have been reading this sort of stuff since I was young. I worry sometimes that my ideas on this are affected by confirmation bias and selection bias, but I decided that I don’t care because it works.

You cannot define success on any one dimension. It helps to be smart, lucky and good looking, but one thing that holds it all together is persistence, what Ms Duckworth calls grit.
Some people are just more gifted than others, but few of us are working anywhere near our full potential, so grit is necessary to get better.

Almost anybody can succeed in America. I have lately learned that some people consider this statement offensive, but I will never give up on it. For one thing, it is true, for another it is useful. If you look for excuses for your failures, you can easily find them. That is self-indulgent and they way of a loser. If you believe you can succeed, you are probably right. If you believe you will fail, you are right almost certainly.

Let’s talk a little about success. Can you succeed in anything? No. Can you succeed in something? Yes. Success does not mean that you beat others or came out on top. Success means that you have done some things you consider valuable and done so in the pursuit of excellence. Success means that you have put in the time to do some things right.
Success means that you have lived up to much of your potential and done something useful that you are proud of having done. We can all have that.   Angela Duckworth: “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” | Talks at Google Author Angela Duckworth visited Google’s office in…

Pine burning plus two weeks

I have confidence in the science of pine management and my logical mind tells me that there is nothing to worry about, that in a couple of months everything will be better than ever, with my pines growing robustly, better than ever. But the place looks pretty desolate. My crazier side fears that I am wrong. What did I do? I can hardly wait. In the meantime, I am documenting developments. This is burning plus two weeks. I will go to monthly studies next time.

The trees were planted in 2012. The longleaf shown are northern stock from North Carolina. I am not particularly concerned with “native.” My trees are northern variety, but not Virginia native longleaf. It would be nice to have “real” Virginia trees, but being “native” is overrated. The environment is similar on both sides of the border. USDA hardiness zone 7b encompasses Southside Virginia and North Carolina more or less to the Neuse River. Trees grown from seed sourced from that part of NC are indistinguishable from Virginia natives. Anyway, if they grow well the next generation will be Virginia native.

My photos are the latest scenes. The first one show me with pine I stood next to a few months ago when it was green. The next two are taken from some rocks I piled a marker so that I could take photos from the same spot. The second last photo shows me next to one of the burned longleaf that you see in the pre-burned photo from September last year. Last is the panorama that shows longleaf and the loblolly planted (and burned) at the same time.    

Burning longleaf – February 6, 2017

We did the prescribed burn under our 2012 planted longleaf. Longleaf and loblolly were planted at the same time. Loblolly are fire adapted but longleaf are fire dependent. I am reasonably confident that almost all the longleaf will survive the fire ant thrive. I will see about the loblolly. My guess is that most will be okay, but some will be thinned out.  I am going to update every month with pictures and texts. My longleaf sit on the north and western edge of the natural loblolly range. I am interested not only in the tree themselves but also in what grows on the ground underneath.

The longleaf ecosystem is the most diverse in North America because it combines a prairie ecosystem with a forest.

I got to be there and I could “help,” but Virginia Department of Forestry did the real work, and they laid fire lines, which are the real determiners of success in fire. And they brought their bulldozer to stand-by just in case.

We started the fire at the fire line going against the wind – a backfire. The backfire burns slower but more intensely, since the wind is pushing it back. After there was enough black space, we started doing strips with head fires. Head fire go with the wind. They burn faster but not as completely. The head fire is what we want for longleaf. We don’t want it burning too hot. There was not too much wind and it change direction a few times, so whether we call them head fires or back fires was a little unclear.

The fire creates its own wind to some extent, since it sucks in air. Our fires were not very big, but they still had some of that. Fires also burn faster going uphill than downhill. This is because heat and fire, rise. Additionally, fire coming up hill pre-heats and pre-dries the fuel above. We do not have very steep hills on this unit, but the topography still made a difference.

Only one time did we get a kind of flare up. The fire was coming up a gentle rise and the wind picked up and shifted a bit at about the same time the fire hit a thick patch of broom sage. The flames were suddenly 8-10 feet high and coming in our direction. We had to retreat beyond the safe line, but it passed quickly.

Broom sage is a sign of soil infertility. This is okay on a longleaf site and my pines seem to be growing well. On the plus side, broom sage burns quickly and carries the fire w/o it making the fire hot enough to harm the trees.

Smoke was not much of a problem today, because we had the right kind of weather and a generally fast moving fire, but smoke is probably the biggest challenge to prescribed burns. People don’t like it and it can be dangerous and damaging. What you want is for the smoke to rise and then blow away, but this does not always happen. Some weather conditions can cause it to flatten out a few yards into the air and some even make it hug the ground. This seems counter-intuitive, but smoke can sometime flow, like fog down a gully and sometimes it can linger a long time, a real problem if there are nearby roads or houses.
Watching the fire hit the trees was interesting.  They kind of burst into flames, but the fire passes quickly. The longleaf have an adaptation that lets them singe the needles while leaving the terminal bud interact. I walked around after the fire and observed that the buds were intact and ready to grow. I look forward to watching.

I talked to a guy down at the North Carolina Botanical Gardens.  They have developed a recommended list of longleaf ground plants. These seeds are expensive but I might want to plant a half acre and let them spread. The NC guy told me that lots of the native species are probably already present in the area, especially because the area under the wires has been mowed regularly but otherwise left alone. The plants will soon colonize the longleaf patch if we just burn it regularly. Nature is resilient.

The whole burn took only about forty-five minutes. Of course, I am not counting all the preparation time. It is surprising (to me at least) how a conflagration, so quickly rise and how quickly it dies out. The key is to use up the fuel. You don’t have to put it out if it has nothing left to burn.

While the burning was going on, I was reminded of the story of Wag Dodge, made famous (at least in fire circles) by his fast thinking during a fire in Mann Gulch in Montana and by Norman Mclean’s best selling book about the incident “Young Men and Fire.” (Read my note about the book.)This fire killed thirteen firefighters. They were caught by a quick change in conditions as the fire chased them uphill pushed by a steep wind. Wag Dodge realized that he would be unable to outrun the fire, so he set his own fire in advance, and then hunkered down in the burned over black. He survived.

A fire burning mostly fine fuel, like grass, burning quickly and quickly passing. There is a wall of flame with a blackened place behind the flames and black is safe, since there is nothing more to burn.

I know that fire is necessary to the health of longleaf pine and I have all sorts of scientific reasons to want to burn the land. But I must admit that it is just fun to do. Fire is primal. I can almost feel the pulse of my distant ancestors using fire to hunt and create more hospital ecosystems. Our fire was not very dangerous, but it is still a little scary, watching that elemental force in action. It is always at least a little unpredictable. Interesting.  I plan to do it every 2-3 years from now on.

February in the forest, burning time

February is the least attractive month down on the farms. The grass is brown, no leaves on the deciduous trees, pine trees are looking a little anemic just before spring & there is usually a lot of mud. But there is some attraction in the bleakness, kind of like in Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World.

I am down here in hopes of seeing the burning of my longleaf acreage. The Virginia DoF will do it, I hope on Monday, but it is weather dependent. They made fire lines already and I walked the perimeter today. I know that burning is the right thing, the needed thing, for longleaf, but I am still nervous that too many will die. I will document the fire and what I expect to be the rapid recovery and renewed and more rapid growth.

My first photo shows some of the attraction that February still holds. Next is the longleaf on the eve of the fire. We will also burn the grass in front to make the grassland ecosystem. You can see the track/fire line in the last photo.