Whenever I travel, I always enjoy visiting new places to learn about and absorb culture. However, I also like to observe the physical world of the plants and animals that inhabit different regions. The life that survives within and adapts to different terrains and climates is ignorant of the borders made by countries and the immaterial problems societies quibble over.
Road trips are a great way to see different varieties of plant life. What took many months of arduous travel to go from one state or country to another is now so easy with planes, highways and railroads. I get to observe how variations in altitude, temperature, geography and history all result in different biomes.
When I drive to Eastern Washington through the Cascades I notice the population of deciduous trees becomes sparser while the pines stand vigilant in the snow.
Eastern Washington has a dry climate that is interesting to look at. The tall mountain ranges prevent clouds from floating eastward, resulting in a really dry climate. Sometimes I can’t help but personify the vegetation and give them reasons they might prefer one climate over another. In the desert, I imagine poor trees and shrubs crowding around water because of how thirsty they are.
For a biology experiment I once took a trip to some fields in Eastern Washington that had a strange phenomenon called Mima mounds. They were tiny hills only three feet high and nine feet across that spread out all over a field. They resembled moguls in a downhill ski slope.
What’s peculiar about them is that when I tried to take some core samples, I discovered that the soil only reaches about three inches deep. Beneath the soil is gravel.
The soil isn’t thick enough to retain moisture in the warm dry weather so the land is very prone to combustion. Wildfires are part of a natural cycle for Mima mounds. As a bucket list entry, I can just imagine dueling amidst the flames armed with a short sword and a cattle prod.
The ashes fertilize the soil for the next year. Nutrients are scarce, and apparently Native Americans used to do controlled burning of the fields for agriculture.
Visiting drier climates really reminds me how much I take humidity for granted. I spent some time on the Colorado Plateau and I have to say the experience was very foreign and unpleasant for me. Luscious photos of excessive greenery and winter wonderlands were so promising. The trees seem similar but the ground is dry and the sun is penetratingly warm during the day.
I was so disappointed when I arrived, though. The Rockies are a distant feature compared to the rest of the region. Everything was so unbelievably flat and every view reached the horizon. Nobody could really sneak up on me because I could see anybody walking on a low, grassy field a couple miles away. It’s pretty difficult to see further than half a mile in Seattle, where there’s always something in view.
The alluring photos of a snowy paradise were false promises too. The precipitation was so low that in the few winter months that I spent in Colorado, it only snowed once. The snow then just stayed there collecting dirt, possibly unsure what to do with itself.
The diversity of life that grows in different climates seems to be affected by two major factors, heat and humidity. The warmer and wetter an environment is, the more life will thrive in the region. That’s why the Amazon Rainforest is the home of the most diverse collection of plants and animal life in the world.
The diversity present in the Amazon Rainforest is why I will likely never visit there. The more habitable a place is to live in, the greater the competition for survival. Not only does this include deadly plants and animals but a cocktail of viruses and bacteria that ruins my potential fantasies of recreating Tarzan scenes.
Personally, I’d rather retreat towards lands as cold and inhospitable as possible. I’d rather fight the elements than diseases or swarms of insects. I’d rather build a cabin and be free of the world’s troubles.