Wednesday, December 28, 2016

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...

Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander...

Continuing with a tradition I followed last year and the year before, the final Nature Nerd Wednesday post of this year will take a look back at the trails my feet wandered this year. These trails led me to places of exhilaration, inspiration, reflection, and connection with the stunning environment of the Pacific Northwest. These trails took me higher and further than I'd ever been, and left me eager to explore more. Imagine you've got wet socks and a cold nose, and join me in reliving these wanderings:


 First Day Hike at Cama Beach State Park




Saint Edward State Park










What a year it has been. I'm beyond grateful to have the opportunity to explore these beautiful places in Western Washington. Thank you to all who wandered with me this year, and for the enduring memories created on the trails: my husband, my sister, my dad and stepmom, and my friends and fellow bloggers in the Alpine Trails Book Club.

Happy New Year! Stay tuned to A Day Without Rain in 2017 for more Nature Nerd Wednesday inspiration, along with the occasional Musings, Wanderings, and Going Green tips.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Looking back at 2016: Top 5 most-read posts on the blog this year

Sauk Mtn - "May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view." - Ed Abbey

We've already arrived at the final week of 2016. It was a year of Wanderings, of exploring new places, meeting new friends, and reaching new heights. This year, my wanderings led me to reflect on our place in the world, our impact upon it and our responsibility to it. As the year winds down, let's take a look back at the most popular blog posts of the year.

1. Wanderings: Sauk Mountain

If the world ends, let me be here... a place that inspired a true feeling of gratitude and exhilaration.

2. In the News: Wildfires in Western Washington

Wildfires made an appearance in Western Washington this spring, and may become a regular occurrence with our changing climate.

3. Wanderings: Fragrance Lake

The first meetup of the Alpine Trails Book Club led to this tranquil lake surrounded by a forest full of history and interesting geology.

4. Wanderings: Mount Si

My biggest challenge yet, climbing Mount Si gave me a whole new perspective on my own abilities, and on my home valley far below.

5. Wanderings: Brightwater  

Hiking at a wastewater treatment plant? It's way more fun (and much less smelly) than one might expect.

2016 was a year to remember, and let's hope that 2017 will be even better yet! Stay tuned to A Day Without Rain in the new year - although the blog may be leaning more toward Musings and less Wandering thanks to my current pregnant state and my son to be born in early May - but you can bet I'll be getting him outdoors as soon as I can!

Follow along on Twitter at @LaineyPiland or on Instagram at @a_day_without_rain_blog.


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

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...

Gulls at the coast. Lainey Piland photo

Christmas is now just a few days away. How's everyone doing out there? This season brings a hectic busy-ness for most of us, leaving little time to enjoy the things that bring peace and relaxation, including getting outdoors for hikes on the weekends.

If your heart is longing for the solitude and quiet of the outdoors, watch the film below and escape to the remote beaches of Olympic National Park, where leopard seals lounge on sandy beaches and waves explode against sea stacks. This film is Part 1 of the Olympic NP collection created by filmmaker Rudy Wilms, who plans to film each of the Olympic National Park's ecosystems (which I assume are coastal, forest, and alpine). I'm looking forward to seeing the other films!

Olympic NP Pacific Coast from Rudy Wilms on Vimeo.

The landscapes in this film have an expansive quality to them. After watching, I now feel like I can inhale more deeply, stretch out my limbs, let go of a breath I hadn't realized I'd been holding... a perfect tonic for the stress many of us feel this time of year.

Have a wonderful Christmas!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

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...

Two weeks ago, we reveled in the starry night skies. Last week, we wandered in the snowy silence of the forest. This Nature Nerd Wednesday, we're going to do a little bit of both! Take a look at the Mother Nature Network article below, featuring the photography of Tiina Tormanen, who captures exquisite snowy night scenes of the Lapland region of Finland.

Tormanen is quoted in the MNN article saying "Far too many [of us] are busy — too busy to think about life itself, and the media around us pull out a lot of misery and war on so many levels. I want to remind them of another part of the reality, of the one that matters."

And isn't that what Nature Nerd Wednesdays are all about? Check out Tormanen's work on her website... I recommend scrolling through the NORTHERN LIGHTS - Winter gallery to escape to truly magical winter landscapes filled with color and light. I can only imagine what it would be like to stand in the midst of those quiet, snowy scenes and gaze upward at the undulating northern lights and stars twinkling in the clear night sky.

For a different take on the winter night scenes, do yourself a favor and look at the work of local artist Nikki Frumkin of Drawn to High Places. Her ink-and-watercolor paintings capture the breathtaking beauty of our Pacific Northwest mountains in all their snowy and starry glory. I'll take one of each, please!!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

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 sunrise: catching that first glimpse of white from my window, years ago. Lainey Piland photo

"Now, by 2 p.m., a regular snowstorm has commenced, fine flakes falling steadily, and rapidly whitening all the landscape. In half an hour the russet earth is painted white even to the horizon. Do we know of any other so silent and sudden a change?"
-Journal of Henry David Thoreau, November 28, 1858
There's snow in the forecast for western Washington this week! Although I dread driving in it, the thought of waking up to a snowy white landscape still gives me a little childish thrill. It recalls memories of waking up to snowfall on a winter morning and getting outside as quickly as possible, throwing snow pants and jacket on over my pajamas as I headed out to feed the horses their breakfast. Those first few steps outside always left me astonished at the depth of silence. The snow absorbs all sound - except, it seems - the sounds those icy flakes themselves make: scritching against your jacket, dropping from overloaded branches in great whuffs, groaning as it is compressed beneath your feet.

Sitting at my desk a few days ago, the air vent overhead suddenly went silent as the furnace shut off. I was shocked at how quiet it was in the office, amazed at all of the small sounds that had been drowned out by the noise of blowing air. Instantly I was reminded of standing in the midst of a snowy forest. The snowflakes scrub all white noise from the air, distilling the world to shades of black and white, muting all but the sound of falling flakes and the murmur of your thoughts.

If you're longing to experience the silence of snow, escape to the wintry forest in the film below created by Nature 3D Taeuber:

Who knows... if this week's snowy forecast holds, we may be able to simply step out our front doors and experience the same peace and quiet found in the film above. Be safe out there!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

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...

Stars over the Methow Valley. Lainey Piland photo
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
the silent stars go by...
Don't worry, I won't start singing Christmas carols to you just yet! This line from O Little Town of Bethlehem is one of my favorite lines - one of those things that gives me a thrill when I read or hear it. These lines were brought to mind when I watched the film below and was reminded of the heavenly wonders wheeling overhead as we sleep. Or - with more than twelve hours of darkness this time of year - these stars are shining bright overhead even as we drive to work and back home again. Just ponder that for a bit the next time you're sitting in traffic in complete darkness at 4:45pm.

This film was created by photographer Vincent Brady, and is anything but the typical timelapse film. Take a look and you'll see what I mean! Then read this Mother Nature Network article to learn how Brady captured these mind-bending images.

While the long stretches of darkness can certainly be depressing this time of year, just remember that this also creates the perfect conditions for stargazing. Try to spend time outside looking up and marveling at the whole worlds and galaxies that exist out there in the cosmos, millions or even billions of light years away. You might even spot some brilliant planets or a few meteors!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Wanderings: Lord Hill Regional Park

Black Friday dawned cool and sunny, with blue skies that offered a welcome respite from the heavy clouds and incessant rain we'd seen for days on end. What better day to join the growing number of people choosing to "opt outside" on Black Friday, rather than hitting the sales at the shopping mall and big box stores. The Opt Outside movement was initiated by outdoor retailer REI last year, as they gave their employees the day after Thanksgiving off to spend time outdoors, and encouraged others to do the same. I'm not one for crowds and long lines, so it didn't take much convincing for me to make Black Friday hikes a new tradition!

Last year, my husband and I took a walk at the Redmond Watershed Preserve on Black Friday. The year before that - before opting outside was even a "thing" - my sister and I hiked to Coal Creek Falls on a particularly rainy and cold day after Thanksgiving. Despite arriving home soaked to the skin and freezing cold, the experience left me with memories of a fun adventure with one of my favorite people.

This year, my husband was once again my hiking partner as we hit the trails at Lord Hill Regional Park in Snohomish. Okay, let me be honest... I did have one other hiking partner with me. And that would be the future nature nerd growing in my rapidly expanding belly. We're having our first child in early May of next year - an entirely new adventure for the both of us! We chose Lord Hill for our Black Friday hike not only because it was a park close to home that I had yet to visit, but also because the gentle trails would be easier on this pregnant hiker who has sore knees and hips, and gets winded just walking up the stairs.

There were few cars in the parking lot when we arrived and made our way to the large map posted near the trailhead. We planned to take the Main trail to the West View trail, where the map advertised a viewpoint I hoped would offer views of the mountains or valley below. This would give us a nice hike of about three miles, and hopefully satisfy my longing to spend time outside, which I've been doing entirely too little of lately.

From the parking lot, we followed the trail as it wound downhill, left muddy and slick after the Thanksgiving deluge. The black mud was pockmarked with tiny craters where water had dripped from rain-saturated branches overhead. We crossed a few boardwalks over swampy areas and swollen streams, and marveled at the enormous old-growth cedar stumps still present in this second-growth forest.

We picked up the Main trail and followed it beneath an impressive bower of bigleaf maples, their branches bare now save for a thick coating of moss. Beneath the maples and scattered Doug firs, an unbroken grove of sword fern carpeted the forest floor. It was dark and shaded and damp through this stretch.

When the trail forked, we headed to the right and followed the West View trail as it sloped gently upward. This trail was bright and open and sunny, with glimpses of the valley below just visible among the thickly clustered maple trunks. We reached the top of a hill where the trail forked again, but the previously well-marked trails were now completely blank. Without really knowing which way to go, we took the right fork again and decided to see where it led.

As luck would have it, we should have taken the left fork. Our chosen trail ended up being the Devil's Butte trail, which winds downhill and around a large swampy pond before meeting up again with the trail we had actually wanted to take to the viewpoint. Although choosing the wrong trail added another mile or so to our hike, the narrow footpath brushing through waist-high sword fern also offered a chance to explore an interesting wetland ecosystem that we wouldn't have seen otherwise... and what would a hike be without some aspect of adventure? We circumnavigated the pond and then hopped over its slightly sulfurous-smelling outlet stream before climbing a steep hill that led us to the viewpoint which had been our original destination.

However, the name "viewpoint" was an unfortunate misnomer. The only view at this point was of the blue sky overhead, and the bare maple trunks all around the small clearing. Standing on a wet, algae-slick picnic table, I was able to take a photo of the only view available through a gap in the branches of a Doug fir.

We headed back to the West View trail, ambling slowly along the muddy path striped with alternating sunshine and shadow. Woodpeckers tapped on resonant tree trunks, wrens scolded and flitted among the tangles of salmonberry, a gentle breeze set bigleaf maple leaves waving, the golden leaves refusing to let go and fall to the ground. It wasn't climbing a mountain, it wasn't hiking miles to a lake or waterfall - but this hike in a quiet county park was all I needed to feel refreshed and reconnected to the greater, grander, marvelous world out there. And I think perhaps that's what "opting outside" is all about.

Upon reflection, after getting past the extra-sore hip and knee joints, I was grateful for the wrong turn that took us further into the woods and made our hike longer than expected. This hike ended up being a great reminder that not all hikes - and not all things in life - are about the destination. It's about enjoying the unfolding journey and embracing the small beauties, detours and wrong turns that make for an exciting adventure.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

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...

View from the top of Mount Si - talk about gratitude! Lainey Piland photo

As each day comes to us refreshed and anew, so does my gratitude renew itself daily. The breaking of the sun over the horizon is my grateful heart dawning upon a blessed world.
-Terri Guillemets

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. How have we already arrived at this holiday?! Weren't we just yesterday in the midst of those hot, never-ending days of summertime? Ready or not, it's time to get our Thanksgiving pants out and prepare to load up on turkey and all the delicious carb-loaded side dishes as we give thanks for all of the good things in our lives.

Thanks. Gratitude. These are emotions we typically have to work to cultivate. It often takes conscious effort to appreciate the little, everyday, mundane blessings and good fortune we experience, especially during the trying times when there seems little to be grateful for.

One arena where gratitude always flows freely is - for me - in the outdoors. Every time I heave myself to the top of a mountain and get a first glimpse of that awe-inspiring view; every time I watch the hummingbirds squabbling in my backyard; every time I lay awake at 3am on a sleepless night and find company in the soft barking hoot of a barred owl outside my window; every time I set foot into the forest and squint up at the tall trees; every time I find that first trillium in spring... every time, once the initial awe subsides, all that remains is pure gratitude

Views from Sauk Mountain
First trillium, 2016 (Old Sauk River trail)

Old growth forest in the Cedar River Watershed

Anna's hummingbird in my backyard

I'm grateful for the beauty that exists in the world. I am grateful for the privilege of bearing witness to the wonders of the places I visit, to the wild lives being lived right outside my home, my work, the confines of my car. I am grateful to be part of it all, and to share it right here with all of you.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

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...

Cottonwood leaves - hearts in nature. Lainey Piland photo
Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature - the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter."
- Rachel Carson, Silent Spring
After last week, I know there are plenty of us feeling down and perhaps a bit hopeless. We might seek healing in venting our feelings, in prayer, in spending time with loved ones, in exercising. I think I've tried all of the above, but my first instinct was to get out of here. To run to the mountains, to sit in the forest and breathe deep lungfuls of that fresh, rain-washed air.  There's something about the peace of the outdoors that brings a soothing clarity to the world around us. We know that regardless of what happens in our human societies, the sun will still rise tomorrow.

One of those familiar "repeated refrains" in nature is the waning amount of daylight as the winter solstice approaches. There is more darkness than light as shadows stretch long across the landscape all day long, the sunlight feeling like it never quite gains full strength. I love the film below from Nature 365. With some scenes shot in time-lapse, the film emphasizes the shortness of late autumn days, but manages to capture all the depth and beauty of them, however brief it may be.

This planet is our common experience with every other person. No matter the differing lives or beliefs, we can find shared memories and bridge divisions among us in the familiarity of sunshine sifting through trees and raindrops glittering on leaves. That is something that anyone can appreciate. Perhaps that can be our starting point.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Wanderings: Lime Kiln Point State Park

Lime Kiln Point Lighthouse. Lainey Piland photo

Whales. That was the one thing on my mind as my husband and I pulled into the shaded parking lot at Lime Kiln Point State Park in early October. This small park located on the western shore of San Juan Island is known to be one of the best whale-watching locations in the state.

Earlier that day, as we wandered among the exhibits at The Whale Museum in Friday Harbor and marveled at the massive skeletons of those majestic cetaceans, a small note caught my eye on a whiteboard shoved into a corner of the room. Just last night, it said, a few Southern Resident orca whales had been sighted cruising past Lime Kiln Point. Well, our afternoon excursion had been decided! Off to Lime Kiln we went, in hopes of spotting those beloved killer whales in person.

After hanging the Discover Pass from the rearview mirror, we bundled up against the brisk wind that had stolen the warmth from this brilliant sunny day and set out for the trail to the whale watch site. It was just a short jaunt - a hundred yards, maybe - from the parking lot to the rocky shoreline. The trail led us beneath bigleaf maples starting to turn golden, fragrant boughs of Douglas fir hissing in the wind, and numerous Pacific madrone whose branches were heavily laden with clusters of bright red berries.

Madrone tree and blue sky.

We bypassed the already-occupied whale watching location - a large semi-circular platform perched above the water and enclosed by a low stone wall - and followed a narrow path south until we reached a vacant picnic table. This picnic table had the world's best view, I think. Nothing but wide-open sky, glittering currents in Haro Strait, and waves crashing against the rocky shoreline, sending white spray airborne. Looking north, we could see the quaint white Lime Kiln Point Lighthouse still standing guard on the Point, although its light had long been dark.

Picnic table view

Large freight ships chugged by in Haro Strait, piled high with colorful shipping containers. After my visit to the whale museum earlier that day, I'd learned just how damaging those ships are to whale populations, as they pollute the water with noise so loud it interferes with the whale's echolocation and communication. We'd later wander over to an exhibit near the lighthouse where the push of a button would play the sound collected from underwater hydrophones just offshore in real time. I was hoping for beautiful whale music, but heard nothing but the grating, rumbling noise of passing ship traffic.

We sprawled out at our picnic table, soaking in the view. Even with sunglasses, I squinted across the water made harsh and bright by the brilliant sunshine, searching for a dorsal fin or puff of spray in the glare. There were a few false alarms where both my husband and myself would grab the other's arm and point: what's that??? It was always the shadow between waves or a piece of driftwood. Until it wasn't.

After twenty minutes or so of determined searching, I caught a faint specter of white haze hovering over the water several hundred yards out. I grabbed my camera, thankful I'd brought my longer lens, and squinted through the viewfinder. A large burst of spray came up from the water, followed by another, smaller one. WHALES!!! I yelled, pointing at the distant patch of water. My husband turned to look, as did the small crowd behind the wall at the whale watching spot who were still within earshot. Still watching through my viewfinder, I snapped away as two dark backs with tiny hooked dorsal fins emerged from the water.

We watched them swim northward past us, a momma and baby whale, their rhythmic surfacing, blowing spray, dark backs slipping through water and tiny dorsal fins disappearing and reappearing in a repeating pattern. Once we caught a glimpse of a fluke. Before too long, a small boat with RESEARCH emblazoned on its side appeared, with a half-dozen people crowded on deck. The boat remained several hundred yards away as it followed the whales in their northward progress. We watched them, whales and boat, until they were no longer visible around the point.

Eyes stung and watering from the glaring sunshine and cold, penetrating wind, I turned to my husband with a huge grin and said that was awesome! My whale encounter hadn't come in the form of playful orcas breaching near shore as I'd been hoping, but there was something almost more real and personal in the quiet passage of a mother and baby whale slipping along the shoreline, cruising to an unknown destination, to unspoken business. Due to their size and dorsal fin shape, we decided by process of elimination that these must have been Minke whales. They were too small for humpbacks, too large for porpoises, and the dorsal fins were not right for orcas.

After the whales had passed and crowds dispersed, we left our picnic table with the world's best view and made our way toward the lighthouse. We stopped briefly to poke around on the shoreline, and squinted into shallow tidepools where chitons and anemones had taken up residence in the clear water.

Upon arriving at the lighthouse and interpretive center, we discovered that it was closed for the season. We'd missed it by just weeks - it is open May through early September, and offers guided walks, lighthouse tours and educational programs during those months. Those programs - plus the prospect of better whale-watching opportunities - is good enough reason for me to plan a return trip sometime in the summer!

And of course, while we were there we couldn't neglect to visit the park's namesake lime kiln. The trail to the lime kiln is just over a quarter mile long, and brings you to the very top of the massive stone oven used from 1860 to the 1920's to process the limestone quarried nearby into the final salable product: lime, which was used largely for agriculture. In a restaurant in Friday Harbor, there's an old photograph hanging on the wall from the early 1900's, showing a portly, well-dressed man selling San Juan Island lime at the Puyallup Fair. The interior of the lime kiln is still stained white with lime, as is a nearby hillside, where the leftovers and residue were dumped off a cliff into the sea. A steep staircase leads down to the "ground floor" of the massive kiln, where you can peer into the oven itself and run your fingers over the strangely worn stones.

The old lime kiln

We followed the trail through the madrone forest back to the parking lot, which had filled up quite a bit since we had arrived. Watching the carloads of new arrivals set out toward the whale watching site, I hoped they'd have the same memorable experience I had, and perhaps would also walk away with a same sense of reverence and responsibility for the incredible creatures that call these waters home.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

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...

As we ease through the month of November, the cold wintry weather - and prime stargazing conditions - are marching steadily closer. We have the extra-super supermoon coming up on November 14th, and the Taurid and Leonid meteor showers on the 11th and 17th, respectively. Let's cross our fingers for clear skies!

One celestial phenomenon we rarely have the chance to experience here in Washington is the aurora. Witnessing the natural wonder of the northern lights in person has long been on my bucket list, and I was thrilled to discover the latest film from More Than Just Parks features those undulating green lights in the sky over Voyageurs National Park.

The aurora is an awe-inspiring sight on film. I can't even imagine the feeling of seeing it in person! And who knew we had such amazing displays of the northern lights here in the lower forty-eight?

Never heard of Voyageurs National Park? You're in good company! This little-known park is located in northern Minnesota - so far north that it could almost be claimed by Canada. It's a place of boreal forests, broad and calm waterways, and rock half the age of the earth itself. It's a place where - according to the NPS - half the park comes out after dark. After watching the film, I can see what they mean!

This is one thing I love about the More Than Just Parks project. It introduces us to national treasures we'd never heard of; it opens our eyes to beauty we didn't even know existed.