The Peavine tragedy

Bruce is communing with the universe this week, so we present his Aug. 28, 1996, offering.

I recently overhead this question during another hard-core happy hour: “So, like, uh, how come there ain’t no trees up on Peavine?”

An excellent question, if not quite posed in Shakespeare’s English. What, indeed, is going on up there? If we humans raped it a while back (and we did), and fire fried the rest (and it did), where’s all the comeback on the hardback?

It’s slightly weird to picture Peavine as cloaked with conifers as Rose and Slide, but 150 years ago, that was the case. In the middle of the 19th century, large stands of Ponderosa pine encircled Peavine’s broad slopes and grew as far out as northwest Reno. But once James “Ole Virginny” Finney found that silver up in Virginia City, changes, like the funk from a miner’s T-shirt, would be in the air. The sudden influx of 25,000 Finnies and their mule teams jacked the demand for wood way up, and the forests of Peavine were easy pickin’s. Lots of the big trees were taken. But fire was as heavy-handed as we. Big fires swept through the area regularly, with a couple of big ones in only the last 60 years applying a coup de grâce on the old-growth trees that withstood the first wave of the silver-hungry honky hordes.

OK, fine. Peavine isn’t the only place on the planet that has had to deal with such scourges. But trees grow back, to some degree at least, in most areas. Why not here?

The answer is fairly simple. The forests of the Carson Range were established thousands of years ago, when things were cooler, wetter and much more conducive to big plants with cones. The pines got ahold and thrived. Centuries passed, millennia passed, and conditions in the area slowly changed—drier, warmer, rougher. Nevada was transformed from swampy to dusty. The forest that was already in place was able to cope with these changes, and new trees could still grow despite the desertification situation. The existing trees enriched the soil, trapped the water and cooled the ground, providing an excellent nursery island in an area that was slowly growing hostile.

But once those trees were gone, it was pretty much all over. Erosion ran amok, good soil blew away, and starting from scratch proved impossible. What was done with ease 10,000 years ago didn’t have a prayer in the 20th century.

As our curious happy hour celebrant might have summed up in a modern kind of way, using the past pluperfect tense—shit had happened. And we got us a big, bald mountain on which to drive our Jeeps, trucks and Treks.