Wednesday, September 20, 2017

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...

Autumn hues in the Cedar River Watershed, September 2016 Lainey Piland photo

Autumn is nearly here! As of tomorrow, we officially bid farewell to a long summer that has been hot, dry, and smoky - a season that bore too many "days without rain" and left us native Pacific Northwesterners parched and praying for precipitation.

Difficult as it may be to believe, it was only a few weeks ago that we were sweltering in 90-degree heat and coughing beneath smoke-filled skies. Now, the air has cleared, the rain has returned, and a distinct chill in the mornings signals the turning of seasons.

Take a look at the film below, created by Shawn Liebling and filmed in the mountains of Oregon... a cool shower to soothe and refresh the summer-weary soul!

Fall Rain from Shawn Liebling on Vimeo.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Wanderings: Saint Edward State Park (again)

Crow along the Lake Washington waterfront, Saint Edward State Park. Lainey Piland photo

One of the best things about hiking is that you can return time and again to the same place, and not once will you have the same experience. The landscape changes with the seasons, the weather, the time of day. What you notice - hear, see, and smell -  will vary depending on your companions, mood, the pace at which you're walking.

Saint Edward State Park has long been one of my favorite places to visit, and has been featured in many posts here on the blog. It was the place where, on a field trip with my college ecology class, I first forged a connection with nature in a way that piqued my curiosity, commanded my respect, and fostered a sense of stewardship. It was the first place my older sister and I hiked together, the beginning of our adventures which have since taken us to some pretty spectacular places. It was the place my husband and I frequently visited to escape the summer heat when we lived in a condo nearby. It was the first place I took my son for a hike when he was a month old, and the place our family returned to in early September, this time with a four-month old who is already beginning to love the outdoors.

Early on Labor Day morning, we pulled into the parking area at Saint Edward, hoping to get in a quick hike before the day reached its forecast high temperature in the mid-nineties. I'd spent the long, sweltering weekend shut inside my house with my son, with all the blinds closed and curtains drawn, and our faithful portable air conditioner attempting to cool much more square footage than it was designed for. Needless to say, I was going stir-crazy and starting to wonder if my eyes were permanently adapted to dim lighting.

Happily, the air was still a comfortable temperature and I wasn't blinded by the morning sunshine as we packed Lucas into the baby carrier my husband wore and headed for the North Beach trail. It was immediately evident that the forest here was suffering as a result of the hot, rain-bereft summer. The trail was dry and dusty, the consistency of powdered sugar. Dust covered everything: sword fern fronds were caked, and the usually-glossy salal leaves were dull beneath the layer of dirt. Salmonberry leaves withered on their branches, and bigleaf maple were already beginning to drop golden leaves in our path.

The trails were surprisingly busy for this time of the morning. Other hikers seemed to have the same idea to beat the heat as we did, and many were already passing us on their way back to the parking lot and the air-conditioned comfort of their vehicles. We proceeded down the trail at a much slower pace than usual. My husband was being cautious of his footing, not wanting to take a misstep and risk a tumble while he carried our son, and I was ever more aware of the tree roots and rocks poking up, pointed them out on the path in front of us. Lucas seemed absolutely delighted to be outside (he was probably feeling as stir-crazy as me!), and would give us a huge grin whenever we talked to him.

I haven't officially introduced him here on the blog, but here is Lucas, my little adventure buddy who has added a whole new dimension to my life!

After descending to the Lake Washington shoreline, we followed the sedge-lined trail through the cool shade, passing through a grove of indian plum, the leaves of which were beginning to turn yellow as summer wound to a close. I swatted spider webs from my face, spotting them by the glimmer they gave off as the sun rose over the ridge above us and began to light up the trail. The noise from the Kenmore Air seaplanes was especially loud and noticeable this morning, likely because all else was still calm and quiet at this early hour. Again, I was reminded of Thoreau's words in Walden:
"The whistle of the locomotive penetrates my woods summer and winter, sounding like the scream of a hawk sailing over some farmer's yard, informing me that many restless city merchants are arriving within the circle of the town, or adventurous country traders from the other side."
Despite the fact that we were hiking in the forest, seemingly immersed in nature, the sounds of civilization are ever-present. The blaring noise of each successive seaplane takeoff announced the departure of dozens of people, heading out on their own adventures while we followed our own quiet path along the lake shore.

A handful of people and leashed dogs were milling around as we reached the clearing at the main beach. Waves lapped quietly at the rocky shoreline, ducks bobbed bottoms-up in the water, and crows poked around the fallen logs. It was a peaceful and drowsy scene, one that seems common on those summer mornings anticipating the hot temperatures to come.

As is our custom, we picked up the South Canyon Trail - my favorite - to head back up to the park. We passed only two other hikers on this typically quiet trail. Again, the vegetation here looked a bit wilted and tired after the long, dry summer, although the maples in my beloved "maple cathedral" still formed a vibrant green canopy overhead. The creek running through the ravine had slowed to a syrupy trickle through its deep bed of black mud, and I was surprised to find any water there at all. One of the beautiful aspects of this trail is the way in which birdsong echoes back and forth between the hillsides, filling the canyon halls with melodies of a dozen different species. Among the voices today was that of my son... Lucas was telling his own story in his typical high-pitched squeals and delighted shrieks as we ascended the trail.

We reached the end of the uphill climb on this half-mile trail, and I was gasping, trying to move the thick, humid air in and out of my lungs as stars danced before my eyes. I was desperately out of shape, and the warm, humid air wasn't helping. As I tried to catch my breath, I looked at the canopy of cottonwood and maple leaves overhead, stirring languidly in a sluggish breeze. At least I wasn't the only one dragging today.

Emerging from the forest back onto the park grounds, I stopped to appreciate the old orchard tucked into a clearing. I haven't stopped to photograph it before, but today the old gnarled apple trees looked peaceful as they stretched their boughs over empty lawns and picnic tables. This place always occurred in my thoughts as a contemplative place to steal away and write, should I ever have the opportunity to do so.

Lucas was by now fast asleep in the carrier, his little arms and legs limp and flopping with each step my husband took. We followed the asphalt path around the back of the seminary grounds. The vast lawns which were normally filled with picnicking families were now eerily empty. The grass had gone brown and dormant during the dry summer, and the barbecue stations were covered with black plastic garbage bags to prevent anyone using them due to high fire danger.

Arriving at the car just as the morning sun was beginning to feel toasty, we loaded a now-awake and smiling Lucas into his car seat for the ride back home. He wouldn't remember his trip here today, but being able to share this special place with him created yet another new and memorable experience for me. Just wait until he's able to walk... these visits will again be something new altogether!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

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...

New life growing from a fallen giant. South Whidbey State Park. Lainey Piland photo

No matter what, we always have the power to choose hope over despair, engagement over apathy, kindness over indifference, love over hate.
~ Cory Booker 

Life has been so busy lately and I haven't had time to blog for several weeks. As things settle a bit, I'm going to do my best to get back on track. Writing the Nature Nerd Wednesday posts every week does me a great deal of good, as I hope reading them does for all of you! As I sit here in my dark house with blinds closed and curtains drawn against the heat and thick sulfurous smoke that's raining ash outside, I believe we could all use some hope right about now.

In Washington, Oregon, and Montana, some of the best-loved and most memorable landscapes are going up in flames. So many are trying to process the loss of these beloved places with which they've had a lifelong connection. We can try to remind ourselves that fire has been an important ecological process in the region for millennia, but that notion offers little solace when said fires are set by careless humans and worsened by conditions brought about by climate change. We can try to find hope in the fact that landscapes have rebounded, regrown, been rebuilt and flourished decades after catastrophic fires, but that doesn't ease the feeling of loss over the familiar landscape that is now gone.

Eventually, we will get to a place where it's possible to choose hope, engagement, kindness, and love -- where we can look to the future and find our part in reconciling this new landscape with the memories of what once was. In the meantime, let's support one another in the hard times, be grateful for those on the front lines fighting impossibly difficult conditions to save these landscapes, and reflect on the good memories. Let's SHARE those memories with one another and keep the beloved places alive in our stories.

Join me in getting lost in this film by Stephanie Campbell that highlights the beauty of our Evergreen State, a state that has been shaped by ice, floods, fire, and earthquakes:

What do these landscapes mean to you? Do you have a story to share? Please leave a comment or share a link below!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

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 sky is the daily bread of the eyes. 
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Have you heard about the upcoming celestial event? I think it's going to occur next Monday, and it's some kind of eclipse or something...? Of course you have! We've all got eclipse fever, and even those of us not flocking to squeeze in among the crowds in the narrow strip of totality are looking forward to seeing as much of the eclipse as we're allowed from our current location (here in Seattle, we're expecting to see about 92% of the sun eclipsed). Whether eclipses, meteor showers, northern lights, or supermoons, any phenomena gracing the skies above has the mysterious power to draw us outdoors in numbers, captivating our imagination and commanding our attention.

While we're in the mindset of gazing heavenward, let's take a look at a truly marvelous sight filmed recently by astronaut Jack Fischer on the International Space Station: the green lights of the aurora flickering and undulating through Earth's atmosphere. Surreal and eerie when viewed from Earth, the aurora is even more so when seen from above!

Has that gotten your "ooohs" and "aaaahhhs" tuned up for next Monday? I'll be at work, as I assume most of us will be, as the moon passes in front of the sun and plunges the world into midday darkness, but I think this once-in-a-lifetime event deserves an extended morning break! Be sure to get outdoors to watch the event unfold, from whichever vantage point you've been given, but do so safely! Protect your eyes and check out these safe viewing tips from NASA.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

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...

Raindrops on Barclay Lake, May 2016. Lainey Piland photo

We've certainly been feeling the heat here in the Puget Sound region, with temperatures this week in the mid nineties - or hundreds, if we're unlucky - and a dry streak that's on pace to break the all-time record for continuous days without rain.

Am I the only born-and-raised Washingtonian who's been having rain hallucinations? Squinting out at the Olympic mountains and swearing I see clouds out there, and is that a hazy curtain of rain I see? Nope, just smog. Or, awakening in the middle of the night, convinced I hear rain dripping from the gutter above my bedroom window (no, that can't possibly be the rain-shower white noise machine next to my bed that I hear) and upon rushing to the window finding that the street outside remains dry, and the stars are blinking in a disappointingly clear night sky above.

If you're missing the rain and despairing of the sweltering forecast, join me in soaking up the film below. Titled Pursuit, this film by Mike Olbinski captures spectacular footage of storm clouds and that blessed rain! Although I can certainly do without the tornadoes, I'd rejoice over a good rain storm right now.

Pursuit (4K) from Mike Olbinski on Vimeo.

I named this blog A Day Without Rain because such a day is generally rare and a cause for celebration in Western Washington. That seems not to be the case anymore, at least in summer time! Perhaps I should consider a name change... A Day With Rain? A Very Rainy Day? If that would entice some precipitation to head our way, I'd do it in an instant!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

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 are well into the long, lazy days of summer now, and enjoying some very comfortable and sunny weather here in the Seattle area (although if I'm being honest, I've been desperate for a nice rainy day lately, for the familiar sound of water gurgling in the gutters and leaving the world all green and fresh and drippy).

Nothing says "lazy summer day" like a blue sky dotted with fluffy clouds that just beckon us to pull up a patch of grass and get lost in observing their slow procession across the sky, moved by winds that we cannot feel in the soporific warmth and stillness below. If you're lacking the time or access to view such a blue sky and fluffy clouds, take a look at the Nature 365 film below, which will be a nice stand-in for the time being.

Now, let's put into practice the "word of the day" shared recently on Twitter by writer Robert McFarlane:
Apricate - to bask in the sunshine.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

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 photo above brings peace to my soul. Rolling hills of grass slope down to a pond obscured by leafy willows and reverberating with the deep croak of a bullfrog. A resident red-trailed hawk wheels overhead, just a tiny speck high in the blue sky above. Closer to ground level, the air is thick with chattering barn swallows and violet-green swallows swooping low through the humid morning air, catching a belly full of insects to take back to the hungry young mouths waiting in their nests. The ground below is still damp with dew, warmed by the morning sunlight and emanating the sweet scent of blooming clover buzzing with fuzzy bees.

Where did I have to go to find such a scene? It wasn't a remote wilderness hike or a special protected natural park. It was at the barn where I keep my horse, a place I visit several times per week. This is one of the many reasons I'm grateful to have been a lifelong horsewoman... since they live outdoors, my horses force me to go outdoors to care for them, and as a result I get to be immersed in scenes like the one pictured above. Most of the time I go gladly, knowing that I'll get to spend quality time outdoors, but other times, perhaps in the midst of a freezing spell in winter that forebodes frozen water buckets or a particularly rainy and dismal day in autumn that promises thick mud, it's a bit more of a chore to get myself out there.

We all have one of these places where we encounter nature not by choice but by necessity: a place we visit or pass through regularly because it's part of our schedule, our life's routine. It might be our own yard as we stroll to the mailbox; the walk across the parking lot into work; our drive home through a particularly scenic area; the ball field where we attend practice or watch games. Although we may be "all business" as we visit and pass through these places, it's worthwhile to also take advantage of the opportunity they offer us to connect with nature, and all the benefits it provides.

Here's a short video of my morning at the barn. My horse is a bit of a camera hog, but you can still pick up on some of the sights and sounds!

Where is the place you regularly encounter nature?

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

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...

Fireweed... how's this for nature's fireworks?

Yesterday was the Fourth of July, a holiday that is perhaps more well-known for blowing things up than it is for actually celebrating the independence of the United States. I've never been a fan of the holiday, because of the fireworks with their loud blasts, spent shells littering the street, and the smoggy air the next day. Not to mention their penchant for setting homes on fire and causing the loss of various bodily appendages.

Who would want that when we can just look outside and see natural "fireworks" far more spectacular than any set off by a fuse? We can point to the wildflowers bursting with color in yards, on trails, and along the roadside. When night falls, we can look up to the dark skies overhead and appreciate the stars twinkling silently, the Milky Way stretching from horizon to horizon, or the occasional meteor flashing through the atmosphere.

Take a look at the film below from Wild Northwest Beauty Photography, featuring plenty of natural "fireworks" in the Oregon skies.

Again, the line from the Christmas carol comes to mind, as "the silent stars go by." Rather the silent spectacle of stars than the jarring explosions of sulfurous fireworks! But then I got to thinking: are stars silent? If we were to stand right next to the sun (without burning up, of course), what would we hear? I imagined that the fiery furnace of hydrogen fusing into helium would sound like the roar of a rocket booster, or perhaps it sizzles like an egg being dropped into a sputtering skillet. Perhaps it was a quiet whoosh like a furnace igniting, or maybe it was loud and explosive after all, like an entire fireworks stand going up at once. After doing a bit of googling, wouldn't you know, I discovered there are researchers aplenty studying the sounds of the sun. Researchers at Stanford University have compiled several different audio recordings of the sun. Take a listen!

The sun is much quieter than I had expected! As it turns out, the low grumble of fusion in our closest star is at a frequency too low to be heard by our limited human ears. With the assistance of technology, we find out that the sun sounds more like the murmur of an idling engine than exploding fireworks... a sound that I discovered is excellent white noise for fussy babies, as I listened to the solar audio recordings with my two-month-old son on my lap.

Now if only we could celebrate the Fourth of July by pulling up lawn chairs in the gathering dusk, tilting our heads heavenward and relaxing to the murmuring stars twinkling above. And maybe throw in some ice cream. Who's with me?

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

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...

Foxglove and daisies blooming in the Cedar River Watershed, late afternoon in summer 2016. Lainey Piland photo

It was June, and the world smelled of roses. The sunshine was like powdered gold over the grassy hillside. ~Maud Hart Lovelace, Betsy-Tacy and Tib, 1941

Summer began yesterday, June 20th! Farewell to the damp days of spring, and welcome to the warmer, drier, long days of summer. The quote above speaks so well to the ambiance of summertime. While it might not smell of roses outdoors (Nootka roses, perhaps...) those in the Pacific Northwest are well acquainted with the heady smell of fir balsam; of alder sap and cottonwood; of warm, damp earth and ripening salmonberries; of a grassy field warmed in the golden sunlight of late afternoon.

These are just a few of the fragrances that perfumed my walk around the neighborhood yesterday afternoon, and how refreshing they are! What smells say "summer" to you?

Blooming fireweed: a sure sign of summer! Lainey Piland photo

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

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...

Stormy evening captured from my deck a few years back.

Waves exploding against a rocky shoreline, a windstorm howling through treetops, snakelike tongues of lightning flickering across the sky to the deafening rumble of thunder... we encounter the raw power of nature in many different forms. Those in western Washington may recall the unusually potent thunderstorms that rolled through our region at the end of April.

I just love a stormy day, and these storms were especially vivid for me. That afternoon I'd left work early for an appointment at a nearby hospital. Parked on the roof of the parking garage as was my custom, I looked out over the freeway, over the distant treed hills and was astonished by what I saw as the forefront of the storm approached with a miles-high wall of purple-grey clouds dragging hazy curtains of rain across the landscape as lightning spit from their bellies. It was a transfixing sight. My appointment ended just in time for me to jump in my car and hurry home with the storm close on my heels, then hunker down in my living room as the storm overtook us and illuminated the evening sky with those electric flashes of plasma and window-rattling thunder.

These moments where nature shows its powerful and dangerous side are exhilarating awe-inspiring to witness, when we can watch from a place of safety! And what's safer than experiencing those storms from behind your computer screen, and miles above Earth's surface?  Take a look at the video linked below, featuring that stormy Seattle evening captured by NASA's GOES-16 satellite. (Hint: the entire United States is shown in the frame... hone in on the upper left corner for "our" storm!)

Watching those lighting strikes from a distant perspective really shows just how potent those storms were!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

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 looking east from the Sauk Mountain trail. Lainey Piland photo

Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.
~ John Muir 

This blog is all about connecting people with nature, especially on Nature Nerd Wednesdays.  I think we can all identify with Muir's description above of being the "tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people" of modern society. Whether you're stuck in an office all day, studying in a classroom or are at home caring for a three-week-old baby like I am, the circumstances of our lives can cause us to become separated from the larger natural world "out there" of which we are a part.

Monday this week was World Environment Day, an occasion that occurs on June 5th every year. This year, the theme was "connecting people to nature," a theme that "implores us to get outdoors and into nature, to appreciate its beauty and its importance, and to take forward the call to protect the Earth that we share." Given the current political climate in this country, this ethic is ever more important to develop in each of us.

That's what I'm all about here on A Day Without Rain: encouraging all of us to explore, connect with, and protect the natural environment - whether that connection occurs while we're hiking to remote alpine lakes or strolling around our neighborhoods, or just stopping by the blog for some Nature Nerd Wednesday inspiration.

Lately, my connections with nature have come in the form of creating these blog posts, taking short walks around my neighborhood with a sleeping newborn strapped to my chest... or even listening to the nature and bird sounds play on my son's infant swing as I sit on the floor next to him, as I'm doing right now. Although I live in a typical dense suburban housing development, there is plenty of nature to appreciate on my brief rambles: the rufous and Anna's hummingbirds at the backyard feeder, the violet-green swallows swooping and diving overhead, the cottontails that appear at the edge of the forest across the street from my house every evening to browse the green grass, the bumblebees buzzing in the lavender outside my front door, the blooming thimbleberry and ripening salmonberries in the undisturbed natural remnants that remain tucked behind rows of cookie-cutter homes. Small things though they may be, they are "fountains of life" indeed for this nerve-shaken new mom.

Another good way to connect with nature when you can't actually get outside? Taking a short break with one of the fabulous daily Nature 365 films by Jim Brandenburg. Take a look:

The connections are all around. How do you find them?

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

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...

People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us. ~Iris Murdoch, A Fairly Honourable Defeat

As they say... April showers bring May flowers, and if that statement bears truth, we can expect to see an abundance of flowers as we stroll through the neighborhood or hit the trails, thanks to the prolific rainfall we've seen this spring. 

This is National Wildflower week, and there is no shortage of beautiful blossoms to be found here in western Washington. Some of the best wildflower hikes I've experienced were Deception Pass and Sauk Mountain, where colorful flowers speckled the grassy bluffs and alpine meadows, respectively. Although I give most of my attention to the trillium blooming in spring, there are plenty of other unique and beautiful flowers to be found.

Columbine at Sauk Mountain
Chocolate lily at Deception Pass

Nootka rose at Deception Pass (these smell heavenly!)

Here's a short video from the National Park Service unit at Olympic National Park, featuring some of the wildflowers to be found blooming there from now through the summer. The flowers in this film can be found on trails all over western Washington. How many do you recognize? 

Can't you just feel the warm sunshine and smell the sweet fragrance, imagining yourself wading through the knee-high field of flowers buzzing with bees? Wildflowers are not only beautiful, but they are important to sustain pollinators like bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Consider celebrating National Wildflower Week by adding some of these native blossoms to your own yard!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

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...

I always thought "gloaming" referred to the golden quality of light at sunrise or sunset... alas, it means "twilight" or "dusk".  Saint Edward State Park, Lainey Piland photo

This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never all dried at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.

~ John Muir

These are my favorite words from John Muir, and never fail to give me a thrill in my chest and goosebumps on the back of my neck. It's awe-inspiring to take a step back and consider the planet as a whole; somewhere the sun is rising, somewhere it's raining, somewhere the aurora is undulating its green ribbons across the night sky, somewhere it's scorching beneath a hot sun. 

I think back on the places I've visited, that right now there's probably a cloud settled atop Mount Si; the wildflower-strewn flanks of Sauk Mountain may be swathed in mist; the shoreline at Saint Edward State Park lies quiet as early-morning walkers watch their dogs sniff the water's edge. It's a great exercise in wonder and compassion (and a great way to mentally escape if you're stuck in the office!) to sit and consider that the world is larger than what we see surrounding ourselves at this very moment.

Speaking of this grand eternal show, more fitting words could not be applied to this National Geographic photo gallery I came across, featuring photos of National Parks captured from space. From such a high vantage point, we can clearly see the awesome diversity of these parks within the context of their surrounding landscapes. It's easy to get lost in the photos and imagine what may be occurring in each of these places, at this very moment.

The photo of Olympic National Park is especially captivating for this Washingtonian, as we see the majesty of the forested, mountainous park dominating the foreground, and the familiar sights of Seattle, the floating bridges, the I-5 corridor, Everett and the Skagit valley in the background. Seen from this zoomed-out vantage point, we can see how close in proximity these places really are to one another, although standing inside the photo looking out, it's easy to feel distanced and isolated from this larger landscape. But we are closer to these places than we may think; together experiencing sunrise and sunset, rain and sunshine, beauty and ugliness... each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

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...

Lainey Piland photo
For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.
~ Kahlil Gibran
Birdsong and morning. The two go together so naturally and are so common that we easily ignore the warbling sound of morning as we grumpily slap our alarm clocks into silence and drag ourselves out the door to work every morning. This tends to be my attitude, as I'm so focused on getting myself together and off to work on time that the earnest birdsong wafting through the open window often falls on deaf ears.

Lately though, as I try to be more mindful and aware throughout the day (yes, even in those groggy and grouchy wake-up hours), I've found it hard to ignore the cheerful singing of the robin who leads the dawn chorus outside my window every morning. How can anyone start their day off sounding so enthusiastic? Listening to his singing is a reminder of the simple beauty by which we're constantly surrounded, but which we so easily tune out.

I recorded the dawn chorus at my house at 5:30 yesterday morning. By setting my phone next to the open bedroom window, I captured the chorus unique to my own little place in the universe. You can hear the robin singing with several other birds (any bird nerds that can help me out and identify some of those voices?), you can hear the traffic rushing past on the busy street a block away, and you can hear the shuffling footsteps of an early-morning jogger. The only thing it doesn't capture is the sound of a woodpecker, who just moments later traveled from house to house testing out the acoustics of the metal gutter downspouts!

With robin on woodwinds, woodpecker on percussion, and rising sun conducting, this is a natural orchestra to be appreciated!

Take a listen: (audio only, no picture)

Why do birds sing so early in the morning? This Wild Birds Unlimited article explains that the dawn chorus is comprised mainly of male birds aiming to defend their territory or attract a mate. Read on for more info!

What does the dawn chorus sound like at your house?

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

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...

Looking out toward Haro Strait from the Lime Kiln trail, Lime Kiln Point State Park, San Juan Island. Lainey Piland photo

These islands form an unmatched landscape of contrasts, where forests seem to spring from gray rock and distant, snow-capped peaks provide the backdrop for sandy beaches.

So states the Presidential Proclamation designating the San Juan Islands National Monument on March 25th, 2013. Those fortunate enough to have visited this place can attest to the unique beauty of the islands, and the way in which they bring you into close communion with the natural environment of the Pacific Northwest.

I myself have only visited San Juan Island so far, but have seen enough to know what a special place it is, with rolling grassy bluffs where bald eagles fly alongside you at eye level, and rocky shorelines from which you can spot the exhalations of passing minke whales, or perhaps a glimpse of orcas breaching.

Leaving Friday Harbor on a late-night ferry last autumn, we made a brief stop at the small, almost- primitive looking dock at Lopez Island. I was standing on the ferry deck in the chilly night, watching the stars blink overhead in a sky darker than any I'd encountered in decades, thanks to the lack of light pollution in the islands. Completely immersed in the twinkling vista overhead, I was startled as we lurched against the dock and a familiar, intoxicating perfume wafted toward me through the darkness. It was the smell of trees, of evergreen needles, so unexpected and strong that it utterly overwhelmed the smell of saltwater, and had it not been for the swaying ferry deck beneath my feet, I would have sworn I was standing in the midst of a forest. It was as if I were Odysseus and Lopez was a siren, calling to me to shipwreck upon her forested shores and stay awhile. And someday, I may just do that.

I will never forget my encounter that dark night on the freezing cold ferry deck; one of those moments where after emerging from it, you feel a bit dazed by some supernatural force and wonder what just happened there?

Here's some more San Juan Islands enchantment, in a short film from photographer Christopher Teren:



The San Juan Islands are a special place, and deserving of their status as a protected National Monument. Unfortunately, the President is expected to today sign an order that all National Monuments created since 1996 be "reviewed" to ensure that they weren't created through misuse of the Antiquities Act. This would put two National Monuments in Washington State under review: San Juan Islands (2013) and Hanford Reach (2000). This is the stated intent of the President's order, although the conservation community and general public know it to be an attempt to overturn the Monument designations for sites that could be valuable for fossil fuel development, such as the recently-protected Bears Ears National Monument. [Update 4/26 AM: I'm reading this morning that the executive order applies to monuments 100,000 acres or larger, which exempts San Juan Islands (at just 1,000 acres) but still put Hanford Reach at risk.]

While our Washington State National Monuments likely don't fall into the category of "high potential for fossil fuel development" and therefore are likely safe from being stripped of their protected status, we should still be aware and speak up for the National Monuments being threatened around the country. These lands do, after all, belong to all of the American people. We know how we love our San Juan Islands and would never stand to have them threatened. With this sentiment, we can empathize and stand with others who are at risk of losing beloved National Monuments and landscapes in their own home states.

I had to mix a bit of your Nature Nerd Wednesday nature escape with a bit of activism here... but given the current administration in the White House, that combination will become a necessity for all of us in the coming weeks, months, and years.

On the bluffs of American Camp, San Juan Island. Lainey Piland photo

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Musings: Earth Day 2017

I wasn't going to write an Earth Day blog post this year, but had an eleventh-hour change of heart and am blinking blearily at the computer screen late on Earth Day Eve, trying to string some coherent thoughts together. The dire state of things in Washington DC on Earth Day 2017 has thrown additional environmental catastrophes into our realm of possibility, with potential effects that will reach far beyond the borders of our own country.

The Environmental Protection Agency has had "environmental protection" removed from its mission; the president is rolling back protections for clean air and water; tar sands pipelines are being greenlighted despite the known pollution risks and contributions to climate change; and a proposed wall along the US-Mexico border is an affront not only to humanity, but to the endangered species whose habitat spans across the border. And, as we reach a never-before-seen-in-the-history-of-humanity 410 parts per million (ppm) of atmospheric carbon dioxide, let's not forget the ever-present threat of climate change looming over our tumultuous present and tenuous future, and the ruling party of our country who proffers nothing but wilful ignorance and blatant denial of the reality of this problem.

Things are not looking good.

I can write lengthy posts about the current state of environmental policy and environmental issues in our country, and I can share the perspective from my own homeground as I did in last year's Earth Day musings, but despite my best efforts I can still fail to express the urgency with which we all need to act and participate in addressing these issues and ensuring a livable planet for the future.

As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, so here is the picture that changed my mind and motivated me to write this post.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft captured this view of planet Earth as a point of light between the icy rings of Saturn on April 12, 2017. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

This is Earth, seen through the rings of Saturn. Captured by NASA's Cassini spacecraft just ten days ago, this image should cause all of us to pause. That is Earth. That is us. All of us. That is a family photo of the entire human population, and the flora and fauna with whom we share the planet. Every human who has ever existed has lived and died on that planet. Every living thing in the vast universe (as far as we currently know) has evolved, existed, lived and died on that planet. We are a bright point of light in the utter darkness of space, a tiny pinprick illuminated by a blazing star that is situated close enough to keep the planet from freezing solid, but far enough away to keep us warm without being burnt to a crisp.

That tiny pinprick of light is all we have. That is our planet, and if it fails, then so do we. Where else do we have to go?

Even if we knew of another habitable planet, there is no conceivable way to transport the seven billion humans of planet Earth to a new home. And what of the rest of the living beings on Earth? Would we press our noses to the windows of our spaceship, waving goodbye and wishing good luck to the wildlife we leave behind on a poisoned, ruined planet? There is no ark to shuttle us to safety, and the Lord above isn't going to rescue us from a once-perfect creation that we knowingly ruined out of greed and arrogance.

This is it. We know how our actions are affecting the planet. We know what the problems are, and we have the technology and knowledge to fix them. What we are collectively lacking - globally, and in our country's current leadership - are the very characteristics that typically distinguish humans from other species: the ability to plan for the future, and the altruism that allows us to choose to do the right thing, even if that prevents our own personal gain. We need the wisdom and humility to recognize that sacrificing our own gain and choosing what is good for others is, in the grand scheme, the best for all of us.

Environmental issues are the most pressing problem we face. Forget the economy, forget jobs, forget petty and transient political quibbles and grammatically abhorrent presidential Tweets... without the basic life-support systems of a healthy and functioning planet, we're all sunk. Clean air, clean water, healthy ecosystems, a stable climate, and thriving biodiversity are all necessities for survival, and all are threatened by the political interests currently governing our country. We cannot sit by and allow these things - and our futures - to be destroyed before our eyes.

There is a March for Science being held today. The People's Climate March is making a comeback on April 29th. People are speaking up and fighting back. Pay attention to these marches and the actions that arise from them. Participate, speak up, and call your elected representatives.

The future of our planet is more important to me now than ever. With my first child expected to be born any day now, I have a greater imperative to do what I can to ensure a livable planet for future generations. I will now be leaving behind a human - my own flesh and blood - on that tiny pinprick of light someday, and want my legacy to be one that says "I was here. I cared. I tried."

Past Earth Day posts:

Musings: Earth Day 2016

Nature Nerd Wednesdays - April 22nd, 2015: Earth Day Edition

Earth Day Musings: The time to act on climate change is now (2014)


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

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...

Spring wildflowers at Deception Pass State Park, April 2016. Lainey Piland photo

April showers bring May flowers

After a winter of record rainfall here in western Washington, let's hope that May brings forth the most glorious profusion of flowers to brighten our soggy environs! We can keep our fingers crossed, but the amount of rainfall may not necessarily correlate with the quantity of flowers we can expect to see... unless you're in the desert, that is.

The deserts of California are experiencing a "superbloom" of wildflowers this spring following a particularly wet winter. After years of terrible drought in the region, these long-dormant wildflower seeds have burst into bloom in spectacular fashion; painting the desert with acres upon acres of vibrant color.

Take a look at the photos in this EarthSky article for a peek at the desert superbloom.

And of course... there's a timelapse for that!

Although it can be a long time in coming, when beauty arrives after a long spell of hardship, it's all the more wondrous... and all the more worthy of appreciation!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

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 of the hummingbirds in my backyard last fall. Lainey Piland photo

Spring is here, and that means nesting season for the birds! As I watch the hummingbirds visit my backyard feeder, I imagine them flying back to their tiny nests made of spiderwebs and bits of leaves, and feeding their nestlings with the nectar cooked up in my own kitchen.

Taking the time to pay attention to the wild lives paralleling our own human ones feeds our sense of wonder and compassion for other species. If you don't have a feeder or nest to ponder in your own yard, then take a look at these live webcams, which offer a close-up look at the daily lives of our avian neighbors.

The Rosie Hummingbird nest cam is a popular one, especially with one recently-hatched egg and another that's soon to follow!

The Decorah Eagles nest cam is a big hit, too. There is a fuzzy and awkward looking eaglet in the nest right now!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

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...

Canada's frozen MacKenzie River Delta. NASA Earth Observatory photo.

While noticing and appreciating the details of the small beauties around us is important, it's also important to take a step back... in this case a 250-mile step into earth's atmosphere... and soak in the big picture.

Spend some time getting lost in this gallery of 100 photos of Earth from the International Space Station, captured by French astronaut Thomas Pesquet, who is currently on a six-month mission on the ISS ending this May.

The diversity of patterns, textures, colors and light that adorn the surface of our planet is awesome to behold. One can clearly see the scars of civilization and the vast emptiness of wilderness. I imagine it must be a challenge for the astronauts on the International Space Station to tear themselves away from the windows and views of earth below long enough to get any work done!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Wanderings: Seeking Spring (2017)

About to follow the trail through the "trillium portal"

Yesterday, in the warming afternoon hours following a cool and rainy morning, my husband and I headed for the Trillium Trail in the Redmond Watershed Preserve, seeking to find this trail's namesake flowers, which should have begun to bloom. We'd strolled through the Watershed two weeks ago, more for exercise and fresh air than anything else, but I'd secretly hoped we might catch a few early trillium. Alas, at that time the forest was still well in the grips of winter and there was nary a trillium to be seen among the damp humus of last autumn's fallen leaves.

The spring trillium hunt is an annual tradition for me. When I was a child, my grandpa and I walked through the woods around my house to count as many trillium as we could find. Now that my grandpa is no longer with us, my husband - who is a trillium-spotting pro - accompanies me on the yearly quest for these simple white flowers. The trillium hunt is a way to reconnect to the memories forged in those childhood rambles through the forest, as well as to seek hopeful signs of spring in the bright white flags blooming through a winter's worth of decay.

We parked at the north entrance of the Watershed to allow us to access the Trillium Trail more quickly, since being eight months pregnant has limited the distance I can comfortably walk, and I wanted to spend as much time on the actual trail as I could. Access via the south parking area requires a bit more walking to reach the Trillium Trail itself. Setting off into the woods, I immediately felt doubtful that we'd spot any trillium today. Still-bare salmonberry branches reached for us as we passed, lacking the delicate growth of new green leaves to soften the stark nakedness of their thorny limbs. Very little greenery pushed up from the forest floor, save for a few patches of lacy bleeding heart. It didn't look promising.

We followed the trail as it rounded the north shore of the pond and crossed the wide grassy swath of the pipeline corridor. Taking a deep breath, I received a pungent lungful of skunk cabbage, which was blooming with gusto in the shallow waters of the pond. Those odd yellow flowers with their undeniably skunky scent are another herald of the spring season - just not the one I was looking for!

Around the bend in the trail lay our best hope for finding trillium, if there were any to be found. We were about to step through the trillium portal, the short section of trail wherein one can usually find the motherlode of these white flowers. Hope still intact, I proceeded down the trail with slow, methodical steps and began to search more intently than ever. My gaze probed among the glistening sword fern still looking flat and tired from a long wet winter, among the vivid green bleeding heart leaves holding rain droplets from morning showers, and among the tiny clusters of unknown leaves that aggravatingly tricked the eye into believing they belonged to a trillium.

A few yards back, my husband called for my attention and pointed to something down the slope from us. My heart leapt - had he spotted one? I quickly backtracked and let my gaze follow his outstretched arm... and there it was. The first trillium of the year. No wait... there was not one trillium, but two. My mouth fell open slightly as I soaked in the sight before me. Of course, of all the trillium we might first spot, this trillium - these two trillium - would have to be it.

They were unusual. Two trillium, facing one another with their white three-petaled buds only partially opened and bowed with the weight of clinging rain droplets. They leaned against one another, rain-sodden leaves wrapped together, each holding the other up. I felt like I was witnessing a private moment between two people.

Now, I'm not a fan of incorporating one's own life story in the telling of nature experiences. When writing them myself, I typically prefer that the experiences remain unfettered by our own agendas and narratives and just be what they are, because those experiences stand alone in their simple beauty without us imposing sweeping life lessons or revelations on them.

But in this case, I couldn't help but stare at those trillium and think of the week I'd just had. After enduring a week that was anything but normal, I had stepped into the forest today not just to look for trillium, but also to seek the hope and reassurance that some kind of normalcy still existed in the world - in feeling the mud squish under my feet, the clean earthy air filling my lungs, and in finding these flowers that come without fail every spring. Without getting into the details, I'll just say I had to spend several evenings in the hospital this past week being monitored for what appeared to be preterm labor and was poked, prodded, and frowned over by enough doctors and nurses to make one feel rather nervous. In the midst of wondering whether our baby was okay; whether I was okay; whether we were all going to be okay; my husband and I had just one choice: we leaned on one another. Like the two trillium, we held each other up as the anxiety and fear rained upon us, weighing us down with uncertainty.

And now I stared at the two trillium before me that had endured their own storm and still held one another in a wet, leafy embrace. Everything had turned out okay. I was fine, the baby was fine, and my husband and I were just fine, although coming out of this we are perhaps holding each day a bit closer, a bit more carefully. We now stood before comforting proof that trillium were blooming once again this spring, as they do every year. The world wasn't completely upside-down, then.

Continuing for another quarter-mile down the trail, we spotted a handful more trillium before my increasingly sore hips and back determined that it was time to turn back. Many of the trillium hadn't bloomed just yet, and were still holding their buds tightly closed, like someone squinting against the rain. A few lacked even buds, and were just small stalks with three glossy green leaves.

Comparing this year's trillium sightings with those of years past, it appears that our colder-than-normal winter may have convinced these delicate flowers to slumber in the ground a bit longer and wait for warmer days before sprouting. However, those that have emerged early and braved the rain were met with grateful appreciation from this nature nerd desperately seeking spring.

Check out previous trillium hunts here:

Wanderings: Seeking Spring (2016)

Wanderings: Seeking Spring (2015)

Wanderings: Seeking Spring (2014)




Wednesday, March 22, 2017

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...

Indian plum - Redmond Watershed Preserve. Lainey Piland photo

Spring is here! On Monday, we welcomed the verdant season of rebirth, reawakening, and renewal. The air is warmer and sweeter, birds are singing the dawn chorus, and a slow blush of green is beginning to overtake the tired browns of winter.

Have you ever wondered why we call this season spring? This Mental Floss article explains:
Starting in the 14th century, that time of year was called “springing time”—a reference to plants “springing” from the ground. In the 15th century this got shortened to “spring-time,” and then further shortened in the 16th century to just “spring.”
A few weeks ago, after a long hiatus from any forays into the forest, I went for a short walk through the Watershed Preserve in Redmond to scope things out. Well before the first day of the spring season, I found that things in the forest were already springing! Namely, the indian plum and red huckleberry. These plants, along with skunk cabbage and salmonberry, are always among the first to show new green leaves, buds, and blossoms.

Red huckleberry.

Indian plum

Before too long, we will have trillium springing forth! Stay tuned for the annual trillium hunt coming in the next few weeks!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Going Green: Lights out for climate during Earth Hour 2017

Ready... set... lights out! Well, not just yet. Make plans to turn off your lights for Earth Hour on March 25th at 8:30pm local time to demonstrate your solidarity in the fight against climate change. With more than 170 countries and millions of individuals participating, Earth Hour is truly a global event during which we can come together and commit to fighting this problem affecting us all.

The need for action and solidarity in the fight against climate change has never been greater. In 2016, a year that was globally the hottest on record (surpassing the longstanding record set way back in 2015), atmospheric carbon dioxide levels hit 405 parts per million (ppm). No human being in the history of our species has lived on this planet with carbon dioxide levels that high, until now. It seems like just yesterday we passed the 400ppm milestone, and now we find ourselves on a rapidly warming planet, staring down the likelihood of reaching 410ppm this year or next - a number well above the "safe" upper limit of 350ppm that would allow us to avoid the most catastrophic consequences of climate change.

It is well-established that CO2 in the atmosphere traps heat and warms the planet. It is also well-established that human activity is causing CO2 levels to increase. We know what the problem is, we know what's causing it... now where are our solutions?

Take a look in the mirror. Look out your window at your neighborhood, at your city. Look to your state capitol. These are the people, are the places, from which climate action and solutions will arise. These are the places in which you need to become involved. As we face a new administration in Washington DC that is distressingly unwilling to acknowledge the reality of climate change - which is in fact, actively rolling back any progress our nation has made on the issue - actions at the individual, community, and state level are ever more important, and will likely lead the fight on climate change going forward.

So, coming back to Earth Hour... how will shutting off our lights for an hour help fight climate change? When it comes to Earth Hour, it's not the act of turning your lights off for an hour that really matters - it's the commitment behind it. It's acknowledging that climate change is an issue, that it affects every corner of our planet, and that you are dedicated to being part of the solution - not just for an hour, but for as long as it takes to tackle the problem. Which in all likelihood, will be the rest of our lives.

Now the next question is, what do I do during Earth Hour? The lights are out, the candles are lit... now what? Do whatever it is that will build community, inspire solutions, and encourage you to make efforts in your own life. Write something. Read something. Meditate. Get friends together. Call or write your representatives. Participate in an Earth Hour event near you. Make plans to host an Earth Hour event next year (in years past, events in the Seattle area have included a prayer vigil at St. James Cathedral, or for something completely different, a glow-in-the-dark Bingo/root beer/recycling event hosted by the City of Bothell). Write your City Council and encourage your city's participation in Earth Hour next year.

The state of our climate is dire, but there is hope to be found in the actions we can all take within our sphere of influence - a sphere which is much larger than you may realize.

My Earth Hour two years ago: reading Orion Magazine by candlelight.

For more information on reducing your carbon footprint, check out the Going Green page here on the blog.

Related posts:
Environmental Issues: Washington State Climate Change Update
400: A sobering milestone
In the News: National Climate Assessment 2014 
In the News: Maps Show a Sweltering Future for the U.S.