A Moment in Time

So far, this winter has given our corner of the Pacific Northwest a variety of storms – wind, rain, snow, and ice. (In fact, it is snowing as I write this but rain will return soon.) All winter storms take a toll on a landscape, especially in our old, protected urban forests. We are lucky here in Seattle as we have many such forests. One forest, in particular, is very close to my heart (and my house) – Carkeek Park. I began my career as a Forest Steward in 2008, under the tutelage of a retired, Scandinavian forester, Lex, who completed his PhD in Liberia decades before I met him. When I met Lex his interest was, and remains now, focused on the health and restoration of the forests of Carkeek Park, located in northwest Seattle. (My experience in Carkeek includes being lead steward of the Demonstration Gardens for almost 10 years, occasional forest steward since 2008, and work with the trails crew on occasion.) Carkeek forest is a mixed deciduous/conifer forest of Acer macrophyllum (Big Leaf maple), Alnus rubra (Red Alder), Abies procera (Noble Fir), Pseudotsuga menziesii (Douglas Fir), Thuja plicata (Western Red Cedar), Arbutus menziesii (Pacific Madrone), and many other conifers, deciduous trees and willows (Salix spp.). It is a beautiful, healthy, aging forest lovingly maintained by a truly dedicated, educated, and hearty group of volunteers who love the work. But, as I said, the forest is aging. And with age comes instability. Old limbs crack, break and fall under the weight of snow and/or ice, or when pushed by strong winds. In a forest as dense and varied as Carkeek, walking or working under such a canopy can be tricky – one moment all is quiet and safe, the next moment down comes a huge limb. When my work in the Demonstration Gardens ended, I resumed forestry work. And with the required permission of Seattle Parks, in 2019 I began work in an area populated mostly with maples and alders, and a healthy groups of ivy and blackberry vines. (Maples and alders tend to drop limbs more often than conifers.) After clearing the area of the undesirables, I began planting. As the area is home to many very large, healthy sword ferns (Polystichum munitum), I decided to add some native flowering plants such as Bleeding heart (Dicentra formosa), Redwood Sorrel (Oxalis oregana), False Solomon’s Seal (Smilacina racemosa), and a variety of other understory plants. I outlined a path to a sitting area that was just beginning to take shape and circled the area with vine maples and twinberry. Good results from the new plants were observed last autumn, and during my visit in early December. However, when I returned last week to check on the condition of my work, I found a mess. Downed limbs, a tree down in the middle of the path, and the sitting circle filled with wood debris too large for me to clear as the following pictures show.

Walking into my work area, showing the outline of the path. The downed tree trunk is visible ahead.

The path obscured and the sitting circle buried under debris.

So much for the path! A couple of ferns took it on the chin, also.

On the slope, most ferns are intact but there is much wood debris to remove.

I took a quiet moment to stand in the middle of my work area and take in the mess but soon heard a very sharp Crack above and slightly ahead of me. As in such a forest as Carkeek, that sound only means one thing! I turned sharp and fast and ran out to the main path. Another loud Crack and I hurried down the trail. I didn’t return to my area to see the additional damage but when I do, I won’t be surprised by what I find. After all, that is the nature of a forest. But as the day was beautiful and I had time, I decided to walk down to the beach. A day like this was not to be wasted.

On a beach, you can see a storm coming long before it arrives. Not so in a deep forest. In a forest, there resides a feeling of enclosure and protection, occasionally broken by a moment in time. And that is what we share – all forms of life on this planet – a moment in time.

I wish you sunny skies, bright days, and a moment or two to enjoy it all.

What I’ve Learned from Gardening So Far

If you do something consistently for over 30 years, it is inevitable that you will learn a few things along the way. Sometimes you learn against your will, sometimes by accident, occasionally by intention, and frequently by repetition. I’ve learned that plants are individuals – just as we in the animal kingdom are – with their own unique characteristics. Some plants are demanding and fussy – they seem to expect the best and on their schedule. Hybrid roses come to mind. Other plants can take it on the chin and keep growing all the same – for instance, cotoneasters can take anything a gardener throws their way and thrive. Some get along well with their neighbors while other plants make their displeasure known in dramatic ways. For example, some years ago I bought a lovely peony and planted it in a place that matched its requirements perfectly – or so I thought. I watched it fail quickly and dramatically. It suffered for three years – nothing I did seemed to help it. As a last, desperate attempt to save the plant, I moved it. Within a month I saw new growth and improvement in overall appearance. The only reason I could find for its improvement is that I moved it away from a large group of dusty millers (Senecio cinereria) it had initially been planted near. It’s thriving now. Go figure.

Plants interact with each other and learn from each other. Some years ago my Ribes rubrum, Glorie des Sabions, was being eaten down to the stems by some nasty bug infestation. The Ribes was planted in my alley bed (a rough neighborhood!) next to a stand of goldenrod (Solidago rugosa) and Spiraea japonica. As I don’t use pesticides, my only solutions were to spray the plant with a blast of water to wash off the bugs and to search out the hangers-on and squish them (wearing thick garden gloves). This infestation went on all summer. The next year, I noticed that the goldenrod had a small infestation of the same bugs but the Ribes was clean. I checked a remote stand of goldenrod but that seemed unaffected. This time I left the plants alone and discovered that the following year none of my plants were being eaten, but the garden bed immediately across the alley from mine was being chewed to the stems. Apparently, my plants had learned to flush their tissues with chemicals that were so unappetizing to the bugs that the plants were free of infestation thereafter.

Some plants are so easy to get along with that the gardener forgets she planted them until weeding and mulching a bed and coming upon a gorgeous frilly pink Dianthus in full, glorious bloom! Good for it because it didn’t received water after it was planted. It loves me anyway – even more so now that I take care of it. My Dianthus mooiensis has reminded me of the need to Pay Attention, also known as being Mindful. (How old is that lesson?!)

And plants are forgiving. Some years ago I bought a gorgeous Rhododendron occidentale, Western Azalea, at the Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden (a favorite garden of ours). I planted it under the dappled shade of a large, mature Rosa glauca, watered it well, and then promptly forgot about it. In my defense, that spring and summer were particularly unpleasant due to sibling issues, and the lovely little azalea was part of the extensive collateral damage of that year (2016). When I finally came upon it while doing some late summer clean-up, it was so wilted and forlorn I was convinced I had killed it by neglect. I dug it up, placed in it a container with fresh potting soil and lots of water, and by late September it had fully recovered (although with a few less leaves). It didn’t bloom the following year but it gave us a gorgeous bloom in 2018, and each year since. It is now in-ground and thriving.

Lessons from a garden are infinite – as many lessons as gardeners, really. I thought of this as I ended my work on a recent cold winter day. What we read from the results of our actions are as important as the actions themselves, and an illiterate reading of a garden harms the gardener and the garden residents.

As evening arrived I gathered up my tools as the sky gathered up the light of day and I went inside for the night.

I wish you a successful, productive and peaceful new year.

The Year in Review – Just a Glimpse and a Thought (or two)

A year of good hiking, beautiful terrain, horrific weather, and challenging gardening is coming to a close. Here is just a glimpse of what 2022 offered, and a few thoughts on perspective.

Agave americana, Pt. Defiance Park, Tacoma, Wa.
Stick bug on the Umtanum Canyon Trail, Yakima Canyon
Grasshopper on the Umtanum Trail
Nisqually Wildlife Refuge, Washington
Nisqually Wildlife Refuge
Willow, Green Lake, Seattle
One of the lovelier canopies of a walking route. Cornus florida, Dogwood
November and early December bring Chum salmon up Piper’s Creek (Carkeek Park, Seattle) from Puget Sound.
More chum.
A bit of autumn beauty. In my opinion, few plants are more beautiful than grasses (but I say that about so many plants!).
Papaver orientale, my garden
My rare Aloe polyphylla has survived another brutal summer, yet the plant hangs on and is growing. Older leaves remain on the plant for years, eventually falling off on their own.
The view from my living room window. Early snow and some container plants wrapped in plastic (below the window) for protection from freezing temps.

A cold spring, heat waves, smoke from wildfires, drought, stagnant air – we’ve given our planet and its inhabitants much to contend with this year. Between bouts of severe depression, panic, and grief, we keep planting, tending, and hoping for positive change. Each plant we tend, each seedling we plant, each patch of soil we nurture and protect must mean something – it must help on some level, right? I choke down fear with each story of catastrophe I read. I swallow a scream of anger at the indifferent callousness of those who can, but refuse to, create change on a global scale. Those companies and individuals who have the means to effect change on a scale far exceeding anything one or a few individuals can, talk a good game but do not follow through. It’s greed – nothing more than greed. But I am encouraged by individuals and small groups who act on their passion to create a cleaner, healthier, more equitable world for all. From those individuals who furtively plant seedlings, who donate time and/or money to conservation groups, who petition their government officials, to those who put themselves in harm’s way to protest the actions of companies damaging this planet – the strong, steady beat of determination and passion will win. At least, that is what I tell myself. A few years ago, there was an outstanding Christian blog I would often read. I knew the blogger to some extent, and we would exchange thoughts and ideas at times. Once, in a moment of deep despair, he told me something that I remember still. He said, “Take heart. He has better things coming.” His comment brought to mind a favorite comment of my Dad’s – “It always gets better.” I’m not Christian, and I’m not sure if I believe in a personal God. But the sincerity, inherent hope, and kindness in both comments has stayed with me. We must continue to work towards a better world – with greater equity and kindness for all creatures on this planet – or we will destroy the greatest gift of all.

The gift of Life.

Autumn falls

A long, hot summer gives way to a short, cool autumn. Now autumn wraps up this year’s show and our temperatures become unseasonably cold. But through it all – fires, smoke, heat, drought, brief rain – nature endures and shares its beauty. Given freely, consistently, and to all who choose to observe.

A few offerings from a fragile season.

I hope this season has been good to you, and you to it. Take care of your patch of Earth – no matter how large or small. We are its caretakers, after all.

Reflections on the Yakima Canyon Drive

Heading home from our last hiking vacation in the Yakima region for 2022, we stopped at the Roza Dam area in the Yakima Canyon. A quiet, peaceful series of small ponds created by the Dam are used for recreational boating and fishing – and for enjoying some spectacular scenery. I tried a different approach to my phone photos this time and utilized reflected images on the water for enhanced color and an unusual perspective.

Still water on a windless day. Unusual for the Canyon.

Railroad tracks and lots of grass.

This shot is my favorite as it shows an old landslide just above the railroad tracks.

Beyond the ponds, the Yakima River rounds a bend.

So ends of year of outstanding hiking, exploring, and discovery. I hope you have enjoyed touring this area of Central Washington as much as Bill and I. My fervent wish is for these wild and protected areas to thrive and continue to educate, entertain, and thrill visitors for countless years to come.

Never stop exploring!

Central Washington Agriculture Museum

I’m a fan of museums. I have managed to visit at least one museum each time I have traveled. All museums I’ve visited so far have something unique and enjoyable to see – some more than others, of course. But by far the most interesting museum I’ve visited is the Agriculture Museum of Central Washington. And not just because it hosts a steep hiking trail just a short walk beyond its perimeter. Take a look at what this fun and educational outdoor facility has to offer and I think you’ll agree – it is one-of-a-kind!

A Smythe’s stove? Not sure.

I don’t know what this was used for, but apparently it cost 5c per serving.

Occupied dens on the way up the trail – a 600 ft incline.

View from almost-the-top of the trail.

Up top.

Bill wanted to take this hike out into yet another canyon, but at this point I said “Nope – it’s time for ice cream!” And down the hill we went.

The Yakima Valley is home to a wide variety of museums, but this facility is at the top of my list and I recommend a visit. Here’s the link: centralwaagmuseum.org

I wish you fun travels, good weather, and sweet treats!

Cowiche Canyon , Part 3

Last week, Bill and I returned to Cowiche Canyon for our last visit of 2022. We signed up for a guided autumn-color and plant-info hike. Our guide, from the Cowiche Canyon Conservancy, informed us that the usual intensity and amount of autumn color would not be present for this hike due to extended heat and drought in this part of the Canyon – higher elevation than most other trails. And he was correct. However, except for one disappointment that had nothing to do with autumn color, what we saw was glorious.

Our hike started out on the Wildflower Trail.

Penstemon richardsonii, Cutleaf Penstemon

Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus, Green rabbit-brush

Fencing to keep deer/antelope away from rare plants and fragile landscape.

A remnant of old ranching days.

Near this area, the University of Washington scientists and CCC volunteers are trying to introduce a rare buckwheat, Eriogonum codium, that grows only in the Hanford Reach area of Washington state. The plantings from 2020 failed to grow, and to date the 2021 crop is not showing much success. While these results are disappointing, the work will continue in the hope that this plant will settle in and eventually develop a thriving population.

Bluebunch wheatgrass and blue sky, and a feeling of being at the top of the world.

Elevation about 2,400 feet, looking down into the valley. A very chilly wind followed us down the trail.

Down the mountain, nearing Cowiche Creek, willows and autumn color thrive.

I am in awe of the intense beauty of this harsh landscape. With nothing to protect its inhabitants from wind, intense heat and freezing temperatures, rare plants and a few animals have adapted to these conditions and made a home where few others could survive. Resilient, sturdy, and surprisingly fragile – the tenacity of life is on full display in this remarkable land.

To learn more about the Cowiche Canyon, visit http://www.cowichecanyon.org

Selah Cliffs Natural Area Preserve

Bill and I have ended our hiking year with a return to Central Washington – specifically areas outside of and around the city of Yakima, and the Yakama Nation. The next three posts will be about these hikes.

North of Yakima, just inside the magnificent Yakima Canyon, is the Selah Cliffs Natural Area Preserve. This region was created in 1993 by the DNR to protect the very rare basalt daisy, Erigeron basalticus – a unique little perennial that populates the harsh environment of basalt cliffs in one of the driest portions of Washington state. (As Bill and I no longer do rock-climbing, we didn’t see any of the daisies that live on the cliffs.) This ancient landscape is remarkably sparse, rocky, and very beautiful. It is home to many different raptors, noisy ravens, and rattlesnakes. In addition to the basalt daisy, the region is home to a variety of bunchgrasses, sagebrushes, and some wildflowers. I will include a link to the DNR page at the end of this post.

Following are a few pictures of our visits to this remarkable region. We hiked this area twice – on our way to and on our way home from Yakima – one mid-day hike and one early morning hike. These pictures are from both times. My phone camera doesn’t do justice to this stark, wild and beautiful area, and the only way to truly grasp its wild beauty is to visit in person. I hope these pictures inspire you to do so.

Informative signs dot the trail.

Early morning frost in the shade of cliffs.

Once the sun reaches into the valley, the landscape warms up rapidly.

Both tall and short sagebrush.

A few wildflowers hang on in late October.

Bluebunch wheatgrass along the trail.

Interstate 90 bridge off in the distance.

Lichen covers most every rock.

Heading back to the trailhead.

I hope you visit this most remarkable and stunningly beautiful area. We plan to return next spring to see the valley in bloom, but any time of year offers unique things to see, hear, and experience.

To learn more about this region, follow this link: https://www.dnr.wa.gov/SelahCliffs

I wish you good hiking, blue skies, and small dots of beauty to fill your days.

Cowiche Canyon, Central Washington

Part 2

The following pictures are from two full days of hiking in the Cowiche Canyon, outside of Yakima, Washington. This post concentrates on the outstanding beauty of this shrub-steppe habitat and its distinct plant-life and geology. Bill and I will return to the region for a botanist/ecologist guided hike in a few weeks, and I will post detailed plant info and more pictures at that time. Until then, this will give you an idea of the wide variety of plant life in the Canyon.

At the end of this post, I will include a link to the CC website.

Entering the Canyon

Color around every bend.

Sumac

Seedheads of a native Penstemon gairdneri

Seedheads of Asclepias speciosa, Milkweed
Rosa woodsii, Western Wood’s rose

Layers of basalt along the creek bed. – Correction: either shale or slate.

Looking through Salix towards the creek.

Couldn’t get close enough to ID this tree, but it looked like a Black Cottonwood to me (Populus trichocarpa).

Deep in the Canyon, rock formations are incredible.

Layers upon layers.

I know this type of landscape isn’t universally considered beautiful, but how life finds a place and can thrive in such dry, rocky conditions is, in my mind, the essence of beauty.

For more information about the Cowiche Canyon trails, go to:

http://www.cowichecanyon.org

I wish you colorful trails, clear skies, and beauty to surround you.

And to my frequent viewers of this particular post, I welcome your comments! I’d love to hear your thoughts about this area.

Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden

The month of September has been busy, hectic, noisy and at times worrisome. My son was home with us for two weeks recovering from surgery, my husband had a five hour ER visit, and we had our 30-year-old back decks rebuilt. In addition to the above, the Seattle area contended with heat and smoke from wildfires which kept us inside for a while. But, in between all the mess, banging, worry, and appointments, we found time to visit one of the premiere botanical gardens in the PNW – the Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden. This gorgeous garden, located in Federal Way (south of Seattle, north of Tacoma), is an educational and creative wonder. Bill and I have visited many times, and have a membership with the Garden, so it was a treat to take our son there for a visit. His recovery from surgery has been fast and relatively easy – as expected from someone young – and he felt strong enough to walk the pathways and hills with us. And being among mosses, giant conifers and unique plants assists with healing. It was a beautiful day, as the following pictures show.

Deep shade dotted with sunlight offers perfect growing conditions for understory plants.

Giant seedpods.

Couldn’t find a label for this lily, but it’s at least 5 feet tall.

Its flowers are beautiful.

Rhododendron rex ssp. rex

Viburnum nervosum

Climbing hydrangea, Hydrangea anomala

The pond.

Giant magnolia leaves.

View from the Gazebo, at the top of the Alpine Garden

A moment in the mist.

A most unusual begonia in the Conservatory.

If you haven’t visited this most beautiful and unique botanical garden yet, take time to do so. Any time of year you will find rare and gorgeous treasures.

Wishing you good health, clear skies, and time to enjoy the sights.