Friday, September 26, 2014

The Place Where I Live

Snoqualmie Valley near Carnation Farm - Lainey Piland photo

Comfort. Proximity. Inspiration. Peace. Memories. Familiarity. Family and friends. A particular place can earn the title of "home" for so many reasons. This one tiny dot on Earth's surface happens to hold just the right qualities that capture our hearts and cause us to decide, yes. This is the place.

I recently wrote a short piece to share on the "Place Where You Live" page of Orion Magazine's website. However, the more I think about it, the piece I wrote would more accurately be called "The Place Where I Lived/ The Place Where I Will Hopefully Live Again Soon".

I wrote about the Snoqualmie Valley, the place I lived most of my life, and the place where I still do a good deal of my living, although it is currently not the place I lay my head to sleep every night.

Click here to read my piece about "The Place Where You Live" on the Orion Magazine website.

View of Mount Rainier from Carnation - Lainey Piland photo

Although I'd rather be living somewhere in the Sno Valley area, I'm trying to find some good, homey things in the place where I currently reside - a small condo in a Seattle suburb, just a stone's throw from a major freeway. It's a work in progress...

There are small stands of familiar trees on the property - western red cedar and Doug fir - which are surprisingly large and hearty for their location. There are two female Anna's hummingbirds that - for most of the day, every day lately - squabble, scold, and chase one another around and through the branches of a large Althea tree outside my window.  There are sweet fawn-colored rabbits that show up in the evening hours to nibble the sparse green patch of lawn along the sidewalk, leaving little rabbit poops for everyone to step in on their way to work in the mornings. There is a surprisingly great view of Mount Rainier visible in the wintertime through the bare branches of deciduous trees outside the front windows. There certainly are things to enjoy here, even though this place will probably never quite feel like "home".

What are the endearing, unique, homey features of the place you live? I'd love to hear about them in the comments below!

Friday, September 12, 2014

In the News: Climate Change, Despair... and Hope

Lainey Piland photo
Climate change is always a hot topic in the environmental/green/nature nerd community, but lately, the most pressing issue of our time has been capturing headlines right and left. Although often cast as an environmental issue, climate change has far-reaching impacts which in fact make this a humanitarian, economic, social justice, and environmental -- not issue -- but CRISIS.

Why a crisis?  We know all too well that pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere (via fossil fuel burning and deforestation, mainly) traps heat in earth's atmosphere, which causes warming. Our global temperatures are warming, our oceans are warming, the Arctic is thawing (and releasing copious amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas twenty times more potent than carbon dioxide), our oceans are acidifying, and the Arctic sea ice and Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets are melting. We know all these things.  However, there is an emerging realization that all of these things are happening faster and sooner than we anticipated. And this is where things get really scary.

The Low Carbon Economy Index report released recently by accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers paints perhaps the most alarming picture I've seen. During the 2009 UN Climate Summit, nations agreed to limit global warming to 3.6 degrees F above pre-industrial levels, which should allow us to avoid some of the worst effects of climate change.  According to the report, in order to stay below the 3.6 degree limit by the year 2100, we can only emit 270 metric gigatons of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels in that same time frame.

Unfortunately, at the rate we're going, we will hit that limit in 2034-- sixty-six years ahead of schedule, and only twenty years from now.  This is well within the lifetime of most people alive on planet Earth right now. Climate change is not a consequence to be suffered by those unfortunate and oft-mentioned "future generations". Most of us alive today could witness and experience the devastation of our planet, drowning of coastal areas, suffering of millions (billions?) of people, the collapse of the ocean ecosystems and countless species extinctions. This report from PricewaterhouseCoopers underscores the need for immediate action to transition to clean energy sources such as wind and solar and eliminate fossil fuels along with their heat-trapping emissions as soon as possible.

If charts and statistics aren't your thing, then take a look at the weather report released this week by The Weather Channel, dated September 23rd, 2050.  Nope, that's not a typo... this fictional, yet all-too-possible, scenario depicts what our evening weather reports could look like by mid-century as a result of climate change (although the PricewaterhouseCoopers report above might suggest that the timeline should be moved up a bit):

Droughts that last a generation? Record heat waves? Alaska becoming the ideal venue for the Summer Olympics? Do we really want to see this fictional future come to fruition?

No, we don't. From what I've seen in the media and in the climate change movement lately, there is a sense of building hope and momentum.  It feels as though we're nearly at the crest of the hill, at critical mass, at the tipping point where our global society has finally awakened to the enormity of the problem and is ready to say "no more". It is not being dramatic or alarmist to say that our very survival is at stake.

For instance, colleges and universities, businesses, individuals, cities, and churches have begun pulling their money from the fossil fuel industry, recognizing that investing in fossil fuels is investing in a bleak and difficult future. The Fossil Free campaign has been instrumental in achieving fossil fuel divestment around the globe, with each new day seeming to bring divestment announcements from this university or that church.

In addition to the successful divestment campaign, other stories have further indicated that the fossil fuel industry is becoming socially, morally, and economically unacceptable to the general public. This is the shift in perception that is needed to push our world toward renewable energy. One particular example in the news this week is the story of the district attorney in Bristol County, Massachusetts who dropped all charges against two climate activists charged with intentionally blockading a coal freighter ship.  The charges were dismissed on the conclusion that, due to the grave danger of climate change, the activist's actions were justified.  The attorney also commented to the listening crowd that he will be in New York City on September 21st.  What is that all about...?

Well, it's just a little thing called the People's Climate March, which is expected to be the largest climate demonstration ever. It might even end up being the largest demonstration ever. Period.  Scheduled to coincide with the UN Climate Summit in NYC on September 21st, this march intends to send a message to world leaders that the people overwhelmingly demand action on climate change now. We cannot wait a moment longer.

The NYC march will be by far the largest event in the People's Climate Movement, but there are an additional 1500 satellite events occurring around the globe in solidarity that same weekend. If you're in the Seattle area like I am, you should know that the local chapter of will be holding a march on September 21st as well. Click here for details.

There is much to be hopeful about, and the stakes have never been higher.

September 21st. I will see you there.

Related posts:

In the News: National Climate Assessment 2014

Earth Day Musings: Now is the Time to Act on Climate Change

400: A Sobering Milestone

Friday, September 5, 2014

Wanderings: Moss Lake Natural Area

It's a warm and languid late-summer afternoon. The humid air smells damp with mud and and fresh with the exhalations of innumerable trees. Dry, newly-fallen leaves crunch on the gravel path underfoot. No sound disturbs the stillness, save for the whisper of a breeze in the rustling alder and cottonwood leaves above.  Not a bad day to explore the Moss Lake Natural Area near Carnation, Washington.

The Moss Lake Natural Area is a 372-acre complex of wetlands and forest, and is managed by King County.  Despite its generous size, I had never heard of this Natural Area until my husband stumbled across it while searching for hikes online.  He suggested that we check it out, and of course I agreed.

Moss Lake

We set out from the parking lot and headed toward the only trailhead we could find.  It wasn't marked, but we assumed this was the way to go.  A short distance along, a small sign marked the offshoot trail to Moss Lake.  This was a very short trail.  After about 50 feet of squeezing through the narrow and overgrown trail, we emerged on the shoreline and saw this:

Moss Lake was beautiful! And so serene.  I stood watching the light breeze riffle the water's surface and send the tall grass gently swaying, and kept exclaiming in a whisper "I can't believe how QUIET it is here!"  In many natural areas, parks, and preserves, the peaceful scenery is at odds with the noise of distant traffic, airplanes overhead, or nearby homes, but such is not the case here. Complete and utter solitude.

I would have liked to explore the lake more, but the accessible shoreline was very limited, and if you stepped too close to the water, you'd find yourself sunk to your ankles in rich black mud the consistency of congealed oatmeal.  After appreciating the lake scenery for awhile, we headed back to the main trail and continued along.

The Hemlocks

For a few hundred yards, things felt very claustrophobic.  The graveled trail was wide enough, but lined on either side by solid walls of salmonberry which block your sightlines and only allow you to see the trail stretching out before and behind you.  I half expected to be ambushed at any moment by a bear lumbering out of the salmonberry hedge. Just when I was beginning to feel underwhelmed and wondered if the entire trail was this monotonous and confining, the salmonberries gave way and opened up into a truly magnificent second-growth hemlock forest.

It's gorgeous, is it not?  I remarked to my husband that these had to be the healthiest looking hemlocks I'd ever seen.  I've always had the impression that hemlocks are a bit sad and weepy; faded and droopy. The Eeyore of trees.  These however were tall and robust, with healthy green needles and a thick coating of moss on the branches which, dare I say, might rival even the famous epiphytes of Olympic National Park.

Sadly, the foray through the hemlock forest was a brief one, and as we continued, the trail returned to its previous adornment of salmonberry, cottonwood, and alder with a conifer thrown in here and there for good measure.  After a few minutes' walk, we noticed a narrow trail off to the right departing from the main trail, half-hidden under the low-hanging boughs of a hemlock and crowded on both sides by sword ferns. The hemlock had a bright orange arrow affixed to its thick bark. My husband and I looked at each other.  Was this a trail? I shrugged.  Let's check it out.

The Fairy Forest

This was a delightful path winding through a young hemlock forest. These hemlocks didn't look very healthy - in fact, they might have been dead; their bare branches boasting dripping moss instead of needles. The ground was carpeted with a thick layer of moss and dozens of varieties of delicate groundcover plants. Wilted trilliums were plentiful, their enormous leaves still bright green although their flowers were long gone. Surrounded by ethereally-illuminated greenery and with no lack of sunlit glens, it almost felt as though we had stepped into a fairy forest.  Then I saw a small house hanging from a tree limb and decided that was in fact exactly where we were.

Continually wiping spiderwebs from our bare arms, we followed the path as it gently ascended a small hill, emerging unexpectedly into a blackberry thicket.  Here, the delicate blue-green vines of native blackberry were tangled together with the thick and brutal vines of the invasive Himalayan blackberry.  Many people don't realize that the Himalayan blackberry - that ubiquitous plant most of us think of when we hear 'blackberry' - is actually a non-native species.  Our native trailing blackberry is a thin ankle-snagging vine that grows low along the ground and bears white, star-like flowers that eventually develop into tasty berries.

The large vine of a Himalayan blackberry lying atop a bed of native trailing blackberry vines.

Also, surprisingly, we found several lilac plants blooming in the blackberry thicket. I'm not sure how they got there, as I don't believe they grow wild here... but the flowers smelled nice!

After a few minutes of berry picking (and eating!) we decided to turn around and headed back down the trail through the fairy woods, fingers stained red with blackberry juice.  We rejoined the main trail and continued on our way.  After a few more minutes of walking, we ventured through a cottonwood forest and ascended small hill, where the trail forked.  One trail was marked with the word 'Loop' and a pair of googly eyes stuck to an alder trunk.  The other trail wasn't marked.  Without a trail map and with no idea of where we were going, we decided to call it a day and headed back toward the parking area, with another brief stop by the lake on our way out.

Historical Disturbances

Sometimes, I think I've missed my calling.  Okay, I always think I've missed my calling, but I sometimes think I should have been an environmental historian.  I'm not sure if that's even 'a thing,' but it really should be.  During the course of any given hike, my eyes eagerly scan the scenery around me, looking for evidence of historical disturbances.  Like the rest of the Snoqualmie Valley region, the forest near Moss Lake was logged earlier in the 20th century, and what stands there now is a robust second-growth forest that speaks to the astounding capability of nature to restore itself from utter devastation. On this particular day, I found two remarkable pieces of evidence left behind a century ago during clearcutting - ghosts of the venerable old-growth forest that once dominated the landscape. 

Along the fairy trail (I have no idea what it is actually called, so I'll just go with that), we spotted an eight-foot tall cedar stump, charred from a lightning strike or long-ago forest fire, and which still bore a characteristic rectangular notch in its flesh.  This notch is where the loggers inserted a springboard, upon which they would stand as they sawed the mighty tree down, and was clear evidence that this landscape had been disturbed by humans.

Toward the end of our wanderings along the main trail, I happened to notice a large mound off to the left, out of which grew a sizeable hemlock tree.  Interested, I took a closer look. Upon recognizing the familiar bright red color, the spongy softness of decaying wood, and the vertical ridges along the sides of the mound, I felt my mouth fall open.  That dinner-table sized mound was an old stump.  A cedar stump.  Holy moly, this had once been a huge tree! 

 Now, I'm about average height - 5'6" or so - and had it not been for the hemlock growing from its center, I could have sprawled out spread-eagle on the flat surface of the stump, and my hands and feet probably wouldn't have reached the edges. Absolutely massive.  I stood back and squinted into the sky, trying to picture the towering old-growth cedar tree that once held court here. At the same time, I scowled at the loggers who had wiped the landscape clean of such awesome trees, leaving future generations (hello!) bereft of the experience of seeing them. The tree had probably been carted off to the mill and turned into lumber.  Where was the tree now? Was it a house, bridge, or barn? Did it still tower over the landscape in another form, somewhere far from here? All I know is that it once stood here and cast a magnificent shadow over the place where I now stood, in the Moss Lake Natural Area.


All in all, we probably hiked (walked) about two miles. If you're looking for a place to really go hiking - a place where you can work up a sweat for several miles and be rewarded with a stunning destination at the end - then I wouldn't recommend Moss Lake.  However, if you live in the area and are looking for a place to spend time in the outdoors, get some fresh air, enjoy a nature walk, or poke around in the forest, then this place might fit the bill.

The real downsides to the Moss Lake Natural Area are that the trails are few and poorly marked, and according to this trail map (which was nowhere to be found at the actual Natural Area) the two loop trails leave the property, with one of them "looping" back to the entrance road far from the trailhead in the parking lot.  

As you can see from my experience, there are plenty of things to see at Moss Lake - just not much hiking to do. And really, regardless of the place you go, there will always be plenty of things to see in nature.  You just have to look for them.