Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Nature Nerd Wednesdays

Welcome to Nature Nerd Wednesdays, your mid-week nature break to reconnect with the calming, refreshing, and inspiring effects of nature. Take a deep breath and enjoy...

Autumn hues in the Cedar River Watershed, September 2016 Lainey Piland photo

Autumn is nearly here! As of tomorrow, we officially bid farewell to a long summer that has been hot, dry, and smoky - a season that bore too many "days without rain" and left us native Pacific Northwesterners parched and praying for precipitation.

Difficult as it may be to believe, it was only a few weeks ago that we were sweltering in 90-degree heat and coughing beneath smoke-filled skies. Now, the air has cleared, the rain has returned, and a distinct chill in the mornings signals the turning of seasons.

Take a look at the film below, created by Shawn Liebling and filmed in the mountains of Oregon... a cool shower to soothe and refresh the summer-weary soul!

Fall Rain from Shawn Liebling on Vimeo.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Wanderings: Saint Edward State Park (again)

Crow along the Lake Washington waterfront, Saint Edward State Park. Lainey Piland photo

One of the best things about hiking is that you can return time and again to the same place, and not once will you have the same experience. The landscape changes with the seasons, the weather, the time of day. What you notice - hear, see, and smell -  will vary depending on your companions, mood, the pace at which you're walking.

Saint Edward State Park has long been one of my favorite places to visit, and has been featured in many posts here on the blog. It was the place where, on a field trip with my college ecology class, I first forged a connection with nature in a way that piqued my curiosity, commanded my respect, and fostered a sense of stewardship. It was the first place my older sister and I hiked together, the beginning of our adventures which have since taken us to some pretty spectacular places. It was the place my husband and I frequently visited to escape the summer heat when we lived in a condo nearby. It was the first place I took my son for a hike when he was a month old, and the place our family returned to in early September, this time with a four-month old who is already beginning to love the outdoors.

Early on Labor Day morning, we pulled into the parking area at Saint Edward, hoping to get in a quick hike before the day reached its forecast high temperature in the mid-nineties. I'd spent the long, sweltering weekend shut inside my house with my son, with all the blinds closed and curtains drawn, and our faithful portable air conditioner attempting to cool much more square footage than it was designed for. Needless to say, I was going stir-crazy and starting to wonder if my eyes were permanently adapted to dim lighting.

Happily, the air was still a comfortable temperature and I wasn't blinded by the morning sunshine as we packed Lucas into the baby carrier my husband wore and headed for the North Beach trail. It was immediately evident that the forest here was suffering as a result of the hot, rain-bereft summer. The trail was dry and dusty, the consistency of powdered sugar. Dust covered everything: sword fern fronds were caked, and the usually-glossy salal leaves were dull beneath the layer of dirt. Salmonberry leaves withered on their branches, and bigleaf maple were already beginning to drop golden leaves in our path.




The trails were surprisingly busy for this time of the morning. Other hikers seemed to have the same idea to beat the heat as we did, and many were already passing us on their way back to the parking lot and the air-conditioned comfort of their vehicles. We proceeded down the trail at a much slower pace than usual. My husband was being cautious of his footing, not wanting to take a misstep and risk a tumble while he carried our son, and I was ever more aware of the tree roots and rocks poking up, pointed them out on the path in front of us. Lucas seemed absolutely delighted to be outside (he was probably feeling as stir-crazy as me!), and would give us a huge grin whenever we talked to him.

I haven't officially introduced him here on the blog, but here is Lucas, my little adventure buddy who has added a whole new dimension to my life!



After descending to the Lake Washington shoreline, we followed the sedge-lined trail through the cool shade, passing through a grove of indian plum, the leaves of which were beginning to turn yellow as summer wound to a close. I swatted spider webs from my face, spotting them by the glimmer they gave off as the sun rose over the ridge above us and began to light up the trail. The noise from the Kenmore Air seaplanes was especially loud and noticeable this morning, likely because all else was still calm and quiet at this early hour. Again, I was reminded of Thoreau's words in Walden:
"The whistle of the locomotive penetrates my woods summer and winter, sounding like the scream of a hawk sailing over some farmer's yard, informing me that many restless city merchants are arriving within the circle of the town, or adventurous country traders from the other side."
Despite the fact that we were hiking in the forest, seemingly immersed in nature, the sounds of civilization are ever-present. The blaring noise of each successive seaplane takeoff announced the departure of dozens of people, heading out on their own adventures while we followed our own quiet path along the lake shore.



A handful of people and leashed dogs were milling around as we reached the clearing at the main beach. Waves lapped quietly at the rocky shoreline, ducks bobbed bottoms-up in the water, and crows poked around the fallen logs. It was a peaceful and drowsy scene, one that seems common on those summer mornings anticipating the hot temperatures to come.


As is our custom, we picked up the South Canyon Trail - my favorite - to head back up to the park. We passed only two other hikers on this typically quiet trail. Again, the vegetation here looked a bit wilted and tired after the long, dry summer, although the maples in my beloved "maple cathedral" still formed a vibrant green canopy overhead. The creek running through the ravine had slowed to a syrupy trickle through its deep bed of black mud, and I was surprised to find any water there at all. One of the beautiful aspects of this trail is the way in which birdsong echoes back and forth between the hillsides, filling the canyon halls with melodies of a dozen different species. Among the voices today was that of my son... Lucas was telling his own story in his typical high-pitched squeals and delighted shrieks as we ascended the trail.


We reached the end of the uphill climb on this half-mile trail, and I was gasping, trying to move the thick, humid air in and out of my lungs as stars danced before my eyes. I was desperately out of shape, and the warm, humid air wasn't helping. As I tried to catch my breath, I looked at the canopy of cottonwood and maple leaves overhead, stirring languidly in a sluggish breeze. At least I wasn't the only one dragging today.

Emerging from the forest back onto the park grounds, I stopped to appreciate the old orchard tucked into a clearing. I haven't stopped to photograph it before, but today the old gnarled apple trees looked peaceful as they stretched their boughs over empty lawns and picnic tables. This place always occurred in my thoughts as a contemplative place to steal away and write, should I ever have the opportunity to do so.


Lucas was by now fast asleep in the carrier, his little arms and legs limp and flopping with each step my husband took. We followed the asphalt path around the back of the seminary grounds. The vast lawns which were normally filled with picnicking families were now eerily empty. The grass had gone brown and dormant during the dry summer, and the barbecue stations were covered with black plastic garbage bags to prevent anyone using them due to high fire danger.

Arriving at the car just as the morning sun was beginning to feel toasty, we loaded a now-awake and smiling Lucas into his car seat for the ride back home. He wouldn't remember his trip here today, but being able to share this special place with him created yet another new and memorable experience for me. Just wait until he's able to walk... these visits will again be something new altogether!


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Nature Nerd Wednesdays

Welcome to Nature Nerd Wednesdays, your mid-week nature break to reconnect with the calming, refreshing, and inspiring effects of nature. Take a deep breath and enjoy...

New life growing from a fallen giant. South Whidbey State Park. Lainey Piland photo

No matter what, we always have the power to choose hope over despair, engagement over apathy, kindness over indifference, love over hate.
~ Cory Booker 

Life has been so busy lately and I haven't had time to blog for several weeks. As things settle a bit, I'm going to do my best to get back on track. Writing the Nature Nerd Wednesday posts every week does me a great deal of good, as I hope reading them does for all of you! As I sit here in my dark house with blinds closed and curtains drawn against the heat and thick sulfurous smoke that's raining ash outside, I believe we could all use some hope right about now.

In Washington, Oregon, and Montana, some of the best-loved and most memorable landscapes are going up in flames. So many are trying to process the loss of these beloved places with which they've had a lifelong connection. We can try to remind ourselves that fire has been an important ecological process in the region for millennia, but that notion offers little solace when said fires are set by careless humans and worsened by conditions brought about by climate change. We can try to find hope in the fact that landscapes have rebounded, regrown, been rebuilt and flourished decades after catastrophic fires, but that doesn't ease the feeling of loss over the familiar landscape that is now gone.

Eventually, we will get to a place where it's possible to choose hope, engagement, kindness, and love -- where we can look to the future and find our part in reconciling this new landscape with the memories of what once was. In the meantime, let's support one another in the hard times, be grateful for those on the front lines fighting impossibly difficult conditions to save these landscapes, and reflect on the good memories. Let's SHARE those memories with one another and keep the beloved places alive in our stories.

Join me in getting lost in this film by Stephanie Campbell that highlights the beauty of our Evergreen State, a state that has been shaped by ice, floods, fire, and earthquakes:



What do these landscapes mean to you? Do you have a story to share? Please leave a comment or share a link below!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Nature Nerd Wednesdays

Welcome to Nature Nerd Wednesdays, your mid-week nature break to reconnect with the calming, refreshing, and inspiring effects of nature. Take a deep breath and enjoy...



The sky is the daily bread of the eyes. 
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Have you heard about the upcoming celestial event? I think it's going to occur next Monday, and it's some kind of eclipse or something...? Of course you have! We've all got eclipse fever, and even those of us not flocking to squeeze in among the crowds in the narrow strip of totality are looking forward to seeing as much of the eclipse as we're allowed from our current location (here in Seattle, we're expecting to see about 92% of the sun eclipsed). Whether eclipses, meteor showers, northern lights, or supermoons, any phenomena gracing the skies above has the mysterious power to draw us outdoors in numbers, captivating our imagination and commanding our attention.

While we're in the mindset of gazing heavenward, let's take a look at a truly marvelous sight filmed recently by astronaut Jack Fischer on the International Space Station: the green lights of the aurora flickering and undulating through Earth's atmosphere. Surreal and eerie when viewed from Earth, the aurora is even more so when seen from above!



Has that gotten your "ooohs" and "aaaahhhs" tuned up for next Monday? I'll be at work, as I assume most of us will be, as the moon passes in front of the sun and plunges the world into midday darkness, but I think this once-in-a-lifetime event deserves an extended morning break! Be sure to get outdoors to watch the event unfold, from whichever vantage point you've been given, but do so safely! Protect your eyes and check out these safe viewing tips from NASA.


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Nature Nerd Wednesdays

Welcome to Nature Nerd Wednesdays, your mid-week nature break to reconnect with the calming, refreshing, and inspiring effects of nature. Take a deep breath and enjoy...

Raindrops on Barclay Lake, May 2016. Lainey Piland photo

We've certainly been feeling the heat here in the Puget Sound region, with temperatures this week in the mid nineties - or hundreds, if we're unlucky - and a dry streak that's on pace to break the all-time record for continuous days without rain.

Am I the only born-and-raised Washingtonian who's been having rain hallucinations? Squinting out at the Olympic mountains and swearing I see clouds out there, and is that a hazy curtain of rain I see? Nope, just smog. Or, awakening in the middle of the night, convinced I hear rain dripping from the gutter above my bedroom window (no, that can't possibly be the rain-shower white noise machine next to my bed that I hear) and upon rushing to the window finding that the street outside remains dry, and the stars are blinking in a disappointingly clear night sky above.

If you're missing the rain and despairing of the sweltering forecast, join me in soaking up the film below. Titled Pursuit, this film by Mike Olbinski captures spectacular footage of storm clouds and that blessed rain! Although I can certainly do without the tornadoes, I'd rejoice over a good rain storm right now.


Pursuit (4K) from Mike Olbinski on Vimeo.


I named this blog A Day Without Rain because such a day is generally rare and a cause for celebration in Western Washington. That seems not to be the case anymore, at least in summer time! Perhaps I should consider a name change... A Day With Rain? A Very Rainy Day? If that would entice some precipitation to head our way, I'd do it in an instant!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Nature Nerd Wednesdays

Welcome to Nature Nerd Wednesdays, your mid-week nature break to reconnect with the calming, refreshing, and inspiring effects of nature. Take a deep breath and enjoy...



We are well into the long, lazy days of summer now, and enjoying some very comfortable and sunny weather here in the Seattle area (although if I'm being honest, I've been desperate for a nice rainy day lately, for the familiar sound of water gurgling in the gutters and leaving the world all green and fresh and drippy).

Nothing says "lazy summer day" like a blue sky dotted with fluffy clouds that just beckon us to pull up a patch of grass and get lost in observing their slow procession across the sky, moved by winds that we cannot feel in the soporific warmth and stillness below. If you're lacking the time or access to view such a blue sky and fluffy clouds, take a look at the Nature 365 film below, which will be a nice stand-in for the time being.




Now, let's put into practice the "word of the day" shared recently on Twitter by writer Robert McFarlane:
Apricate - to bask in the sunshine.



Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Nature Nerd Wednesdays

Welcome to Nature Nerd Wednesdays, your mid-week nature break to reconnect with the calming, refreshing, and inspiring effects of nature. Take a deep breath and enjoy...


The photo above brings peace to my soul. Rolling hills of grass slope down to a pond obscured by leafy willows and reverberating with the deep croak of a bullfrog. A resident red-trailed hawk wheels overhead, just a tiny speck high in the blue sky above. Closer to ground level, the air is thick with chattering barn swallows and violet-green swallows swooping low through the humid morning air, catching a belly full of insects to take back to the hungry young mouths waiting in their nests. The ground below is still damp with dew, warmed by the morning sunlight and emanating the sweet scent of blooming clover buzzing with fuzzy bees.

Where did I have to go to find such a scene? It wasn't a remote wilderness hike or a special protected natural park. It was at the barn where I keep my horse, a place I visit several times per week. This is one of the many reasons I'm grateful to have been a lifelong horsewoman... since they live outdoors, my horses force me to go outdoors to care for them, and as a result I get to be immersed in scenes like the one pictured above. Most of the time I go gladly, knowing that I'll get to spend quality time outdoors, but other times, perhaps in the midst of a freezing spell in winter that forebodes frozen water buckets or a particularly rainy and dismal day in autumn that promises thick mud, it's a bit more of a chore to get myself out there.

We all have one of these places where we encounter nature not by choice but by necessity: a place we visit or pass through regularly because it's part of our schedule, our life's routine. It might be our own yard as we stroll to the mailbox; the walk across the parking lot into work; our drive home through a particularly scenic area; the ball field where we attend practice or watch games. Although we may be "all business" as we visit and pass through these places, it's worthwhile to also take advantage of the opportunity they offer us to connect with nature, and all the benefits it provides.

Here's a short video of my morning at the barn. My horse is a bit of a camera hog, but you can still pick up on some of the sights and sounds!



Where is the place you regularly encounter nature?