LOCAL WALKS: Washington Park

Set into a chunky peninsula on the northwest corner of Fidalgo Island, Washington Park is a singularly beautiful place. I’ve been there thirty-odd times in the past couple of years and each time I return, I see something new, and I’m enchanted again. Here is a selection of photos from this favorite local haunt.

1. Winter sunset. The Olympic Mountains are low on the horizon; a gnarled, half-dead Seaside juniper tree is silhouetted on the bluff.
2. Ferries to the San Juan Islands (seen in the distance) leave from a terminal a mile away, but why leave?

3. A winter view from the park’s edge. The glacially-scraped rocks are serpentinite, from deep down in the earth’s mantle. These rocks are uncommon, and they’re around 170 million years old. This little cove has a mind-boggling variety of sea life hiding just under the water – brown and red algae, anemones, sponges, worms, chitons, snails, sea slugs, sea cucumbers, sea stars, barnacles, crabs, fish, and more have been found by inquisitive explorers.

4. Three males and a female – attractive Harlequin ducks ply the waters around the park in winter.

At 220 acres, Washington Park isn’t particularly large, but a varied habitat of saltwater shoreline, rocky bluffs and evergreen forest makes it a rewarding place to explore. From the park’s shores you might see harbor porpoises, seals, the occasional whale, oystercatchers, herons and even the elusive Marbled murrelet, which sometimes fishes near the shore. (The Marbled murrelet is an odd seabird. Back in 1974 a tree-climber found a murrelet chick high in an old tree; that was the first time Western science had found a Marbled murrelet’s nest. They may feed way out at sea and then fly up to 50 miles (80km) inland to raise their young. Their preference for old growth forests means habitat destruction is impinging on their nesting success. Foraging habits may also be negatively affected by climate change; currently the Marbled murrelet is considered endangered.)

Turning away from the water, the park’s woodlands invite scrutiny. Weather-ravaged junipers and Douglas firs command rocky headlands. Mounds of delicate, slow-growing reindeer lichens (Cladonia sp.) speckle forest openings and wildflowers that may be uncommon elsewhere bloom in the park each Spring. Deer, squirrels, and birds abound. There’s a bench by the loop road (open to walkers, bike riders and cars willing to go 10mph) with a lovely water view. It has become a favorite spot to hand-feed chickadees, sparrows, towhees and other birds. Tiny Chestnut-backed chickadees will perch on any outstretched hand with a few seeds in it; they’ve cleaned me out of nuts and seeds more than once.

6. Moisture from the Salish Sea keeps mosses green through most of the year. This photo was taken in November; in the summer there is very little rain. Plants adjust by going dormant, dropping leaves or just biding time until the rains return in September.

7. An old Seaside juniper is flanked by the evergreen leaves of several young Madrone trees. The uncommon Seaside juniper (Juniperus maritima) only grows in certain parts of southwestern British Columbia and northwestern Washington State. Scientists recognized it as a separate species in 2007. The trees favor drier, south-facing slopes on the islands and are fairly plentiful in Washington Park but are scarce to nonexistent elsewhere. Seaside juniper is vulnerable to climate change since many of the trees grow on islands. If an island’s climate becomes inhospitable, the trees cannot slowly migrate away like they might be able to do on the mainland.

8. Seaside junipers and Madrones enjoy good light on this open headland slope facing uninhabited Burrows Island. The uprooted tree will slowly decompose on a bed of moss and reindeer lichen. Leaving the log where it is allows a whole host of non-flowering plants, insects, and other creatures to live their lives, which are connected to our lives.


9. Dewdrops line up on dried grass.

10. A little Nodding onion (Allium cernuum) blooms here in June.

11. This unusual, tiny plant, a fern called Indian’s dream (Aspidotis densa) lives on serpentine soils, which tend to be inhospitable to many other plants.
12. Pretty pink Sea blush (Plectritis congesta) and white Field chickweed (Cerastium arvense) mingle on ground littered with broken, lichen-covered branches.

13. Tiger lilies (Lilium columbianum) were blooming in the forest only a few yards from the loop road, in June. What a delightful discovery!

14. A Douglas fir needle dangles from a Red huckleberry twig by a thread of spider silk. The forest at Washington Park sometimes seems to glow green, with plant life. The high, dense canopy of evergreens reduces the light entering the forest but open water on three sides of the park reflects light that brightens dim places.

15. Branch tip of a Seaside juniper tree.

16. Three juniper cones on the ground. I’m tempted to call them berries but they are actually cones containing one or two seeds each. A number of the park’s Seaside juniper trees may be over 200 years old.

17. Tall Douglas firs are plentiful in the woods, along with Western redcedar, whose gracefully drooping leaves are to the left.
18. I guess this rock is a glacial erratic. In the forest it quietly gathers lichens, mosses and insects, producing an ever-changing palette of life on its surface, even on a gray November day.

19. The complexity of crossing branches revealed after leaves have dropped is absolutely dizzying.

20. This beauty looks like it’s covered with snow but no, those are lichens that have found a happy home on a dead evergreen. The tree may no longer be producing needles and branches, but it still plays a vital role in the forest.

21. The snow-capped Olympic Mountain range is shrouded in clouds on a quiet December afternoon. Barely visible to the left is the Burrows Island lighthouse, the oldest intact wooden lighthouse in the state. The light went into service in 1906, then it was automated in 1972. The uninhabited island can only be reached by private boat. One of the delights of Washington Park is gazing out at the Salish Sea and dreaming of “what-ifs.” You can bet I’ll keep going back as long as I can.

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LOCAL WALKS: Little Cranberry Lake

On a quiet Friday afternoon last month I traced the zigzag outline of Little Cranberry Lake on Fidalgo Island. The peaceful, mirror-like lake with its dense fringe of evergreen forest is one of my favorite places to walk. In fact, since moving to Fidalgo I’ve trampled the trails there nineteen times in sixteen months.

I wrote about Little Cranberry Lake earlier this year in a post called “Dark Places.” That day I was thinking about allowing more darkness into my photography. After presenting ten darker-than-usual images I somehow veered off into a series of photographs from Little Cranberry Lake and totally lost the thread of what I’d planned to write about. But that’s what happens with me and this park – even looking at photos of it has the effect of hijacking my brain. The walk last month was no exception; amidst mesmerizing reflections and delicate seasonal changes, once again I surrendered to my surroundings.

1. A froth of golden blonde Bitter cherry (Prunus emarginata) leaves floats over the trail.

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How places get their names is always interesting. This lake’s name puzzled me: cranberries? I didn’t think they grew here, but sure enough, I found the native Bog cranberry, Vaccinium oxycoccus, on a plant list compiled in 2000 – 2001 by the Washington Native Plant Society for Little Cranberry Lake. They must have found the plant growing on the boggy islands in the middle of the lake. I’ve gazed longingly at those small islands many times, intuiting that the plant life there must be different from the forest. I’ve never seen anyone on the islands. One of these days I will get a boat, paddle over there and see for myself.

The “Little” part of the name differentiates this park from the larger Cranberry Lake, just over the bridge on Whidbey Island. Fidalgo Island’s Little Cranberry Lake is the perfect size for a day’s outing: you can circumnavigate its shoreline on about a mile and a half (2.4km) of winding trails. More paths, some open to mountain bikes and horses, some only for hikers, wander into the hills and over to Big Beaver Pond and beyond. Narrow, rocky and rooty, the trails twist and turn, forcing you to slow down and watch where you place your feet, as scene after magical scene of enchanting evergreen forest and picturesque lake unfolds before you.

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No hunting is allowed here so you might spot a beaver, or perhaps a river otter – I have found piles of cracked crayfish shells on a path by the water where an otter had a meal. The first time I came here a Bald eagle flew down the length of the lake, emitted a piercing cry and disappeared. The hoarse, nasal “cronk” of ravens often reverberates overhead while the friendly chirp of Song sparrows emanates from the underbrush. On my November walk the silence was interrupted by chickadees fretting tiny insects from the Redcedars and Douglas firs, and an occasional Douglas squirrel scolding me for intruding. A few humans passed me on the trail too. As the sun lowered, the woods darkened and the water surface grew increasingly reflective. I photographed the lake from different angles as breezes rippled its surface and water dripped from overhanging branches, patterning the lake with concentric circles. A patch of late-blooming asters nodded at the edge of the lake, their lavender flowers enchanting against the blue water; lichens, abundant in the moist, near-shore micro-climate, decorated trees with a surprising range of colors and textures.

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I went back yesterday afternoon. Overcast skies darkened and spat raindrops onto the lake as I walked around it. A flock of Dark-eyed juncos called tsk-tsk as their white tail feathers flashed through the dim shrubbery. Before I knew it, the sun had set and I could barely see the trail. On went the cell phone for a bit of light on the path. I stopped for one last image: the reflection of a sinuous Madrone limb arching out over the midnight-blue water. I was almost tempted to just sit there and be with the deep blue stillness, but chilly air and thoughts of hot coffee kept me moving. There will be a next time.

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There are more photographs in the Lightroom library from Little Cranberry Lake: more water reflections, wildflowers, berries, mushrooms, fire-damaged trees, lichen-clad rocks, and an odd duck or goose. Maybe I’ll get lucky and see an otter next time I walk here. If not, I’m satisfied with the beauty of the land as it is, ever changing and generous with its gift of life.

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LOCAL WALKS: Sugarloaf

Sugarloaf – the name is used a lot for peaks and promontories, but why it was given to this hill on Fidalgo Island I don’t know. At 1275 feet (389m) it’s a bit lower than the island’s highest point, Mount Erie. Neither place gets snow very often. As it happened though, the first time I hiked to Sugarloaf there were a few patches of snow on the ground. That was mid-February of this year.

1. Looking southwest towards Whidbey Island from Sugarloaf.

The sun was shining through the trees and ferns but clouds obscured the horizon. I had taken an easier route than the one most people use. Instead of beginning the hike at the bottom I drove up the winding, two-lane road that leads to the top of Mount Erie. Part-way up the drive there’s a trailhead for Sugarloaf and room for a car or two on the side of the road. I parked there and set out, keeping a map close at hand because of the confusing maze of trails through these woods. Trail 215 is part of the Anacortes Community Forest Lands and is rated technically difficult because of numerous rocks, roots and a few steep pitches, but it’s short. I was at the top after about a half mile of winding through the forest.

2. A large old Douglas fir reaches out as if to embrace the trail.

3. The snow won’t last long.
4. Sword fern brightens the way with emerald green.

The view of Whidbey Island and the San Juans was a nice reward and behind some trees, a slice of the Cascade Range was visible in the other direction. Tall, fire-blackened Douglas fir trees stood in the clearing alongside the fresh green of young Madrones. I wondered how long ago the fire came through here. How was it extinguished, so far from a water source?

5. Some were spared, some weren’t.
6. Madrone trees grow among fire-blackened logs.

7. Rocks at Sugarloaf tell stories I can’t decipher.

I enjoyed the hike but it wasn’t until May that I got back there again, this time with a group of native plant enthusiasts. Learning about Fidalgo Island’s wildflowers was exciting. Gripped by a fever of wildflower identification, I came back three times that month, introducing friends to favorite new figures in my personal forest lexicon.

I worked at identifying flowers that were new to me, recording what I saw with the camera. When I could, I got down close for the challenging task of making photographs that were more than documents, often failing, sometimes succeeding. This kept me busy for weeks.

All of the flowers here were seen on Sugarloaf in May.

8. Setting up to photograph wildflowers in a meadow on Mount Erie.

12. A tiny moth was disturbed when I sat on a rock to have lunch.

13. Sugarloaf trail in spring.

15. Close-up of a Heuchera leaf.
16. Fog settles among the islands of the Salish Sea.

After the spring wildflower frenzy I didn’t get back up to Sugarloaf all summer. Then a few weeks ago I returned for a quiet woodland walk. I saw no one. One last flower bloomed in an opening, mushrooms lined the trail, and raindrops glistened in the bushes in the low, angled light. I amused myself with photographing tiny twigs and mushrooms.

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23. Two Douglas firs in the last sunlight of the day.

A raven soared by and was quickly gone, riding the mountainside updrafts. I lingered to watch the sunset over the mountains, far off in the distance. By the time I was heading back down the trail, the sun had gone under and it was getting dark. Dozens of small white mushrooms growing in the fir needle duff lit up the forest gloom, like little stars showing me the way.

I’ll be back.

24. A raven tilts its tail to catch an updraft and glide away.
25. Sunset at Sugarloaf.

26. Mushrooms in the forest.

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LOCAL WALKS: SHARPE PARK

In 1977 a Fidalgo Island resident named Kathleen Sharpe deeded a choice parcel of land to the county, to be used as a park in memory of her husband and his father. Irish-born Thomas Sharpe had arrived on the island about a hundred years earlier, establishing a farm and orchard. The 1870’s may not sound like long ago in historical terms, but Sharpe was one of the early permanent white settlers on Fidalgo Island. He and his family must have relished the peaceful views from their homestead.

1. Most of the boats are motorized now but otherwise, this view hasn’t changed much.

2. A park trail bends around two old Douglas firs. Like most of the island, this area was logged, but trees grow fast here and the park has some sizable Douglas fir trees.

3. After a winter storm the tip of a Madrone branch rests on a bed of moss and lichens.

4. Reindeer lichen, moss, bits of Madrone bark and leaves, and a myriad of other fragments of life litter the ground on a mid-winter day.

5. The sky glows over Rosario Strait and the San Juan Islands.

Sharpe Park doesn’t impress with size but its beauty is undeniable. Set along rugged cliffs at the island’s western edge with spectacular views of the Olympic Mountains and San Juan Islands, this is the kind of place that is normally dotted with private homes. Instead, it’s a county park where anyone can enjoy the views free of charge. The park maintains a low profile; only a discrete sign at a small parking lot on a quiet road identifies it. Additional land was added to the park in 2003, thanks to the efforts of the San Juan Preservation Trust and funds from private, state and county sources. That cooperation dedicated to a mutually valued goal produced a gem of a park.

6. Late September afternoon sunlight threads its way through the lush forest.

7. Across from the wetland the forest is a mad tangle of trees, bushes, ferns, and fallen logs.
8. The delicate look of unfurling of Bracken ferns (Pteridium aquilinum) belies their tenacious grip on the landscape. Bracken colonizes drier places that most ferns don’t tolerate.

9. Licorice fern (Polypodium glycyrrhiza) has a limited range and gentler habits than Bracken fern. The rows of little bumps are the spore cases on the underside of the fronds, which are fresh and green even in winter, when this photo was taken. The plant can go dormant during our dry summer, springing back to life with autumn rains.

10. It looks like Pileated woodpeckers went to town on this old stump.

We used to drive up to Fidalgo Island to enjoy the scenery when we lived near Seattle. It was on one of those trips in the fall of 2017 that we discovered Sharpe Park. We followed winding, root-studded trails past a wetland and drifted through a moist, evergreen forest before arriving at Sare’s Head, the high bluff overlooking Rosario Strait. The expansive view took our breath away. Standing on that bluff with the silver water spread out far below, your mind-chatter fades away as everything quiets.

Since moving to Fidalgo Island, this park has become one of my favorite places to wander and relax. The trail system has easy, moderate and challenging sections as it follows the twists and turns of the shoreline. There’s a simple bench on the bluff and another on a second bluff to the east, making perfect spots for picnics. Walking through the peaceful forest, catching those first glints of blue through the trees and emerging on a bluff overlooking the water 400 feet below is always a treat.

11. A trail in January. The bent tree is a Madrone.
12. Gazing up into the heart of a tall Madrone tree. Believe it or not, this was in February.

13. In May a lovely Fawn lily (Erythronium oregonum) nods its graceful head beside the trail.

14. This little bug looks quite alert as he poses on my leg.

15. I read somewhere that Mr. Sharpe had an orchard – could this be a remnant, or is it the native Pacific crab apple?

16. A fire-damaged tree frames the view of sun-drenched water and the jagged blue line of the high Olympic Mountains far across the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

The seasons roll forward revealing a parade of discoveries: dried cattails reflected in the dark waters of winter, a tiny native orchid penetrating the leaf litter in July, stripes of fire damage in the bark of a Madrone tree, and a suite of pretty Camas flowers lighting up the ground in a clearing. In March a friend and I watched a Bald eagle attempt to land on a branch that was too small. It tipped over and tried to right itself by spreading its wings. It was unsuccessful. We couldn’t help laughing as the eagle went to find a better lookout. There are supposed to be Harbor porpoises off Sares Head but I haven’t seen them there. That’s reason enough to keep coming back.

17. Dried cattails at the edge of the pond. Before they get this dry the leaves can be woven into mats or hats; the Salish people may have used cattails from this marsh hundreds of years ago.

18. Fire happens, as it did some years ago around this Madrone tree, which didn’t survive. Douglas firs have thicker bark and often do survive fires.

19. Here are the echoes of old Douglas firs that grew here before the fire. They still reach for the sky.

20. These trees (probably Douglas fir and Sitka spruce) wear coats of yellow lichen.

22. Raindrops will cling to these mushrooms for hours in the moist climate at Sharpe Park.

23. A well-defined fog bank is an ethereal presence over Rosario Bay. To watch fog morph and fade and thicken again is to know time in your bones.

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Many thanks to Kathleen Sharpe, the San Juan Preservation Trust, Skagit County and the Montgomery-Duban family for preserving this special place for the public. I’ll be back soon!

Local Walks: Tofoni at Larrabee

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10. Dried eelgrass on the rocks.

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These photos are a celebration of tafoni* and accompanying formations in the rock at Larrabee State Park, along with two vistas so you can see the context. And there are children enjoying their finds before returning them to the water, and two intertidal denizens called Purple sea stars.

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Tafoni – in Sicilian it means windows (or so I read in Wikipedia). And in Corsica, taffoni (with two “f’s”) also means windows (says Wiki). The tafoni we’re talking about could be related to a Greek word for tomb, taphos but in any case, the window/tombs I’m thinking about are sensuously sculpted holes in rock. Tafoni is a term geologists use for certain the intricate patterns that occur in rocks from complex weathering processes.

This phenomenon can be found in the desert and at the shore, and the shore is where these photographs were made, at Larrabee State Park in northwestern Washington.

Larrabee was Washington’s first state park, thanks to a wealthy family who donated some beautiful waterfront acreage to the state over a hundred years ago. Primarily a rocky stretch of saltwater coast, the park also includes the west side of Chuckanut Mountain. The cliffs there are very steep: last year a man died in a fall from the rocks, and a couple was injured in another fall this year. The narrow, winding road that passes through Larrabee is full of blind curves and marvelous scenic views which you can enjoy as long as you remember to pay attention to where your tires are. After arriving at Larrabee I like to cross under the railroad tracks and follow the easier paths along the shoreline. The rocky beach is great to explore at low tide when tidepools reveal all sorts of creatures.

Maybe because they’re more dependable than sea life, the rock formations are the big draw for me. Whether the rocks are towering over the shoreline or defining it, the 57-million-year-old sandstone displays many fascinating forms. You can’t help but wonder how the tafoni and the smooth, svelte curves came about. The process of honeycomb weathering (those Swiss cheesy holes in the rocks) is fairly complex. It begins with the process of physical weathering, a loosening of the structure of the rock caused by a tree root, freeze and thaw cycles, the action of wind, acid rain…a myriad of forces that work on rocks to alter their shape. At Larrabee the rock is quite permeable. It’s subject to salt from ocean water, carried from many miles away by the tides and storms. Salt water splashes on the rocks, leaving salt crystals between grains of rock as it dries. The salt crystals grow, pushing grains of rock aside, a process that happens readily because sandstone here is quite porous. Certain minerals in the sandstone are more susceptible to salt crystallization than others and once a pit begins it can increase its size more quickly than the surrounding rock, so weathering can be very uneven.

Add to this the effect of algae growing on the surface of the rocks. Where algae grows, the rock absorbs water much more slowly so weathering is retarded. In places without algae the rock is eaten away faster, expanding into a hole. There is controversy about the exact science here and frankly, this is as much detail as I can absorb! If you’re interested, Dave Tucker at Northwest Geology Field Trips points to further discussions of tafoni in a blog entry here.

Better yet, visit this little stretch of shoreline and admire the rocks in person. Run your hand along the surface – it may look smooth but it’s not; the grains are large and rough, providing nice handholds if you want to scramble. Or locate a place close to you where honeycomb weathering can be found. Altdahn Castle in the Palatinate Forest of Germany, Mt. Wellington in Tamania, and Arches NP in the US are some examples, and here’s a map of the world with tafoni locations. Check it out. And bring your camera.

Local Walks: Goose Rock

The place is called Goose Rock but it doesn’t seem to have any geese. It isn’t shaped like a goose as far as I can see either, so the name for this bald hill at the tip of Whidbey Island is a puzzle. The park surrounding it (Deception Pass) has a name that’s easier to track down. It was called Deception Pass by a British explorer after he realized that the peninsula he was navigating around was actually an island, separated from another island by a narrow and treacherous channel.

Up on Goose Rock, where a broad expanse of sky and water spreads out beneath me, the names of places don’t seem to matter, but bear with me – the story of Deception Pass is a good one.

1. Ice sheets scarred these rocks 11,000 years ago and rain left puddles on them just hours ago. The weathering of these gently rounded hulks of rock doesn’t ever stop. November 2018.

In June of 1792 British naval Captain George Vancouver was anchored at the southern end of what is now known as Whidbey Island. He had left England the year before, calling at Cape Town, Australia and Hawaii on his way to Nootka Sound on present-day Vancouver Island, Canada, where he was to take possession of land seized by the Spanish a few years before. Vancouver also carried orders to prepare the way for British settlement in certain key locations. Of course, the land in question had already been inhabited for thousands of years by non-Europeans. But that’s another story, perhaps one to consider as your gaze follows the lichen and moss-covered rocks down to the thick forest below, now sliced by a busy road that winds towards a U.S. Naval Air Force base.

2. Traffic on Route 20 can be seen in the distance but it’s mostly quiet up here, except when the Navy Growlers are flying. June 2018.

But back to how Deception Pass got its name. An important part of Vancouver’s mission was charting. To this end, on the June day in question the captain sent a few smaller boats out to explore a stretch of coves and bays north of the mother ship. The Pacific northwest coast was daunting to most of the men. Legions of dark evergreens edge intricately crooked shorelines that are often foggy and gloomy, even in June. The Coast Salish tribes-people were used to navigating these waters, but to Vancouver’s men each rocky promontory and every small cove was new, so we can forgive Joseph Whidbey and his crew for not going quite far enough that day. Whidbey didn’t realize that just a few more miles of exploring would have brought him to a narrow passageway. If the tides had been favorable he could have steered west between towering cliffs and emerged on the other side of the “peninsula.” That would have allowed the men to turn south and circumnavigate the island, joining the HMS Discovery back where it was anchored. But shallow water in an area just short of the pass convinced the men to call it a day, turn around and head back to the ship.

3. Racing currents explode through the pass when a large volume of water is sucked through the narrow channel by the tide. This is the pass Whidbey missed the first time. November 2018.

The mistake was corrected quickly enough when the ship made its way north a day or so later. Now they could see a “very narrow and intricate channel, which…abounded with rocks above and beneath the surface of the water.” Vancouver called the channel “Deception Pass” and the name stuck.

European settlers began arriving on Whidbey Island after 1850. They fished and logged and farmed, and the population grew, but it wasn’t until the summer of 1935 that a bridge was completed across the channel, finally connecting Whidbey to the mainland. You can see why that was not an easy task.

4. One span of the two-span bridge seen from Lighthouse Point on Fidalgo Island. It looks like the two islands are connected, but they’re not – the channel curves around the rocks and continues through to the other side. September 2018.

5. The other span seen from across the water at North Beach on Whidbey Island. Between the spans is rocky Pass Island, on the left here and on the right in #4. March 2019.

6. Under the bridge. June 2019.

The bridge that allows islanders easy access to the mainland also connects two sections of a popular park located on Whidbey and Fidalgo Islands (as well as a number of smaller islands nearby). Deception Pass State Park has been here since the 1920’s, expanding over the years to include 3,854 acres (1,560 ha) of varied terrain. You can watch the sunset from a beach with views of the Olympic Mountains, the San Juan Islands, and Canada. You can camp in the forest, kayak, scuba dive, paddleboard, boat, fish, or just wander miles of trails in quiet forests.

I like to follow the Goose Rock perimeter trail for about half a mile before turning away from the turquoise waters of the channel to climb through the forest on a less-traveled spur trail. A favorite sight along this path is a large Redcedar tree that toppled some time ago. I would have liked to have heard that!

7. Lush forest along the Goose Rock perimeter trail. December 2018.

8. Red huckleberry leaves persist on bushes scattered throughout the forest. November 2018.

9. Snow on the trail is unusual. February 2019.

10. Licorice fern (Polypodium glycyrrhiza) is plentiful. December 2018.

11. The Fallen One. August 2019.
12. Another view. August 2019.

13. The bark of an old Douglas fir tree is adorned with lichens, spider webs, fallen needles and other bits of life. August 2019.

14. Leathery new leaves of Salal (Gaultheria shallon) emerge bright green in spring, later darkening to a deep forest green. June 2019.

Out of the woods and onto the rock. At about 494 feet the summit isn’t exactly vertiginous, but it’s the highest point on Whidbey Island and it offers a fine view. Sprawling glacier-scraped rocks are softened with lichens and moss, and criss-crossed by worn dirt paths. A smattering of well-weathered trees adds to the wild feeling. In spring, a parade of tiny wildflowers and intricate grasses springs to life, only to dry out and disappear by mid-summer. On any day the view of islands, water and sky pleases the soul.

15. On an autumn evening, sunlight shimmers through storm clouds over the Salish Sea. September 2018.

16. Reindeer lichen (Cladonia sp.) and various mosses decorate the rocks in shades of green all year long. November 2018.

17. Pale blue-green reindeer lichen settles like clouds in a bed of moss and Kinnikinnick, or Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi). November 2018.

18. Windy days and nights on Goose Rock scatter twigs on the ground. November 2018.

19. Even before summer has officially begun the grasses are drying up on the exposed rocks. June 2019.

20. Low fencing steers visitors off of delicate wildflower meadows. June 2019.

21. – 25. Wildflowers: Naked Broomrape (Orobanche uniflora), Harvest brodiaea (Brodiaea coronaria), Pacific Rhododendron (R. macrophyllum), Common camas (Camas (Camassia quamash), Twinflower (Linnaea borealis).

26. – 30. More wildflowers and a berry: Chocolate lily (Fritillaria lanceolata), Nodding onion (Allium cernuum), Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis), Fool’s onion (Brodiaea hyacintha) (two views).

31. Roots and moss make drawings on the rocks. February 2019.

32. Goose Rock gathers enough moisture for lichens to grow luxuriously on trees as well as rocks. June 2019.

33. A late afternoon view through the evergreens reveals the calm waters of a slack tide in the channel. December 2018.

34. The winter dance of the Red Huckleberry. February 2019.

35. Snow melts quickly, sending water drops down the fine twigs of bushes and trees, to nourish myriad life forms. February 2019.

I’ve been exploring the trails of Deception Pass for over a year now, and Goose Rock is a place I return to again and again. The views from the top have an immediate effect of extracting any tension you might still have after climbing through the quiet, lush forest. The trail is very accessible, beginning just under the Deception Pass bridge, so in summer and on nice weekends there’s company, but it rarely gets crowded. Maybe you …

WALK WITH ME

Through fields, down old railroad tracks and along the edges, where June makes and keeps a million promises.

 

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Bees, wasps, ladybugs – insects are busy everywhere.

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Grasses are laden with flowers that few people see, but look closely – there’s another world there. Above us, the Cottonwood trees have gone to seed, launching a heavenly mist of cottonwood snow that collects in everywhere nook and cranny.

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The late afternoon sun shines on foxglove flower spikes, and makes shadow play from the stamens and pistils inside each flower – amazing!  Horsetails have grown as tall as we are and these primitive plants are radiant in the bright light of a late spring day.

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On days like this, it seems the weather changes as often as the road curves.

 

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Animal life is everywhere – rabbits bound into the bushes, mother ducks herd their ducklings (fewer every day, as the eagles take their share), young, curious deer wander about, turtles bask in the sun, and look, there’s even a river otter – or is it a beaver? –  munching on marsh plants.  Speaking of beavers, that lodge is getting bigger again.

 

 

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Wildflowers are blooming and going to seed faster than we can track. Sheer heaven it is, sheer heaven!

 

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The Photos:

  1. Moth mullein (Verbascum blattaria) flowers grow tall and straight along the railroad tracks in Woodinville, Washington.
  2. This close-up may be a little out of focus, but it captures the spirit as a fat bumblebee heads towards another drink at the foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) fountain.
  3. a.) A wasp (?) on a daisy   b.) Two Pacific forktail (Ischnura cervula) damselflies on Himalayan blackberry.. The Pacific forktail is a common, widespread species here, found from early March through November. The Himalayan blackberry was brought here for fruit years ago and isn’t from the Himalaya, it’s from Armenia and northern Iran – and now it’s a ubiquitous, difficult to control weed in the Pacific northwest.  c.) Here’s some “foam” from Spittlebugs, probably the Meadow spittlebug, which overwinters as eggs that hatch into nymphs the spring. Nymphs exude the foam to protect them from predators while they feed. In most cases, not too much damage is done to the plants.  d.) Nothing like a ladybug to brighten the day! This one’s an Asian multicolored ladybeetle (Harmonia axyridis), yet another introduction, brought over to control aphids. So far these little guys have not become invasive, as far as I know.
  4. An unidentified grass in full flower. If you get a chance to peer closely at a blooming grass, do it and you may be amazed!
  5. a.) Cottonwood seeds have fallen onto a fern frond. Female Cottonwood trees bear the seed catkins. An individual seed, little more than a ball of fluff with a tiny dark center, can travel for miles. I’ve watched young ducklings nibble them off the water’s surface, too.  b.) Cottonwood fluff collects in the grass on a city street.
  6. Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) is another common plant here that isn’t native. The beautiful flowers are from Europe. but have naturalized here and are often seen along roadsides and railroad tracks.
  7. Field horsetails (Equisetum arvense) can be noxious weeds, but their radial symmetry is quite beautiful, and en masse they make pleasing patterns for the photographer – not the gardener though! They are found all over the Northern Hemisphere and have been put to many uses, from polishing tool to medicine and food.
  8. On the road in the Snoqualmie Valley, an agricultural area just east of Seattle.
  9. Look up!
  10. A well-tended horse farm – excuse me, private dressage facility – in the Snoqualmie Valley.  Called River Run Ranch, it was on the market for $9.9 million a few years ago. The view here includes snow-capped peaks and rounded blue foothills of the Central Cascade Range, and it’s only about 20 miles from Seattle.
  11. a.) Two young deer, a doe and a buck, are curious about me, but at the last minute they decide to circle around, leaving about twelve feet between us.  b.) River otter or beaver – I’m not sure which. Both live in Lake Washington, where this poor photo was taken by an over-exited person – me.  c.) A prosperous looking beaver lodge in the Sammamish River at Marymoor Park.
  12. There she is, sweet thing, keeping a wary eye out. Heading towards the winery.
  13. A Great Blue heron watches for morsels at a shallow bay of Lake Washington.
  14. Nymphaea odorata, the American pond lily, will soon send up flower stems, but I think the leaves are beautiful too. What a striking composition they make with the tall, slender stems of cattails.
  15. The pretty little Herb-Robert (Geranium robertianum) is a common sight around here. Apparently this flower is native to Europe AND North America, at least eastern North America. Taken with the Takumar 50mm lens (see #20).
  16. This fun plant is called Manroot (Marah oreganus). It’s a sprawling, fast-growing, large-leaved wild vine that often bears delicate white flowers and these “cucumbers” (which are not edible) at the same time. A native plant, it has been pout to many medicinal uses.
  17. The California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) needs no introduction to west coast gardeners. The California state flower, this drought-tolerant poppy isn’t what you would expect to see in the rain-soaked Pacific northwest, but we are dry all summer, so the poppy manages pretty well.  Taken using an Olympus 60mm f2.8 macro lens.
  18. This lovely wild shrub rose, the Nootka rose (Rosa nutkana ) grows throughout the west. Bees, butterflies, birds, mammals – many wild beings depend on it as a food and shelter source. For me, the beauty is enough.
  19. Again, look up! Unless it’s pouring rain, it’s almost always a good thing to do.
  20. Another native plant, this is probably the Meadow lupine, Lupinus polyphyllus. There are many lupines in the American west, and they’re hard to tell apart, but they’re all wonderful to see in flower. The photo was taken with a vintage lens, the Pentax Super Takumar 50mm f1.4, which requires an adapter to fit my camera. The inexpensive lens has a soft, warm and sometimes ethereal look. A nice way to end a delightful June day of wandering through the unkempt edges of the county, here in the Pacific northwest.

Lingering Local Color

Fall lingers in the pacific northwest; its transition to winter is subtle. Without the hard freezes many areas experience, scattered leaves cling tightly to fences, mushrooms crop up on forest logs, and berries and mosses remain bright.

Misty Pass – a Short Hike on the Pacific Crest Trail at Snoqualmie

As we headed east on I-90 towards Snoqualmie Pass, the fog and mist grew heavier and I wondered if I would regret going up into the mountains today. Back home, morning clouds had already given way to sun, and lately I’ve been focussed – OK,  obsessed, with getting out into every sunny day I can here in Seattle, where summer is stunningly gorgeous but all too short.

The doubts disappeared as soon as we started on the trail though – mists rolled down the mountainside from some notch above like giant puffs, and it was really cool to walk in the midst of the clouds that are usually high above you.

We were  hiking a section of the Pacific Crest Trail, which stretches from Mexico to Canada.  Most of the people we saw on the trail were through hikers – going all the way, or close to it. They were from Indiana, Ottawa, Rochester, and elsewhere. Their faces beamed under layers of dust as they spoke of elk, bear and coyote. Zack, the first hiker we met, was a lovely shade of dusty brown from his dread-locked hair to his boots. As he leaned in to show us a cache of ripe huckleberries he’d just picked, the smell was powerful!  I wish I’d taken his photo, but I did record some of my favorite sights on the trail:

Here’s the Pacific Crest Trail register. We pulled it out of its waterproof housing to read the  most recent entries. The PCT is  2,663 miles long and typical through hikers do about 20 miles a day, re-supplying at the nearest towns when possible. Our friend Zack was heading off trail for real food, and then hoped to meet up with a friend who was rock-climbing up near Leavenworth. He looked at our map so he could figure out which roads to hitch-hike on.  It was probably a good 90 miles, but after hiking up from the Sierra Nevada I’m guessing that was a minor challenge.

By the way, the fastest through hiker, Scott Williamson, set a record of 64 days, 11 hours, 19 min.  From Mexico to Canada. And all the through hikers we met were young, and most had school or a  job to go back to. Reminds me that it’s a luxury. Even our hike required a car, some free time, and decent health, all of which we’re lucky to have.

If you click on the open book photo you can read notes people left in the register – NOBO means northbound.

For us the turn-around point was just a few miles south at Lodge Lake. My guidebook said it reflects the surroundings mountains, but today we were content to sit on logs at the lake’s edge, snacking on Cliff bars and watching the mist roll over the lake. There were hundreds of waterstriders – pretty big ones – and as they jumped across the surface, swifts zipped around overhead.

In certain parts of the forest, hemlocks and Doug firs collect the mist. When it drops off the needles everything underneath glistens.

   The meadows were speckled with red, yellow, purple and white wildflowers – and best of all, berries! I sampled blueberries, huckleberries, blackberries and tiny wild strawberries.

    I blurred the image above a little to convey the dreamy, seamless beauty of the meadow and misty treeline.

Only four miles for us – not forty a day, like the guy who set the speed record.

And now it’s time for ice cream…