Spring. The first sign is the gradually, gradually, lengthening days. Still awaking in the dark, but driving home from work in daylight. Here in the Pacific Northwest, Spring is normally pretty rainy (yeah, the cliche about April showers bringing May flowers that we all know and love). But we actually love the rain here, because that means Mother Nature waters our yards instead of us doing it.
Our Japanese Maple trees leaf out, and the grasses are green again. The rain fills the bird-bath, and sometimes our resident squirrel comes in for a drink.
On my drive to work in the morning, I travel the roads on the perimeter of Paine Field, the Snohomish County Airport. There are five of these flowering cherry trees, which are actually pretty old. This year, the flowers were so heavy, the branches were dipping almost to the ground.
This year, to spite the Government lockdown, I got in the car and drove up to the Skagit Valley in March to take a look at the tulip fields. It was too early for tulips, but the blueberry vines were just about to start budding.
Last year, the tulips were in full bloom in April. It’s a wonder, being able to get out of your car, and walk through the fields of brightly-colored flowers. Tiptoe through the Tulips, indeed!
A bit farther west of the tulip fields is the town of LaConner, on the Swinomish Slough. Salmon swim up the channel, and local sculptors have captured some.
And Life flows on, within you and without you… George Harrison
For some reason, this song plays pretty often on my internal tape.
In the summer of 2010, Hubby and I took a three-week vacation, and drove from our home in Washington State to Michigan and back, for a Hillsdale Hostel. We took the Southern Route to get there, through Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, and Iowa, to get to Hillsdale. and we took the Northers route home, through Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, northern Montana, and Idaho.
The trip to Hillsdale took us by some very beautiful scenery, and the weather was excellent. Well, most of the time it was excellent. On the first day of driving, we crossed Eastern Washington, Northern Idaho, and Montana, and spent the night in Missoula. The next day, we drove through a corner of Yellowstone National Park.
This formation is called “Devil’s Slide”, for obvious reasons! Sometimes I wished I had a geologist along to explain how those layers of rock, which start out horizontal, got tilted to be vertical! We do know that those rocks started out as layers of sand at the bottom of an ancient body of water. That’s the Yellowstone River just visible in the foreground.
Next, our journey took us through Wyoming. On another hot day, we visited another “devil”, the Devil’s Tower National Monument.
Boy, that Devil sure gets around! I have always loved that columnar basalt, created when layers of hot volcanic rock cool quickly, into lengths of hexagonal rock. Washington State has extensive bluffs of that same rock, along the Columbia River.
Next, we drove across South Dakota. 2010 was a pretty wet year, and we saw fields of tall green grass, and cows belly-deep in it. We stopped at the South Dakota Air and Space Museum, which has a number of old warplanes on the field outside. I captured this pair of house-finches enjoying the sunshine.
When we crossed the Missouri River into Iowa, the weather changed. Dramatically. We did our best to outrun a big thunderstorm across much of the state. This picture was taken through the windshield of the car barreling down the highway. It was pretty spectacular, and the outside temperature was in the 80s.
We made it to DesMoines just in time!
On the last day before we got to Hillsdale, we drove through Indiana, and made a pleasant stop in the town of Elkhart. Now, some of you might know what Elkhart was famous for many years ago, and that is brass band instruments. More than one manufacturer of horns was based in Elkhart, and we found a really fun outdoor art exhibit that celebrates that history.
My internal tape was playing 76 Trombones all afternoon!
We had a great time at Hillsdale, taking classes taught by Hillsdale faculty, meeting people from all over the country, and sightseeing around the area.
On our way home, we took the Northern Route. We knew we were back in Eastern Washington, when we saw this. That Devil must have been following us all the way!
A surprise is something unexpected, exciting, thrilling.
On our Hillsdale College cruise to Hawaii in 2018, we had a few hours in Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii. We were taking a rest in a pleasant little shopping center, deciding where to go next, when I happened to glance at a tree behind me, and saw the big snail. I got out my camera to take his picture, when I noticed, on the opposite side of his tree, a little green lizard! I never would have noticed him if I hadn’t been zooming in on the snail. And I’m pretty sure neither knew the other was there!
I also got a big kick out of this sign we saw in a coffee shop right by the dock where the cruise ship’s boat let us off. How many places do you know where kids who misbehave are offered this?
Mongoose? Someone at that coffee-shop has a great sense of humor.
In this very noisy world, where you are always surrounded by man-made sounds, it can take a long search to find a really quiet place. It also depends on how you define “quiet”. Can a quiet place have people in it, or do you have to be alone to have quiet? Can you be indoors, or must you be outdoors? As my friend Hank Barr says, the answer to nearly any question is, “It depends”. It’s my opinion that the reason 20th Century music can be discordant or atonal is due in part to the increasing noise in the man-made environment, including automobiles, machinery, and recordings that can be played at ear-splitting volume. Horse-drawn wagons and carriages didn’t make much noise, but that big cement truck sure makes a lot of noise!
Back in October of 2012, Hubby and I traveled to the East Coast, and we got to spend part of a day on the beach at Cape May, New Jersey. Cape May is a big tourist destination, and during the summer months the beaches are crowded with throngs of vacationers taking up every square foot of sand. In October, however, all the crowds have gone, the streets are empty (you can even find a parking place on the street!), and the beach is empty of swimmers and sunbathers. We were fortunate to get excellent weather, too, with sunny skies and temperatures in the 70s. It felt really weird to have the broad expanse of beach almost entirely to ourselves.
It was almost eerily quiet, except for the sound of the Atlantic Ocean waves breaking. The constant sound of ocean waves is very calming, and contributes to the sense of quiet.
Now, the beach wasn’t entirely empty. We did have some avian company.
We enjoyed watching the mixed flock of Skimmers, Terns, and Gulls.
Back from the beach, behind the dunes, is a quiet pond, with swans and ducks swimming. Here’s a trio of Shoveler Ducks, one in a most undignified position.
Cape May is a very popular vacation destination. On the East Coast, there is a tradition of people taking vacation lodgings for the summer season, and the town is filled with big houses where dozens of families rent for weeks or the whole summer. In October, those houses were mostly empty and quiet.
The street was lined with these big, beautiful houses, which just had to be vacation rentals. You could imagine the sounds of summer, with children running around and calling to each other, and cars going by. But at this time, it was almost eerily quiet.
It’s almost hard to believe that this vacation destination could actually ever be this subdued, but with the people gone back to their cities, it’s a nice place to visit for some peace and quiet. We were very lucky that we went when we did. A few days later, Superstorm Sandy hit, and this beach wasn’t quite so peaceful or quiet.
When I see a road, I usually wonder where it leads. On our travels in the Pacific Northwest, Hubby and I pass many freeway turnoffs with roads down which we have never traveled. On the way to Mount Vernon, there is a freeway exit marked “Starbird Road”, and I have always been intrigued by the name. We took the exit once, and it basically led nowhere. All that was distinctive about it was the name. Oh, well..
This road is in Eastern Washington, on the banks of the Columbia River. Winding? Certainly! And fun to drive, too.
I have always loved the “shrub-steppe” terrain in East-Central Washington. even when the hills are brown, they are beautiful to me, and the roads are laid out to follow the “lay” of the land, not just up and over.
Closer to home, right across the street from the biggest factory building in the world, is the Narbeck Wetland park. Trails through the park wind among marshes and a tiny island. There are sights to see in any season (just wear your boots in the fall and winter when the paths can get muddy). I especially like the boardwalk.
Roads are not always on land. Off the coast of Washington State are the Marine Highways of the Gulf Islands of British Columbia. The BC Ferries ply the “sea lanes”, connecting passengers with the various islands. When we drive up to Victoria, BC, we love to take the big car ferries. The picture below was taken from the deck of a similar ferry. The captains toot their horns when passing each other.
There are big islands, like Salt Spring Island, and Vancouver Island (where Victoria is), and there are many tinier islands, some uninhabited, and some even privately-owned.
The Olympic Peninsula of Washington is one of the loveliest places in the state. Many years ago, I had a boyfriend who lived in Port Angeles, so I went there (by car, and Washington State Ferry) often. We would often go to the Dungeness Spit National Wildlife Refuge. We know where this path leads…
The path down to the Spit (down a steep path from the wooded bluffs above) is lined with tall evergreen trees, Douglas Fir, Hemlock, and Spruce. The Spit is five miles long, and at its far end is a lighthouse. You can walk the entire length, which is much more difficult than it looks, since it’s all on sand. When you reach the end, you know you’ve been getting your exercise! Itself, it is a long, crooked road.
[Author’s note: this post will contain no social commentary (seen elsewhere on this blog) nor virtue signaling] Just the link to Tina’s original post.
As places go, the United States isn’t very old, only about 250 years old. You have to travel to Europe or Asia to find really old artifacts. One of the best places to find old construction is the State of Israel. Itself, it is pretty new, having been founded in 1948. But the Covenant from God, giving the land to the Jews, is pretty old, dating from around 2000 BC. In 2007, we visited Israel with Michael Medved, and I had a chance to explore the land of my ancestors All over Israel, you find ancient things. One place we visited was the Fortress of Masada, where, in the year 73AD, a band of Jews fought to the death, and committed suicide rather than be captured by the Romans.
This is how you get from the ground to the top of the massive fortress built right into the mountainside. A very new mode of transport up the walls of an ancient structure. Here’s a sample of what you see when you get there.
Fast-forward to 1991. In the summer, I spent a magical three weeks in Cambridge, England, on a UCLA program, studying Medieval English Society. We went a numerous field trips around the area, visiting towns and castles dating from the period. One of my favorite places was the monastery of Bury St. Edmunds. We read the memoirs of a monk, Jocelyn de Brakelond, who lived at the monastery about 1080-1100 AD.
See how the relatively new house is built right into the medieval ruins!
The houses on the High Street in Lavenham date from the medieval period. I think the vehicles are newer than that!
This was me in 1991. The doorway in the College where we stayed, dates from the 14th Century.
Orford Castle was built in the late 1170s. I don’t think the builders of the castle had access to the device next to the hearth.
I think we should appreciate old things, especially ancient things that have survived to today. Much of what we build nowadays is not built to last centuries, so maybe people hundreds of years from now won’t remember us as easily as we remember the ancient Israelites, or the early English.
As Ralph Stanley, the well-known Bluegrass artist used to say “Watch where you’re goin’, and never forget where you came from”.
Others have mentioned that life is fragile. This blogger begs to differ. On our Planet Earth, not only is Life not fragile, there is no niche anywhere on Earth that is not occupied by some form of Life. Living things have been found from the deepest deep-sea trenches under the oceans, to the volcanic craters of active volcanoes both below the seas and on islands in Hawaii and Indonesia; to the hot springs of Yellowstone, to the highest peaks of the Himalayas, to the deserts of Africa and Central Asia.
I live in the Pacific Northwest, surrounded by temperate Rain Forests. In places like these, Life is so profuse, layers upon layers have their own kinds of living things.
This is a “nurse log” at the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge on the Olympic Peninsula. The logs all have mosses growing on them. You can see the big hole in the fallen log-inside that hole are insects. Insects also populate the moss on the logs. You can see other plants growing out of that log. It’s quite remarkable how many layers of Life there are in, on, and around that fallen log. Eventually, big trees will grow on top of that fallen log, and the insects and bacteria will consume it. Many of these logs are found to have holes in them, made by woodpeckers hunting for the insects that live there.
Down on the beach below, even the rocks have their beautiful color variations.
And the various grasses. These are very hardy grasses, growing in a sometimes-harsh environment of salt water and nearly-constant wind.
And sometimes, in the midst of these delicate colors, something very bright stands out.
Welcome to Life on Earth. How fortunate we are to live on this beautiful planet, with living things all around us.
One of my favorite things to do when I’m out and about is bird-watching. I have a 1960s Roger Tory Peterson Field Guide to Western Birds, and I keep a “life list” in the back, checking off the birds I have seen. I especially like traveling, and seeing birds that we don’t have here on the West Coast. We’ve been to Alaska and Hawaii, and the East Coast of the US. We also took a trip to Israel in 2007, and I made sure to buy a bird book so I could identify unusual birds that I saw. But, to start with, we get some pretty interesting birds right here in our back yard in Everett, Washington.
This little bandit is a Townsend’s Warbler, and he comes by most winters, to eat at our suet feeder.
This is a Varied Thrush, basically a Robin in different clothing. That’s an insect in his beak-they are carnivores (remember the Robin and his worm?).
A bit farther from home, I caught this White-crowned Sparrow at the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge on the Olympic Peninsula last year. He sat very still for me to take his picture.
I saw this flotilla of Pelicans off the deck of the Crystal Symphony in San Francisco before our cruise to Hawaii in 2018. A perfect “V”.
Then, when we got to Hawaii, I found this Brazilian Cardinal on the grass at Pearl Harbor. That red cockade really attracts attention.
Back in Honolulu, I captured this pretty pair of Egrets.
This is, I think, my best “catch” on that trip to Hawaii. On the way home, I saw this Masked Booby flying off the side of the ship, hunting for fish. This bird is rarely found on land, and it’s a real treat to see one at sea.
And last, but definitely not least, in Juneau, Alaska in 2016, I caught this Bald Eagle, master of all he surveyed. Actually, Bald Eagles are quite plentiful here in the Pacific Northwest, and we see them cruising over Silver Lake by our house.
Bird-watching is a valuable pastime, something you can do any time, just about anywhere.
I like to call it “Zoom-in-Zoom Out”. Instead of taking one photo and cropping out the extraneous features, I find a subject and zoom closer in on it, to see the finer and many times more interesting features that might be missed in the wider view.
I took these one day at our favorite day trip, up the North Cascades Highway to the Diablo Lake Overlook. Diablo Lake is one of the reservoirs behind the dams on the Skagit River in NW Washington State, where Seattle gets its (clean, hydro-electric) power. The water is that blue-green color due to its glacial origin.
Here’s the full-view picture.
Next, I zoomed in on the rock face.
Finally, I zoomed in even closer to see the patterns the various faces of the rock make.
You can see the lichens that cling to the rock and give it color, as well as the mosses. It is those tiny plants that, along with rainwater, spell the eventual doom of the mountains by creating tiny crevices that the water wears away. Link to Tina’s site.
Oh, yes… I almost forgot. Tina, this one’s for you.
I live in the Pacific Northwest (AKA Pacific North-WET), which is known for lots of rainfall. We do get our share of rain, but it’s mostly light rain, rarely the kind of “raining buckets” that I have seen on the East Coast. Rain doesn’t stop most activities-you can see kids playing soccer in the rain most times of year.
Back in 2016, we had a rather spectacular short rainstorm while I was at work one day. Our factory building has very high ceilings, with heavy plastic skylights at intervals, and when it rains hard, it makes quite a distracting racket. This time, I went over to the door nearest my desk, and took my iPod with me, and captured this heavy rain in a short video. You can see at the bottom, the river spewing out of the ground-level downspout. If you look toward the rear, you can see the cars in the parking lot, hubcap-deep in water, since the drains simply couldn’t handle that much water at once.
It took about an hour for all the water to drain from the parking lot after the rain stopped.
My attitude toward getting caught in the rain is: You won’t melt, and you won’t drown, and you will dry off.
Next, the “Far” part. In 2018, Hubby and I took a cruise with Hillsdale College to Hawaii, round-trip from San Francisco.
The first stop on the cruise was, of course, Honolulu. And once we docked, the first stop on land was the Ala Moana Mall, where I had not been since 1962. In the middle of the mall, there is a river, with various levels and ponds containing the obligatory koi carp, and water lilies and other plants. It makes a nice quiet respite in the middle of all the action.
Our first stop after Honolulu was Lahaina on Maui. It just so happened that there was a surfing competition going on that day, and we got to watch some of the teenagers compete. They would go out in groups, then come back in one by one.
All four wore different colored shirts so they could be told apart by the judges on land. A good time was had by all, and we spectators were treated to some expert surfing by the young competitors. All wet, but in a very good way.