even death can be beautiful under the heartless stars

A whitebark pine at Crater Lake. Photo and commentary below by TJ Thorne of the Guardian:


This is the second image from my two week long artist-in-residency appointment at Crater Lake National Park in October of 2014. The whitebark pines, such that you see in the photo, are one of the more astounding features of the park. Gnarled, twisted masses of wood centuries old. They've withstood weather extremes, intense winds, storms, droughts, you name it. The trees have stood strong and are some of the only species of pine that can survive the sub-alpine, rocky volcanic soil environment that is their home.

But they're dying. And not just a few here.. a few there. They're dying by the acre. In fact.. more than half of the whitebark pines in Crater Lake National Park are either dead or in the process of dying due to infestation by western pine beetles. The beetles have always been around, generally thriving in lower elevation forests, which are much more resistant to the infestations. However, with warmer and shorter winters, the beetles have been moving to higher elevations and persisting through the winter season. They attack these pines, which do not have the ability to defend themselves. In addition, the hotter, longer, and drier summers deprive these trees of the sap producing water they need to help their defense. It's one of the most 'in your face' effects of climate change within the park.

I can't help but think about this tree's future. It's an iconic tree in the park and one of my favorite features, and here it is, finally succombing to the environment that we have given it. These trees provide food, shelter, and survival for numerous other species, yet we have failed it's own survival. How much the park will change in the long-term by the death of these trees is still an unknown, but it will certainly continue to change the face of the park. Thanks for reading.

Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

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