The Timberhill Year

Last year was bittersweet – a combination of tragedy and joy.  Our son Alex died in January of a subdural ganglian hematoma and on May, 2019 our granddaughter Octavia was born.  Not a day goes by that Bill and I don’t think of Alex.  We continue to miss him terribly.  But we take joy in our new grandaughter, an exceptionally bright and healthy baby.  

Painting by Alex

Since discontinuing my previous website I found that I miss writing.  So this is a new beginning. A documentation of the activities that fill our daily lives at Timberhill.

Timberhill is a 200 acre oak savanna restoration that my husband Bill and I  began restoring in 1993.  It is bordered on the north by Pony Farm Road and by Brush Creek on the east.   We began woodland stand improvement in 1993 and implemented prescribed fire in 1995. We are fortunate in that Timberhill is surrounded by woodland and not an isolated fragment.  Therefore, specialist species such as the regal fritillary have not been wholly extirpated.

Aerial map of Timberhill with Brush Creek to the east and Pony Farm Rd. on the north.
Aerial map of Timberhill

Oak savanna is a fire-dependent habitat and fire is essential to maintaining this habitat. Dangerous and destructive as it can be fire becomes a creative, cleansing force in savanna restoration. It controls unwanted woody plant competition such as ironwood and coralberry, stimulates oak regeneration and promotes native ground plant diversity.   By removing surface litter it opens sites for seed germination.  Without any seeding the Timberhill plant list has increased from 100 species in 1995 to almost 500 species.

In order to reduce the impact on overwintering insects we burn during the dormant season between November 15 (after oak leaf drop) and March 15.  At first we followed the periodic burn regimen recommended by experts by burning each site every three years.  However, the land northeast of the trail had so much little bluestem grass that it ignited every year.  After several burns I noted that this site had much higher plant diversity than sites burned periodically.  Here the monoculture of little bluestem had been transformed with abundant populations of highly conservative wildflowers such as Spring Larkspur. 

Spring Larkspur

Bill and I used to do the prescribed burns ourselves with the help of volunteers. But now we have an experienced burn contractor do it.  On March 7, 2020 he and his crew burned the seventy-acre East Savanna.  With wind gusts over 20 mph, only 23% humidity and temperatures predicted to rise above 60’ F. conditions for burning were not ideal. These conditions contributed to rapid fire spread and a red flag warning had been issued.  On the other hand, in this sharply dissected landscape we need extreme conditions to achieve a good burn.  

Night Fire on March 8

The next day the burn contractor returned to do clean-up burns in our West 40 unit which had not burned well last fall.   Although I knew this unit had good fire breaks I became nervous as the fire burned well into the night.  Unable to sleep, I stood at a window watching the red glow to the west.  Then, like magic it began to rain and the red glow was extinguished.  

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