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.