Wednesday, July 27, 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...

This small plant was holding a drop of dew at its heart along the Sauk Mountain trail.

Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson 

These words of Emerson's came to me by way of the Sierra Club's Daily Ray of Hope e-mails, and they immediately got me thinking. At first glance, this appears to be one of those quotes we can just skim over, nod our heads in agreement, and then go on our way without really thinking too hard.

But what can we really get from these words?

We must be prepared, present, and receptive to the world around us. We need to cultivate a sense of wonder and delight. We need to become the "transparent eyeball" Emerson wrote of in his famous 1836 essay, Nature. If we don't carry with us a hopeful spirit of seeking, then we'll be hard-pressed to find beauty anywhere. We might miss the resilient and weedy flower growing from a crack in a bleak concrete landscape we pass through daily; we might fail to notice the playful crows flying overhead, dropping various items and diving to catch them as we sit in traffic on the freeway clenching the steering wheel beneath angry white knuckles; we might be oblivious to sunlight creating a masterpiece in the sky amidst freshly broken storm clouds.

We might even spend hours sweating and striving while hiking to a stunning alpine lake or summit of a peak, but be blind to the breathtaking beauty of the place, senseless to the fresh air and deaf to the utter quiet. I've seen it many times: at the trail destination there will be people staring at their cell phones, taking selfie after selfie, or perhaps fanning themselves and complaining about the heat in the sourest of moods.

And what do we do when we fail to appreciate and absorb the beauty of a place, especially beauty so overt? We not only fail to notice, but we fail to care. When awe and delight and reverence don't register a connection between us and the landscape, then indifference creeps in. We're unmoved to hear of logging activity surrounding a trail we recently hiked. We see insects, wildlife, weeds as pests, nuisances, and dangers. We leave a Subway bag full of garbage at the top of Mount Si.

So, not only do we need to be receptive to the beauty of a place - whether overt or hidden - but we also need to bring beauty with us. We "carry it with us" when we care enough to do the right thing, to do no harm, leave no trace, tread lightly on the landscape, speak softly, listen.

View of Mount Rainier from the top of Mount Si


Wednesday, July 20, 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...

Well, they've done it again. Brothers Will and Jim Pattiz of More Than Just Parks have created yet another sublime film celebrating our National Parks. This time, the subject was Grand Teton National Park, where the peaks of those rocky mountains rise high above the landscape and reside in the swirling, frothing clouds, where shadows chase one another across green meadows and serene lakes reflect sky, mountains, and trees.

Aside from the soul-soothing scenery, my favorite aspect of this film is the one thing that remains consistent from frame to frame: the Teton mountains presiding over every scene. Whether we're looking at a lake, forest, meadow, or peering out from beneath the eaves of an old front porch with the world's most enviable view, every scene includes the familiar mountains in the background. This lends a sense of permanence to this place, as though it has been and will eternally be exactly the place of surpassing, soaring beauty as we see it today.

Do you need more Tetons? Be sure to read Terry Tempest Williams' newest book The Hour of Land, which is a beautiful recounting of the author's memories and experiences in many different national parks, and... you guessed it... the opening chapter is about Grand Teton National Park.

Still need more Tetons? Check out this song called As We Ran from my current favorite group, The National Parks - it's sure to lift your spirits and get your toes tapping on this long Wednesday:

What unchanging and permanent feature do you notice in your home landscape? For me, I'd have to say mountains as well - the Pacific Northwest mountains that form the points of my compass and which always preside over the comings and goings of my life: Rainier in the south, the Olympics in the west, Baker in the north, and my dear Cascades in the east.

Wednesday, July 13, 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...

Blue skies? What are those? Here's a reminder from a July day in 2014.

Where is our summer?! Bemoan the masses of western Washington, gazing despairingly at the gray skies and drizzly rain presiding over the month that has been christened "Jultober". Many people are missing the sunshine and warm summer temperatures we typically expect this time of year.

With memories of last year's scorching, drought-ridden summer still fresh in my mind, I'm one of the few people reveling in the rain and cool temperatures. I figure that taking a break from the ninety-degree days and dry spells can only be a good thing for our homeground still recovering from drought stress.

For those who are missing the sunshine, Nature 365 comes to the rescue with a short film that captures perfectly those summer afternoons where all is cast in a warm honeyed light. This scene reminds me so much of my summers growing up, where the horse pastures would be awash in gold and the trees swaying as the evening breeze picked up. I can only imagine the sweet scents perfuming the breeze in this film...

Hang in there, everyone! I'm sure the weather will be hot and sunny before too long... and then we'll be wishing for rain! Isn't that how it always goes?

Wednesday, July 6, 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're now well into the summer season, and the Fourth of July is already behind us. I will admit, the Fourth of July is not my favorite holiday, entirely because of fireworks exploding throughout the night, frightening pets and wildlife and leaving the world cloaked in a smoggy sulfurous haze that turns the edges of the sky pink and hides all sight of Rainier and the Olympic Mountains for days afterward.

I found the film below (a time-lapse nature film, naturally) featuring the sweeping desert landscapes and wide open skies of California, Arizona and Utah. As I watched those starry skies glittering on my computer screen, I thought to myself that these are the only "fireworks" I want to see exploding in the heavens above. If only the night skies were dark enough for all these stars to be visible with our own eyes... we'd have no need for pyrotechnics on the Fourth of July. We'd only need to step outside and look up, and there we'd find all the "ooohs" and "aaaahs" we could hope for.

Rise – The Prediction of Everything 4K from Kai Gradert on Vimeo.

Did you know that our night skies are endangered? Check out the International Dark Sky Association to learn more about light pollution and its negative impacts on wildlife, ecosystems, energy, and human health.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Wanderings: Lake Twenty Two

Imagine the most spectacular forest you've ever hiked through. Were there old-growth trees so tall their tops were hidden in the depths of blue sky above, so enormous that it would take half a dozen people wrapping their arms around to encircle the trunk? Was there a broad whitewater creek crashing through the trees, over a bed of smooth boulders and tumbling over towering falls? Were there impressive rock formations tripping up your feet or shouldering their way onto the trail? Was there such a profusion of native plants that within the space of a few footsteps you could identify a dozen different species?

If you recognize this forest, you may have hiked the trail to Lake Twenty Two. If not... let me know where your forest is, so I can check it out too!

Last Saturday, I hiked the Lake Twenty Two trail with my dad, stepmom and sister, in celebration of my dad's 60th birthday (happy birthday, Dad!). The trail was tougher (footing-wise) than we'd expected, but the scenery was even more fascinating than I could have imagined.

As soon as we left the rapidly-filling parking lot just before 9am and set out into the forest, I could tell this place was different. There were so many big trees, so many different plant species... it was such a healthy, varied, and decadent forest, so unlike the second-growth forest that dominates most of the landscape in our region.

It wasn't until we returned to the parking lot at the end of the hike and I read the informational poster in the trailhead kiosk that the mystery of the unusual scenery was solved: the 790 acres of land around Lake Twenty Two is a protected Research Natural Area (RNA). Designated in 1947, the Lake Twenty Two RNA is a sample of virgin forest set aside by the Forest Service to study the effects on water, wildlife, and timber in this tract of land as compared with other areas that have been logged or actively managed. This place offers a glimpse of what the forests in our region once looked like prior to logging activities that forever changed the landscape a hundred years ago.

We hiked through the lowland forest under a persistent drizzle, the sounds of the Mountain Loop Highway fading as the trail ascended and curved around a hillside. Eventually the roar of traffic was replaced by the roar of the Stillaguamish River, which also eventually faded into silence so all we could hear were our trekking poles tapping against stones and water dripping from tree branches overhead.

A short way in, we came to a wooden bridge stretching across Twenty Two Creek, the outlet stream of its namesake lake. The water emerged from the verdant forest over a crashing falls, its whitewater quickly calming into an inky black pool before running beneath our feet, crashing over a ledge, and disappearing back into the forest.

Crossing the bridge, the trail continued gently upward through a forest of massive old-growth cedar trees, occasionally meeting back up with the creek and some impressive waterfalls. The footing transitioned several times between wide log-and gravel steps (so nice to walk on!) and rain-slick rock formations that I guessed were basalt (not so nice to walk on!). Salmonberry, blueberry, and thimbleberry bushes grew close to the trail, along with a proliferation of devil's club, deer fern and a few shy columbine peeking out here and there. Shallow streams frequently crossed the trail and we picked our way carefully across them. I pictured a saturated sponge just lifted from the sink, water running between my fingers - this is what the landscape was like, streaming water down the hillside.

After some climbing, we came out onto an exposed talus slope. It was still drizzling and any views we might have had from this vantage point were completely clouded out: we were socked in. We climbed switchbacks through dripping vine maples and bigleaf maples, stepping cautiously over the slippery, rocky terrain.

Eventually we reached the end of the talus and re-entered the forest, commenting with surprise that we'd gained so much elevation - 1,350 feet - and hardly even noticed it. The trail leveled out, and we knew the lake was just ahead, around the next corner. A dozen corners later, we emerged out of the woods onto the wooden bridge spanning the outlet of Lake Twenty-Two, with the lake itself lying quiet and steely in front of us. Mount Pilchuck rose from the lake's far end and disappeared into the low clouds overhead. It was so quiet, save for the mystifying sound of rushing water. Where was that coming from? Peering through the low foggy ceiling, we could just make out the faint waterfalls streaming down Pilchuck's face, their crashing waters reaching our ears as a soft roar.

We located a lunch spot along the lakeshore, and by the time we were done eating, the sun had broken out and illuminated the landscape around us: the vegetation glowed green and sparkled with raindrops, the glacial lake water beamed brilliant turquoise, the rocky cliffs of Mount Pilchuck were thrown into sharp relief against the deep blue sky. It was a truly spectacular scene.

By this time, the lake was getting more crowded as dozens of other hikers reached the end of the trail. Thankful for the warm sun drying our hair and clothes, we left the lake and headed back down to battle one more time with the talus slope and increasing trail traffic. Although there were more hikers to contend with on the way back, we enjoyed the additional benefits of clearing skies and sunny weather: a trail that was no longer slippery, and a view that was no longer socked in. We finally realized just how high we had climbed as we gazed over green forested hillsides, and peered down to the Stillaguamish River in the valley far below. Fluffy white clouds lifted from the hilltops. It was another awe-inspiring sight collected on this trail and carried with me long after we left.

Lake Twenty-Two might have just taken the number one spot on my list of favorite hikes. There exists a stark difference between this trail and so many others I've hiked, because of the fact that this area is protected old growth. It's not only in the way the place looks, but also in the way it feels. There's an energy, a wisdom in the atmosphere, of which you become sensible in the midst of that forest and on the shores of that lake - an uncommon beauty that leaves you wanting more.

I'm grateful for this forest's protected status. Those who decided to protect this place back in 1947 had the intent of setting it aside for research, but in doing so have also provided the opportunity for future generations - such as mine - to glimpse a piece of our home we hadn't even known we had lost. This foresight to protect nature is so rare, but so needed; especially in present times with the environmental issues and changes we're now facing.

If you go: as with any weekend hike these days, go early! The parking lot still had plenty of space when we arrived just before 9am, but was overflowing when we returned around 1:00pm, and I suspect it had been that way for a few hours. You'll need your Northwest Forest Pass, so don't forget to bring it! I found my trekking poles to be useful on some of the more rugged terrain, so bring yours if you have them. Also bring some bug spray... there are mosquitoes at the lake that seem to have especially potent bites and left me with a large swelling on my hand that looked like an extra knuckle! And it should go without saying, but please remember to Leave No Trace: stay on the trail (it appeared that some people had a hard time with this...), pack out your garbage, and for goodness sake, don't leave your orange peels in the bushes.