Simple Beauty in Complex Days

Last year, as the year before, was difficult, complicated and at times very painful. But within each day, no matter how troubled, resides a moment or two of quiet peace. Our challenge is to find these points in time and cherish them as they move from the immediate to the distant.

January
February
March
April
May
June
July
August
September
October
November
December

I wish for you a moment of peace in each and every day.

Neighborhood Gardens, Part 8

Foggy Morning

Seattle and surrounding regions are in a dense fog these days, accompanied by an Air Stagnation alert. Our air quality hasn’t reached the Unhealthy level yet but it certainly doesn’t smell or taste pleasant. Nonetheless, I enjoy walking in fog. It quiets footsteps, muffles voices, and alters distant views. One can imagine how fairies, phantoms and spirits followed our distant ancestors on their travels in foggy conditions. Most distinct to me is how plants respond to the cool, moist ambient air – especially conifers. They appear to “open their arms” to the added moisture; opening up, glistening, pulling in.

Neighborhood sights:

Very foggy as I started out.
Uphill, a bit clearer. One of my favorite Eucalyptus trees on this route.
Dinosaurs roamed here last summer. I look forward to their return in spring.
Thick fog envelopes this maple as I walked down towards a Puget Sound view.
Looking west towards the Olympic Mountains and Puget Sound. Trust me – they’re there.

Here’s to clear skies, clean air, and good walks.

That Time of Year

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.

Crassula, Aeonium, Anacampseros, Kalanchoe, and Graptosedum.
In the front is Kleinia stapeliformis (Pickle Plant). Behind is Crassula, ‘Watchchain Jade’, two Kalanchoes, and new agaves.
And no dry garden is complete without Lithops.

Here’s to good weather, happy plants, and glorious day-dreams.

Winter: The Dark Side

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 –

A very frozen Lonicera brownii, ‘Dropmore Honeysuckle’, and a snow-covered Skimmia. Water barrels frozen, also.
Seattle Parks chainsaw crew cleared the path for us walkers/joggers.
The storm took out an old oak, Quercus (rubra, I think).
Cold, shaky hands but you get the picture.
Yep – that’s one big, dirty snowball out in the soccer field.
Melt and overflow in Seattle’s SEA (Street Edge Alternative) installations alleviate flooding problems.

Sometimes the beauty of winter brings a lot of work.

I wish you warmth, safety, and someone else to shovel the driveway.

In the Presence of Trees, Part 7

Ponderosa Pine

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.

A short walk from our cabin to the river.
As I said, statuesque.
A few aspen share the forest.
The very cold Methow River.
The end of a beautiful day. I mentioned that it was cold, right?

I wish you good hiking, clear skies, and a very good New Year.

Peace!

The Year in Review

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 fa├žade 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.

I wish the same for you and those you love.

Snow Day

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.

Enjoy!

The trunks of my Arbutus unedo looks good dressed up in snow.
My little Pinus mugo, ‘Carsten’s Wintergold’, showing some gold at the tips.
One of our neighborhood’s many young Amelanchier alnifoila, Service Berry trees.
A massive, very old Acer macrophyllum, Big Leaf maple.
Icicles forming on a rockery. My hands were pretty cold and shaky at this point, so this photo is a bit blurry. But, you get the picture :)!

I wish you the joy of a snow day – before the shoveling begins!

Traveling and Hiking in the Rain

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:

https://www.olympicnationalparks.com/discover/area-information/

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.

From the top of the trail to Ruby Beach.
A rare ray of sunshine brings out colors in the water – and shadows of the photographer.

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.

Moss covers every limb of every tree.
These hemlocks were sprouted from and nurtured by a nurse log countless years ago.
Some of the sword fern (Polystichum munitum) reach eye-level.
A huge old stump supports ‘young’ Hemlock trees and sword ferns.
Nothing really ever dies in these forests.
And streams run throughout.
Bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum) and a few vine maples (Acer circinatum) in the background on the Hoh River Trail.
On the Kestner Homestead Trail, an ancient Bigleaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum) generously shares its limbs with moss.
In the Quinault Rainforest, you’ll be left speechless.
The canopy of this ancient Spruce.
Even with another hiker for scale, the size of this spruce is difficult to take in.
Standing its ground. It’s a humbling experience to be in this trees’ presence.

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.

Clouds reflected on Lake Quinault.
Lake Quinault Lodge, built in 1926.

I wish you good hiking, clear water, and a bit of sun to warm your soul.

After the Storm

A clear, cold morning after a rainy couple of days called me outside – perfect weather for an early morning walk. What a pleasure to be surrounded by such beauty.

Enjoy!

Nandina domestica
Juniper has moments of beauty, and this is one.
This little pine (Pinus mugo, I think) is a well-loved tree.
Rose hips and rain drops.
My Abies concolor at its sparkling best.
It was early when I headed out but the promise of light was a sincere invitation.

As Satchmo said, “What a wonderful world.” And, it is.

In Defiance of Time

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.

Peace.