Category Archives: Nature

Margaret’s Way

I hiked Margaret’s Way yesterday.

As is the case each time I hike this trail, I remember with fondness and gratitude former trail colleague and outdoors advocate Margaret Macleod. For over 20 years, Margaret was the Interagency Trails Coordinator for King County, City of Issaquah, and Washington State Department of Natural Resources. Through her persistence and talent for bringing people together, hundreds of acres of open space have been preserved for wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation just minutes from Seattle.

It wasn’t so long ago that the land traversed by Margaret’s Way was a private campground. When the campground became history, the land was acquired for timber harvest. Thanks to some quick action by local citizens, King County and the Trust for Public Land, the acreage was purchased and saved for public use and as a wildlife area.

The 216 acres were incorporated into the Cougar/Squak Corridor Park and was officially opened to the public in 2015 with the opening of Margaret’s Way trail. It was the perfect tribute to a woman who spent much of her life preserving open space for the next generation.

I know that nothing is permanent in our world. A puppy today, a dog tomorrow. Sleepy suburb 20 years ago, today a metropolis. I hope, though, that our public lands are more than a temporary status. The faster our cities grow and technology evolves, the more we need close-to-home wild spaces that help us connect to nature.

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The seasons, they are a’changing

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After a busy week of work, I escaped the urban hubbub for a quiet afternoon ski in the mountains.

Winter wonderland! Or so I thought. Yes, there was still plenty of snow and clouds clung to the surrounding peaks. But there were small, but vivid, signs that winter had given notice to vacate and spring was preparing to move in.

The first telltale sign was the temperature. The air was chilly, but not cold. It didn’t take me long to remove my jacket and ski with only my long-sleeved wool top. I stopped yet again to remove my hat.

Snow and ice is the norm in deep winter in the mountains. But on this day, I was aware of water. The snow was soft and slushy at the trailhead. The trees were drippy as snow slowly melted and fell from their limbs. I listened to the soft “thumps” in the woods as nearby trees released snow bombs.

The distant sound of water tumbling over rocks became louder. Soon I was a crossing a creek on a bridge. A few weeks prior, this creek would have been buried under snow. I spied a watery hole in the once frozen solid lake.

I noticed bugs! There was an occasional flying one and I spotted small bugs crawling on the snow’s surface every time I stopped for a break.

It was after five o’clock when I finished my ski and, despite the overhead layer of clouds, there was still ample light in the sky. Yet another sign that the seasons are changing. As I toss my skis into the Outback, I am looking forward to my next mountain outing and wonder what new changes I will observe.

Vivid

White River and Its Fatal Fish Trap

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Mount Rainier National Park is one of my favorite outdoor places and, on a recent hike there, I captured this stunning view of the headwaters of the White River as it flows out of the Emmons Glacier.

Water is essential for life on Earth. We cannot survive without it. Sixty to seventy percent of our body weight is from water. It delivers and dissolves nutrients, cleanses and flushes out toxins, and promotes growth.

Humans aren’t the only form of life reliant upon water. The White River is a spawning ground for several species of wild salmon and home for other fish populations. Yet this life source for fish is also a fatal fish trap. In 2014 American Rivers placed the White River on its list of Endangered Rivers.

The cause: the deteriorating Buckley Dam which lies miles downstream of its headwaters at Mount Rainier. The antiquated structure has an outdated and decrepit fish trap that, instead of facilitating fish passage, is killing thousands of them.

The Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for the upkeep of the dam. American Rivers and its partners have called upon the agency to agency to modernize the structure by 2017 in order to avoid another massive fish kill. Learn more here.

Wallowas: A Hike on the Wild Side

Wallowa wildflowers

Wandering a wildflower-filled meadow while gazing at hazy blue mountains in the distance, the Wallowas casts its magical spell on me.

One of the advantages of living in Puget Sound is easy access to hiking in the mountains.

One of the disadvantages of living in Puget Sound is that nearby hiking trails are often busy because of their close proximity to the urban area.

Because we craved an outdoor experience that would be quieter for our 4th of July holiday, Steve and I journeyed to the lofty Wallowa Mountains in eastern Oregon. We were rewarded with expansive views, winds whistling through evergreens, sparkling mountain streams dancing downward to valleys, and sharing sunset with an elk herd. And solitude.

Solitude is a key element of the wilderness experience for me, and our backpack into Eagle Cap Wilderness delivered on this point. We avoided the popular Lakes Basin area and chose to hike into the wilderness via the lonelier Summit Point trailhead. Amazingly, we encountered only one other backpacker during our 4-day ramble.

But we were not alone. We camped a couple of nights on the edge of a beautiful meadow populated with song birds, hummingbirds and Clark’s Nutcrackers. At sunset, a herd of elk joined us to graze on wildflowers and drink water from a nearby pond.

Camping in view of granite peaks.

Camping in view of granite peaks.

One morning as we hiked a trail, I noticed a cougar paw print among the elk hoof prints. Now alert, I looked around but saw no other sign of it. This is typical. Backcountry visitors seldom get to see this solitary, secretive creature.

Hiking in the Wallowas is an exhilarating experience as the granite peaks rise like skyscrapers above the valley floor. We found ourselves wandering meadows and ridges upwards to 8500 feet in elevation. These heights offered us breathtaking views of mountains near and far, farm lands in surrounding valleys, and glimpses of the Snake River and Hells Canyon on the Oregon-Idaho border.

This was my fourth visit to the Wallowas and I don’t expect it to be my last. When the daily grind of urban life builds its crust on my spirit, I will again answer the siren call of those remote peaks.

The Robin Gets the Worm

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Spring Robin by Roger Guitard

If the early bird catches the worm then the ubiquitous robin is the winner.

You ask how do I know this? For several weeks, I have been awakened before 4am to the cheerful song of the redbreast greeting a new day. And the robin isn’t content being the early bird. This happy songbird chirps late into the evening as well.

As a kid growing up in Ohio, the migratory robin was an early harbinger of spring. The bird often returned to my neighborhood before the snow had melted. Conversely, its disappearance in late summer was my indicator that fall and winter were on its way.

In Seattle, the robin is my year-round companion. It’s a frequent visitor to the bird bath in my north yard, joyfully splashing in the pool of water and leaving a feathery mess. Robin is also fond of the garden for its culinary worm and insect delights. Yum!

Since I treasure these extra hours of seasonal daylight, I don’t begrudge my robin friend for waking me up to the pre-dawn light. In my book, this bird has earned its worm.

What are your thoughts on the robin?

Alki low tide (2)

You can usually find me in the mountains on a warm sunny weekend, but not this past one. Home projects kept me in town. I took a break from house painting Sunday afternoon to explore Alki beach at low tide.

Sunday’s low tide at Alki was -3.2 feet, making it possible to walk around the lighthouse point, peek into tide pools and discover aquatic gems usually hidden by Puget Sound waters. It’s a reminder that some of the best things in life are right in my neighborhood.