LOCAL WALKS: Kukutali Preserve

1. Madrone tree, Kukutali Preserve.

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 to the 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 woven from cattail leaves. It’s an interesting place for a walk any time of the year, with tidelands, forest, a lagoon, and beautiful views.

2. Looking across Similk Bay from Kukutali Preserve. In the foreground is a lagoon that’s fed and refreshed by tides that sometimes scatter 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 had taken ownership of the peninsula. Over succeeding years different individuals and entities owned the land and in the 1970s there was 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.

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 members of the Swinomish tribe. 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 if I stop for coffee on the way). I headed over there several times last week with a question about a certain wildflower in the back of my mind. Parking in the small lot, I gathered my things together and walked down the gravel road to a tombolo that must be crossed to reach the forest (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. Very early in spring, I had noticed fresh pairs of leaves resembling tulip leaves pressed flat on the ground near the big Madrone. I made a note to return later to see what flower would emerge because I had no idea what plant the mysterious leaves belonged to. That spot was my first stop and 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, blooming among dry, golden grasses. I was thrilled to find the delicate orchids sharing space with such beautiful, special trees on a quiet hill overlooking calm 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 under the soil. The plants could not exist without them.

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 winds slowly 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. Sword fern fronds 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 is harsh and there are no Goodyera plants.

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 reached the end of the island, where the water sparkles and the eagle cries. The gravel beaches here are fun places to inspect for signs of wildlife. In the recesses of rocky spots at low tide, I’ve seen tiny crabs and strange Orange sea cucumbers. Nearby there’s another small promontory that is off-limits to everyone. I’ve read that it’s resplendent with wildflowers in spring and I’ve seen Killdeer bravely chasing Bald eagles three or four times their size there. Often, the high-pitched cries of Black oystercatchers are heard here, too.

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. 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.



  1. Fine written with beautiful pictures. So many, I don’t know where to start πŸ™‚ What a nice landscape with the blue skies and the driftwood (I think I could spend days there!) and the tiny orchids are marvellous! I love the arbutus tree (by the way, do you remember the one in the glasshouse in the Berggarten? There is one from the Canaries. The bark is very similiar. I will think of you, when I see it the next time). I like the golden touch of the beautiful grass / weed. Very well captured. I also love the black and whites, especially the structures and shades and the one with the summerlight. Very atmospheric! The mushrooms look very interesting. The white one is a mushroom too – (funny thing)? And the pictures with the green leaves and the sunlight are very nice!! I am glad to hear the summer arrived in your place πŸ™‚ Oh, and before I forget: I am glad the indians own their country again and have this partnership which really sounds unusual. So the land will be cared for which is good news!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I had forgotten about the Arbutus we saw at the Berggarten in that wonderful conservatory – there were some fantastic plants in there – thanks for reminding me. πŸ™‚ For the grasses, I moved the clarity and texture sliders way down in Lightroom, among other things. I’m happy that you like the black and whites – they’re always fun to do but they can’t always compete well with color photos. The other mushroom is not a mushroom, its an odd plant that has no chlorophyll, called an Indian pipe here, or Monotropa uniflora. It uses fungi in the soil to connect to a tree for nutrition. They like mature, coniferous forests. Thanks for your comment, Almuth, it’s always fun to see what you have to say.

      Liked by 1 person

      • This driftwood and all the other tiny things you can find on the shore are so inspiring, as well as the other “elements” from the woods. Somehow one can imagine how it inspired the people who lived there. I don’t know but these things seem to shout: create something with me. And to think of those times, when everything was enlivened (?)/ had a soul, it makes even more sense. – This plant is really odd! Beneath our feet there is more to find than we expect right? So many connections between funghi (oh, that is italian ;-), fungi and trees and lots of other things we know nothing about. Maybe we do live on a big big mushroom πŸ™‚ Your pictures are inspiring and I think the black and white is perfect here for the structures!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Yet another lovely walk! I love the way you identify the things you see. And this is a great line: “the green machine has pushed past the delicacy of Spring into the lush heft of the season.” I only wish I could see the photos larger…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I got that “ID bug” from my parents – my mother especially – she always had field guides around the house. It can be an obsession sometimes! Glad you liked that slightly weird line, too. πŸ™‚ Thank you Lenny! (If you click on a photo, doesn’t that make it larger?)


    • Great, I’m so glad you enjoyed this. I do think about posting one photo vs. posting a series with a narrative, and I keep coming out on the side of posting more at a time. But I really appreciate your thought that some of these would hold their own. πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wonderful to explore the place of cattail mats with you, Lynn. Your madrone are gorgeous along with your detail shots. And, of course, I love your black and whites, the Douglas Fir especially. You always do a terrific job with your research and writing. The Rein Orchid is exquisite. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve really come to love the Madrone, Jane – I’m glad they grow this far north. There are lots of them on the islands; they seem to like a certain combination of sunlight, drainage and probably a few other things I don’t know about. πŸ˜‰ The black and white Doug fir I was afraid went too far in processing, so it’s interesting to see you single that one out. I will remind myself to “go ahead” next time. πŸ™‚ As for the research, especially with anything historical or having to do with native Americans, I don’t want to make a mistake, you know? So I work at it. Thanks so much for your scrutiny, Jane! πŸ˜‰

      Liked by 1 person

  4. What a wonderful series of images, Lynn. I felt as though I was walking along with you. I love the shells, driftwood and shoreline, but those orchids are so different to any I’ve seen before here in Australia.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s the idea, to come along for the walk, so good! πŸ™‚ I read recently that orchids make up 10% of all plants! There are a number of small, upright orchids like that one, with many flowers along the stem, in the US. Probably elsewhere too. They all make extensive use of fungi in the soil for nourishment. Lots of them have odd pollination situations, too. Endlessly fascinating, right?


  5. Amazing to have this on your doorstep, Lynn! Those orchids, playing with the tree πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ Fabulous stuff! I’ve ‘pinched’ this for my Monday walks- hope you won’t mind. We have a few places to escape in the Algarve too, but I doubt I can rival this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m grateful to have all of this so near at hand. We used to drive up here on the weekends to poke around, so when we both retired we knew where we wanted to look for a place. From what I’ve seen, the Algarve is also incredibly beautiful – that water, those rock formations – I’d love to see that! No problem including this on the Monday walks – it’s perfect, right? πŸ˜‰ Thank you Jo!


    • The last thing I want to do is make photos that look like they were taken somewhere else, but I understand that as a compliment. πŸ™‚ I know New Zealand is amazing. Thanks Steve.


    • It’s been exciting to see how many wildflowers there are here that I didn’t see on the east side – the habitat, as you know, is very different. I have found those little orchids at three different local parks now! I’m glad you enjoyed the post, and I hope you’re enjoying your river in between those desk days.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Beautifully written and photographed, Lynn. This was exactly what I wanted to read today. I love the way you weave the elements of the landscape together through space and time. I appreciated the lovely artistic and natural journey. ❀️

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Today I made one of my very rare forays into a clothing store, and picked up a summer shirt covered with bird-of-paradise flowers, I know, kind of understated for me, but wow, if I’d found one with that rattlesnake plaintain & mosses in #17, that would be my choice, pretty jazzy! I’ve picked the plain ol’ broadleaf plantain for a salad green, but I gather the plants aren’t related. As always, I loved this walk you’ve taken us on, and so happy that the story of this peninsula had a happy ending, as a preserve. That creature in #21 must have had a long run of it, to host so many barnacles, right? Or do the crabs bedeck themselves that way for a bit of bling.
    Such a nice summer album, and with your graceful writing, a little treasure box in fact – – despite all the rich summer greens, it’s the #12 -13 B&W shots of the ferns and the old Douglas fir that I’ve been studying. Thank you for a great post, a real treat! πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • That WOULD make a nice fabric pattern. And yes, they were called plantain because the habit, with a few leaves (that shrivel up by the time the plant flowers) hugging the ground and a single stalk, is reminiscent of plantains. But they’re unrelated,as you could tell. Crabs with bling, I like it – I saw one other one like that, but usually they’re not covered with barnacles. I have no idea what the story is but decorating oneself, with barnacles or a bird-of-paradise shirt, gives us more to think about. πŸ˜‰ It’s good to know that you enjoyed the post, especially the black and whites – the greens are lush right now but some things do really lend themselves to black and white, and it’s always a good challenge. I hope you’re not broiling hot over there!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Beautiful pictures, my friend, and I particularly like “the green machine has pushed past the delicacy of Spring into the lush heft of the season.”. And I was on the Levels early this morning – LOL! a very wet early morning! – and the birds are a bit quieter here too >>> the year moves ever onwards. And interesting to hear about this area’s original inhabitants, and the expansions of white Americans. Interesting thing that I read recently was that after the US Civil War, large numbers of cowboys were in fact African-American which, if true, is something Hollywood hasn’t really reflected. A

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Adrian….sometimes I think about posting one photo, because that way I will have feedback on it, but I have so many, and I still like the narrative framework, so it’s a lot. Yes, the year moves ever onwards, and it’s a privilege to attend to the more subtle differences, like a little less mania behind birds’ territorial songs compared to early spring. πŸ˜‰ You’ve taught me something about my own country – thank you. I see that Wikipedia says during the late 1800’s up to a quarter of ranch hands were black. Hiding that piece of history by always showing cowboys as white, in illustrations and movies, is yet another way we push non-whites down and make them invisible. There’s an excellent short story by Ta-Nehisi Coates in the New Yorker (June 10 & 17 issue) about a slave escaping to the north. He didn’t go west, but to Philadelphia, and the intensity of what people went through both escaping and helping others escape is beautifully portrayed. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/06/10/conduction


      • Yes, that’s the thing with posting many pictures, it actually becomes quite a job to work through them all, which inhibits detailed feedback – and of course those who do not number or title the myriad pics make the job even harder. I’m a firm believer in single pic posts, which concentrate attention and appraisal on one pic, tho I do post >1 sometimes. Yes, black cowboys >>> ha! but as you and I know, that’s just one little bit of the b******t of all types that we are engulfed in and expected to believe. Isn’t it nice to have a clear-seeing mind? A

        Liked by 1 person

  9. I love the spotlit Rein Orchid image. Just a beauty of a shot. And the barnacle encrusted crab is cool too. Seeing a littered shore that is all natural debris rather than plastic was a pleasant sight.Those Goodyera oblongifolia leaves are lovely and very similar to the G. pubescens I have here.
    This was a most enjoyable hike with you, Lynn. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Coming from the east coast, especially around NYC, the lack of garbage on beaches here has been a little revelation. I do see a bit here and there but not much. I’m glad you enjoyed the walk, and especially the Rein orchid photo in the woods. Since then I’ve seen a few more at another park on the island, in similar habitat and I’m learning that the nomenclature has been a mess for decades so I don’t feel bad about not being sure of an exact ID. πŸ™‚ .

      Liked by 1 person

      • Nomenclature drives everyone nuts except for those in the business of constantly changing it. I prefer colloquial names even if there is a half dozen for one plant. But folks like the Latin so I try to include that when I can.


  10. What a beautiful place you’ve taken us to. An interesting read on the agreements with the Swinomish. There are likely no better stewards of keeping those lands the way they were meant to be. Beautiful photos as always and thanks for the journey.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Like so many tribes, the Swinomish have their problems, and parts of the reservation are depressing to see. I hope as I live here I’ll gradually understand the issues better. I want to think they are better stewards than anyone, but I doubt that’s really true – we have some romanticized views of native peoples. In any case I do appreciate your comment! Thank you, Mark.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. “the certain wildflower in the back of your mind” leads you around to beautiful places, dear Lynn. To imagine a colony of the graceful orchids at Madrone trees’ feet is such a delicate contrast! Your picture n.7 looks like taken in a fairy land.
    And n.11 shows a perfect example for a black and white photo conveying summer feeling. How do you make the sun always place these exactly suitable light spots on your subjects?
    I find very engrossing what you tell about the Swinomish tribe in our time, it differs a lot from what I read about the deplorable state the original people have to live in most parts of the US.

    Liked by 1 person

    • As I mentioned in another reply (after you commented) things are not all positive on the reservation. They have problems, the problems that go along with poverty. Their main income comes from a big gambling casino. It’s a mixed bag of a story, like so many stories are – more complicated than a sound bite can tell. But this partnership with the state parks department seems to be working well, at least in terms of preserving a small but beautiful and valuable piece of the earth. Thank you Ule, I’m glad you enjoyed the walk. In the forests, light filters through the very tall trees on summer days and is just gorgeous – all I have to do is use spot metering. πŸ™‚


  12. Quite the little stroll you’ve found there. Like a smorgasbord of goodies, all waiting for a quick taste.

    I should warn you though, our dive club and wives will be up there this coming weekend with the next batch of tourists. Better head for the hills! πŸ˜‰

    Liked by 1 person

    • Maybe some of you will make it there for a walk, and get there early enough to snag one of the few parking spaces. I hope so! I don’t think there’s good diving nearby, parts of the shore are off limits to non-tribal members, and the bay there is shallow and muddy. But the good places are not far away, as I’m sure you know much better than I do. Enjoy your trip!!


  13. Pingback: Jo’s Monday walk : Sete Cidades | restlessjo

  14. “It’s no time to stay indoors, but the tourists are here so these days, I gravitate towards less-traveled corners of the county.”
    Had to chuckle at your statement. We came across a bumper sticker at the local grocery store that said: “My life is better than your vacation” That about sums it up, though I wouldn’t put it on my bumper. Not nice to rub it in, but it is so true.

    We’ve found the rein orchids up in the hills… or at least similar ones. The one thing I’m getting from this post is that you do enjoy a bit more of the rain forest flavor than we do here. The hills surrounding us are drying out since there’s been a mere trace of rain these past few months. Lately it has started heating up and the wind is putting the last touches of dry on everything. Holding my breath hoping for no smoke or fires.

    But then there’s always the coast though it, most of all, fills up with tourists. I don’t mean to disparage the folks who come here to enjoy what I love so much, but there are those who are quite horrible and spoil it for everyone else.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was thinking about your hills and orchids yesterday when I read about another orchid that likes to be a companion to the pitcher plants. It’s the California ladies slipper, a much showier plant – I hope you have seen it, or will see it someday. (Cypripedium californicum).
      Happily there are enough trails in nearby parks that I can always find places to walk alone, or mostly alone. And yes, it’s wetter here than where you are, but not as wet as where I was living before, outside Seattle. Just an hour and a half away but it’s quite different. We’re into the dry summer weather now too, but the hills on these islands manage to grab moisture from the water in the mornings. That makes a difference too, I think.
      Yes, we too are waiting to see how the fires will be this year. Good luck to us all!!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Eric went in search of the Lady Slipper and found it. Are you telling me I didn’t post it rather than just posting it inside my head? So many wonders here that it’s hard keeping track… but I couldn’t ask for a better dilemma. πŸ˜€

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I really admire your knowledge and that relationships between different species. A fascinating world that is beautifully shared in your posts. I always learn a lot with them.
    With you the “trivial” is not trivial but a “life” with sensibility and a story.
    Congratulations on the text and beautiful photos!

    (I always ask google translate for help, so there may be errors in my writing…)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your English is excellent. πŸ˜‰ What you said makes sense, and thank you for the compliment. When I was growing up there were books about birds and plants around the house. My father was a chemist who appreciated nature, and my mother fed the birds and was curious to know them by name, as well as the plants. So all that was passed on. I really enjoy learning about my immediate environment, especially because it’s so different here from where I grew up, in suburbs and cities on the east coast (new York, etc.) At the same time, I’m aware that too much emphasis on naming and scientific knowledge can get in the way of direct understanding – we need to find a balance. I tell you all this because I sense that you will understand it well. πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Another wonderful walk in nature and collection! You are so prolific with your photos and posts I’m having a hard time keeping up! Do you eat or sleep? … or just shoot and post from sun up to sun down? I don’t know how you do it! πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • πŸ™‚ Well, as you’ve seen, it often takes me a while to get around to visiting other folk’s blogs. I try not to take too many meals at the computer….and seriously, I do get out a lot, and I don’t have far to go to find the goodies. It’s really, really nice to read your comment, Denise, thank you!


    • Thanks, Richard. Those Goodyera leaves are always handsome, particularly when they’re nestled in mosses. Holocomium I know, more or less, but not Leucolepsis – thanks for that, too.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s