Wednesday, December 30, 2015

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...

Rainy day hike to Blue Lake - one of my favorite hikes of 2015!
The last few days of December are often spent reflecting on the waning year now drawing to a close, with the sadness of the year's passing tempered by excitement for the coming new year and its memories and adventures yet to be realized.

Carrying on the tradition I started last year with the final Nature Nerd Wednesday post of 2014, in this final post of 2015, I'm taking a look back at the paths my feet wandered this year. With two excursions to alpine lakes (a new feat for me!), several hikes on alarmingly dusty trails thanks to the historic drought, and many other adventures in places both new and familiar, in 2015 I truly did travel deeper than my feet have ever wandered before.

Some of these photos may look alike... the typical Pacific Northwest forest of hemlock, Doug fir, western red cedar, sword fern and salmonberry... but each place is unique in its history, atmosphere, soundscape and smells. Each place offers a different experience of Pacific Northwest nature at its finest. Each place refreshes the mind, challenges the body, soothes the weary soul and fills the lungs with clean air. Each place is threatened by environmental issues like pollution and climate change. Each place needs protection and conservation.

There's a common perception that one needs to adventure into the far-flung wilderness to find nature, but this couldn't be further from the truth. You can find nature anywhere... State Parks, National Parks, city parks, walking trails, the office park courtyard, and even your own backyard.

In 2016, make a resolution to get outside and experience, enjoy, and protect these places!

Wallace Falls State Park - First Day Hike - January
Rockport State Park - February
Redmond Watershed Preserve - March
Saint Edward State Park - April
Cedar Butte - April
Redmond Watershed Preserve - May
Saint Edward State Park - July
Cedar River Watershed tour - August
Snow Lake - August
Cedar River Watershed - Forest Ecology class - September
Blue Lake - September
Redmond Watershed Preserve - November

What a year! Stay tuned to A Day Without Rain in 2016 for nature breaks every Wednesday, Going Green tips, and a few musings and wanderings in between.

Need plans for New Years Day? Start a new tradition and participate in a First Day Hike at a State Park! I'll be heading out to a State Park here in Washington to celebrate the first day of 2016. Check out the Washington State Parks website for details on all of the First Day Hikes.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Looking Back at 2015 - Top 5 Most-Read Posts on the Blog This Year

Chester Morse Lake in the Cedar River Watershed. Lainey Piland photo

Here we are, already counting down the last few days of 2015... where has the year gone?! Looking back over the past 12 months on the blog brought up fond memories of new places explored, new friends made, adventures and hikes aplenty, and musings on drought, climate change, and our place in nature. Here's a roundup of the top five most-read posts on the blog this year:

1. Conifer Confusion? Learn to identify these PNW trees

2. Deciduous Determinations: Learn to identify these PNW trees

3. Wanderings: Cedar River Watershed

4. Musings: Missing Washington

5. Nature Nerd Wednesdays - Earth Day Edition

Stay tuned to A Day Without Rain for more writing on Pacific Northwest nature and environmental issues. Here's to a shiny new year, and many more adventures in 2016!

You can also follow along on Twitter @LaineyPiland, or on Instagram @a_day_without_rain_blog.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

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...

It is the life of the crystal, the architect of the flake, the fire of the frost, the soul of the sunbeam. This crisp winter air is full of it. ~John Burroughs, "Winter Sunshine"

The solstice has passed, and now we have the cold winter season to look forward to, with its sparkling landscapes of frost and ice. During my hike at the Redmond Watershed Preserve the day after Thanksgiving, I passed by many shady spots along the trail that hadn't been touched by the warm sunlight, and the leaves were covered in needles of frost, sculpted into glittering artwork by the icy breath of approaching winter. It was interesting to study how the frosty coating defined and accentuated the leaf structure.

Once again, I'm trying to take a cue from Thoreau and "live in each season as it passes..." Winter might be a time of year known for its dark, cold dreariness and seemingly lifeless brown landscapes, but even in this season, it's possible to find beauty, to feel "the fire of the frost" permeating the air.

Be sure to get outdoors and soak in the season during this holiday week. Wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

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...

Acadia National Park. NPS photo

Waterfalls, crashing waves, bald eagles, vivid fall foliage... these might be reminiscent of our beloved Pacific Northwest, but these sights are also found on the opposite coast of our country, where the mountains are a little rounder and less rugged, the forests are more deciduous than coniferous, and where the sun rises over the ocean rather than sets. The newest film from More Than Just Parks features all the loveliness of Maine's Acadia National Park during the dazzlingly colorful autumn season.

Watch the film below and escape to the serene beauty of Acadia National Park.

Yet another fantastic film from More Than Just Parks, celebrating each of our nation's 59 national parks. Check out their website here to view their other four equally stunning films.

Fellow blogger Alpine Lily recently took a trip to the northeast, and I've enjoyed reading about her adventures. For more loveliness from this gorgeous region, check out her blog here.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

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...

Snowy trees in the woods around my childhood home.
"The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake."
~Robert Frost, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
The sound of snowfall in the forest is truly matchless in its serenity and sense of complete solitude. The insulating blanket of snow absorbs every noise, so the only thing to be heard is the tinkling, scratching, rustling sound of snowflakes settling all around. It's a singular sound that conjures many memories; of adventures in the mountains, sledding down steep hills, snow days when I got to stay home from school and play in the woods blanketed in deep white.

This Nature 365 film features a quiet forest and falling snow, plus the sweetest gray jay I've ever seen. When I first watched this film, I think my exact words were "OH MY GOD, SO FLUFFY!"

Take a look for yourself, turn up the volume, and escape to the peaceful, snowy woods:

Nature 365: March 10, 2015 from FollowFocus on Vimeo.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

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...

Larches get a lot of the glory this time of year, but I think there's something to appreciate about late-autumn cottonwood leaves against a blue sky...

Each time we set foot outdoors is an opportunity to see the world around us in a new way. When I'm hiking, there's usually one thing that captures my attention, one thing that I really notice and focus on for the duration of the hike, whether by accident or on purpose. Sometimes it's the size of venerable old growth trees, sometimes it's the delicate little flowers blooming in springtime, sometimes it's the birds chattering in the brush just out of sight alongside the trail, sometimes it's trilliums, sometimes it's rain.

During my hike in the Redmond Watershed Preserve the day after Thanksgiving, it was the cottonwood leaves. Whether clinging to the uppermost branches and glowing against the brilliant blue sky, or carpeting the trail beneath my feet with their golden, heart-shaped forms, these leaves were by far the subject of most of my photos from this outdoor excursion. I was drawn to their cheerful yellow-gold warmth - the color of the autumn sunshine itself - shining in the midst of a shadowy forest already feeling the cold grip of the coming winter, with all of the associated shades of brown and decay.

This experience was a good reminder that during those times in our lives where things aren't going right and there seems little to be grateful for, when beauty is scarce and hope has faded, you can still find glimmering bits of sunshine amid the shadows.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Musings: Opting Outside on Black Friday, and why we need to go further

The sun-drenched forest at the Redmond Watershed Preserve

The frigid, damp air reddened my nose and stung my cheeks, and the weak sunshine spilling through the tree trunks did little to offer any warmth. Frosty dirt crunched beneath my boots, releasing an earthy scent of humus and decaying leaves. Birdsong trilled overhead, and the eardrum-piercing high-pitched call of a varied thrush resounded through the forest, followed by the persistent tap-tap-tap of a pileated woodpecker determinedly searching a dead maple trunk for insects. This was how I spent the day after Thanksgiving, also known as Black Friday. It was glorious.

As I hiked through the Redmond Watershed Preserve that afternoon, pausing frequently to take photos while my patient husband waited shivering in the nearest sunbeam, I could hear not only the sound of birdsong and tapping woodpeckers, I could also hear the sound of other hikers, runners and cyclists who also decided to hit the trails that day. There was a sense of community, a sense of satisfaction knowing that rather than jostling with the crowd of Black Friday shoppers, we were all here, peacefully enjoying a sunny - albeit chilly - afternoon in the outdoors.

This was actually the aim of the much-publicized "Opt Outside" campaign launched by REI this year: in addition to closing their stores on Black Friday, REI encouraged its employees and the general population to opt to spend their Black Friday in the outdoors with friends and family, rather than shopping for those can't-be-missed discounts and sales at the mall.

I've enjoyed seeing photos and reading the accounts of other folks who spent their Black Friday outside rather than in the crush of holiday shoppers. Some people headed to the mountains for spectacular hikes and snowshoe adventures in the high country, and others like myself stuck to the lowlands and enjoyed the nearby nature of local parks, walking trails, and nature preserves. Amid all of the lovely photos and excited sharing of bird and wildlife sightings, there were also the cynics lamenting - even mocking - the fact that people were slapping a corporate hashtag on a life moment, a memory, that was supposed to involve being out in nature, away from the retailers, consumerism, and yes, corporations.

I get the irony there, folks, but there's no need to diminish the fact that the Opt Outside campaign did raise some questions about what's important, and perhaps inspired some people to spend their day after Thanksgiving in a much different way than they would have otherwise. I went hiking on Black Friday last year, and would have hiked this year regardless of whether there was an Opt Outside movement or not (a weekday off work with no obligations? We're hitting the trails!). This is because hiking is a hobby of mine, it's an activity that I enjoy, and spending time in nature is something that my mind, body, and sanity require. And besides, crowds of people leave me in a state of anxiety that just isn't pretty to see. This isn't the case for many people, but if even a handful of people were encouraged to head outdoors rather than hit the mall as they may have initially planned, that's a great thing.

Wildlife photo fail. Had the wrong lens with me - can you spot the tiny woodpecker?

Why is it important to get more of us outdoors? People care about what they know, and getting more of us outdoors to know, connect with, and love the trees, rivers, mountains, birds, and wildlife means that there are going to be more people willing to stand up and protect these things. More of us willing to make better choices in our daily lives to minimize our ecological impact. When we make connections and find an affinity for things in nature, we then have a reason to care and a responsibility to act.

It's important that we don't just stop at "opting outside". We also need to connect the dots and point out the importance of opting out of the consumerism of Black Friday, for the protection of the environment that we just spent our day after Thanksgiving enjoying. We need to emphasize that all the stuff we're buying - not just on Black Friday, not just during the holidays, but all year long - can have a significant impact on the environment. The raw materials that have to be mined and harvested, the water and fossil fuels used in the manufacturing process, the carbon emissions released as products are shipped from factory to retail stores, the waste created when all of that packaging (much of it plastic) is thrown into the garbage... all of these things are unsustainable, harmful, and cause ecological devastation, especially when they occur on the scale of our overblown consumer society here in the US.

So, don't just Opt Outside. Make connections. Consider the environmental impact of every purchase. Gift experiences instead of stuff. If you do give stuff, make sure it's stuff that the recipient will want and be able to make use of. In order to protect the majestic trees, the fresh air, the snow-capped mountains, the chattering Douglas squirrel you saw on your outdoor adventures, it's time we all start making smarter choices - not just during the holidays, but all year long.

As the already-long shadows stretched further across the landscape and the golden afternoon light reddened to amber, we returned to the parking lot at the Watershed Preserve to find it even more packed with vehicles than it had been when we'd set out. Laughter, dancing footsteps, and children's delighted shrieks could be heard emanating through the frosty forest all around. I hoped that those children were awed by the frozen leaves, delighted by the mud, fascinated by a pileated woodpecker's bright red head; hoped that they were making connections, finding a reason to care. Those sounds filled me with that warm, fuzzy, just-drank-a-mug-of-hot-cider holiday feeling - something I couldn't have found in the crowded aisles of a department store.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

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...

Cranberry Lake at Deception Pass State Park

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. The holidays are officially upon us, and beneath the twinkling lights, cheerful carols, and abundance of delicious food runs an undercurrent of stress, anxiety, and over-scheduled days that can drain the joy from our holiday season if we allow it to overtake us. In my own experience, the sight of that first red Starbucks holiday cup is enough to clench my stomach in an anxious knot that won't release until we ring in the New Year. During these times, spending time in nature hiking, walking, or simply sitting and listening can help to relax, refresh, and restore a sense of peace to our hectic lives.

I snapped the photo above of Cranberry Lake during my First Day Hike at Deception Pass State Park two years ago. The water was calm and still, perfectly reflecting the cloudy gray sky on that chilly winter morning. The serenity of the scene became something tangible, something I could assimilate into my own being and carry with me even after I'd left the park and set out for a long drive home on a busy freeway. There are so many scenes - a still lake, a snowy mountain, a fiery sunset, sunlight cutting through fog - that can imbue that same sense of calm, give us that same reminder to slow down, to breathe.

Be on the lookout for these scenes when you're hiking, walking, driving to Thanksgiving dinner or sitting on the couch with a belly full of turkey and gazing out the window, and take advantage of the moments of peace as we embark on another busy holiday season!

You may have heard of REI's Opt Outside movement launched this Thanksgiving, which encourages people to opt out of the craziness of Black Friday shopping, and instead choose to spend time outdoors in nature the day after Thanksgiving. Make memories with friends and loved ones rather than battling for the best deals at the shopping mall. My sister and I went hiking on Black Friday last year, in the pouring rain. We had the trails nearly to ourselves, we saw a spectacular waterfall swollen with rainwater, and we got soaking wet and freezing cold. I can vouch for the fact that the memory of that hike will mean more to me than anything I could have purchased at Target for 70% off. Join the growing number of people choosing to Opt Outside on Black Friday and give yourself a nature break to escape the holiday stress for a day!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

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...

Falls Creek Falls in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Lainey Piland photo

Yesterday was Take a Hike Day - one of those obscure special "days" that we never find out about until it's too late to actually plan anything... if it's even a legitimate occasion to begin with. Just in case you were wondering, yesterday was also World Peace Day, Homemade Bread Day, and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Day. Somehow, it seems like all of those "days" could somehow complement one another nicely. But I digress...

I found myself wondering where I would have hiked yesterday, had I been able to get outside and participate in Take a Hike Day. Had it not been for the dangerously high winds that slammed the region yesterday (hence making any forays into the forest unsafe and inadvisable), I probably would have chosen a waterfall hike. During periods of very wet and rainy weather, waterfalls offer a spectacular and rewarding hiking destination. Creeks and rivers swollen with rainwater create thundering waterfalls with frothing, churning torrents of water tumbling down into a cloud of mist, perfectly demonstrating the raw beauty and terrible power of nature.

In our area, Snoqualmie Falls is the iconic example. Here's a stunning video from KOMO news, showing the roaring falls in all its rain-fed glory yesterday:

ftp17 WX Snoqualmie Falls vo eja nik.mp4
Check out the scene today at Snoqualmie Falls. The Snoqualmie River is currently under a flood WARNING. You can track all of the watches and warnings here:
Posted by KOMO News on Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Although there's no hiking required to see Snoqualmie Falls (just a short walk from the parking lot), it is always a fun place to visit during rainy weather. You'll leave soaked - both by rain falling from the heavens above, and from river water sent airborne from below. It's glorious.

If you're looking for a good waterfall hike, check out this list from the Washington Trails Association.

Also take a look at my waterfall Wanderings:

Wanderings: Wallace Falls First Day Hike  
Wanderings: Coal Creek Falls

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

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 beaches of Deception Pass State Park will surely offer a stunning stormy weather vantage point! Lainey Piland photo

Today we celebrate Veteran's Day, and thank the individuals who have served and protected our country. To mark the occasion, all public lands (National Parks, State Parks, refuges, etc) are fee-free today, so everyone can get outside and revel in the beautiful landscapes and natural scenery that make our country so beautiful, and which are definitely worth protecting!

According to the forecast, the weather today is supposed to be especially rainy, stormy and windy, which may not be the ideal conditions for heading outdoors. If you can do so safely, however (without being hit by windblown debris and tree branches!), don't be afraid to swath yourself in waterproof gear, take on the spirit of John Muir and set out to enjoy the storm in all its beautiful glory:
"But when the storm began to sound, I lost no time in pushing out into the woods to enjoy it. For on such occasions Nature has always something rare to show us, and the danger to life and limb is hardly greater than once would experience crouching deprecatingly beneath a roof" 
~John Muir, A Wind-Storm in the Forests
I would not suggest climbing a tree and riding out the storm in its uppermost branches as Muir did on this occasion, however!

Don't know where to go? Here are some links to help:

Washington State Parks

National Parks in Washington State

National Wildlife Refuges in Washington State 

If you'd rather stay warm and cozy indoors, you can still escape to our National Parks with these wonderful time-lapse films compiled by the Wilderness Society - take a look at them here.

Enjoy the storm, be safe, and thank you, Veterans!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Going Green: Tips for a less-waste, eco-friendly move

Cats are very helpful movers.

Moving is not fun. For most of us, I'm sure "moving" is battling with "going to the dentist" for the top position on our list of most-dreaded activities. It's overwhelming to think of packing up an entire household, loading box after box and struggling to maneuver heavy furniture items into a truck, then unloading and unpacking everything at the new residence. The process of packing and moving can also be extremely wasteful. In the overwhelming chaos of it all, we can be tempted to indiscriminately toss things in the trash, and if we're not careful, we can end up needlessly sending an alarming amount of waste to the landfill as we move our belongings from once residence to another.

I know what you're thinking. Moving is already awful enough, and who wants the added stress of worrying about being environmentally friendly on top of everything else? Trust me, I recently tried this myself as my husband and I packed up our small condo (crammed full of belongings, I might add!) and moved into a new home, and a low-waste move is not as challenging as one might expect!

Here are a few tips gleaned from my recent experience:



As we pack, we'll typically find belongings that we either don't need, don't want to bother moving to our new home, or that are no longer usable and need to be disposed of. Items that are in good condition can be donated to organizations like Goodwill, the Salvation Army, or Value Village. Things that can't be donated should be disposed of responsibly rather than chucked in the dumpster, where they will end up in a landfill and potentially pollute the environment. Here are a few oddball items for which I had to do some research to find good disposal/recycling options:
  • DVD cases: Our household has a sizeable DVD collection. We're talking more than 1,000 movies, TV series, and documentaries on DVD. To save space in our new home, we decided to remove the discs from their cases and instead store them in large books like these. The paper jackets and inserts were removed and recycled, but we were still left with hundreds of empty DVD cases made from a type of plastic that's not recyclable in our curbside bin. A little bit of research revealed that our local Best Buy store accepts DVD cases for recycling, so we happily dropped them off there. You can also contact your local library to see if they can use your empty DVD cases, or ship them off to The CD Recycling Center of America, which also accepts discs and CD cases.
  • Spent batteries: I had a baggie full of used batteries which I knew couldn't be thrown in the garbage due to the dangerous heavy metals and hazardous materials they contain. I checked out the "What do I do with..." page on the King County Solid Waste Division website, which offered a list of facilities that accepts used batteries.
  • Unused/expired medications: These should never be flushed down the toilet, as so many of us have been told to do in years past. When flushed, these medications end up in the wastewater system, and our treatment plants do not have the ability to filter the medications out of the water before it is discharged into rivers, lakes, or Puget Sound. Many pharmacies, including Bartell Drugs, offer take-back programs for expired or unused medications of both the prescription and over-the-counter variety. 
  • Clothing/textiles: Sometimes we have clothing items, towels, or sheets that are just not fit for use anymore. These items can be recycled. Another visit to the King County Solid Waste Division website yielded this list of businesses, organizations, and locations of donation bins that accept textile items for recycling. If you have blankets and towels that are still in one piece but not fit for human use, consider contacting your local animal shelter or veterinary clinic to see if they can use them. I worked in a veterinary hospital for many years, and we were always looking for towel and blanket donations to keep our patients cozy and comfortable!
  • Electronics: Electronics that no longer work and that cannot be sold or donated need to be disposed of responsibly. See my previous blog post on the topic for disposal tips and information on the issue of electronics recycling.




This is another aspect of moving wherein waste abounds...
  • Boxes: rather than purchasing new boxes from the store, ask around to see if any friends and family have moving boxes you can use, or check with your local grocery store. Once you're done with them, simply flatten the boxes and find a dry place to store them - they don't take up much room, and you probably won't have to hold onto them for too long before you'll have friends and family members asking around and looking for boxes for their own move. If your boxes sustained quite a bit of abuse during the move and they're not in good enough shape to be used again, simply put them in the recycling bin.
  • Use large plastic storage bins: My sister had a large stack of plastic storage bins she wasn't using, and donated them to our moving effort. These bins are reusable many more times than a cardboard box would be, and are especially good for packing heavy/fragile items, or items which will be stored for a long period. When you're done with the bins, pass them along to the next friend or family member who can use them.
  • Bubble wrap, packing peanuts, and styrofoam wrap: Just say no. These products are 100% wasteful. When packing fragile belongings such as dishes, framed photos, and other decorative items, I used blankets, clothing, and towels instead of bubble wrap. I figured that I need to move the dishes, and I need to move the towels, so why not wrap the former in the latter and pack them into the same box? It worked wonderfully, and I had no packaging materials (or broken items!) to throw away in the end. 
  • Get creative: Look at the items you have to move, the boxes and bins that you have to pack them in, and the items you're looking to get rid of, and assess how you can creatively pack everything with as little waste as possible. For example, in the decluttering phase, I shredded a huge volume of documents, bills, etc that were taking up space in my filing cabinet. Rather than throwing away the shredded paper, I effectively made my own bubble wrap/packing peanuts by filling leftover plastic bags with the shredded paper, tying the bags shut, and packing them into boxes to fill in some of the dead space and keep fragile items from shifting around and breaking. Once at the new house, the shredded paper was emptied into the compost bin and the plastic bags were returned to the grocery store for recycling. A little planning and creativity can go a long way toward reducing waste!
If you follow the tips above, you can move into your new residence with the satisfaction of knowing that you took steps to make your move a little more waste-free and environmentally-friendly. Have other tips? Feel free to share in the comments below!


I found the process of trying to pack and move in the most environmentally-conscious way possible to be a very thoughtful experience. As I packed and sorted and decluttered, I was struck once again by the excess and wastefulness of our consumer society. This feeling hit especially hard as I sat on the living room floor, pulling DVD's out of cases, recycling the paper inserts, and stacking the empty cases in towering stacks that became increasingly large and more alarming. The little bit that we actually wanted - the DVD disc itself - was such a small part compared to the large, thick plastic cases they were packaged in. It was so unnecessary. So wasteful. We filled several large boxes with empty DVD cases, and must have recycled more than 100lbs worth of paper inserts alone.

This is just a small amount of the paper we recycled from the DVD cases.

These three boxes are filled with empty DVD cases ready to be recycled.

These days, movie streaming services and on-demand television are eliminating the need for consumers to purchase physical copies of DVD's, and will likely help to eliminate much of the waste from that venue, at least. However, for every DVD that no longer needs to be manufactured, there will be some other wasteful and unnecessary item being made and packaged in excessive amounts of non-recyclable plastic. If anything, this move forced me to think more in-depth about the things we purchase, and caused me to experience firsthand the feeling of being overwhelmed and consumed by one's own belongings. Henry David Thoreau expounded on this theme at great length in the "Economy" chapter of Walden:
"How many a poor immortal soul have I met well-nigh crushed and smothered under its load, creeping down the road of life... Thank God, I can sit and I can stand without the aid of a furniture warehouse. What man but a philosopher would not be ashamed to see his furniture packed in a cart and going up country exposed to the light of heaven and the eyes of men... Indeed, the more you have of such things the poorer you are."
After this move, I'm grateful that although our house is larger than the condo we moved out of, it is still small enough to discourage us from collecting unnecessary things. Like Thoreau's sharp words above, attempting a low-waste and environmentally-conscious move reminds you how many of your belongings are truly unnecessary, and that it is for our own ease and in our own best interests, as well as that of the environment, to limit our belongings to the necessities.

A necessary possession? I found this mystery buffalo in a box of old belongings when I was packing for the move...

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

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 thing I love most about autumn is watching the leaves on maple, cottonwood, and alder trees turn brilliant hues of orange and gold, washing the landscape in a warmth that defies the ever-colder temperatures and chilly, fog blanketed mornings.

As so often happens here in western Washington, a great deal of those lovely leaves were swept from tree branches and tossed to the ground in a howling autumn windstorm last weekend. It's always so sad to wake up the next morning and look outside to find more leaves on the ground than on the trees! Take a look at the Nature 365 film below, which shows the leaf-dropping process as I wish it would happen; where a gentle breeze gradually loosens those delicate leaves from the brilliant canopy overhead and bears them carefully to the ground...

Nature 365: October 17, 2015 from FollowFocus on Vimeo.

Autumn leaves are yet another reminder of the ephemeral nature of so many things in life. We need to allow ourselves a moment to enjoy them before the next season sweeps on in.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

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...

This alder's golden leaves were stunning against a deep blue autumn sky.
"The days may not be so bright and balmy—yet the quiet and melancholy that linger around them is fraught with glory. Over everything connected with autumn there lingers some golden spell—some unseen influence that penetrates the soul with its mysterious power."
~Northern Advocate
We're well into the fall season now with foggy mornings, shorter days, and breezes that bite our nose and cheeks a bit more sharply. Forested hillsides are burning orange and gold in the slow smolder of autumn. Although this is a season wherein we bid farewell to pleasant summertime things like migratory birds and their cheerful songs, endless daylight, and leafy green boughs casting shade on hot afternoons, there's something about autumn that ignites a sense of warmth, joy, and inward reflection that we look forward to every year as those leaves begin to blaze with color and flutter gently to the ground.

That autumn "glory" is defined differently for each of us, and might be found in the form of warm sweaters and hot cider, pumpkin patches and mud, hiking into the high country seeking golden larches, strolling through a city park along a wet sidewalk papered with yellow and orange maple leaves... but regardless of the means, we all end up in the same place: fleeing to the outdoors to enjoy the delights of the season that particularly speak to our individual hearts.

I have been slacking on my adventures and blog posts lately, as I recently purchased my first home and moved just last weekend. Now that the dust has settled, I'm looking forward to exploring my new homeground in Snohomish County and sharing more Musings and Wanderings... and after the big move, I think I'm feeling a "Going Green: Environmentally Mindful Moving" post coming! Stay tuned for that!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

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...

My best attempt at a minimalist nature scene, taken a few years ago in the Snoqualmie Valley.

The past several weeks, we've been focusing more on the inspiring aspects of nature, but this week let's take a dip in the calming and refreshing side of things. Mother Nature Network recently shared a gallery of minimalist nature photos that are as calming as a massage and refreshing as a dive into cool water.

This article is intended to give tips for photographing minimalist nature scenes, but if that's of no interest to you, just do what I did and ignore the words, and feel your heart rate lower and breathing deepen as you scroll through the images. And then, perhaps, take note of the simple, calming beauty of a nature scene outside your window... these are available anytime you need a nature break during the day!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

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...

Immature male Anna's hummingbird - a frequent visitor outside my window. Lainey Piland photo

I recently discovered via social media that this week is National Wildlife Refuge Week, so I thought we'd mark the occasion accordingly here for Nature Nerd Wednesdays. The United States contains more than 560 wildlife refuges, providing vital habitat for thousands of bird, fish, amphibian, and plant species, hundreds of which are endangered.

Some wildlife refuges are open to the public, and there's one here in Washington State that I hope to visit soon: the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge near Olympia. I've driven past this place more times than I can count, but have never visited. Here's a film from Wild Northwest Beauty Photography for your Wednesday nature escape; offering a glimpse into the Nisqually refuge's diversity of wildlife and wild scenery. (I'd recommend hitting mute on this soundtrack before watching... the electronic/techno/dance music doesn't jive well with the imagery, at least not for me...)

There's tremendous value in spending time quietly watching and observing; mindfully connecting with the wild lives with whom we share our home ground. Visiting a wildlife refuge is one way to accomplish this, but  simply sitting next to a window in our homes and offices for a few minutes and watching birds, insects, or squirrels going about the business of their lives can offer us a break from mundane tasks, spark curiosity and imagination, and foster an invigorating connection with the wild lives outside of our human ones.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

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...

"Whenever I renew a commitment to studying raptors or gulls or crows or the birds in my backyard, more are given, more show themselves... The more we prepare, the more we are "allowed" somehow to see."
~Lyanda Lynn Haupt, Crow Planet
I find Lyanda Lynn Haupt's writing on urban wildlife to be endlessly lovely and inspiring, and so many of her observations ring true in my experience, both in the urban wilderness and the "out there" wilderness. The more I've dedicated myself to studying and observing the world around me, the more I notice, whether it's watching the hummingbirds outside the window of my home, or learning the names of plants and trees I find along a trail in the remote Cascade Mountains. Each interaction with nature where I apply conscious effort toward learning and study helps to develop my eye and leaves me even more prepared to notice more of the same, further enriching my connection to, and fascination with, the natural world.

The quote above reminded me of an experience I had during a recent trip to the Methow Valley. My husband and I were walking the trails through the lonely hills at twilight, appreciating the scenery, wide-open vistas, and fresh air. My husband has a knack for finding wildlife sign, and pointed out a game trail crossing our path. Looking up slope from the trail we were traversing across a hillside, he pointed and in a hushed voice informed me there was a deer up the hill from us. I scanned the brushy hillside, its warm autumn hues turning cool in the blue twilight. It took me awhile to find the female mule deer whose large, intelligent eyes surveyed us coolly from her hiding place, where only her head was visible. Take a look at the photo above: can you find the doe?

Being in the Methow Valley, I knew we were bound to see some deer. But I didn't know how to see deer. This is something my husband has studied, but I have not. While my husband can point out a well-camoflauged deer that's several hundred yards away and barely visible, the best I can usually do is to point out a deer grazing in a grassy green field a few dozen yards away... the kind of deer you'd only miss if you were walking around with your eyes closed. Had I known how to see deer before this, how many more deer would I have seen in my wanderings? How many deer -- or other wildlife for that matter -- have I missed, lacking the knowledgeable eye attuned to spotting them?

I just love how these moments cause us to reflect on our own awareness of the world around us; how little we know and how much more there is to learn. How, after moments like this, we step out our front doors, gaze out the window, hit the trails more fully tuned in and prepared to see those delights which were previously beyond our ability to notice. And how much the richer we are for it!

Oh, and that doe? She's right here:

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

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 visited the Redwoods when I was a child (eight or nine?), and this is one of my photos from way back then!

Brothers Jim and Will Pattiz of More Than Just Parks (MTJP) have done it again and released another gorgeous film, this time featuring Redwood National Park. This is the fourth of fifty-nine total films MTJP plans to create, to honor and showcase the beauty of each of our National Parks. Although the film has a bit too much slug action for my liking, I had to share it anyway because the rest of it is so lovely. Take a look...

I just love the sequence showing the small seedling, and then in the next shot, the massive old growth redwood. It's hard to imagine those big old trees grew from something that was once so tiny and fragile.

To learn more about More Than Just Parks, to support their work, and to watch their other films, check out their website here.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Wanderings: Blue Lake

Larches at Blue Lake

I nervously eyed the temperature display in the truck as it quickly dropped from a near-balmy 59 to a bracing 47 degrees as we climbed up Highway 20 in a cold, steady rain. My husband and I were headed home from a brief visit to the Methow Valley, and had planned to stop for the short hike up to Blue Lake, but the weather didn't appear to be cooperating. We parked at the trailhead and sorted through our things to see if we had the appropriate gear to hike safely in this weather, and ultimately decided we should be okay. With hoods pulled tightly over our heads, we splashed across the wet parking lot and headed out on the muddy trail to make the 2.2 mile ascent to Blue Lake.

Truth be told, I was actually excited to finally have an opportunity to test out the waterproof hiking pants I received as a Christmas gift from my husband last year. Yep, it's been that long since I've hiked in the rain. Thanks, drought...

We set out onto the trail, following a few sets of rain-sodden boardwalks into a dense forest of Pacific silver fir. It was a very dark forest: the trees, needles, and trunks were all dark, the earth was damp and dark... were it not for the bursts of color provided by the autumn foliage, the early portion of this hike would have been a bit dismal. Rain dripped from the boughs overhead, splattering on my nose and cheeks. Scattered along the trail and piled in drifts around tree trunks were shredded pine cones, consumed by what appeared to be a very healthy squirrel population in this forest, although we didn't see any squirrels during the hike.

There are some busy squirrels here!

The trail gently ascended through the forest, then suddenly emerged into a wide-open meadow about a mile in. After being in the darkened forest for awhile, my eyes hungrily drank in the sudden explosion of autumn colors in the meadow. It was absolutely spectacular. The open meadow also offered us a look up at our end goal: behind a stand of trees on a ridge way overhead, we could clearly identify a flat, open space into which Blue Lake was surely nestled.

We continued onward, briefly winding through the meadow before returning to the forest to resume the gradual, steady upward climb. At this point, the rain lightened and we were getting a bit warm and sweaty from the exertion, so we paused to shed a few layers, gulp some water, and catch our breath before continuing. As we climbed, the silver fir forest began to thin, allowing us astounding views of the surrounding mountains, which were dotted with red, orange, and yellow autumn hues where they weren't swathed in trailing clouds and mist.

And then we suddenly left the dim forest behind and found ourselves in this technicolor world of fall foliage. There were red huckleberry leaves and yellow larches. This was the first time I'd seen larches in person. I was very excited about the larches.

Huckleberry plants
So colorful! Look at the larches!

At this point, we began passing other hikers who were already on their way down from the lake. Doing some quick math in my head, I realized that the number of cars parked at the trailhead (just a handful) roughly corresponded with the number of descending hiking groups we were passing. We'd probably have the lake to ourselves. Perfect. The rain still fell lightly, although I didn't notice it much anymore, too enamored as I was with the gorgeous, almost-unreal scenery that surrounded us. I felt like Alice in Wonderland or something. We crossed a stream trickling across a rocky portion of the trail, and I knew we were getting close to the lake.

We rounded a corner, and there it was at last: the gleaming water of Blue Lake resolved from the misty alpine scenery. Only a glimpse of the lake could be seen from here, so we followed the trail, crossing the lake's trickling outlet stream across a narrow log bridge. The trail around the lake was carefully roped off, with signs announcing that certain areas were closed for restoration. I imagine that this trail sees a large crowd of hikers during the summer months, and they'd really done a number on the delicate vegetation here. Obediently staying away from the roped-off areas, we made our way to the small beach at the water's edge, where I stood gaping, gasping, exclaiming over the beauty that spread out before us.

Oh, the colors!!
This had to be the most gorgeous scene I'd ever encountered, made even more lovely by the knowledge that my own two feet and determined effort had brought me here. Aquamarine lake, autumnal foliage, a light rain hissing and whispering over the surface of the water, marring it with ripples. Emerging from my awestruck trance, I dug my camera from the backpack and started snapping away. We climbed up onto a large boulder for a better view. The lake spread out before us; serene, colorful, completely wonderful, and insulated into silence by the heavy clouds that had closed in all around. I tucked my camera underneath my sweatshirt in an attempt to protect it from the persistent drizzle, and we watched tiny fish jumping out of the water, listened to rocks clattering and tumbling down the steep granite mountain at the far end of the lake, perhaps knocked loose by the mountain goats that live here.

Despite our best efforts, we hadn't managed to stay very dry in the wet weather. Our wet clothes and the cold temperatures indicated that it was time to turn around and head back. As we climbed back down the boulder, we were visited by a very bold, inquisitive gray jay alighting on a small tree just an arm's length away. He sat there, feathers all soft and fluffed up, tilting his head as he sized us up. Never in my life have I encountered a bird so curious and unafraid of my presence. He flew away across the lake, and a second bird landed on the tree to take his place. He investigated us for a moment before following his friend and swooping across the lake. Jokingly, I said okay, where's number three? No sooner were the words out of my mouth than a third gray jay landed on the tree. This time, I lifted my camera and snapped a few photos of the obliging bird, who was unperturbed by my movements and the snapping camera shutter. He flew away without being replaced by another jay, so we took this as permission to leave.

Gray Jay. He was so beautiful!

With one last glance at the most beautiful lake I'd ever seen - now thickly socked in by clouds - we turned and headed back down the trail, speeding along to return to the warm, dry truck and thick slices of leftover cake that awaited us in the cooler in the backseat. Because what else would you do after a spectacular rainy day hike to a stunning alpine lake but eat a piece of cake to celebrate?

It's a good thing we arrived when we did! The lake was socked in by the time we left.

Washington State appears to be graced by several bodies of water going by the name Blue Lake, but the one we hiked was right along Highway 20, tucked just inside the eastern boundary of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. Thanks to the steady, very gradual ascent and absence of switchbacks, this is an excellent trail for people like myself who struggle with uphill hikes that have any measurable elevation gain. A relatively short hike with a huge payoff... this one is a must-do! If you can manage it, hit the trails for this hike during autumn to see the amazing colors for yourself. My photos don't come close to doing them justice.