LOCAL WALKS: Kukutali Preserve

1. Madrone tree, Kukutali Preserve, La Conner, Washington

Summer has finally arrived here in northwestern Washington. The temperatures are still on the cool side but the sun is warm and the green machine has pushed past the delicacy of Spring into the lush heft of the season. The birds are a bit quieter, the afternoon light is bright and dappled, and the apples on the old tree are beginning to blush.

It’s no time to stay indoors, but the tourists are here so these days, I gravitate towards less-traveled corners of the county. There’s a preserve nearby called Kukutali, a Swinomish Indian word meaning the place of cattail mats. Local tribes dug clams and fished here in the summertime, living in shelters they wove from cattail leaves. It’s an interesting place for a walk anytime of year, with tidelands, forest, a lagoon and beautiful views.

2. Looking across Similk Bay from Kukutali Preserve. In the foreground is a lagoon that is fed and refreshed by the tides, which also scatter the driftwood around.


In the nineteenth century European-Americans began to forcefully occupy this area, part of what they called Washington Territory. The Treaty of Point Elliot, one of many treaties drawn up with native peoples, should have secured this land for the Swinomish tribe in 1855. But within 30 years a white family took ownership of the peninsula, and over succeeding years different individuals and entities owned the land. In the 1970’s there was even a plan to build a nuclear power plant here; thankfully that idea was scrapped due to environmental concerns.

3. A forest path lined with tall Douglas fir trees at Kukutali.

Finally, in 2010 a unique partnership was forged between the Swinomish, whose reservation and tribally owned tidelands border the peninsula, and Washington State Parks. The state was able to purchase the land, which is now co-owned and managed by the tribe and the state together, a very unusual situation. This partnership should keep the rich marine ecosystem and important upland habitat safe from development. Under the agreement certain sections of the peninsula and shoreline are off limits to people who aren’t Swinomish, and the remainder of the land is a nature preserve.

Kukutali Preserve is a little over a mile from my house as the crow flies, but we live in a land of inlets and bays, so the drive takes ten minutes (twenty when I stop for coffee along the way). I headed over there several times last week with a question about a certain wildflower in the back of my mind. I parked in the small lot, got my things together and walked down the gravel road to a tombolo you have to cross to reach the forested part of the preserve (you might remember the word, “tombolo” from a previous post.)

4. A reminder.

At Kukutali there’s one particularly large Madrone tree (Arbutus menziesii) I like to visit, to pay my respects and check on it. Early this Spring I noticed several pairs of leaves resembling tulip leaves, but flat on the ground, near the big Madrone. I told myself to return later to see what flower would come up there, so last week I made a beeline for that spot. Surprise! A little colony of Rein orchids was waving in the breeze, their slender stems of tiny, creamy white orchid flowers just inches tall, and easy to overlook. They rose from the litter of discarded leaves under the Madrones, and bloomed among dry, golden grasses between the trees. I was thrilled to find the delicate orchids sharing space with such beautiful, special trees on a quiet hill overlooking the water.

5. The wildflower in question – a Rein orchid (Platanthera sp.) has been difficult to precisely identify. Several different Rein orchids can be found in this area and they look alike.

6. A closer look. It might be P. elongata, Elegant Piperia.

7. Here’s the little colony of twenty or so orchids under the Madrone trees, basking in dappled light and fresh breezes. What we can’t see are the complex symbiotic relationships with fungi happening under the soil.



8. A mature Madrone tree at Kukutali, with recently dropped leaves.

9. As soon as you step out from the shade of the forest everything is very dry. On a sunny day the grasses are shot with gold.




The Rein orchids were exciting but the forest path beckons….let’s walk.


10. The north path goes through the woods to the end of the peninsula.

11. Summer sunlight in the forest.



13. An old Douglas fir tree is surrounded by younger friends.


14. The fronds of several Sword fern plants criss-cross in graceful curves.

15. Douglas firs, Redcedars and Western hemlocks tower over a lush wildgarden understory of Sword fern.

16. Trees often fall here; the soil is thin. No worries – after it falls a tree lives on, supporting a world of lichens, fungi, insects, and often more plants, even new trees.

17. The beautifully intricate leaves of Rattlesnake plantain (Goodyera oblongifolia) nestle in a soft bed of moss on the forest floor. Here in the shade it will stay cool and damp, but just a few steps away along the shoreline, the sun can be harsh.



18. The northwest corner of the peninsula has a series of rocky cliffs set with tall Douglas fir trees. In the distance is mount Erie, the highest point on Fidalgo Island.



After a slow, meditative wander through the forest I come to the end of the island, where the water sparkles and the eagle cries. The gravel beaches here are fun to inspect for signs of wildlife. In the recesses of the rocky places I’ve found tiny crabs and strange Orange sea cucumbers. At the other end of the tombolo is another small promontory which is off limits to everyone. I’ve seen Killdeer bravely chasing Bald eagles three or four times their size there, and heard the high-pitched cries of Black oystercatchers.

19. The tides work their magic on a Kukutali tombolo.

20. Driftwood floats ashore and lodges under steep cliffs on the Kiket Bay side of the peninsula.


21. And creatures wash up…

21. The beach at the end of the peninsula on one side is a mix of broken shells, basalt rock fragments, and bits of wood. Round the corner to the other side, and it all changes – instead of broken fragments there are marble and fist-sized rocks.

Heading back into the forest to return to my car, I feel weary from all the impressions – green upon green in the woods, the fairyland of tiny orchids, the sun-bright views over the water, the fresh cedar scent along the north trail, a clamber over immense driftwood logs on the beach – my senses have enjoyed a feast here, and next time it will all be different. Of that I am sure.

But for now, it’s time to trace my steps back through the woods….

23. Ironwood, or Ocean Spray (Holodiscus discolor) hangs gracefully over the north trail.

24. A Red huckleberry bush in the forest gathers filtered sunlight. Look very closely and you may find a few bright red berries, but soon the birds will devour them.


25. Rabbits are never hard to find at Kukutali, and often they don’t hop away until you’re pretty close.

26. The view across Kiket Bay towards Hope Island.

***

IMMERSED

…in another world. That’s what I felt on one magic Saturday in Leiden, the Netherlands. I was deeply engaged in a swirl of impressions, or was it a banquet of sensations? It began as soon as I awoke that day, tucked into an airy room on the second floor of an elegant private home:

It was tempting to stay snuggled in the thick duvet, or just to rest my gaze on the canal across the way with its swimming grebes, soaring magpies, fat old sycamores and pale daffodils waving atop a parakeet-green carpet of grass. But Leiden beckoned.

We slipped downstairs, walked along the canal, crossed a bridge and made our way to the heart of the city, at the confluence of the Oude and Nieuwe Rijn rivers, flowing through Leiden as canals. The old part of town is a picturesque neighborhood of cobblestone streets, bike-lined bridges arcing over winding canals, and handsome historic buildings, many from the 16th and 17th centuries, when Leiden was in its prime. It’s all very walkable, with enough restaurants, bars and coffee shops scattered around to grab a sit-down when you need it.

The Saturday market was bustling that cool Spring day. De Markt is supposed to be one of the best in the Netherlands, with packed stalls selling all the vegetables, fruit, fish, cheese, meat, baked goods and flowers you could want. As we walked towards the market we heard a merry musical sound that we couldn’t identify until we saw it – a colorful antique street organ parked on the cobblestones to entertain shoppers! One couple broke into a waltz, their wide smiles flying through the air. It was one of those great travel moments that one remembers later with a sigh….




Soon I was tired of the crowds, so we broke away from the bustle and wandered down a side street.

That’s when the magic took hold. In a matter of seconds, a hush replaced the market noise. It was the kind of stillness (no car noise, just the ring of an old church bell) that makes it easy to imagine you’ve dropped back into another century. I rested my gaze on a folding table set out in front of a narrow row house, holding an assortment of oddities – a globe, a broken tile, some worn books. The door to the building was ajar. It was dim inside and I sensed that a pile of treasures was waiting there. But it all seemed too precious – I doubted that I could afford anything in a European antique store. As I stood there hesitating (undoubtedly with a longing look on my face) a smiling couple exiting the store urged, “You must go inside!” So we wandered in, and for the next hour or so we were immersed in a self-contained little universe of delights and discoveries….





It wasn’t necessarily the objects themselves, though many were fascinating. It was the atmosphere, the jumble of centuries and continents, the dark recesses that held one unexpected object after another. The store, called Anterieur, is a warren of poorly lit, connected rooms that meander through the block, rooms that open onto snug outdoor spaces full of plants and statuary and rusty implements, rooms behind doors, behind rooms, behind windows….









I suppose I’m romanticizing the store – you might think it’s a mess! But for me that day, it was a delightful, otherworldy maze and I’d gladly return. If I could go again I would buy that textile I passed on, and another tile or two….

Right around the corner from Anterieur is an unusual small museum, the American Pilgrim Museum. I had read about it and I was curious. There was a sign: someone would be back to open the door in fifteen minutes.

The door featured a hand-stitched, ragged-edged cloth sign announcing the hours and price (five euros) – the perfect introduction to an eccentric and evocative museum. When it opened up again there were just a handful of us, mostly Americans. Our guide was the unforgettable Jeremy Bangs, the director and a distinguished Pilgrim scholar.



The museum is one of those places that’s impossible to describe, but suffice it to say that the experience was yet another immersion – this time into an intimate space full of objects both precious and mundane, that a small group of people left behind over four hundred years ago. Leaving England to find religious freedom, the Pilgrims spent time here in Leiden, where attitudes towards freedom of thought tend be very enlightened. They found work at the university – the oldest in the Netherlands – or in the cloth trades. But they struggled financially, and had misgivings about the liberal Dutch life – their children might stray, their hard-found religious freedom might evolve into a purely secular one. After ten years the group resolved to cross the Atlantic to the New World, where opportunities were plentiful and they could keep their faith firm. Back to England they went, to arrange for a ship and passage, and then, off to America. After the Leiden sojourn perhaps the pilgrims were a little better prepared for what lay ahead.

In the small museum housed in a fourteenth century building, the light is the same natural light supplemented with candlelight that was used four hundred years ago. Artifacts are not hidden behind glass, but are there to be touched and sensed fully. A latrine is in the corner, bone dice from a game children played lie on a table, and an amazing hand-painted linen banner carried in processions (seen above) hangs from the ceiling. Mr. Bangs hews to no script; each tour is different, depending on who is present and what questions they ask. I wished I had been better prepared because the man has such deep knowledge of his subject, but frankly, it was enough to simply take in the atmosphere.

After the museum we made our way to the Burcht, an historical fortification and park sitting on a hill in the heart of Leiden. Ages ago this was a shell midden, then in the 1200’s it was a residence, later it was a refuge from floods, later still a city water tower. A long history! Up in the old stone castle we enjoyed a view of rooftops from walkways circling the inside of the old brick building. The views were obscured by the budding branches of sycamore trees, which was fitting on that early Spring day.

The Burcht is guarded by the Leiden coat of arms, a lion and two crossed keys. We saw the crossed keys symbol over and over, throughout the city, and beyond question, the city opened its doors to us that Saturday – with or without keys.





***

If you go to Leiden, here’s an amusing list of places not to miss assembled by an illustrator who drew a painstakingly detailed, hand-drawn map of Leiden. Thank you Joe for the street organ photo!

Small Town Parade

Happy Fourth! We didn’t want to miss our local Independence Day parade. Anacortes has a reputation for being a bit odd, and I think you’ll see the evidence here. The town is pretty laid back, too. From senior citizens in wheelchairs to toddlers driving tiny cars – and let’s not leave out dogs dressed as lions – everyone is happy to keep it simple and low key – no self-conscious displays of power or anything else. Let’s just have a good time. And throw me some candy while you’re at it!











I threw this post together quickly….the pictures needed to get out there before it’s over. Those of you in the US are probably already barbecuing by now or on your way to watch fireworks. Some of you will watch from a rooftop, some from a beach, some in the back yard. Those of you outside the US are probably asleep already and won’t see this until tomorrow, but no matter.

A few American traditions have already wrapped – on Coney Island, Joey “Jaws” Chestnut won the Nathan’s hot dog eating contest by scarfing down 71 of ’em. Yum. In small towns and big cities the parades are over, ball games are being played, beaches are crowded. We’ve heard from several relatives and friends today. Everyone’s fine.

We’ll skip the tanks, thank you, and we’ll be fine too.