Wednesday, July 29, 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 sea pronounces something, over and over, in a hoarse whisper; I cannot quite make it out. ~Annie Dillard
There is something mysterious and beguiling about the ocean that awakens our curiosity and draws us to its shores. Perhaps the most favored pastime on our west coast shores is settling in to watch the sun set. The combined efforts of sea and sky together produce a sight that never fails to amaze.

I took the photo above at Kayak Point, looking out over the waters of Port Susan as the sun set behind Camano Island. As I fiddled with the settings on my camera and grew increasingly frustrated with what appeared to be one blurry shot after another, I was deaf to the ocean before me, with its dark, gently undulating waters reflecting pastel sunset hues, trying to whisper a feeling of tranquility into my soul. 

After returning home, I gratefully discovered that my photos weren't blurry after all. Staring at the miraculously crystal-clear images, I can see the waves rising and falling, smell the salty air, and feel the last rays of the sun's warmth fading away as those tranquil "hoarse whispers" echo in my ears.

Looking for a fun activity for the weekend? The Nature Conservancy is hosting Port Susan Bay Day this Saturday, to highlight restoration work there and to celebrate the natural beauty of the area. Click here for details. Perhaps you can swing by Kayak Point on the way home and catch a sunset for yourself!

Wednesday, July 22, 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...

Snapshot from the Bear Cam

While our rivers here in Washington are running low and warm, the water is cool and the fishing is good for the brown bears at Brooks Falls in Alaska's Katmai National Park. Take a look at the Explore live cam below, and enjoy watching the bears skilfully snag sockeye salmon migrating upstream in the cold current.

Brooks Falls - Katmai National Park, Alaska  

Watch that video feed for too long, and you'll become as absorbed in the unfolding scene as the bears are in their salmon fishing! The hissing falls and the bear's calculated, careful hunting strategies are mesmerizing to watch. And when the salmon are really jumping, be prepared for a good belly laugh as they haphazardly fling themselves out of the water; sometimes jumping straight up into the air, sometimes comically flopping sideways and missing the falls altogether.

It's so wonderful that technology these days allows us access to live video streams of events many of us would never be able to see in person, and that it can be done in such a way as to not disturb the animals themselves. I can just imagine what it would be like to sit under those overcast Alaskan skies, perched on a boulder near the falls and feeling the chilly mist on my face while watching these brown bears splashing and pouncing on the leaping sockeye; taking advantage of the abundant salmon run so the bears can get nice and fat before winter arrives.

This scene is a refreshing sight for those of us in need of a break from this hot Washington summer!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Musings: Missing Washington (Part 2)

Two weeks ago, I shared my first Missing Washington musings, noting how my beloved home state has changed drastically as a result of the severe drought we're currently experiencing, and how the current state of things is a peek into our hot, dry future wrought by climate change. I decided to share this follow-up post - maybe one of several - wherein I confront the ways in which specific places near and dear to me appear to be impacted by the drought; how they're changing from familiar to foreign in this parched, too-warm weather pattern our region is suffering. Perhaps preparing myself for what these beloved places will look like in the coming decades after climate change has had its way with them.

Exploring familiar places in a time of drought can be tricky. Are the leaves really turning yellow sooner than they normally would? Is the trail really drier and dustier than it usually is this time of year? It is difficult to know which observations to ascribe to the drought itself and which observations are completely unrelated, but catch my eye due to my own heightened awareness of the fact that there's a drought going on.

As most readers of this blog are well aware, Saint Edward State Park is one of my favorite places to visit for a short hike and to spend time in nature. Last weekend, my husband and I visited Saint Edward and hiked my favorite trails. I had already reconciled myself to the fact that the trails would look different than they had when we'd last visited a few weeks ago, what with the scorching heat and zero rainfall we'd seen in that time, but even I was taken aback when faced with the reality. We were no further than ten paces onto the North trail before I stopped in my tracks and stared in disbelief at the state of the forest around me. It was so dry and dusty. All of the trees and vegetation looked tired, thirsty, and wilted.

As we continued, we found the trail littered with leaves of bigleaf maple, shreds of fern fronds, and bits and pieces of other plants. They were mostly still green; not crunchy and brown like autumn leaves, but green and soft and wilted.


Once we reached the Lake Washington waterfront, we were confronted by long corridors of Indian plum, with leaves already ripening to hues of autumn gold, although it's only mid-July.

The good news is that I did manage to find some miner's lettuce flowers bravely hanging on in the tinder-dry brush along the trail. Aside from a few anemic bleeding heart blossoms tucked away in the shade, these are the only flowers I saw during our hike.

Hiking back up the South Canyon trail, we passed through a thicket of salmonberry that only a few weeks ago sported vibrant red berries beneath its ample green leaves. Now, they are wilting.

Near the end of the trail, we were greeted by one gut-wrenching sight that I know for certain is abnormal for this time of year. An entire grove of maple trees set back from the trail were holding aloft canopies of sunshine-yellow leaves. The leaves usually don't change color until October. I know that drought-stressed trees can drop their leaves as a survival tactic, so perhaps these maples were particularly affected by the drought, and have already begun the process of shedding their leaves. In July.

Lastly, I thought I'd compare two photos: one taken in August 2014 (on the left), and one taken on this recent hike in July 2015 (on the right). These are both the same view from the South Canyon trail, taken from roughly the same spot, at the same time of day.

Quite a difference, I think. This favorite place of mine which is usually lush, green, and humid this time of year has now seemed to have all of the color drained out of it, and the damp trails have turned to loose dust. Even the typically abundant birdsong was quiet and scarce in the canopy overhead.

Let's keep writing those Haiku, doing rain dances, and praying for precipitation!

How have your favorite places been changed by the drought? Feel free to share in the comments below.

Wednesday, July 15, 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...

Views like this: the reason to have benches along forest trails. Saint Edward State Park. Lainey Piland photo

Do you ever look back on certain moments and reflect that they went by way too fast, and that your memory of them is already hazy even a short while afterward? That often happens to me after I finish a hike; where I'm back at the car in the parking lot, throwing my sweaty backpack onto the back seat and marveling at how quickly the time and the miles flew past. Mentally reviewing the hike on my way home, I try to solidify the details in my memory before they're forgotten in the fog, crowded out by more immediate and urgent thoughts as I leave the peace of the forest and enter back into the busy-ness of daily life.

In a paper I wrote for a college class - and which happens to be the first post on this blog - I commented on the benches situated along the trails at Saint Edward State Park, and how silly it seemed to have them placed on a trail in the middle of the forest. I now understand though, that those benches aren't necessarily for resting and catching your breath. They're for sitting and observing, watching, listening... forcing yourself to stop for a moment and just take in all of the nature surrounding you. This forest isn't just a place to pass through; it is a place to dwell in.

A few weeks back, my husband and I swung by Saint Edward for a quick hike, and on our trek up the South Canyon trail, we came upon a bench I'd passed by many times before. I decided to try sitting on it this time. I brushed the dust from the seat and sat, and my husband joined me there. For a few moments, I took in the sweeping views of large Doug fir, maple, and cedar trees crowding on the hillsides, leaning over the ravine in which we sat. I listened to a chorus of birds singing in the boughs overhead, and identified a robin and chickadee among the voices. I felt the heaviness of the sweet humid air pressing on me, passing thickly in and out of my lungs. The forest became so much more alive as I sat there and observed without the distraction of putting one foot in front of the other as I heaved myself up the trail. And then approaching footsteps and human voices snapped me back into hurry-up mode. I jumped to my feet as though the bench had bit me, and we continued up the trail. Self-consciously, I didn't want the other hikers to catch me sitting there on the bench, thinking that I needed to take a break or anything.

And this very long-winded musing of mine is just to say... take a look at the film below. It was shot at Horsetail Falls in Oregon, along the Columbia Gorge. Not only does it include soothing sounds of hissing waterfalls, burbling streams, and singing birds, but this 30-minute long video explores every possible view of the falls and surrounding area. This is what I would imagine it to be like, to sit on one of those benches for a good long time and really soak in the details of each mossy tree trunk, warbling birdsong and glistening drop of water.

Film by Semi:Free Creative on YouTube

I hope someday to have the time and patience to live this film in real life, so that my nature experiences and hikes are remembered vividly in my mind long after leaving the forest.

Wednesday, July 8, 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...

Wet leaves at Saint Edward State Park. Took this photo in May - this was the last rainy hike I went on!

Cold gray skies pouring
Raindrops fall. Soaking. Quenching.
Our state, evergreen.

Our state - land and people alike - is thirsty for some rain. For cloudy skies. For the sweet, clean smell of soaked earth. In fact, the Washington State Department of Ecology sent out a Tweet asking people to share Haiku poems to make it rain. The end result was a rain dance expressed in the words of Pacific Northwesterners desperate for some precipitation. The poem above is my contribution.

If you love the sound of rain and miss it as much as I do, take a listen to Gordon Hempton's "Forest Rain" recording on the One Square Inch website. The musical tones of those splashing raindrops in Washington's Olympic rainforest will make you feel right at home.

Feel free to contribute your own "make it rain" Haiku in the comments below!

Related posts:

Musings: Missing Washington

Musings: Embracing the Rain

Wednesday, July 1, 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...

"Auroras Over North America" photo obtained from NASA Earth Observatory

A sweltering heat wave has held the Pacific Northwest in its grips for well over a week now, and many of us are struggling to stay cool in this scorching weather to which we're not accustomed. One good thing about this hot sunny weather is that we have clear skies at night, which offer the perfect opportunity to sit outside in the night air to cool down and ponder the starry skies above. Last week, we were even lucky enough to have the glowing green ribbons of the aurora undulating in the skies overhead. Click here to see a photo gallery of the gorgeous auroras spotted in our area.

As usual, I missed the opportunity to cross something off my bucket list and completely missed seeing the auroras in person; not hearing about them until the following morning when it was too late. I honestly think that someone needs to come up with an alert system that sends you a text message or something when the auroras are visible in your area. Can someone please get on that?

To ease some of the disappointment of missing the aurora's rare appearance in our area, I found a beautiful timelapse film of the auroras in Alaska, filmed in Fairbanks. Take a look and enjoy... perhaps we'll be able to see this awesome sight in Washington's skies again sometime soon!

Aurora Borealis / Northern Lights in Alaska (Timelapse) from Eric Cheng on Vimeo.

While searching for aurora photos, I discovered Aurorasaurus, a citizen science project where anyone can participate and report aurora sightings. It is also a great resource for learning more about this awesome natural phenomenon, so be sure to check it out!