Wednesday, March 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...

My old Canada Goose friends from the Sammamish River Trail. And a snow goose that apparently fell in with the wrong crowd...

When springtime arrives, so do many seasonal visitors of the avian variety as they return for the summer or pass through for a rest along their arduous northward migration. The sound of their voices calling out and the sight of their wings beating against the moody skies can be as much an herald of the season as tulips, cherry blossoms, and trillium.

The film below is another gem from Nature 365. Although it features sandhill cranes, it reminded me of the flocks of snow geese that crowd the valley near my home around this time every year. Just as spring begins to creep ever closer on the calendar, the geese show up in a flurry of honking, graceful white bodies numbering in the thousands that from a distance can almost fool you into thinking that a light dusting of snow has fallen over the valley. Like the snow geese, the sandhill cranes in this film also have a long migration, but they paused long enough at this wetland for the photographer to capture a few moments with them.

I'm looking forward to the imminent return of the barn swallows as well. They return around Easter every year and quickly get to work building nests and scolding me from the rafters as I go about my chores. What visitors are you looking forward to greeting on their return this spring? Feel free to share in the comments!

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Wanderings: The Old Sauk River Trail

Under a threatening ceiling of low gray clouds, my sister, her dog Ruby and I set out on the first day of spring to meet up with our book club at the Old Sauk River Trail in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. I'd had this hike saved in my "backpack" on the Washington Trails Association website for awhile, and was glad to finally be able to explore this trail that winds through lowland old-growth forest as it follows the swift and cold Sauk River.

Having visited Rockport State Park several times, and Rasar State Park most recently, I've become quite familiar lately with the stunning landscape tucked into the Cascade foothills in Skagit County. As we exited I-5 and followed highway 530 eastward, the mountains of the Cascade range came into view, their snowy white tops somehow glowing and illuminated with light despite the ominous overcast skies. We kept our fingers crossed that the rain would hold off at least until we were done hiking.

There are three trailheads for the Old Sauk River Trail along Mountain Loop Highway, and we met up with our book club group at the second trailhead, which offers more parking space and has primitive restroom facilities. After gearing up and making sure our Northwest Forest Pass was on the dashboard, my sister and I greeted our book club members and excitedly set out on the trail.

Right away, we noticed how green and mossy this forest was. In some places, the entire forest - the floor, trees, limbs - is carpeted with delicate moss, which gave the forest an atmosphere of fairyland-like enchantment.

This feathery moss was everywhere!
The second thing we noticed: spring has arrived. Everywhere, tender little green leaves were unfurling, flowers were blooming, and the forest was coming back to life. Our progress along the trail was leisurely, as we stopped frequently to examine interesting-looking moss, admire the giant old trees, and exclaim over delicate mushrooms and blooming everythings. And with four bloggers in the group, there were plenty of pauses for photographs as well!

Bleeding heart is sprouting!
I'm not sure what this interesting flower is... can anyone ID it?
Indian plum
I love the colors of this red huckleberry growing from a stump!
Red huckleberry
Before setting out on this hike, I had quietly hoped to find the first blooming trillium of the year... we were just at the beginning of trillium season though, so I tried not to get my hopes up. Silly me. Of course these heralds of the spring season would be greeting us along the trail on this first day of spring. We weren't very far into the hike before the joyful cry of "trillium!" echoed through the quiet forest and stately old trees. Sure enough, a small trillium with its leaves still wrapped tightly around it was poking through the mossy carpet, newly-opened petals glowing perfectly white.

This trillium was the most-loved trillium that ever lived, I'm sure. Each member of our decent-sized group stopped to admire the flower or snap a few photos, all of us exclaiming in delight. Again, I was grateful to be in the company of friends and fellow hikers who get excited about these things like I do!

There were a handful of other trillium blooming along the trail, with blossoms just barely opened, they reminded me of someone waking after a nap, their white petals like half-closed eyes blinking sleepily and squinting in the warm spring light after waking from a long winter's rest. As is the custom, I had to stop and snap photos of every single one.

This one had a moth friend!
I love the green streak on the petal

As we made our way along the trail,  it became apparent that this forest had been significantly impacted by one or all of the windstorms we've had in the past few months. There were fallen trees everywhere, their root systems upended to form towering walls of rich dirt, rocks, and tangled roots. The windstorm had been a major disturbance for this old-growth forest that resulted in the loss of numerous trees and the shade they provided, thus opening up spots in the canopy where light will now shine through and allow small trees and sun-loving plants to thrive and grow. Eventually, the fallen trees will rot and decay, becoming nurse logs that provide nutrients for the next generation of trees. And so the circle of life continues in the forest. Many trees had also fallen across the trail, and hadn't yet been cleared away, which meant we had the fun and adventurous task of climbing over and under some rather sizable trees, made slippery with recent rain. This was especially an obstacle for the Ruby dog, who had to be lifted and carried over most of them, but she was a good sport about it!

We hiked until we reached the first trailhead, then turned and walked back the way we came, in search of a nice spot to sit and have a snack while we discussed the March book club book, Grandma Gatewood's Walk. Appropriate spot having been found, packs unloaded, and delicious blueberry muffins passed around, we settled in to discuss our thoughts on the book, and afterward, to share what we're calling our Trail Boss moments: the little (or big!) life triumphs we've experienced recently. Mine was that I drove myself to Seattle without getting lost or having a panic attack and turning around and going home. I'm terrified of driving in Seattle, but had to attend a class for work there, and I survived!

I would much rather be in the forest, walking in the calm and quiet, breathing the fresh air and hunting for trillium than driving to Seattle any day. Reflecting back now, I can see that this fact would probably be true also for Emma Gatewood, the subject of Grandma Gatewood's Walk. In 1955, at the age of 67, Emma Gatewood walked the entire two thousand miles of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. In the following years, she hiked it again... twice. And then she walked across the country on the Oregon Trail. She was walking away from the pain and abuse she'd suffered for years, and into the quiet solitude and dangerous adventure of the wilderness. That breed of boldness and adventure is beyond me, but looking at the blooming, greening forest around us, I mused that I could easily follow the narrow, meandering dirt path of the Sauk River Trail for two thousand miles without growing bored or weary.

Dusting the dirt and damp bits of leaves from our pants, our little group stood and headed back through the forest, taking a short detour to the river's edge before finding our way back to the parking lot. We huddled together for a group photo before bidding each other farewell, until next month's book club hike. There's no better way to spend the first day of spring, I reflected, than to be in the company of old trees, a rushing river, good companions, and of course... trillium.

Check out the amazing blogs of some of my fellow book club members:

Alpine Lily
Pacific Northwest Seasons
Tiny Pines

Wednesday, March 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...

Red huckleberry about to burst into bloom. Lainey Piland photo
"But days even earlier than these in April have a charm, — even days that seem raw and rainy.... There is a fascination in walking through these bare early woods, — there is such a pause of preparation, winter's work is so cleanly and thoroughly done. Everything is taken down and put away.... All else is bare, but prophetic: buds everywhere, the whole splendor of the coming summer concentrated in those hard little knobs on every bough..."
~Thomas Wentworth Higginson, "April Days," 1861

Happy Spring! The glorious season of growth, rebirth, blossoms, rain, and the color green officially returned on March 20th. The air smells clean and sweet, birds and peeping frogs sing familiar songs in the mornings and evenings, and the sound of rain has softened from winter's cold hiss to a gentle patter as the newly-emerging leaves catch the falling drops.

I love the imagery in the quote above, and it reminds me of walking through the woods at this time of year. Overall, the scenery is still brown, bare, and in some cases rather dismal-looking, but there is this quiet sense of pause; a feeling that the forest is about to release its long-held breath, waiting to exhale into the world all the glory of spring: the starry green vine maple leaves, the fuschia salmonberry flowers, the billowing ankle-deep drifts of miner's lettuce, and the perfect snow-white trillium petals.... but while we wait for the loveliness to come, we can have hope as we examine the bare twigs for those tiny green bumps, knowing that spring is finally here.

Stay tuned to the blog... I'll have a new post up later this week filled with springtime goodness, and... just possibly... the first trillium sighting of the year?

Wednesday, March 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...

We love our Washington rain... but hiking on trails like this is getting tiresome this winter!

It has been a long, soggy winter here in western Washington. Aside from the sunny yellow daffodils and snowy white cherry blossoms that have begun to signal the imminent arrival of spring, there has been little relief from the gray overcast skies and cold, soaking rain.

I will always sing the praises of our beautiful, rainy, green state, but even a native Pacific Northwesterner like myself gets to the point where I'm feeling just a little bit too rain-saturated. If you're also weary of encountering sidewalk puddles, squishy sponge-like lawns and hiking trails that have transformed into waterlogged muck... then take a look at the newest film from More Than Just Parks and escape to the stunning desert beauty of Zion National Park, where you'll be brushing red dust from your socks after a hike rather than stomping sticky mud from your boots.

Unbelievable scenery. This is MTJP's best film by far, in my opinion (sorry, Olympic National Park...). I was lucky enough to visit Zion National Park on one of many road trips with my dad and sister when I was younger, and I remember being so taken with those dusty red paths, soaring sandstone rock formations, the wide creeks with their shallow gray-green water rippling over the rocky streambed; the astounding trees growing in the dry soil or clinging to steep canyon walls; the wide-open dazzling blue skies... this place just tugs at my soul in a way I can't really explain. All of those elements are captured so perfectly by the filmmakers here. That's enough to chase my rainy-day blues away!

Wednesday, March 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...

“One way to open your eyes is to ask yourself, "What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?”
― Rachel Carson 

In light of yesterday being International Women's Day, it only seemed appropriate to share a quote from one of my heroes in environmentalism and conservation. Rachel Carson's writings abound in profound statements and awe-inspiring quotes, but the words above resonated with me as such a good way to approach the world around us.

Carson was offering practical advice on observational skills here, but the quote is also poetic and philosophical when read out of context like this. How would we remember, live, and appreciate a particular experience if this were the first and last time we'd ever see it? How filled with wonder and intentionally present would we be in those moments?

Without consciously doing so, I tend to approach each of my walks, hikes, and ramblings in nature with that same frame of mind, looking at each giant Doug fir, delicate trillium, and flitting hummingbird as though I had never seen it before. And in most cases, I hadn't seen that particular one before! Each experience can be new and unique if we allow it to be. This is how I became one of those weird people who can hike on trails through ten different forests that outwardly appear the same... typical PNW lowland forest of cedars, bigleaf maples, sword ferns, salmonberry and mud... and have a completely different experience and enjoyment in each one.

One sight that caught my attention on a recent hike to Fragrance Lake was the reflection of the tree branches on the surface of the lake. While those cedars stood still and stoic, their lacy green limbs were reflected in an abstract image of rippling, blurred dark shadows on the water's surface.

Tree reflections? Big deal, right?

Well, to the eyes that haven't seen them before and will never see them again... yes! And to wit, more wisdom from Rachel Carson:
“Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.”
― Rachel Carson


Wednesday, March 2, 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 in early spring, Saint Edward State Park.  Lainey Piland photo
"A few minutes ago every tree was excited, bowing to the roaring storm, waving, swirling, tossing their branches in glorious enthusiasm like worship. But though to the outer ear these trees are now silent, their songs never cease."
~John Muir
We were treated to plenty of those swirling, worshipful trees during yesterday's brisk storm that blew through the Puget Sound region. A blowing gale can make an exhilaratingly terrifying sound as it tears through leafed and needled branches, but it's those gentle breezes that whisper and rustle that are able to provide a feeling of peace and tranquility for the listener, and for many of us; a sense of home. During the hike to Fragrance Lake a few weeks back, at one point a sudden breeze swept through the forest and surrounded us with whispering tree voices, flowing and liquid as they filled the atmosphere. I found myself sighing and commenting to my fellow hikers that I missed that sound, having grown up in a home surrounded by woods frequented by those gentle breezes, especially on summer afternoons.

If you didn't get enough rustling leaves and blustery breezes yesterday, take a listen to the video below:

Not only does it soothe the soul, but the sound of air moving through the trees actually helps to reduce noise pollution. The rustling of leaves and needles act as white noise that drowns out unpleasant sounds like traffic noise. The article linked above mentions that a good buffer of trees and shrubs can actually reduce noise pollution by about 50 percent! Yet another thing to love about trees, and the winds that animate those leafy voices... as Muir so beautifully noted in the quote above: "their songs never cease"