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 (], 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:


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.


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!