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