Wednesday, June 21, 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...

Foxglove and daisies blooming in the Cedar River Watershed, late afternoon in summer 2016. Lainey Piland photo

It was June, and the world smelled of roses. The sunshine was like powdered gold over the grassy hillside. ~Maud Hart Lovelace, Betsy-Tacy and Tib, 1941

Summer began yesterday, June 20th! Farewell to the damp days of spring, and welcome to the warmer, drier, long days of summer. The quote above speaks so well to the ambiance of summertime. While it might not smell of roses outdoors (Nootka roses, perhaps...) those in the Pacific Northwest are well acquainted with the heady smell of fir balsam; of alder sap and cottonwood; of warm, damp earth and ripening salmonberries; of a grassy field warmed in the golden sunlight of late afternoon.

These are just a few of the fragrances that perfumed my walk around the neighborhood yesterday afternoon, and how refreshing they are! What smells say "summer" to you?

Blooming fireweed: a sure sign of summer! Lainey Piland photo

Wednesday, June 14, 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...

Stormy evening captured from my deck a few years back.

Waves exploding against a rocky shoreline, a windstorm howling through treetops, snakelike tongues of lightning flickering across the sky to the deafening rumble of thunder... we encounter the raw power of nature in many different forms. Those in western Washington may recall the unusually potent thunderstorms that rolled through our region at the end of April.

I just love a stormy day, and these storms were especially vivid for me. That afternoon I'd left work early for an appointment at a nearby hospital. Parked on the roof of the parking garage as was my custom, I looked out over the freeway, over the distant treed hills and was astonished by what I saw as the forefront of the storm approached with a miles-high wall of purple-grey clouds dragging hazy curtains of rain across the landscape as lightning spit from their bellies. It was a transfixing sight. My appointment ended just in time for me to jump in my car and hurry home with the storm close on my heels, then hunker down in my living room as the storm overtook us and illuminated the evening sky with those electric flashes of plasma and window-rattling thunder.

These moments where nature shows its powerful and dangerous side are exhilarating awe-inspiring to witness, when we can watch from a place of safety! And what's safer than experiencing those storms from behind your computer screen, and miles above Earth's surface?  Take a look at the video linked below, featuring that stormy Seattle evening captured by NASA's GOES-16 satellite. (Hint: the entire United States is shown in the frame... hone in on the upper left corner for "our" storm!)


Watching those lighting strikes from a distant perspective really shows just how potent those storms were!

Wednesday, June 7, 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...

View looking east from the Sauk Mountain trail. Lainey Piland photo

Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.
~ John Muir 

This blog is all about connecting people with nature, especially on Nature Nerd Wednesdays.  I think we can all identify with Muir's description above of being the "tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people" of modern society. Whether you're stuck in an office all day, studying in a classroom or are at home caring for a three-week-old baby like I am, the circumstances of our lives can cause us to become separated from the larger natural world "out there" of which we are a part.

Monday this week was World Environment Day, an occasion that occurs on June 5th every year. This year, the theme was "connecting people to nature," a theme that "implores us to get outdoors and into nature, to appreciate its beauty and its importance, and to take forward the call to protect the Earth that we share." Given the current political climate in this country, this ethic is ever more important to develop in each of us.

That's what I'm all about here on A Day Without Rain: encouraging all of us to explore, connect with, and protect the natural environment - whether that connection occurs while we're hiking to remote alpine lakes or strolling around our neighborhoods, or just stopping by the blog for some Nature Nerd Wednesday inspiration.

Lately, my connections with nature have come in the form of creating these blog posts, taking short walks around my neighborhood with a sleeping newborn strapped to my chest... or even listening to the nature and bird sounds play on my son's infant swing as I sit on the floor next to him, as I'm doing right now. Although I live in a typical dense suburban housing development, there is plenty of nature to appreciate on my brief rambles: the rufous and Anna's hummingbirds at the backyard feeder, the violet-green swallows swooping and diving overhead, the cottontails that appear at the edge of the forest across the street from my house every evening to browse the green grass, the bumblebees buzzing in the lavender outside my front door, the blooming thimbleberry and ripening salmonberries in the undisturbed natural remnants that remain tucked behind rows of cookie-cutter homes. Small things though they may be, they are "fountains of life" indeed for this nerve-shaken new mom.

Another good way to connect with nature when you can't actually get outside? Taking a short break with one of the fabulous daily Nature 365 films by Jim Brandenburg. Take a look:



The connections are all around. How do you find them?

Wednesday, May 24, 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...


People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us. ~Iris Murdoch, A Fairly Honourable Defeat

As they say... April showers bring May flowers, and if that statement bears truth, we can expect to see an abundance of flowers as we stroll through the neighborhood or hit the trails, thanks to the prolific rainfall we've seen this spring. 

This is National Wildflower week, and there is no shortage of beautiful blossoms to be found here in western Washington. Some of the best wildflower hikes I've experienced were Deception Pass and Sauk Mountain, where colorful flowers speckled the grassy bluffs and alpine meadows, respectively. Although I give most of my attention to the trillium blooming in spring, there are plenty of other unique and beautiful flowers to be found.

Columbine at Sauk Mountain
Chocolate lily at Deception Pass

Nootka rose at Deception Pass (these smell heavenly!)

Here's a short video from the National Park Service unit at Olympic National Park, featuring some of the wildflowers to be found blooming there from now through the summer. The flowers in this film can be found on trails all over western Washington. How many do you recognize? 



Can't you just feel the warm sunshine and smell the sweet fragrance, imagining yourself wading through the knee-high field of flowers buzzing with bees? Wildflowers are not only beautiful, but they are important to sustain pollinators like bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Consider celebrating National Wildflower Week by adding some of these native blossoms to your own yard!

Wednesday, May 10, 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...

I always thought "gloaming" referred to the golden quality of light at sunrise or sunset... alas, it means "twilight" or "dusk".  Saint Edward State Park, Lainey Piland photo

This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never all dried at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.

~ John Muir

These are my favorite words from John Muir, and never fail to give me a thrill in my chest and goosebumps on the back of my neck. It's awe-inspiring to take a step back and consider the planet as a whole; somewhere the sun is rising, somewhere it's raining, somewhere the aurora is undulating its green ribbons across the night sky, somewhere it's scorching beneath a hot sun. 

I think back on the places I've visited, that right now there's probably a cloud settled atop Mount Si; the wildflower-strewn flanks of Sauk Mountain may be swathed in mist; the shoreline at Saint Edward State Park lies quiet as early-morning walkers watch their dogs sniff the water's edge. It's a great exercise in wonder and compassion (and a great way to mentally escape if you're stuck in the office!) to sit and consider that the world is larger than what we see surrounding ourselves at this very moment.

Speaking of this grand eternal show, more fitting words could not be applied to this National Geographic photo gallery I came across, featuring photos of National Parks captured from space. From such a high vantage point, we can clearly see the awesome diversity of these parks within the context of their surrounding landscapes. It's easy to get lost in the photos and imagine what may be occurring in each of these places, at this very moment.


The photo of Olympic National Park is especially captivating for this Washingtonian, as we see the majesty of the forested, mountainous park dominating the foreground, and the familiar sights of Seattle, the floating bridges, the I-5 corridor, Everett and the Skagit valley in the background. Seen from this zoomed-out vantage point, we can see how close in proximity these places really are to one another, although standing inside the photo looking out, it's easy to feel distanced and isolated from this larger landscape. But we are closer to these places than we may think; together experiencing sunrise and sunset, rain and sunshine, beauty and ugliness... each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.

 

Wednesday, May 3, 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...

Lainey Piland photo
For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.
~ Kahlil Gibran
Birdsong and morning. The two go together so naturally and are so common that we easily ignore the warbling sound of morning as we grumpily slap our alarm clocks into silence and drag ourselves out the door to work every morning. This tends to be my attitude, as I'm so focused on getting myself together and off to work on time that the earnest birdsong wafting through the open window often falls on deaf ears.

Lately though, as I try to be more mindful and aware throughout the day (yes, even in those groggy and grouchy wake-up hours), I've found it hard to ignore the cheerful singing of the robin who leads the dawn chorus outside my window every morning. How can anyone start their day off sounding so enthusiastic? Listening to his singing is a reminder of the simple beauty by which we're constantly surrounded, but which we so easily tune out.

I recorded the dawn chorus at my house at 5:30 yesterday morning. By setting my phone next to the open bedroom window, I captured the chorus unique to my own little place in the universe. You can hear the robin singing with several other birds (any bird nerds that can help me out and identify some of those voices?), you can hear the traffic rushing past on the busy street a block away, and you can hear the shuffling footsteps of an early-morning jogger. The only thing it doesn't capture is the sound of a woodpecker, who just moments later traveled from house to house testing out the acoustics of the metal gutter downspouts!

With robin on woodwinds, woodpecker on percussion, and rising sun conducting, this is a natural orchestra to be appreciated!

Take a listen: (audio only, no picture)



Why do birds sing so early in the morning? This Wild Birds Unlimited article explains that the dawn chorus is comprised mainly of male birds aiming to defend their territory or attract a mate. Read on for more info!

What does the dawn chorus sound like at your house?

Wednesday, April 26, 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...

Looking out toward Haro Strait from the Lime Kiln trail, Lime Kiln Point State Park, San Juan Island. Lainey Piland photo

These islands form an unmatched landscape of contrasts, where forests seem to spring from gray rock and distant, snow-capped peaks provide the backdrop for sandy beaches.

So states the Presidential Proclamation designating the San Juan Islands National Monument on March 25th, 2013. Those fortunate enough to have visited this place can attest to the unique beauty of the islands, and the way in which they bring you into close communion with the natural environment of the Pacific Northwest.

I myself have only visited San Juan Island so far, but have seen enough to know what a special place it is, with rolling grassy bluffs where bald eagles fly alongside you at eye level, and rocky shorelines from which you can spot the exhalations of passing minke whales, or perhaps a glimpse of orcas breaching.


Leaving Friday Harbor on a late-night ferry last autumn, we made a brief stop at the small, almost- primitive looking dock at Lopez Island. I was standing on the ferry deck in the chilly night, watching the stars blink overhead in a sky darker than any I'd encountered in decades, thanks to the lack of light pollution in the islands. Completely immersed in the twinkling vista overhead, I was startled as we lurched against the dock and a familiar, intoxicating perfume wafted toward me through the darkness. It was the smell of trees, of evergreen needles, so unexpected and strong that it utterly overwhelmed the smell of saltwater, and had it not been for the swaying ferry deck beneath my feet, I would have sworn I was standing in the midst of a forest. It was as if I were Odysseus and Lopez was a siren, calling to me to shipwreck upon her forested shores and stay awhile. And someday, I may just do that.

I will never forget my encounter that dark night on the freezing cold ferry deck; one of those moments where after emerging from it, you feel a bit dazed by some supernatural force and wonder what just happened there?

Here's some more San Juan Islands enchantment, in a short film from photographer Christopher Teren:

 

..........

The San Juan Islands are a special place, and deserving of their status as a protected National Monument. Unfortunately, the President is expected to today sign an order that all National Monuments created since 1996 be "reviewed" to ensure that they weren't created through misuse of the Antiquities Act. This would put two National Monuments in Washington State under review: San Juan Islands (2013) and Hanford Reach (2000). This is the stated intent of the President's order, although the conservation community and general public know it to be an attempt to overturn the Monument designations for sites that could be valuable for fossil fuel development, such as the recently-protected Bears Ears National Monument. [Update 4/26 AM: I'm reading this morning that the executive order applies to monuments 100,000 acres or larger, which exempts San Juan Islands (at just 1,000 acres) but still put Hanford Reach at risk.]

While our Washington State National Monuments likely don't fall into the category of "high potential for fossil fuel development" and therefore are likely safe from being stripped of their protected status, we should still be aware and speak up for the National Monuments being threatened around the country. These lands do, after all, belong to all of the American people. We know how we love our San Juan Islands and would never stand to have them threatened. With this sentiment, we can empathize and stand with others who are at risk of losing beloved National Monuments and landscapes in their own home states.

I had to mix a bit of your Nature Nerd Wednesday nature escape with a bit of activism here... but given the current administration in the White House, that combination will become a necessity for all of us in the coming weeks, months, and years.


On the bluffs of American Camp, San Juan Island. Lainey Piland photo