Stillaguamish Watershed Walk

“Stillaguamish” is the lovely tongue twisting name of a wild river that runs from the Cascade Range into Puget Sound. Named after the people who originally lived there, it is fed by the North and South Fork Stillaguamish Rivers – forty combined miles of scenic, salmon-rich, flood-prone waters tumbling through mountains, foothills and farmlands.

Recently we took an afternoon walk on Lime Kiln Trail in the South Fork Stillaguamish River watershed. Formerly logging land and now a county park, the forest is scattered with giant cedar stumps – evidence of a landscape which must have been jaw dropping to anyone who saw it before logging eradicated the giant trees.

It is still a beautiful place, but when I gaze on the immensity of those stumps I wonder how people could have cut them all down and carted them away. They are like Grandmothers in my mind, Grandmothers slaughtered. For what? For buildings, and shingles, that so often just burned to the ground…

In spite of such thoughts I did enjoy the novelty of a sunny winter day on the trail. People and their dogs were out in force and the going was easy. Sunlight filtered gently through tattered drapes of hanging moss and a delightfully warm breeze wafted across our cheeks.

The Path

An Old Cedar Stump

(this one looked like it burned down)

Sword fern (Polystichum munitum), an evergreen, leathery fern that often blankets the forest floor

Cat Tail Moss (Isothecium myosuoides, or I. stoloniferum)

A Polypore Mushroom, probably Fomitopsis pinicola (Red-Belted Conk)

Bird’s Nest Fungus (Nidula niveotomentosa)

Scrutinizing the forest floor beside the path, I was excited to find an unusual little fungus, called Bird’s Nest Fungus. These tiny fungi have spores concentrated in little discs at the bottom of the cup-shaped body. When a raindrop splashes at just the right angle, out pops a disc of spores.

Bird’s Nest Fungus from above – it was a sunny day but in this cool, shady pocket, raindrops persist on the moss. And there was something even more amazing today in this low, cold spot alongside the trail…

Frost Beard, or Hair Ice

Yes, it’s ice. It forms under special conditions, often on the branches of Alder trees, which are plentiful in parts of this forest. Apparently a bacteria living inside alder wood causes water freeze at a slightly higher temperature than it normally would. When that happens, water inside the branch expands and squeezes out of little cracks and fissures in the bark. If the air temperature drops below freezing, then the ice stays frozen in place, curling up in hair-like tendrils.

Like so many small things in this forest, it remains undisturbed. Sunlight doesn’t reach this corner; wind is rare. Only a careless person or an animal walking by might knock it off. I was tempted to touch it but was afraid I would break it, so I resisted the impulse.Β  I’ve seen this phenomenon in photos on other blogs, but never in person until this day. What a treat!

Sunlight filters through Cat Tail moss on a Douglas Fir Pseudotsuga menziesii tree.

From close to the ground the riot of growth looks chaotic.

Big Leaf Maple or Acer macrophyllum

These common lowland forest trees are often multi-trunked and typically host heavy loads of moss, lichens and epiphytic plants. It looks like this tree grew up around an old cedar stump which eventually rotted. It’s plants growing on plants here in the moist, shady forest.

Sun’s getting lower – time to head back. Someone has left two walking sticks for the next hikers…

A last glance at the forest. In the upper left corner another Big Leaf Maple sports Licorice ferns. The trees straight ahead are a mix of Douglas fir, Western Hemlock and Red Cedar. Forests in this part of the world support lush, dramatic growth but usually do not have a large variety of tree species, which makes it easy to learn to identify them.

I enjoy the identification game – figuring out what species I saw and reading about them when I get home – but I believe that fully being there with the living things of the forest- smelling, touching, listening, looking – is the ground on which the rest of our knowledge can flower.Β  I’ll be getting out in the woods again, sun or no sun, as soon as I can!



  1. Another great set Lynn! Looks like you could have been walking in our forest – and you found some frost flowers. The Bird’s Nest fungus is new to me, great find. The majority of old growth cedar in the entire Cascadia area (including southern BC) would have been taken for shakes. It was a huge industry in the late 1800’s. Your Old Cedar Stump is quite typical. I think most of the time it is lightning strikes that causes the fire to burn out the dry center core. When living on Keats Island we had a cedar that was hit by lightning and it burned like a chimney fire. It took quite a few hours for us to put out but fortunately the surrounding trees weren’t affected. It looks like a great park to explore.


    • I was thinking of you when I found the frost flower. I was so excited! II really hope you see the Bird’s Nest fungus because ti’s astounding. I recall you had a similar photo of the other one a while ago. Thanks so much for filling me in more on the history – much is general knowledge around here and it’s actually been hard to find out about it online. I did read a little about the cedar shake industry and how common the shakes were until the cheaper alternative came around. Lightning strikes – yes – but I also read that in (I think) 1927 there was a huge fire in that woods. I can imagine a cedar on fire being a big fire, but contained – they’re like giant matchsticks! I just wish there were more places where the old growth, especially the majestic cedars was still intact.


    • It would! One of these days…and I don’t think I’ve been to the one you mention – when I’m in Edmonds I tend to be near the water, out on the pier or grabbing an espresso at that little place on the right before the ferry.


  2. What a great post. I love that you look up the things you’ve seen and share them. I hope to find some hair ice someday, but wonder if it ever gets cold enough in our neighborhood.


    • I bet it does – it was well above freezing that day, but somehow that little spot was very cold. Maybe you have to find that little nook. And I hear you’re getting a storm right now – unless that one is more inland – not sure. Anyway, so glad you enjoyed this. I will do more at some point.


  3. What a beautiful trip into the forest, Lynn. You were really lucky to see that Frost Beard. Thanks for the lesson on how it’s formed. I love all the ferns and mosses and fungi in the Pacific Northwest forests. Brings back memories of when I lived in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho and ventured out into the wilderness. πŸ™‚


    • I didn’t know you lived there, Cathy. It really is such a distinct ecosystem out here. And I have yet to get to Idaho. The thing is, one doesn’t have to go far to see great scenery, so I really haven’t explored far afield yet.


        • It is – at first, when we moved here, it seemed strange. And how quickly one gets used to a different landscape – but also, when I see the giant stumps I hunger for the “original” – or at least the pre-logging scenery. There are places, like on the Olympic Peninsula where it’s fairly intact. And of course the astonishment is not just at the size of the biggest trees, but the moss and lichens and fern-filled understory just add to it all.


  4. Thank you for visiting involution-odyssey and making me aware of your visit, and importantly these magical images! Really interesting, especially that ice hair and loved the bird’s nest fungi. Lovely find.


  5. You’re fortunate to have seen (and photographed) the bird’s nest fungus, which I’ve never even heard of till now. I have seen “frost beards” emerging from the base of the plant Verbesina virginica, and I can report that the delicate consistency of the ice reminds me of filo pastry.


  6. Oh, My! What luscious images! Primordial and almost intimidating. I felt as if I were stepping into a pristine world where nobody had been before me. I love the Cat Tail Moss, the Bird Nest fungi, and the Hair Ice fascinated me. The perspective looking up and into the forest is beautiful. πŸ™‚


    • The Pacific northwest has been logged, logged, logged, but in many places, that ended quite a while ago and the forest has regrown. It grows fast because there’s lots of moisture and very little freezing. And it’s full of interesting things. And I will say that there’s a lot of respect here for the natural world. Thanks for your thoughts – you have your own jungle down there, just different!


  7. Really love this post, and especially that ice shot-never seen anything quite like that! The forest reminds me of our visit to Cuyahoga state park in Ohio that I posted about here , and also the fantastic giant redwoods here . The trees are just so magnificent and the quiet so profound. Your post brought me right back to both of them!! Thanks for the memory πŸ™‚


    • Thank you Tina – I hadn’t seen the Redwoods post. You have some really beautiful photos there! And I like all the stone and rock in the Cuyahoga post. I bet you’d have a blast up here – maybe someday!


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