It’s here – that time of year that I begin to dream about desert hikes. Could be the rain and fog, landslides and floods, or heavy cloud cover that brings the desert to mind; could be the damp cold – but, most likely, it is the desire to see plants that don’t grow naturally here in the PNW. Also, reading a recent post from one of my favorite blogs, Four Points Bulletin, The Slot, Anza Borrego Desert, is in part a reason for this urge. This blog is filled with fantastic photography and enjoyable articles about many places I’ve not visited, so it’s my go-to travel guide for warm weather travel. Anyway, as I said, I am craving a desert hike these days. And as we are not planning to travel until early spring, I will need to be content with good articles and gorgeous photography.
But, in the meantime, I tend my inside desert garden with enthusiasm. In our very small house, one extra room is all I need (and all I have) to grow succulents during winter – both Old World and New World – and enjoy indoor gardening until I can pack up my car and hit the desert road. My patient spouse has encouraged my plant habit by setting up a frame for the grow lights that help these plants survive our dark, cold, damp days.
A few of the plants in my desert room are below.
Here’s to good weather, happy plants, and glorious day-dreams.
In the spirit of honesty, I have decided to post a few pictures of the aftermath of our recent winter storm. Maybe this is a result of me getting older, but these days I find snow to be beautiful for just a day or two, and from the comfort of someplace warm.
So, here goes –
Sometimes the beauty of winter brings a lot of work.
I wish you warmth, safety, and someone else to shovel the driveway.
A few days into winter brought the Pacific Northwest a snow storm complete with record cold temperatures and days that remained below freezing. We are thawing now, and rain is helping, but it is a sloppy process. I worked outside in the rain and mud this morning but called it a day after my gloves became so wet and heavy that one slipped off my hand. Once inside, I thought back to the morning of December 26 (first day of snow), and how beautiful this neighborhood had become. From my living room window, we have a view of the Olympic Mountains (far off in the distance), of Puget Sound (when trees are bare), and the tall, stately conifers that announce the highest point of a local forest park. As the sun woke, glints of shimmering morning light dotted the tops of our neighborhood snow-covered cedars and pines. This, I thought to myself, is why I won’t move away from the PNW.
Few sights are as beautiful as a tall, statuesque conifer covered with snow. On my walking route, I pass a stunningly beautiful Ponderosa Pine in a neighbor’s back yard. The tree is the tallest tree in this area by far, and as healthy as any pine I have seen in a neighborhood landscape. Each time I take this particular route, I am reminded of a winter vacation my family and I took to the Methow Valley years ago. We stayed in a cabin just steps from the Methow River. Of all the beauty that region offers – star gazing, wildlife, prairies, wildflowers, river and mountain views – our day of snowshoeing through a Ponderosa Pine forest is the most beautiful winter memory I have. This forest type, with its wide distance between trees, open canopy and scant underbrush is conducive to easy snowshoeing or cross country skiing. As we were making our way through the forest I was constantly distracted by the beauty of these trees. The bark is yellowish red, thick, deeply furrowed, and rough. The height of each tree was remarkable – shooting up into a cloudless crystal-blue sky that glimmered with ice particles. Limbs and needles were dotted with snow that sparkled in the clear, cold sunshine. Nothing I have experienced to date has surpassed the beauty of this memory. We have hiked the forests of the Methow Valley, Spokane area, and the Metolius River area in Oregon just to be in the presence of these beautiful trees and be refreshed by the sweet, pungent summer fragrance of their bark. The trees are fire-resistant with bark that is thick, mostly insect-proof, and immune to many diseases that harm other pines. And, as I mentioned, these trees are beautiful when dotted with snow.
I took only a few photos while we were out that day (snowshoeing is hard work!), but the following will give you an idea of the beauty of these trees and the forests they create.
I wish you good hiking, clear skies, and a very good New Year.
It’s odd – that effort of trying to keep quiet while someone is sleeping that results in being more disruptive than if you had made the usual noise – and you woke the sleeper. The effort counts, you tell yourself; at least you tried. Much like the effort of the gardener who tries to keep the garden alive during oppressive heatwaves, drought, desiccating winds – and then through drenching, flooding rains that wash away protective layers of mulch and top soil, and flatten plants. And this week – extreme cold and snow. The efforts count, you tell yourself; at least you tried. From my dad, I learned to always “look on the bright side.” “It’s not that bad”, he would say, “it always gets better”. I felt guilty being less than happy around him, so I kept worry and concerns to myself. In truth, I’m relieved he is no longer here to see these rapid, dramatic changes our world is experiencing. Changes in our climate, our weather, our national deterioration, our profound mean-spiritedness and selfishness. I don’t know if I could have maintained the façade of “Everything’s great, Dad” that he required.
But as I review this year, I would have told him, in honesty, that for me and my family each year is better than the last. This year, 2021, has ended beautifully – my son recovered from COVID and, eventually, Long-COVID with no problems. Bill and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary and were able to travel – not the celebratory trip we had planned but just as meaningful and fun. Our friends are well – healthy and happy. My young nephew made a dramatic and very impressive recovery from a series of serious strokes in 2020, and was able to return to his work late this year. We are looking ahead to near-future trips to the UK in 2022. Although my planned trip to Egypt and Jordan in January 2021 was cancelled, I will try for January 2023. We were able to take some long hiking trips and many day-hikes that revived the spirit. In the forest I tend, the young sequoia grove survived our heat waves and drought well (at least they appear healthy at this writing), and I only lost one young Doug Fir. In our home garden, two plants died during the Heat Dome events but the rest of the garden seems to have weathered that storm intact.
Weather the Storm – that expression succinctly describes my and my family’s life since July 2014. The years since that awful month contained, in some respects, more trauma and heartbreak than we have experienced at any time in the past. That we have come through those years intact, stronger, and happier than I thought possible is a testament to our dedication and love for each other. As chaotic and disturbing as daily life in this era often is, the intermissions of enjoyment, laughter and joy are just as memorable. Or, maybe, I just choose to focus on the joy – after all, daily life can “turn on a dime”, as my dad used to say. So, it could be that he was correct. After all, our attitude really is the only aspect of life we control. How we respond, what and whom we choose to give our attention to, how we choose to view life – that’s under our control.
So, it seems he was right – Everything’s great, Dad.
It isn’t a common occurrence here in Seattle – a genuine snow day – but when it happens my neighborhood makes the most of it. Everyone I encountered while out walking was doing as much as possible; sledding, snowshoeing, breaking in new cross-country skis, or walking the dog, kids, and/or partners! I decided to take a few pictures while out and visiting with neighbors. It’s a beautiful world when covered in a blanket of soft, downy snow.
I wish you the joy of a snow day – before the shoveling begins!
My spouse and I just returned from our anniversary vacation to the Olympic National Park and Rainforest – specifically, the Hoh and Quinault rainforests. The Park was established in 1938 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and encompasses 922,650 acres of unique landscapes: rainforests, magnificent beaches on the Pacific coast, meadows, rivers, and mountains. The extensive history of this beautiful area can be found here:
As this trip was a celebration of our 50th wedding anniversary, we returned to the areas of our first vacations together. The wild beaches we so love on the Pacific Coast – Ruby, La Push, Rialto – have deep meaning for us. Of the three, Ruby Beach is our favorite. The sound of the tide rushing over the rocky beach, unique and rugged rock formations – all combine to make Ruby Beach one of the most beautiful and interesting beaches on the Pacific Coast.
Miles of good hiking trails in the Hoh and Quinault Rainforests were almost empty of fellow hikers. This vacation, being in the off-season and during a rainy spell, allowed us to stop and take in the overwhelming beauty of life in these distinctive forests.
If you haven’t visited the Olympic National Park and Forest, make time to do so. The unique and ancient beauty found here is beyond compare.
I wish you good hiking, clear water, and a bit of sun to warm your soul.
Dark gray sky. Rain, deep soaking rain. Rain in monochromatic curtains outline windows looking out onto gray. The rainy season covers grass and pavement and garden – and time. We waited and wished for rain during the heat and dust and struggle of summer. Now, it is here. Days on end of drizzle, downpours, sheets of rain. It is here, it is incessant, yet it is appreciated. In true Pacific Northwest style, water-proof shoes and rain coat await near the door for the hardy walker/gardener/hiker. Out we go because soon enough the dry season will return along with hopes for rain. Today, in this wet and gray moment of time, are found hardy signs of the covenant of life – when rain arrives, growth thrives.
The following story may sound like a fish tale, but, it is the true adventures of the frazzled but happy owners of a very productive garden pond – known in the sophisticated horticultural world as a Water Feature.
Approximately 30 years ago, on a beautiful summer morning, I told my spouse that we needed a fish pond in our yard. Knowing that this would involve lots of digging (mostly him) and purchasing of water plants (mostly me), he said “Let me think about it for a while.” He thought about it – for a slightly longer while than I thought necessary – and then a month or two later said, “Sure. Toby would like it.” (Toby was our cat – a majestic mix of Maine Coon and Norwegian Forest Cat. Big guy! An aside here – Toby was an avid hunter who brought home a variety of items such as a deflated rubber ball, a hot dog in the bun with mustard and relish, a T-bone steak from my neighbor’s patio table, and a stray kitten. The kitten loved us; my neighbor, not so much.) Anyway, we made the decision to install a small pond. Bill, my spouse, went to a local hardware store and bought a small, kidney-shaped preformed pond shell. The little pond had a depth of two feet which we figured would be perfect for easy maintenance and cleaning. After the installation and rearranging of soil, we added a few large slabs of paving stones around the perimeter. It was lovely. Then we stocked the pond with water plants and goldfish. Lots of fish. I added 12 little goldfish after letting the water sit for three days, as instructed. Within one week, we saw an enormous increase of bird population in our garden. Within a month, we had received the following visitors: raccoons, an enormous heron, a seagull (!), and a small hawk. And, of course, Toby had a great time playing with the fish. Within two months, the plants had doubled in size and the fish disappeared.
Fast forward to 20 years ago. By this time, after a series of frustrating and heart-breaking fish losses and the pond shell cracking due to freezing weather, Bill had removed the shell and dug a much larger pond. This pond, which remains to this day, has a four-foot-deep section covered by a permanent water plant where the fish overwinter. Under the plant and in the deep, they are protected from weather extremes and hunters. In warm weather, the fish come up to the two-foot-deep section where I feed them and check for health problems. And for all the work involved with owning and caring for a large fish pond (about 700 gallons when full), the rewards are immense. The fish are beautiful, interactive, and a true joy to own.
But arriving at this point wasn’t easy. Over the years we have used many different methods for protecting the fish from predators in the hope that the fish would survive to old age. From fences to sturdy wire covers, from long boards covering the pond at night to spraying the perimeter with anti-predator spray, nothing worked. I’ve unwillingly fed countless visitors over the years. One early summer morning, around 5am or so, after having made a cup of coffee, I opened the front door to let in the morning breeze. I noticed something out of the corner of my eye over at the pond. I walked out unto the porch and saw a coyote – head down and butt-up – fishing in my pond. I yelled at him. He looked up at me while munching on something, and casually loped down the front yard to the street, giving me the side-eye as he went. I muttered “Bad dog!” as he strolled away, happy and no longer hungry. About 10 years ago, our beagle almost broke through our living room window when he saw an enormous heron land in our pond. The bird got away with a couple of the most beautiful multi-colored fish in the pond and Pippin, after getting outside, had a wonderful time running through the garden, tearing up plants as he charged after the huge bird. The most irritating incident occurred three summers ago. Bill and I were in the living room – front door and windows wide open for the breeze – when we heard the rocks surrounding the pond being moved. Scrape, splash, scrape, splash, chatter, more rocks scraping, more chatter, and then a loud splash. Bill charged outside with a flashlight to find a raccoon family having the time of their life pushing rocks into the pond. No fish were lost during that event but it took them two full days to come out from under the plants for food.
The result of all this work to protect the fish to old age is now a population of almost 30 beautiful, brightly colored fish ranging in ages from one year to four years. All the protecting and feeding of the most recent five fish I purchased has resulted in a large population of babies and one very fertile breeder. She pumps out those babies like there’s no tomorrow! These days, I offer free fish to anyone who visits. We’ve removed all the barriers to the pond and allowed wildlife to help themselves. Last summer, I returned to the store where I bought the fish and explained that the original fish I purchased are huge now (close to eight inches long) and one is very, very fertile. “Will they ever stop breeding?!” I was assured that they will limit their population due to the size of the pond. The smallest fish may die over winter due to cold or lack of food (I don’t feed them during cold weather), a couple of the oldest fish will die during winter, and if the biggest fish get hungry enough they will eat the smallest fish. Nature takes care of itself sometimes. I hope.
In the meantime, if you want a free goldfish or two, you know who to call!
Another atmospheric river is hitting us here in the Seattle area today through Monday. And the most recent forecast that I paid attention to says more rain is on the way. I tend to fade out these days when I hear a weather forecast – rain, flooding, rain, “look at those rain totals!!”, and more rain. Lots and lots of rain. When I was out in the garden yesterday I was pleased to see my moss gardens thriving. These small areas I’ve created over the years were inspired by a trip to Japan in 2016 – my spouse, Bill, and I toured the country for 16 days while our son was an exchange student at Waseda University. We visited Tokyo, Kyoto, Kanazawa, and surrounding areas of those cities. Of all that we saw and experienced – shrines, temples, museums, gardens, ancient samurai neighborhoods, business areas, country-side vistas from the train – the gardens impressed me most of all. And of the gardens we visited (intentionally or stumbling into as a result of getting lost), the moss gardens made the greatest impression on me. When we returned home I immediately got to work creating small moss beds in my garden. And as I mentioned, these days they are thriving.
And while I was walking through the garden, I remembered our flight home from Japan and my delightful seatmate (not my spouse – he slept most of the way – although he’s delightful when awake). Bill and I sat in the middle section of the plane, three seats together, with Bill on the aisle, me in the middle, and a young Chinese exchange student on my other side. As we settled in for the flight, to my surprise, this young student asked me how I liked Japan, where I was from, and our conversation took off in a very relaxed and natural way. We talked – he, mostly – for the majority of the flight. He had been at a university studying some type of engineering that I don’t remember, was fluent in three languages (English, Japanese, and Cantonese), and was coming home for a short break. He asked me my impression of the Japanese people (a question I wondered about initially) and then asked me if I had felt any discrimination while there. I explained that my experiences had been remarkably pleasant, that I was thoroughly impressed with the cleanliness and politeness of the country, and that the only odd experience I had was to see a protester in Shinjuku yelling at passers-by. My seatmate explained that the protester was probably yelling at the tourists to go home. He then explained that he had experienced considerable “crap” because of his race but had expected it. We talked until dinner was served, talked another hour or two during and after dinner, and then he fell asleep. I read. It was a thoroughly delightful flight home.
I miss travel. Maybe because I have been so fortunate – I have never had a memorably unpleasant experience on any flight. I’ve been to San Diego three times alone and each time I’ve had thoughtfully talkative, interesting seatmates, our flight home from England in 2019 was a fun flight because of a very funny seatmate, and all the other flights I’ve taken over many years have been enjoyable. I’ve never been on a flight where an altercation occurred, so hearing about recent fights or harassments occurring on flights is sad and upsetting. And embarrassing for this country. From what I have read, the majority of these altercations have been because of anger, often fueled by alcohol – someone feeling “put upon” because of mask requirements. This inherently self-centered response is ridiculous. I have a deep fear and revulsion of this type of anger and my response is to walk away from it. As a result, these days I’m reluctant to take a trip that involves air travel. Being trapped with someone indulging in such angry outbursts will keep me on the ground for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, Bill and I are planning our next big vacation for whenever air travel becomes safer, and I will indulge in very enjoyable memories of travels past.
I wish you safe travels, fun seatmates, a good book, and clear skies.