Here in the PNW, we’re mostly surrounded by wildfire. To our north, to the east of us, and from the south. To our west is a breath of clean, fresh air – the Puget Sound. Beyond the Sound – the Olympic Mountains, the Salish Sea and the Pacific Ocean. And these bodies of water bring us onshore winds that cool and clean our increasingly hot, smoky summer days. Forest fires in our time of extreme and rapid climate change bring horrific destruction (excessive heat and drought causing fire to jump into tree canopies unlike fires of past centuries, fire tornados, thick smoke-filled air). But, fires also bring something else – stunning and surreal beauty of dramatic skies.
Last evening’s sunset – smoke-filled and unhealthy – was beautiful nonetheless. I stood on my front porch and watched the sky change as each minute passed. Other than human-created sounds, I heard nothing. No birds sang the day to close, no crows cawed goodnight to their world. Just cars, trucks, and wind. I said goodnight to the day, went inside, and closed the door to the smoke.
A warm, smoky walk recently was interrupted with periodic cool, clean breezes, reminding me that autumn will soon arrive. Colors are changing, some plants come into their own this month, and days grow shorter. Before long, a vibrant and lively atmosphere will replace the worn out days of summer. I always look forward to the show. And here’s a preview of what’s heading our way.
I wish you time to make the most of these brief days between seasons. They hold surprises of cool breezes and gorgeous colors.
You know how you do something that you didn’t mean to do, and as you’re doing it you know it’s wrong, but you can’t stop yourself? Like, for instance, squishing a bug? Or, smashing a bee? Or, maybe . . . like sending a spider flying over your hedge and into your neighbor’s yard so fast that the poor arachnid almost broke the sound barrier just because it was making its web in front of your face as you’re walking through your garden, minding your own business, and you walk full-face-first into a sticky, enormous web with the innocent spider in the middle? I really didn’t mean to send it flying like that. But – spiders!! What can I say? I know and appreciate their environmental importance. They eat aphids, for god’s sake! They’re important! Their webs are beautiful (when not in my face and hair and arms and legs.) But – spiders!!
So far, this summer has been beautiful. Gentle weather, stunning skies, no drought (yet), thriving plants – not much more to ask for this small corner of our planet. In between long day trips and longer weekends of travel, I’ve been taking in the sites on my various walking routes. I thought I’d share with you some of the delights – old and new – that have come my way.
I hope your summer so far is just as you desire. And I wish for you blue skies, easy walks, and well-behaved wildlife.
Part 2 of our Yakima Summer brought us to the Cowiche Canyon trail system, maintained by Cowiche Canyon Conservancy and the BLM. In dry, windy heat we came to see the immense and unique beauty of this shrub-steppe landscape. Arid, sparse, rocky, rugged and at times disorienting – with over 30 miles of hiking trails through landscapes as varied as meadows, oak woods, and bone-dry basalt cliffs – this is 5,000 acres of truly wild beauty.
Due to the heat (and how I respond to it), we barely touched the tip of the Canyon, but what we saw was stunning. We walked along Cowiche Creek a short way. Lined with sparse, twisted willows (Salix sp.) and red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea), the sound of the creek harmonized with bird song, insect buzzing, and dry leaves moving in the wind. We crossed a small wooden bridge and the trail turned, leaving the creek behind. Before us rose sharp rocky cliffs accompanied by some of the thirstiest plant life I’ve seen since hiking Canyon de Chelly (Arizona) years ago. But life thrives here in the Canyon: black bear, cougar, coyotes, rattlesnakes and a wide variety of birds. And the variety of plant life is astounding. At this time, the University of Washington is attempting to introduce a very rare plant (found only in one place on Earth) to the Canyon – the Umtanum Desert Buckwheat, Eriogonum codium. A small population of this plant was found in 1995 in the Hanford Reach National Monument region. Because this area is so prone to wildfire, and habitat destruction by human activity, the desert buckwheat (also known as the basalt desert buckwheat) is experiencing population decline at an alarming rate. Therefore, the University of Washington’s goal is to develop of population of this plant in the Cowiche Canyon where the plant can be protected.
As I mentioned, we barely touched the surface of this wild, beautiful region of Washington state. This autumn we plan to return and hike most, if not all of, the trails. But in the meantime, these few pictures will give you an idea of what this landscape has to offer.
Ahead of us, the green faded into beiges, grays, and browns. And at this point, we turned back. For more information about the Cowiche Canyon area, the site below offers good information:
This morning was beautiful – an overcast thin and pale, a breeze slight and easy, warmth from the east countering cool from the west, and streets quiet and empty. Beautiful PNW morning. On early mornings such as this when I am between projects and work and chores, walking is even more appreciated than at most other times. When I encounter no one else on the roads my mind wanders to previous walks or hikes. As I passed a large, healthy stand of sedum in a hefty rockery, my mind wandered back to our first hiking trip to Canyon de Chelly. Heat surrounded us like the reflected images from mirrors front and behind – infinite shimmering heat. And dust. Duct as prevalent as rock in the canyon. I remembered that sweat evaporated as soon as it appeared. Our packs, soaked with sweat, dried as soon as we took them off our backs. Instant desiccation. And beauty. Stunning, surprising beauty. Surprising to see shots of green in such a brown/red/orange world. And then I came upon a blast of color that shocked me out of the desert and into a beautiful garden.
I found myself walking into a high-end neighborhood – north and west of my neighborhood by a couple of miles. Homes of manicured lawns, perfectly pruned old shrubs, gates locked at the driveways, and large homes with expansive views of Puget Sound. Not like my street which is filled with unique and original landscapes – few of them manicured (thank goodness). It reminded me of our long walks in England a few years ago. Soon, I passed a meditating frog which took my thoughts to Japan and the countless small shrines we passed as we walked along city streets.
Three miles out, my stomach growled. But that garden in the block ahead called me forward with a blast of golden yellow, and I walked on.
Time to cross the street and head back home. I thought about our next small trip coming up and the chores I need to finish before we leave. By this time, I was getting hungry. A peanut butter cookie came to mind. I thought about the coffee shop a few blocks east of my street and decided to head there. On the way, I passed one of the lovelier examples of color contrast on this street. I look forward to this garden when I take this route.
As I turned up the street towards the coffee shop, rabbits appeared. We have many in our area these days, but these two are better behaved than most.
Soon enough I entered the coffee shop. A long line of customers (it was 9:30am after all), and this time I didn’t see cookies. My turn at the counter finally arrived, and as I ordered my coffee I asked if there were any cookies. “Yep, we have one peanut butter cookie left.” It was meant to be!
I wish you good walks, happy memories, and a treat to sweeten the road.
A few more pictures from a thoroughly enjoyable garden tour, sponsored by the Arboretum. A wide range of garden styles, sizes and ages were represented. One garden, in particular, filled a luxurious five acres with beds of full sun to full shade perennials, on slopes and flat areas, two very large ponds, and a unique tree house. Another garden filled almost two acres with roses, clematis, anemone, and “annual” geraniums almost six feet in height (over-wintered in an ample greenhouse).
This garden tour is held yearly in June – missing the past 2 years due to Covid – and is a beloved and well-attended event. We plan to attend again next year, and I hope you will, as well.
Wishing you good gardening, fine weather, and enjoyment in all you do.
Yakima, Washington, is home to an exceptional and surprising treasure – the Yakima Area Arboretum. I first learned of this beautiful and educational arboretum in 1976 from a co-worker, with my first visit coming in early 1977. Having only experienced arboretums in Seattle, Oregon and western Canada before this, I admit that I was a little underwhelmed at the small stature of many of the trees. Young trees, to be sure. But over the years as Bill and I have visited the arboretum (and become members), we are continually surprised and impressed with its growth, both in stature and in variety.
Home to a fantastic collection of oaks, nut-bearing trees, and stunning maples, you will find that almost all specimens are labeled, and planted with enough space to fully stretch out their canopy. The arboretum fills 46 acres with maintained lawns, perennial beds of both native and introduced plants, a Japanese-style garden, rose garden, large pond, as well as offering spaces of deep shade and full sun. The Yakima River trail (Yakima Greenway) will take you to the arboretum if you want a long, scenic walk but also offers a good-sized parking lot for those arriving by vehicle. Bill and I took the Greenway trail from our hotel to the arboretum and spent a memorable 3+ hours on a warm Sunday morning visiting as much of the grounds as time allowed. A truly memorable way to start a day.
Below are a few pictures of this quiet, lovely place. I hope you will be inspired to visit this large, welcoming arboretum.
Wishing you sunny days, deep shade, and time enough to enjoy it all.
It’s been a while since I posted an article. Spring is overly busy here – including fighting allergies and building energy – and time to write sometimes needs to be put aside. In addition, recently we took a long weekend to the town where Bill and I met. In Yakima (central Washington) we met many years ago while attending college, and began our careers in healthcare. The hospital I worked in is long closed but the hospital Bill worked in remains, and has expanded in space, facilities, and offerings.
The drive from Seattle to Yakima can be a routine freeway affair with not much out of the ordinary to see. However, there is an 25 mile-long optional route between Ellensburg and Yakima that, in my opinion, offers some of the most beautiful scenery in the state of Washington. The Yakima River Canyon Road (mostly just called Canyon Road) cuts through a basalt landscape that offers cliffs up to 2,000 feet in height, rolling desert hills, magnificent Ponderosa Pines, and a sparse covering of rare native plants. The occasional Philadelphus, Sambucus and lupine (Lupinus polyphyllus, I think) share ample space with sagebrush and grasses. Wildlife includes hawks, eagles, osprey, falcons, beavers, and many other animals. We have taken this road many times and see something new each time. This road does not allow trucks, and those who drive this two-lane, twisting route are free to travel slowly to take in the surroundings or to pull off the road when space allows to take in this breath-taking, unique beauty.
Below are a few pictures that, I hope, will give you an idea of what this immense and ancient landscape offers.