Wednesday, August 27, 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...

Golden Afternoon - Captured this photo on a recent hike at Saint Edward State Park - rounded a bend in the trail and was stopped in my tracks at the sight.  Lainey Piland photo

When I read books, I write in them.  I underline interesting passages, make comments in the margins, and fold over the corners of pages to mark a particular place I may want to revisit in the future. A habit left over from my college days, these resulting little notes left to my future self are available in the event I return to the book looking for inspiration or for some forgotten, obscure piece of information that I just know lies within the pages of this book.

A few days ago, I began to re-read Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, and came across a passage I had underlined during my first journey through the book.  This passage was as profound and inspiring the second time around:
"There are lots of things to see, unwrapped gifts and free surprises. The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside from a generous hand... It is dire poverty indeed when a man is so malnourished and fatigued that he won't stoop to pick up a penny. But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days.  It is that simple. What you see is what you get." -Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974)
Isn't it amazing, and perhaps humbling, to consider the number of "free surprises" we pass by every day in our lives which are so fatigued with overstimulation and malnourished of wonder? How would we be changed were we to set aside our inhibitions and allow ourselves to be filled with amazement, joy, and gratitude when encountering surprises as seemingly trivial as a penny on the sidewalk?

In no other forum would it be easier to apply this mindset than to our interactions with the natural world (which happens to be the context Annie Dillard is speaking of ).  When was the last time you watched a spider weave its web and marveled at its intricate work?  Have you ever been stopped in your tracks and left breathless by the sight of late-afternoon sunlight glowing golden through tree branches? Has a flower ever made you smile? The antics of cavorting birds made you laugh?  Just think how much happier, observant, and connected with our surroundings we would be if we took the time to notice, appreciate, and delight in such sights. Our world would be so much richer.

At Saint Edward State Park again.  This duck walked right over to me and stared me down for a few moments. 

Wednesday, August 20, 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...
"I never saw a discontented tree. They grip the ground as though they liked it, and though fast rooted they travel about as far as we do. They go wandering forth in all directions with every wind, going and coming like ourselves, traveling with us around the sun two million miles a day, and through space heaven knows how fast and far!" -John Muir
Technology has allowed our society to capture amazing images of our planet from perspectives that would otherwise be unattainable, and which remind us of Muir's humbling sentiment that humans aren't the only travelers in space.  Such is the case with the mesmerizing images below, captured by NASA satellites as a part of NASA's Earth Observatory

Taken last month, these photos are close-up views of black spruce forest in Alaska's Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge. With such vivid detail, it is hard to believe that these pictures were taken from space!  In addition to providing a unique perspective, Earth Observatory images like these allow anyone the opportunity to see some of the most remote and astoundingly beautiful natural scenery on the planet without any of us having to travel to-- and subsequently damage-- these unique places with our presence. 

Source: NASA Earth Observatory Images
Source: NASA Earth Observatory Images
Together, the images above and the words from John Muir point us to a perspective that we don't often consider: that whether stationary or mobile, flora or fauna, we are all traveling together through space on a planet that is altogether wondrous and beautiful, finite and fragile.

For more information about these images, view them at the source on this NASA Earth Observatory page.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Environmental Issues: Wildfires in Washington State

The overcast gray skies outside my windows this morning are a familiar sight in Western Washington, but they have been scarce so far this summer as blazing sunshine and record heat have predominated.  Neither the residents nor the landscape of our Evergreen State are accustomed to long stretches of hot, dry weather.  And for evidence of the latter, one needs look no further than the eastern half of our state, which is currently on fire:

Large Fire Map - Northwest Interagency Coordination Center. CLICK HERE for interactive version.

According to the spokeswoman for the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center quoted in this Reuters article, we are on track to break a record this year for the number of acres burned by wildfire.  Already, hundreds of thousands of acres have burned so far, with 250,000 of those acres belonging to the Carlton Complex fire, now standing as the largest fire in state history.  Hundreds of homes have been burned.  Tens of thousands of people have been affected. And the official wildfire season won't end until October.  We still have a long way to go.

Why so many fires this year? Conditions in our region have been abnormally hot -- and dry, as you can see in the drought map above.  Combine that with several unfortunately-timed lighting storms and the conditions are ripe for wildfires to explode.

Have we just been unlucky this year with the combination of heat, drought and more numerous lighting storms than usual, or is this a portent of what we can expect to see regularly in the years to come?  Unfortunately, this may just be the beginning.

The 2014 National Climate Assessment (NCA) cites increasing wildfire as one of the top threats to northwest forests. Climate change will cause our region to experience hotter, drier summers similar to (and in the future, even worse than) what we're experiencing this year.  As a result, the amount of land burned by wildfires is expected to increase up to 500% in the Cascades. Details in the NCA here.

The wildfires we've seen so far this summer in Washington State have been devastating.  Lives and homes have been lost, livelihoods disrupted, hundreds of thousands of acres of forest burned, wildlife habitat destroyed-- and the worst could yet be to come. This destruction is not something we want to see repeated year after year, and is all the more reason for us to act on climate change immediately. Those who say the northwest isn't experiencing any effects of climate change: take a look at the fire map above.  This is climate change hitting home.

Not a sight I want to get used to... wildfire smoke clearly visible on eastbound I-90 near Bellevue (I took this photo from the passenger seat - wasn't driving, I promise!)

Helpful links:

WA State Dept of Natural Resources Wildfire Prevention and Awareness Tips

Northwest Interagency Coordination Center (daily updates and detailed information on current fires)

This White House video offers a concise summary of the link between climate change and wildfires.  Regardless of your political leanings, this short video is worth a watch.

Wednesday, August 13, 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
The writer John Burroughs once said that he visited nature to be soothed and healed and to have his senses put in order.  In light of recent sad events in the news, today I found myself reflecting on the very aspects of nature which provide such healing and hope for downcast souls.
“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature -- the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”
― Rachel Carson, Silent Spring
...and to that I say: Amen.  Nature has repeating rhythms and a capacity for renewal that are astonishing and comforting, and have the ability to put our own worries and struggles into perspective.  The natural world around us is a great visual reminder that in the grand scheme of things, there are no insults, setbacks, or difficulties from which we cannot recover.

Last weekend, my husband and I went hiking at Saint Edward State Park, which is one of my absolute favorite places to visit. Comprised of more than 300 acres of mostly-wooded property, this park is a study in nature's capacity for renewal.  Those who visit the park and are unaware of its history would likely be surprised to learn that the forest was clear-cut in the early 20th century.  This is shocking because presently the park boasts a lush and diverse second-growth forest and massive trees that look as though they've stood for centuries.

Here are a few photos taken on a recent hike at Saint Edward which speak to nature's ability to renew itself.  I gave these photos the snazzy name of "Hemlocks Growing from Cedar Stumps" (although perhaps "Alien Tree Takeover" would also be appropriate, and a bit more colorful...):

The once-towering cedar trees along the trail may have been reduced to crumbling stumps, but still life goes on as hemlocks take root and grow. It is amazing to hike through the forest at Saint Edwards and consider that even after experiencing the grievous insult of being clear-cut, enough substance remained on the devastated landscape to support an entire new, flourishing forest that stands triumphant today.

Whether it is the rising and setting of the sun each day or the regrowth of a once clear-cut forest, nature's rhythms and continual renewal are indeed healing and soothing, if we learn to seek them out.

Wednesday, August 6, 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...

A few days ago, I happily stumbled across the amazing National Park Service video below, featuring Washington's own Olympic National Park.  In its brief five minutes, this video perfectly sums up everything that is awesome and beautiful about Pacific Northwest nature: mossy forests and misty ocean beaches, mountain views, tall trees, and of course green, green, green everywhere!

The best feature of this video is that it is set to the soundtrack of nature itself, instead of sweeping instrumental music as are so many other videos of this genre.  Crank up the volume and take a listen; you may be surprised at how noisy nature can be!  

A brief caveat: I almost didn't post this video on my blog due to an unfortunate close-up of a slug at the 2:05 mark. Just close your eyes until the icky slimy noises stop if you're slug-phobic like me... or am I the only one with a so-called 'irrational fear' of these ubiquitous gastropods??

In a blog post a few weeks back, I wrote on the topic of wilderness; specifically examining whether our nation's protected wilderness areas can still be considered as such when even the remotest corners of the globe have been touched by man-made climate change. I concluded that although they may no longer fit the Wilderness Act's fifty-year-old description of being areas "untrammeled by man," our wilderness areas are still critically important for their intrinsic value and the scenery, inspiration, wildlife habitat, and ecosystem services they provide.  This video clearly shows why that is the case.