Willapa Hills State Park trail

Just outside the charming small town of Chehalis my family and I met up with one of the most beautiful hikes in Washington state. On a classically beautiful early spring day, all things came together for us – my son’s first day of vacation since 2020 (the hospital he works in has been struggling with insufficient staffing), my spouse set aside his projects, and the extreme fatigue I’ve been working through since October subsided – and we hit the trail. We began our hike at the Adna trailhead. This is an especially picturesque area as you hike along pasture, stream, and meadow.

Cows, sheep, lambs, and horses populate this area.

My phone camera doesn’t do justice to distance, but as you see, these little guys called out to us as we passed by. Also, we were talking with the lambs as I tried to take this shot.

As you leave the pastoral areas and cross Spooner and Clinton roads, a series of meadows and streams greet you. A combination of snow and heavy rains flattened grasses along the trail.

Down the trail, you cross the Chehalis River.

After crossing the river, the trail enters forested areas. This portion of the trail is quiet and filled with the sweet scent of moss. And at the start of this region, treats are provided for hiking companions.

Many hillsides along the trail show signs of considerable erosion from February rains, and an eastern portion of the trail was closed due to landslides.

If you haven’t hiked the Willapa Hills State Park trail system yet, I recommend visiting it soon. Spring is a beautiful time of year for hiking, and this trail system is one of our state’s easiest and most scenic trails. And, if time allows, ending your hike with a visit to the Market Street Bakery and Café in Chehalis is well worth the time!

I wish you a spring full of good hiking, clear weather, and open bakeries!

A Winter Garden, Part 2

The month of February is a very busy time for me and Bill. Our birthdays are eight days apart and this is the month we met 50 years ago, so we combine those dates to make the entire month celebratory. In addition, we’ve continued weekly walks through the Washington Park Arboretum. In my free time, I have continued walks and hikes in the neighborhood and a local urban forest while doing my best to avoid ice, snow, and some very slick trails.

The following are a few of the late winter delights I’ve encountered while out. Although I walk fast to keep warm (we have had many days of sub-freezing weather this month), I will always take a moment to stop for a picture or two.

A creative offering nestled in the Mahonia (or Berberis, but I prefer Mahonia).
In the ‘hood.
Same garden as the little sprite. Berginia cordifolia nestled among granite.
A neighbor. Nice guy – quiet and thoughtful.
I felt I was being watched as I walked along.
Camelia japonica at the Washington Park Arboretum.
I love this stand of Cornus at the Arboretum.
On the New Zealand trail. Arboretum.
A true blue day.
Good neighbors – a Madrone, a pine, and a maple. Arboretum.
At home – Ribes sanguineum, White Icicle.
The trunk of my venerable Pieris floribunda. No plant in my garden means more to me than this one.
And it’s in full bloom!
On the way up the trail to visit my brother. His ashes are giving life to a young Garry oak (Quercus garryana) in this forest.
This neighbor’s Amelanchier is still decked out for the winter holidays.

I wish you bright days, good trails, and delights to warm your soul.

A Winter Garden, Part 1

A garden in winter. What descriptions come to mind when you hear that sentence? Cold, damp, and dark? Lifeless, or mostly so? Bare trees, mushy plant residue, saturated soil? Or lumps and bumps under a layer of snow? All can be accurate to a point. But, in truth, a winter garden often is a vibrant and beautiful place. It is a place filled with life, color, movement and fragrance. Subtle color such as pale pink set against a background of deep green is a remarkably welcome sight on a cloudy winter day. (We have many such days here in the Pacific Northwest.) Or the vibrantly colored bare twigs of a group of shrubs that looks like the group is lit from within. Maybe brilliant purple, red and green of petioles, buds, and leaves. A bit a unexpected beauty on a gray day. There is so much to see in a winter garden.

My spouse and I have been taking weekly walks in the Washington Park Arboretum to visit the Witt Winter Garden, and surrounding areas, to see the many surprises a winter garden offers. If you haven’t visited the Arboretum yet this winter, now is the time!

Garrya elliptica seedheads.
A gorgeous Corylus.
Camelia japonica
More Camelia
Various Cornus sericea (yellow twig dogwood) and a beautiful willow shrub. The plant is labeled Black Willow (Salix ssp.) but I think it looks like Salix alba.
A winter garden is incomplete without Hellebores.
Daphniphyllum macropodum is a beautiful small tree.
More Daphniphyllum.

For all its harsh, dark days, winter also brings brief moments of beauty. And, the gifts of a winter garden are as welcome as any gift can be.

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 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.

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!