Wednesday, December 31, 2014

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...
 
Saint Edward State Park. Lainey Piland photo

"Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander..." 
~Hillsong United, "Oceans"
Where did your feet wander in 2014? Did you explore new places, hike longer and further, find beauty in the great outdoors, or see the world around you in a whole new way? Nature tests us, surprises us, inspires us, invites us in.  There are always new things to discover, adventures to be had, beauty to be realized. 

Here are a few of the paths my feet wandered this year:

Saint Edward State Park. Lainey Piland photo

Evans Creek Preserve. Lainey Piland photo

Moss Lake Natural Area. Lainey Piland photo

Old growth Doug fir- Wilbert Trail - South Whidbey State Park. Lainey Piland photo
First Day Hike at Deception Pass. Lainey Piland photo

Sno Valley Regional Trail - Summer. Lainey Piland photo

Sno Valley Regional Trail - Winter. Lainey Piland photo
Paradise Valley Conservation Area. Lainey Piland photo

Not only is interacting with nature fulfilling for each person individually, but the whole planet benefits the more people understand and appreciate the world around us.  When we learn to value natural spaces, when we identify and empathize with wildlife, when we see the possibility in the world that previously went by unnoticed, when we realize our very survival is dependent upon a healthy, functioning planetary ecosystem... we learn to care.  And we want to protect. We steward instead of dominate.  We coexist instead of control.  

This is an ethic that needs to be fostered in all of us, and it starts with stepping outdoors.  In 2015, grab some friends and join me in making an effort to wander deeper than your feet have gone before!

Stay tuned to A Day Without Rain in the new year for plenty of outdoor adventures, nature inspiration, and "going green" tips.

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Looking Back at 2014

Deception Pass First Day Hike - Lainey Piland photo

2014 is drawing to a close, and the dwindling days that remain are the perfect time to reflect back on the year. In terms of outdoor adventures, 2014 has been a great year for this Nature Nerd: starting with a "first day hike" at Deception Pass on January 1st and ending with a soggy-but-wonderful Black Friday hike to Coal Creek Falls. And let's not forget the spectacular Geminid meteor shower just a few weeks ago.

Here are some of the highlights from 2014: the five most-popular blog posts on A Day Without Rain this year:

1. See America: Reviving New Deal artwork to celebrate our national parks

2. Going Green: Toxins in Your Shampoo?  Clean Up Your Beauty Routine

3. Wanderings: The Snoqualmie Valley Regional Trail

4.  Going Green: A Day Without Waste on April 9th

5. Wanderings: Seeking Spring

Thank you to all who take the time to read my blog, and I hope to see you back in 2015 to share even more adventures, "going green" tips, and Nature Nerd musings! 

You can also follow me on Twitter: @LaineyPiland

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

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 cold is coming.
December's winter solstice.
Start of the season.
~Robert Pettit, "Winter Solstice"
Snowy morning in the Snoqualmie Valley.  Lainey Piland photo

The haiku poem above perfectly describes this time of the year. The winter solstice has come and gone. The winter season has officially begun, and here in western Washington, we are still waiting for the cold to arrive! It has been an unusually warm December so far - the warmest December on record, in fact. Snowy scenes like the one above seem like an impossible dream at the moment.

The good news is that the shortest days of the year are already behind us, and we have lengthening daylight and brighter days to look forward to. That is a gift to be thankful for!

Have a very merry Christmas!


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

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...

Okay, I'll be honest here. My brain is fried. I actually almost forgot to write a Nature Nerd Wednesday post (gasp!). It seems as though the closer we get to Christmas, the busier my days get, the more frantic and whirling the thoughts in my brain become, and as a result I lose track of what day it is and what I'm supposed to be doing. Frankly, I'm surprised that I can string together a few coherent sentences here! And I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who can relate.

This is why we have Nature Nerd Wednesdays. To have a moment where we can take a deep breath, immerse ourselves in nature photos or videos, and hopefully feel a little more relaxed and refreshed thereafter.

In keeping with the heavenly theme of my recent post about the Geminid meteor shower, today I'm sharing a wonderful time-lapse film called Chasing Starlight, which I came across in an article on EarthSky. Created by photographer Jack Fusco, this video features the starry skies of Banff and Jasper National Parks in Alberta, Canada. Be sure to enlarge the video to full-screen and crank up those speakers to get the full benefit of that ethereal music:


I've been lucky enough to visit Banff and Jasper National Parks in person (thanks Dad!), and they certainly have a unique and impressive beauty about them.  They are only made more beautiful when you throw in some deep starry skies and colorful northern lights!

For more of photographer Jack Fusco's amazing work, check out his website here.

If you're in need of more relaxation, check out the Nature Nerd Wednesday archives.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Wanderings: The Geminid Meteor Shower

Lainey Piland photo

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, 
the silent stars go by...

For as long as I can remember, those have been my favorite lines from a Christmas song.  The image they evoke, of a peaceful world sleeping beneath the watchful gaze of stars wheeling overhead, makes me feel as though I've been wrapped up in all the comforting warmth of the Christmas season.

Those lines were running through my mind over and over last night -- or rather, very early this morning -- as I sat outside on my deck with my head tilted back toward the heavens. Despite the temperature being somewhere in the upper 30's, I didn't feel cold.  This wasn't due to the thick fleece blanket I was burrowed into, or to the several pairs of socks on my feet.  I was too focused, too intent, too hopeful to feel cold.  Tonight was the peak of the Geminid meteor shower, and I was bound and determined to catch a glimpse of the show. My breath formed small puffs of vapor as my eyes searched the heavens above, whispering through dry lips "Please let me see just one. Just one."

You see, for most of the year, I've been a frustrated stargazer.  This is a notoriously difficult hobby to maintain in western Washington, where cloudy skies are the norm.  But this year, it just seemed like I couldn't catch a break.  How many supermoons was I blind to this year? Did I get to test out my homemade viewing device during the partial solar eclipse?  Speaking of eclipses, didn't we have a few of those this year, of the lunar variety?  What about those northern lights we were promised?  What about the Perseid, Leonid, and Orionid meteor showers this summer and fall? Clouds, clouds, clouds.

So imagine my delight last night upon finding clear skies as I peeked through the curtains around midnight.  This could be my chance.  I hurried through my tiny condo, switching off lamps, dousing the Christmas lights, and throwing on enough layers of clothing and blankets to keep me warm.  In short order, I was flat on my back on the lounge chair outside, with a sky full of stars blinking overhead.

Unfortunately, I was unable to escape from those much-disdained "city lights," so my prospects for being able to see much of a show were rather dismal.  After allowing a few moments for my eyes to adjust to the relative darkness, I began to pick out familiar stars from the sky.  Betelgeuse, Bellatrix, and Rigel in Orion.  The showy Sirius in Canis Major was twinkling violently like a prism twirling in sunlight. I located the Pleiades star cluster, for which I've always had a special affinity. At last the stars Castor and Pollux resolved from the dim starry sky.  Those two stars lay in the constellation Gemini - the radiant for tonight's meteor shower.

Meteor showers are named for the constellations where meteors appear in the night sky.  The meteors radiate outward in all directions from this 'radiant'.  Radiant.  There's a deliciously magical-sounding word for you.  The radiant for the Geminid meteor shower is located in the constellation Gemini, the radiant for the Orionids is in Orion, for the Leonids in Leo... etc.

So I lay there in the cold, staring up at Gemini and anxiously waiting.  Sirens wailed down the street.  The acrid smell of asphalt wafted from overnight work on the nearby freeway. Thankfully, the wind soon shifted and carried with it a sweeter fragrance. The lonely stars blinked. As the moments passed, I began to worry that I wasn't in a dark enough location to see the meteor showers - that I was blind to a spectacular show occurring right in front of my very eyes.

Suddenly, a thin glowing thread of light appeared in my peripheral vision, then disappeared. Wait, was that it?  Was that a meteor? The excitedly whispered words coalescing in clouds around me were now "I saw one.  I SAW ONE!"

This was the first of thirty-one meteors I spotted during the hour spent sitting outdoors in the freezing cold.  Meteors appeared everywhere in the sky, shooting off in all directions.  They animated Orion's bow; they landed in the Pleiades; the brightest of them humbled even the piercing glitter of Sirius.  Most of the meteors were faint, and glimpsed only briefly as thin white trails on the edges of my vision.  I was lucky enough however, to see a few particularly spectacular meteors that blazed bright orange across a few degrees of sky. 

Hands-down the most exciting moment was when two flaming meteors seemed to fall straight down from the sky.  They appeared exactly where my gaze had been resting in the vacant sky, allowing me to follow their side by side progress as they plummeted downward.  Now these were METEORS: blazing orange fireballs, trailing behind them a plume of glowing light and a tail of smoke.  They appeared to be making a beeline for the tops of Doug fir trees a hundred yards in the distance, which caused me to gasp inadvertently even though I knew better: those meteors were still miles away, miles above.  As they burned out, I sat looking at the dark sky with my mouth agape for the briefest moment, before shoving my blanket in my mouth to stifle a delighted shriek that would no doubt have alarmed my neighbors. After this, I'm fairly certain that the duration of my time outdoors was spend with a huge idiot grin on my face.

Eventually, the time between meteor sightings lengthened, and I was forced to crane my neck from one corner of the sky to the other to search them out.  Frowning, I also noticed that the sky seemed to be getting lighter.  Peering over the deck railing toward the ground two stories below, I quickly saw the reason why.  Thick fog was rolling in, creeping upward into the sky and carrying with it the diffused glow of streetlights from below.  After a few more minutes sans meteor sighting, I reluctantly concluded that this magical experience had come to an end.  Plus, I was beginning to lose feeling in my toes.  I tipped my head upward toward the sky, drinking in the midnight blue vista smattered with twinkling stars.  "One more," I whispered, "please, one more..."

And wouldn't you know it, right there in the sky just above Orion's head, a fat orange meteor streaked across my vision and flared out. Number thirty-one. I smiled. Okay, maybe I can forgive the cloudy Washington skies since -- in a benevolent Christmas gesture? -- they've parted tonight and allowed me a glimpse of the stunning show overhead.  Wrapping my dew-damp blanket around my shoulders, I eased back into the house feeling completely full, content, and peaceful; leaving those silent stars to continue their work unseen.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

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...


Snoqualmie Falls in winter.  Lainey Piland photo
"Nature has many scenes to exhibit, and constantly draws a curtain over this part or that. She is constantly repainting the landscape and all surfaces, dressing up some scene for our entertainment. Lately we had a leafy wilderness; now bare twigs begin to prevail, and soon she will surprise us with a mantle of snow. Some green she thinks so good for our eyes that, like blue, she never banishes it entirely from our eyes, but has created evergreens."
~Henry David Thoreau, Nov. 8, 1858
We recently received our first hint that the seasons are changing here in western Washington; drawing the curtain on autumn and ushering wintertime to center stage. The landscape was repainted with a dusting of snow and several days of persistently sub-freezing temperatures; leaving a sharp, glittering, and bitterly cold scene in their wake.

Snoqualmie Falls is one local landscape in particular which undergoes a dramatic change in appearance as the acts change from one season to another, and tends to be most striking during freezing cold winter weather. See for yourself in the short video below, which I captured during a cold snap last winter.


Although impressive when running high and muddy in spring, and peaceful in the gentle flows of summer, it is hard to beat the dazzling, stark beauty of Snoqualmie Falls in winter. If you have the opportunity to see it in person, I definitely recommend doing so... after bundling up, of course! You may not get drenched with spray (as you usually would when visiting the falls in non-freezing weather), but all of that rushing water displaces a whole lot of cold air as it comes crashing down, so expect to feel an icy blast while standing on the overlooks!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

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...

Are you already growing weary of the bare wintertime landscape?  Would you like just one more glimpse of the blazing, beautiful fall colors to which we bade farewell a few weeks ago?

You're in luck! The folks at More Than Just Parks have just released their second film, this time featuring Great Smoky Mountains National Park in all the splendor of full fall color.  Enjoy the beautiful video below:



In an earlier Nature Nerd Wednesday post, I shared the first film from More Than Just Parks, featuring Washington State's own Olympic National Park.  If you haven't watched it yet, be sure to click over and check it out!

For more information on this amazing project aiming to bring greater awareness to the unique treasures of our National Parks, go to the More Than Just Parks website.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Wanderings: Coal Creek Falls

Rainy day hike to Coal Creek Falls

9.1 billion.  The number of dollars spent by Black Friday shoppers this year.  Also-- I'm pretty sure-- the number of raindrops that splattered against my jacket, ran down my face, and soaked into my jeans on a Black Friday hike with my sister and her pup, Ruby.  Rather than elbowing our way through crowds of people clamoring for the best deals on big-screen TVs and socks, we instead took on a soaking rain, light breeze, and temps in the low forties during a hike to Coal Creek Falls. 

Call us crazy (I prefer 'adventurous'), but we certainly weren't the only people hitting the trails instead of the shopping malls, despite the deplorable weather.  When we arrived at the Lakemont Blvd. entrance to the Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park, there were already a handful of other vehicles in the parking area. We bundled up in our jackets, pulled our hoods tight over our heads, and ducked out into the deluge.  Miss Ruby the pitbull was outfitted with her own hiking backpack, which she wasn't too sure about... looking at us with wary, uncertain eyes, she was clearly questioning WHAT in the world we were doing outdoors in the cold rain.

After stopping at the trailhead kiosk to plan our route, I stuffed an already-soaked map into my pocket and off we went.  According to the Washington Trails Association website, Coal Creek Falls is a short 2.5 mile hike, which includes 400 feet of elevation gain.  The elevation gain begins right away, as we quickly discovered.  Huffing and puffing and trying to encourage a reluctant Ruby, we slogged uphill beneath the reaching limbs of bare bigleaf maple and alder branches.  The natural leafy umbrella they would have provided in any other season now lay in a sodden carpet along the trail. Not only did we have the relentless, soaking rain to contend with, we also had the frequent startling splat of absurdly large water droplets dripping from bare branches onto our hoods and shoulders.

Lesson #1: when hiking on a rainy day in winter, make sure it's in a coniferous forest.

The brave hikers setting out. 

About halfway up the incline, we spotted a sign to the side of the trail which reminded us of the history of this place. Cougar Mountain was mined from 1863 to 1963, and the lasting effects of extracting 11 million tons of coal can still be seen in the park today.  This particular sign marked a dangerous "cave hole," where too-shallow mining caused the surface to cave in to the tunnel below, leaving behind large depressions in the earth that are still noticeable today.

Pay attention to those signs!

Obediently staying on the trail and far away from the cave hole (Did you see that sign?? Don't have to tell us twice!) we continued uphill until we reached a junction in the trail. From this point, the Coal Creek Falls trail branches off to the right along the face of the hill, giving our burning lungs and legs respite from the uphill climb.  This section of the trail is much narrower and, thanks to the rain, was slightly muddy.  We wound through a forest of conifers: cedar, hemlock, and Doug fir. The hillside sloped steeply upward to the left of the trail, and steeply downward to the right.  Eventually, the rushing, rumbling sound of fast-moving water rose from the depths to our right.  We must be getting close to the falls.

It sure was green! Sorry for the blurriness... rain on the lens, you know...

Muddy Coal Creek churning down below. 

A few more twists and turns in the trail, a few notched cedar stumps and many raindrops later... the crashing water of the falls came into view on the trail ahead. At only 28 feet high, this isn't a large waterfall by any means, but it was impressive nonetheless. Swollen with rainwater, Coal Creek roared mightily down its small but lovely falls.  This was definitely worth the uphill hike in the rain!  

Lesson #2: to ensure the most impressive waterfall experience, schedule these hikes for extremely, ridiculously, soaking-wet rainy days.

We made it!
Coal Creek Falls

After a few minutes of standing on the bridge over the swollen creek (Ruby, don't fall in!), snapping a few photos with our rain-splattered cameras and admiring the falls, we decided that we were thoroughly soaked and ready to head back.  Although there are other trails that loop back to the parking area, we decided to go back the way we came.  We knew the route, knew what to expect, and figured it would be the quickest way back. As soon as we turned around, Ruby was the one pulling us forward! Smart girl. She knew we were headed back the way we came, which meant a nice warm car and a dry place out of this unrelenting downpour!

At this point, I was frozen and completely drenched to the skin.  I wish I could have looked around, taken a few more photos, and admired the scenery a bit more, but the only thing at the forefront of my mind was to get down this hill. My wilderness survival skills might be at a novice level (okay, I'm limited to what I've seen on Man vs. Wild) but I knew that soaking clothes and cold temperatures were not a good combination! I showed my sister that, by making a tight fist, I could produce streams of water from my sodden gloves. She announced that her hiking pants were no longer waterproof.  Ruby hustled us along.  

Lesson #3: when going for a hike in the rain, make sure that your waterproof gloves, pants, jacket, etc. are actually waterproof.

We made it back to the car, peeling off as many dripping layers of clothing as we could and throwing the garments into the trunk.  Ruby, once freed of her backpack, leap into the backseat and proceeded to dry herself off by rolling back and forth on the cloth seat.  It's a dog car, my sister said with a laugh.

Looking through the trees... there's a view out there somewhere! Yes I know... finger on the lens... hard to tell when you're wearing soggy gloves!

Coal Creek Falls was a great hike.  I'm looking forward to going back to the Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park on drier days to explore more of the trails and enjoy the scenery. Many of the trails are said to boast stunning views, which we got a small glimpse of on the descent as some of the mist cleared out a bit.

Spending time in nature, getting some exercise surrounded by beautiful scenery, and hanging out with your older sis who you don't get to see nearly enough... now that's better than any Black Friday "doorbuster" deal!

Happy Ruby


Thursday, November 27, 2014

Musings: Thankful for Wildness

Happy Thanksgiving!

It's finally here: the glorious, delicious holiday where we spend time with friends and family, feast on tasty food, and reflect on the things we're grateful for.  If only we could do this more often!

Throughout the month of November, many people take to social media to express the things they're thankful for. While scrolling through my Twitter feed, I came across a question posed by the Wilderness Society, one of my favorite organizations to follow.

"What wilderness areas are you most thankful for?"

I had to think about that one for a minute. I've hiked in national forests, state parks, and a good majority of the national parks in the western U.S. (thanks Dad!). But have I ever been in what one might call 'untouched wilderness'... areas "untrammeled by man... where man is a visitor who does not remain..." as defined by the Wilderness Act? Certainly, I'm grateful for all of the protected wilderness areas in our country, but I am not well-acquainted enough with these places to be able to pick one and declare that this is the one in particular which I am thankful for.

How about the places I am familiar with? My favorite place to spend time in nature or go for a short hike is Saint Edward State Park.  However, with a history of human presence, including a formidable brick seminary building and a forest which at one time had been completely mowed down, this park hardly qualifies as wilderness.

Old cedar stump at St. Edward, showing a notch left where a springboard was inserted for loggers to stand upon.

Moss Lake Natural Area, which I visited for the first time this year, is comprised of several hundred acres of forested land set aside for preservation in the midst of encroaching suburbia. But this area had also been completely clear-cut at one time. Not untrammeled. Not wilderness.

Hemlock growing out of a massive stump: the remnants of an ancient cedar that had been cut down years ago.

My favorite and familiar places are not wilderness, that is for sure.  As I mused on this fact, the realization slowly dawned on me that despite not fitting into the category of wilderness, these places are a perfect expression of wildness - the indomitable spirit of nature to overcome even our best and most destructive attempts to alter it.

Saint Edward State Park and Moss Lake Natural Area were once logged, left clear-cut and barren nearly a century ago. Visiting either of these places today, you'd never know it.  The forest has returned, along with its wildlife and ecosystem functions.  Wildness.

Moss Lake Natural Area today.

Saint Edward State Park today.

So, to answer the question: I am thankful for the places that have reclaimed their wildness from the destructive hand of humans - those places which defy attempts to civilize them.  Those places which offer astounding examples of resilience and adaptability.  Those places which, in their reclaimed wildness, remind and humble those of our species who see themselves in control of nature - above it, separate from it. 

I'm thankful for the second-growth forests, for hemlocks that take root in old cedar stumps, for the re-vegetated streambanks, for the rivers that run wild. I'm thankful for the notched stumps, the native species, the tiny little Doug fir sprouting in the cracked sidewalk outside my front door.  Thankful for the reminders that although we may destroy nature, its wildness imbues it with resilience so that - where once an ecosystem was laid waste and left barren - a beautiful new forest now flourishes.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

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...

"Many a calm river begins as a turbulent waterfall,
yet none hurtles and foams all the way to the sea." 
~Mikhail Lermontov
Snoqualmie River - Lainey Piland photo

I took this photo during a recent walk along the Snoqualmie Valley Trail near Carnation. The Snoqualmie River was quietly lazing along within its autumn-hued banks in the late afternoon light. On that day, as it usually is, the river was calm, peaceful, and beautiful, its surface reflecting the surrounding world in watery shadows. The sight ignited a tranquil warmth within me.

Thanks to the pouring rainstorms over the Cascade Mountains yesterday, the river is no longer peaceful.  Today it is an angry torrent, threatening to spill over, taking muddy chomps out of the banks that contain it, and sending its destructive currents close to homes, roads, and farmland.  This river is menacing, dangerous, and frightening to behold in its wildly uncontrolled state.

Coming back to this photo taken on a sunny afternoon not long ago, I couldn't help but think of the comparison between the two states of the river - the swift change from peaceful to destructive, from shining clarity to angry murkiness - in light of the recent riots and protests which have dominated the news headlines across the country since Monday evening.

Nature so often acts as a mirror in which we can see a metaphorical reflection of ourselves.  We just need to keep in mind that it is only in that peaceful, shining river that we're able to see our own watery reflection... an angry, muddy torrent will obscure and sweep it away.


Source: welshbabe [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

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...
 
November clouds over the Snoqualmie Valley just before sunset. Lainey Piland photo
"The sky is the daily bread of the eyes."
~Ralph Waldo Emerson
We've returned once again to that time of year when the vivid hues of autumn leaves are now brown and decaying underfoot, leaving starkly bare tree branches rattling in a chilly wind.  The landscape may be beginning to look like a washed-out canvas, but this is the season where the skies overhead truly shine, painted in dazzling colors and adorned with intriguing clouds.

Winter is easily the best season to direct your gaze upward. You can expect vivid sunrises and sunsets, clear blue skies, impressive cloud formations, and crystal-clear twinkling stars at night. These are glimpses of beauty in the midst of a season generally considered to be bleak and unlovely (unless there is snow, of course!). As we approach winter, here are a few of my recent sky photos to inspire you to look up and appreciate the heavenly views:

Red alder against a cottonball sky in the Snoqualmie Valley. Lainey Piland photo
Fiery sunset over Mount Rainier. This one is a bit blurry but you have to love the colors! Lainey Piland photo
Fluffy clouds. Lainey Piland photo
Evening falls over a bright red sunset. Lainey Piland photo

For more sky photos, check out my "Finding Home" photo project in an earlier blog post.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

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

Do you know that feeling where, after emerging from the woods after a hike or leisurely stroll, you find yourself relaxed and refreshed rather than tense and anxious as you were to begin with? You might feel exhausted, but this is a pleasant and full sensation, not the draining, energy-sapping one we're most familiar with. Intoxicated by the sharp fragrance of crushed pine needles and with the damp forest air still clinging to hair and clothing, we emerge back into "reality" with renewed purpose.

As it turns out, this phenomenon has a name: shinrin-yoku, which means "forest bathing" in Japanese.  Forest bathing. This isn't a phrase we ever hear in the United States, but anyone who has spent time hiking in the woods knows intuitively what it means.

Check out this Mother Nature Network (MNN) article on forest bathing, and relax as you scroll through the stunning photos of diverse forests around the world.

The forest at Saint Edward State Park. One of my favorites to "bathe" in! Lainey Piland photo

Daylight saving time has unfortunately cut short the time available each day to bask in the great outdoors. However, as the MNN article mentions, the benefits of forest bathing are derived not only from physically being outdoors, but largely from the phytoncides (plant pheromones) in the air, and these same phytoncides can be found in plants such as tea tree, oak, and pine (perhaps this is why we love the smell of Christmas trees in our homes?).

So, how can we enjoy the benefits of forest bathing without actually being in the forest? If you're lucky enough to have some trees around, open up the windows in your house on those windy autumn evenings to allow the fresh phytoncide-filled breeze to refresh your home.  As you're doing the inevitable post-windstorm yard cleanup, take deep breaths of those fragrant pine branches as you carry them to the yard waste cart by the armload. And, if you don't mind the strong aroma, be sure to cook your dinner with onions and garlic, because these plants also have large amounts of phytoncides. Ah, the benefits of a long forest hike... found in a bulb of garlic. Who knew?

But of course, you should take advantage of every available opportunity to actually spend time outdoors.  Go for a hike.  When it comes to the physical and emotional benefits of nature... nothing beats the real thing.

Lainey Piland photo

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

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...

Storm over the Snoqualmie Valley. Lainey Piland photo

'Tis the season for stormy weather, as those of us in the Pacific Northwest know all too well.  Although we may gloomily regard the darkened skies and bemoan the ankle-deep leaves, overflowing gutters and waterlogged landscape left in the storm's aftermath, it is worth remembering that there is still beauty in those turbulent skies.

Not convinced? Check out the hypnotizing "Stormscapes" video below, created by Wyoming photographer Nicolaus Wegner.


Wegner also created a longer "Stormscapes 2" video that is equally as stunning.  Check it out on his Vimeo page here.

For more of Nicolaus Wegner's work, be sure to check out his Light Alive Photography website.  I spent quite a while browsing through his Storm Landscape Gallery - there are some unbelievable photos there!

Monday, November 3, 2014

The End of Daylight Saving Time - A Nature Nerd Survival Guide


Winter Sunset - Lainey Piland Photo

It was with heavy hearts this past Saturday night that we bade farewell to Daylight Saving Time and sadly went from room to room through our homes to turn the clocks back an hour. Although we gained an extra hour that day, we also lost something necessary to the Nature Nerd pursuit of happiness: daylight.

The sun now sets before 5:00pm. Gone are the days of coming home from work, swapping workwear for athletic clothing and sneakers, and heading right back out the door for a walk or quick hike. No more bird- or wildlife-watching as we go about our evening routine. Now we look through windows that reveal nothing but seemingly empty blackness.  Our outdoor activities are relegated to whatever time we can eke out for them during our busy weekends.

Chin up, Nature Nerds! Stop sobbing over that mug of pumpkin spice something-or-other as you peer out your darkened windows at 4:50 in the afternoon. You can still get your nature fix despite the waning daylight.  Here are a few ideas to get you through:

Read

This is one of the best ways to connect with nature when you're stuck indoors.  A good author can paint vivid pictures with their words that make you feel as though you're in the great outdoors right along with them.  You can never go wrong with classics like Henry David Thoreau's Walden, or any writings of John Muir (I recommend My First Summer in the Sierra or The Mountains of California). 

I'm currently working my way through the finalists for this year's Orion Book Award, which features both fiction and nonfiction titles.  I've already read Margaret Atwood's MaddAddam and local author Lyanda Lynn Haupt's The Urban Bestiary - both excellent, informative, and thoughtful reads that left me looking forward to reading the other finalists.

Stargaze

Lainey Piland photo
We may be losing daylight, but we're gaining more time to view an oft-overlooked and surpassingly breathtaking natural phenomenon: the stars. When granted a clear evening (rare here in Washington, I know...), wrap up in some blankets, grab some hot chocolate, and sit outside with your gaze fixed upon the twinkling stars overhead. Learn to identify by name the constellations and stars of which they are comprised. Use binoculars or a telescope to examine the moon, planets, and distant galaxies.  For an up-to-date list of what's visible in the sky on a given night, check out Sky and Telescope's "This Week's Sky at a Glance". Hint: the Leonid Meteor Shower is coming up on the night of November 16th!


Plan Next Year's Hikes

It's never to soon to start planning and looking forward to next year's - or next weekend's - hikes! Pick up a book of hikes in your area, or log on to websites such as the Washington Trails Association to plan your upcoming outdoor adventures.

Organize and Edit Photos

Oh, how easy it would be to while away many a dark evening organizing and editing the plethora of photos captured during outdoor adventures of spring, summer, and autumn.  I have hundreds of photos on my computer from this year alone! Clicking through the photos will remind you of those beautiful memories and reconnect you with the natural scenery they represent.

Listen to Nature Sounds

I know I've linked the Breathing Space recordings from One Square Inch to this blog many times before, but I'm doing it again. Shamelessly.  Take a listen - you'll feel like you've been teleported to the wilderness.

Bring the Outdoors Inside - with a Houseplant
 
For the longest time, I kept plants out of my home because my sweetly mischievous kitty loves to chomp on them. After doing some research, I located a plant that is non-toxic to cats, thrives on little light, cleans pollutants from the air and is nearly impossible to kill.  I got a spider plant.  Two of them, actually.  Somehow having a plant indoors along with the simple act of watering and pruning leaves me feeling more connected to the outdoors.

Stay Tuned to Nature Nerd Wednesdays

Right on this blog, every Wednesday, Nature Nerd Wednesdays will connect you with the refreshing and inspiring effects of nature, through literature, photos, and videos.

These are a few of my strategies for survival as the days - and time spent outdoors - become shorter than I would prefer.  How do you fulfill your nature cravings during the darker months? Feel free to share in the comments below!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

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...
Listen! The wind is rising, and the air is wild with leaves, We have had our summer evenings, now for October eves! ~Humbert Wolfe
And not just any October eves... we're almost upon Halloween, so here's a beautifully spooky photo for this Nature Nerd Wednesday:


This long-exposure photo of blue ghost fireflies was entered into the National Geographic 2014 photo contest. The scene was captured in Brevard, North Carolina by photographer Spencer Black, who noted that "Blue Ghost fireflies are unique because they stay lit and only hover about a foot off the ground."

These fireflies are aptly named, as it seems they are as elusive to find as a restless spook on Halloween. Blue Ghosts are found glowing in the southern U.S. and throughout the Appalachian Mountains in early summer. Although I love Washington and its beautiful natural scenery, I must admit that I'm slightly jealous of our Southern neighbors for their fireflies. Here's a great article on these rare Blue Ghosts, so all of us Pacific Northwesterners can see what we're missing.

If only these fireflies were active during this time of year! I think walking through a twilight forest ankle-deep in a glowing cloud of fireflies is a much more fitting and enjoyable way to spend Halloween than dressing up in silly costumes, no?

Friday, October 24, 2014

Musings: Living Up to the Lives of Trees

Lainey Piland photo

A pile of sodden paper lay on the kitchen counter in front of me, unceremoniously dumped there after my quick dash out to the mailbox in the midst of a drenching autumn rain shower. After peeling off my dripping jacket and drying my hands, I turned my attention to the overwhelming pile of mail and tried to determine which item to deal with first.  My prodding fingers caused an envelope from Orion magazine, my absolute favorite publication, to surface to the top of the pile. We have a winner.

The letter was a request for donations, as the magazine is ad-free and relies entirely on donated funds to continue in print. I usually toss such things aside, but, as with everything else Orion produces, this letter was so compellingly written that I stood there damp and shivering at my kitchen counter and read the entire captivating thing - front and back. The last sentence of the first paragraph was the most utterly profound thing I've ever read in a letter asking for my monetary contribution: "...this particular magazine endeavors to live up to the lives of the trees it is printed on". 

Whoa.

Continuing toward the end of the letter: "... every cell of heartwood or sapwood that becomes part of Orion carries a word or image that we believe is worth it."

What an incredible ethic to incorporate into one's daily life, business, and thoughts.  Certainly not surprising coming from a nature-focused publication, but after reading this, I couldn't help but think how our world would be changed so much for the better if every individual adopted this mindset.

If we all internalized an utter respect and gratitude for our environment and natural resources, I think we would be much more careful with how we utilize them. The next time you grab a paper towel to clean up a mess; the next time you use a disposable coffee cup; the next time you read a book or magazine - stop and remember what these items are made of. Don't see these things as they are; instead, see them as they were. Think of that tree in its natural and unadulterated state. Are these products just as useful and necessary as the original tree from which they were made? How much more fulfilling, beautiful, inspiring - and less wasteful - the world would be if we were careful to only utilize consumer products with as high a purpose as their original forms.

Trees are pretty important. They sequester carbon. They provide shade. They turn carbon dioxide into breathable oxygen. They provide wildlife habitat. They absorb rainwater. They provide an unending source of awe and comfort. When they die, their nutrients feed a new generation or trees. Trees are important. And for a print publication to recognize this fact and endeavor to have the content printed on its pages live up to the importance of all those things listed above... simply beautiful. You know there will be no waste of trees or words there.

Now back to the rest of that mail pile. Credit card offers. Grocery store advertisements. Political fliers (if I find one more of these ridiculous things stuffed into my mailbox or the cracks of my front door, I give up. I'm not voting for anyone!). None of these things breathe life. None of them provide shade for a weary soul. None harbor awe or wonder. Future generations will not be inspired and nourished by them. When it comes to living up to the lives of the trees on which these mailings are printed, none of them even come close. However, I will grant that each did a smashing job of absorbing rainwater during my soggy dash back into the house.

With my new-found perspective, I glumly dropped these failures into the recycle bin, mourning the wasted lives of the trees which supplied their paper. Best of luck in your next incarnation, dear trees. Perhaps you'll be lucky enough to be recycled into the pages of a publication that appreciates you.

Lainey Piland photo

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

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...

Wind-blown mountains in Olympic National Park. - NPS Photo

Rocky snow-capped mountains, alpine lakes, mossy temperate rainforest and chilly ocean beaches... the diverse scenery of Olympic National Park is beautifully captured in a stunning time-lapse film recently created by More Than Just Parks. This video is the first of 59 that More Than Just Parks plans to film -- one film for each national park in the U.S. -- with the hope of bringing "greater awareness of the treasures that reside within America's National Parks".

What a wonderful and worthy project this is! I look forward to seeing the other films, and they sure picked a great park to highlight as they kick off this project, if I do say so myself as a humble Washingtonian.



What a perfect nature escape.  Are you ready to hoof it out into the wilderness yet?


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

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...

Here we're about halfway up the tree.  Who knew the view from inside a cedar tree was so beautiful?  Lainey Piland photo
"...then it occurred to me that it would be a fine thing to climb one of the trees to obtain a wider outlook and get my ear close to the Aeolian music of its topmost needles."
~John Muir, A Wind-Storm in the Forests, 1878
Naturalist and writer John Muir was infamous for going to extreme lengths to observe and experience nature. He walked across the continent, climbed any number of mountains, explored his beloved Yosemite from valley bottom to mountaintop, and, as in the essay quoted above, climbed fearlessly into the treetops during a wintertime windstorm.

I recently had a "John Muir-esque" nature experience of my own. I went zip-lining.

The zip-lining itself was fun and exhilarating, but separate from those few adrenaline-filled seconds of flying suspended above the forest floor was a quieter, peaceful, and reflective experience that I hadn't at all expected.  While waiting for my turn to zip at each line, I probably spent over the course of the afternoon well over an hour simply standing on gently swaying platforms 50 feet above the forest floor. These wooden platforms tightly hugged the pliable trunks of Doug fir and sturdy western red cedar, and offered an amazing "tree's eye" view of the surrounding forest. 

The trees didn't seem to mind our artificially-supported presence, although Muir would have hated the platforms for the fact that their required supports were drilled into, wrapped around, and propped into the trees. I couldn't help but feel a little bit of his adventurous spirit as I stood there in the treetops and thought of his long-ago account of riding out a windstorm in the forest. On that wild, wind-whipped winter's day, he had likely free-climbed to the same towering height at which I currently stood, securely tethered, on a calm sunny afternoon. 

The tree's eye view from the second-to-last zip-line platform. Lainey Piland photo
We all know what it's like to stand at the foot of a tree and squint upward into its towering branches from our comparatively puny human stance. Not often, if ever, are we granted the ability to look outward from between those branches - to stand elevated at a height where we enter the rare society of those Doug firs and cedars, stealing for a moment the mysterious and silent knowledge that trees alone can hold. An exclusive experience, breathlessly accepted and reverently remembered.

I can relate well to Muir's parting impression as he left the forest that day:
"...I dismounted and sauntered down through the calming woods... I beheld the countless hosts of the forests hushed and tranquil, towering above one another on the slopes of the hills like a devout audience.  The setting sun filled them with amber light, and seemed to say, while they listened, "My peace I give unto you".
Another view from the second-to-last platform, looking through high-up branches of Douglas fir and bigleaf maple. Lainey Piland photo

Friday, October 10, 2014

Going Green: Toxins in Your Shampoo? Clean Up Your Beauty Routine

These days, many people are increasingly concerned with living a healthy lifestyle.  We exercise daily. We purchase organic foods and free-range, grass-fed meat. We grow our own fruits and vegetables. We try to get eight hours of sleep every night. We drink wine... for the antioxidants, of course. But how many of us take a moment to evaluate our personal care products for harmful chemicals?

Hiking: healthy exercise, healthy air! Bonus points if you have a cute rescue pup along. Lainey Piland photo

You can get a good night's sleep, do yoga daily and eat your homegrown organic kale for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but your health could still be at risk from carcinogenic or endocrine-disrupting chemicals lurking in your shampoo, deodorant, lotion, soap, or makeup. Any personal care product is suspect.

The Issue

Wait a minute, there are dangerous chemicals in my shampoo?  Doesn't the government regulate that sort of thing?  Unfortunately not. According to information from the Environmental Working Group, the Food and Drug Administration does not require products to be tested for safety and does not review or approve ingredients before products are sent to store shelves. This means that your shampoo company can use any ingredients they well please, without having to prove they are safe to use.

The U.S. cosmetic industry's self-policing Cosmetic Ingredient Review panel has deemed a total of 11 chemicals too dangerous to use in personal care products. The European Union, however, has banned the use of over 1,400 chemicals in personal care products due to health and environmental concerns.  Many of those banned ingredients are regularly used here in the U.S.

Why are certain ingredients so dangerous? Many of them are carcinogenic, meaning they cause cancer. Other ingredients are endocrine disruptors, which means that they interfere with the normal function of our hormones - reproductive hormones in particular. The use of such chemicals in personal care products is especially concerning because, well, we use these products on our skin.  All over our bodies.  And our skin readily absorbs them (some products actually contain compounds to increase skin absorption of the product). Many of these chemicals accumulate in our internal organs and fatty tissues, where they can potentially reach high enough levels to cause cancer, affect reproduction, or cause other health issues.

Those same chemicals can also be ecotoxic, or toxic to the environment and wildlife. Chemicals in our personal care products typically enter the environment when we wash them down the drain during showers, when we wash our hands, flush the toilet, etc. This water then travels through the sewer system to a wastewater treatment plant.  While excellent at removing the icky yucky stuff and disinfecting the wastewater, these plants are unfortunately unable to remove chemicals from personal care products before discharging the wastewater into the environment via rivers, the ocean, or bodies of water such as Puget Sound.

If you're feeling skeptical and thinking it seems impossible that cosmetic companies would use harmful, cancer-causing chemicals in products that we apply to our bodies... I agree completely! However, this is the unfortunate and unfathomable reality. Read on and find out for yourself...

What Can I Do?

Clearly, our personal care products can pose serious threats to our health and the environment.  But how do we know if the shampoo in our shower or lip balm in our purse is harmful? One quick and easy rule of thumb is to look at the ingredient label.  If it contains a long list of ingredients that you cannot pronounce and/or have not a clue what they are - then you probably don't want to put that product on your body.

One of the best methods for determining product safety--and the one which I rely on--is to gather all of your products and look them up on the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. This well-researched and easy to use database will give your products a score of 0-10 based on the toxicity of their ingredients. The higher the score, the more toxic the product. Once you locate your product, you can see toxicity scores for individual ingredients and a list of associated health and environmental concerns. They even offer an app for your smartphone: with a quick scan of the barcode, you can find your product on the database. Fair warning: this can be a scary endeavor!

If, after looking up your products, you decide that you need to find less-toxic options, the Skin Deep database can help with that as well. Simply select the product type you're looking for from the menu, and the database will pull up all of the options, categorized from the lowest toxicity score to the highest. The mobile phone app is helpful for finding safe products while in the store.  Scan the barcode, find the toxicity score, and determine whether you want to purchase the product or fling it back onto the shelf and run away! Don't be fooled by products with the word "natural" on the label - this term is essentially meaningless, and many purportedly "natural" products still contain harmful ingredients.  Read the label, and look it up!

My Own Experience

 

I found out about the Skin Deep database several years ago, and have had a nagging feeling since then that I needed to switch to safer personal care products.  It wasn't until about 6 months ago that I finally took the time to research new products, and surprisingly (or perhaps not), finding safe products that were reasonably priced, actually worked, and which had a score of 2 or lower on the Skin Deep database ended up being a rather exhausting endeavor.

If you're interested and need some recommendations... here are the products I currently use, which emerged victorious from my hours of research:

Shampoo and conditioner - I purchase these items from Face Naturals (toxicity score 0-1).  These products smell divine, are made from organic ingredients that you can actually pronounce, aren't tested on animals, and are reasonably priced, for the most part (they last a long time!).  Just a warning to anyone making the switch from conventional to natural shampoo and conditioner: you will probably hate it at first. Your hair might feel flat, greasy, and just not good, but stick with it.  You'll go through a transition period of 1-2  weeks, and then you will love your hair! It will be light, clean, and shiny, with no residue buildup that typically happens with conventional shampoo. To really clean my hair, I add a sprinkle of baking soda to my shampoo every other day.

Lotion - I use plain ol' organic coconut oil (toxicity score 0). Trader Joe's sells it for about $6 per jar - the best price I've found so far.  Rub it into your skin and use a clean towel to dab away the excess, if needed.

Soap/Body Wash - I use Dr. Bronner's castile liquid soaps (toxicity score 0-3). The lavender scent is heavenly and relaxing, and the peppermint is refreshing! Plus, the crazy bottles give you something to read in the shower.

Deodorant - I make my own using Deodorant Recipe #3 on this page. (all ingredients have a score of 0).

Makeup - I purchase all of my makeup (except mascara) from Rejuva Minerals (toxicity score 0-1). For me, this consists of powder foundation, blush, and eyebrow powder. These products are free of toxic ingredients, packaged in biodegradable paper containers, and are not tested on animals. Plus, my blush is made with crushed rose petals. ROSE PETALS! I feel like a princess every time I use it. Their products might look pricey, but I promise they last a long time and are well worth it. I use Physician's Formula Organic Wear mascara (toxicity score 1) which works well and can be purchased at most drugstores for a price comparable to "regular" mascara.

There are many other products available which are safe and effective - the ones listed above are just the products that I personally decided to go with.

There you have it: my total collection of beauty products

Whew! This was a long post.  If you made it this far... thank you.  This is an important health and safety concern which the majority of the population probably isn't aware of. Please tell family and friends, feel free to share this blog post, and be sure to leave any of your own personal tips, experiences, or questions in the comments below.

You can also take action and join the effort to pressure cosmetic companies to remove toxic ingredients from their products.  The Story of Stuff is petitioning Proctor & Gamble to do just that: read more and sign the petition here.

Note from the Nature Nerd:  I realize this post is slightly different from the content I usually share on this blog, but the issue of toxic personal products is critically important to both human health and the environment. After reading the Story of Stuff petition linked above, I decided to write this blog post immediately. The petition calls out Proctor & Gamble for "pinkwashing" their products in honor of October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  To "support" breast cancer awareness and encourage consumers to purchase their products, the company slaps a pink ribbon on the label... the very same label which lists cancer-causing chemicals in the ingredient list.  This is a slap in the face to anyone whose life has been touched by cancer, and is completely inexcusable. These companies need to be held accountable for the dangers their products pose to consumers.