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The Equinox Project
Observations of the passing seasons
By Rob McNair-Huff
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Rob's books
- Insiders' Guide to the Olympic Peninsula

Week Nine, May 14-20

Sunday, May 20, 2001

W e covered a lot of ground on this sunny early summer day. Natalie and I packed up this morning and set out for Hood Canal. Our destination...Mt. Walker, the tree-lined mountain just south of Quilcene on the Olympic Peninsula to the west of here. We last visited the mountain and its lookouts on a cloudy day last fall, when we were doing research for the Insiders' Guide to the Olympic Peninsula book that is due to hit bookstores next month. This time, rather than looking down on clouds as we did in the fall, we could see all the way to Seattle, Mt. Rainier and the Strait of Juan de Fuca and beyond. We spent some time trying to see Tacoma from atop the mountain, but although we could pick out Vashon Island and one of the bridges in Bremerton, there are just too many land masses between Mt. Walker and Tacoma to see either the city or the Narrows Bridge. The photo above looks east from Mt. Walker across Hood Canal and Puget Sound to Mt. Rainier in the distance. Tacoma is located somewhere in that dark green jumble of land between Mt. Walker and Mt. Rainier.

Our view of the Olympic Mountains to the west from on top of Mt. Walker was obscured this afternoon by high clouds. We did have the sun peak out while we were looking north toward Port Townsend. Natalie even had a close encounter of the gray jay kind while we sat at a picnic table and ate a snack. A gray jay mistook her hair clip for a piece of food on top of her head, likely because some brilliant yahoo in the parking area had been feeding the jays pieces of bread that he would set on top of his hat (much to the delight of his family, and to our dismay) when we walked past and up to the lookout earlier. The jay pecked at Natalie's hair clip and grazed her head with its legs, but other than being surprised, she was fine.

This was our third visit to the top of Mt. Walker, making the four-mile jaunt off of U.S. Highway 101 up the narrow gravel road by car. We will probably return soon though. The rhodedendrons along the road and trails up the mountain are just about to burst into bloom, and in another couple of weeks there will be a lot of color to see.

After leaving Mt. Walker, we continued south along Hood Canal and ventured into a part of the Peninsula that I had only read about - up the Dosewallips River valley into the primitive east side of Olympic National Park.

The Dosewallips is not a large river, but it is one of the few rivers on this part of the Peninsula that runs unimpeded from the mountain tops to Hood Canal. The road up the river surprised me. Winding up the narrow valley, it quickly turns to a one-and-a-half lane gravel road through the National Forest Service lands that precede the national park lands. You have to drive more than 13 miles into the woods from the tiny town of Brinnon to reach the Olympic National Park boundary, which was how far we drove up the road before turning around and continuing our day's journey. But before we made our way to the park boundary, we stopped alongside the Dosewallips River at the Elkhorn campground, where we sat and had another snack and snapped pictures of the surroundings. The photo above shows the Dosewallips tumbling through a small rapid in the foreground with the tree laden mountains in the background.

While sitting there at a picnic table, listening to the river rush by just a few feet away, we saw small blue butterflies fluttering near the ground in the sunlight. A short while later I noticed much larger butterflies courting and landing along stones on the opposite side of the river. I watched them for a while, eventually grabbing the binoculars in an attempt at identifying them from afar. They were dark with light trim along their bottom wings, and about the size of a monarch. I have tried to identify them since returning home, but the best I can do is make a guess that they were mourning cloak butterflies. I also spent time trying to identify the small blue butterflies that were so abundant wherever the sun was shining along the roads up the valley. Using the photo I snapped of a blue butterfly resting along the side of the road that Natalie noticed during a stop on our drive back down toward Brinnon, it appears that the blue butterflies were the greenish blue butterfly, which is known to be found in that area.

After leaving the Dosewallips River, we finished our tour around Hood Canal by heading south through Hoodsport, then up around the bend in the canal through Union and Belfair before returning to State Route 16 and continuing home across the Narrows Bridge. All in all, we covered more than 200 miles. What a perfect way to get away from everything for a few hours!

Saturday, May 19, 2001

N atalie and I failed to get out of bed in time to head down and work at Puget Creek today, and neither of us felt that great with headaches and such, so we did work in the yard later in the afternoon and then, after receiving a phone call about trail damage at the park, we went for a walk down there in the evening. Apparently, sometime on Friday a worker for the Tacoma Parks Department took a group of kids up the trail and randomly cut a lot of undergrowth along the sides of the trail under the pretense that the trail wasn't wide enough to get a vehicle from bottom to top to do maintenance. As can be seen in today's photo, the cutting crew butchered sections of the trailside, and it truly didn't make sense how they did things. Everything is cut off three feet or more from the ground, and in one case I found a tree branch three feet off the side of the trail that had been cut about six feet above the ground.

Scott Hansen, president of the Puget Creek Restoration Society, plans to talk to the parks department about what they did, and I can see from this act that we need to keep the parks people more informed and work with them regarding the habitat restoration down there. There is no use working hard to plant native bushes and trees just to have some clueless person from the parks department destroy the work in a couple of hours of random slashing...

Friday, May 18, 2001

T his day saved the best for last, with a brilliant sunset that, when I saw it glowing through the front window of our house, drew me up onto the roof at the back of the house to snap a few shots of the spectacle as the sun faded behind the Olympic Mountains and a cloud bank of pinks and reds to the west.

The pink highlights at the bottom of the clouds in tonight's sunset remind me of a morning I woke to see orange-pink clouds to the southeast one morning 21 years ago. The significance of this? Today is the 21st anniversary of the eruption of Mt. St. Helens on May 18, 1980. Originally I had planned on making a trip down to the recovering landscape around the still-hot volcano today, but a work shift and what turned out to be a foggy, cloudy day down at the mountain (as seen from the Mt. St. Helens Web cam) meant that Natalie and I won't return to Mt. St. Helens for another day. The day when I saw the orange sky early in the morning happened exactly one week after the famous May 18th eruption. On May 25, 1980 a secondary eruption sent clouds of ash wafting to the northwest of the volcano, and shortly after I woke to the orange sky, I watched the sun rise and offer a sliver of daylight before the ash clouds closed in an turned day into night. Then it started to rain mud, and before the day was over, everything in my childhood home town of Rochester, Washington was coated with about half and inch of wet, pasty ash...

Back to the present, Natalie and I will return to Puget Creek tomorrow morning for another volunteer native planting party. Maybe I will find something to take a picture of down there.

Thursday, May 17, 2001

H eavy rain has taken its toll on Puget Creek this week. One of the weirs in the creek washed out at some point during one of the rain storms earlier in the week, and it was easy to pick out the problem just by the missing sound - as Natalie and I walked down the trail we couldn't hear the normal gurgling of water spilling over the small logs that make up the weir.

Farther up the trail I found the subject of today's single photo, a spiky fern that I knew would look great in black and white. There is a wide variety of ferns along the 0.7-mile trail through Puget Gulch. Except for the area that is dominated by the invasive ivy plants that we are trying to eradicate, ferns are the dominant plants along ground level. Other dominant native plants include salmonberry, snowberry, and in the damp areas things like skunk cabbage and watercress.

At the end of our visit to the park we were able to confirm what kind of yellow birds we saw down at the gardens portion of the park last week. Both of us caught a close-up view of the birds across the road from the entrance to the park, and as I guessed, they are western tanengers. The distinguishing feature for pinpointing that these were tanengers rather than goldfinches - the western tanenger is larger than a goldfinch and the male tanenger has redish hues on its head. There is no red on a goldfinch...

Wednesday, May 16, 2001

T here are days when it seems that the world unveils itself before my camera lens. And today, when Natalie and I made another afternoon visit to the Adriana Hess Wetlands Park in University Place, was one of those days. This was only our second visit to this 2-acre plus park nestled alongside an ancient bog with an open water pond known as Morris Pond. Obviously from today's photo above, the pond is big enough to draw ducks in addition to the dozens of red-winged blackbirds calling out and flitting from one cattail tuft to another. The trio of ducks in the shot above were all in pursuit of one female duck...

Aside from wildlife shots, I am drawn to the reflections in the lily pad-strewn pond. The shot above is fun because of the clarity of the lily pads but even more so for the reflection of the fir trees, whose mirror image create a third fir tree image encompassing the sky. And on a day when the camera seems to have more to show than my words can convey, the closeup of the lily pad below is the perfect ending to a quick visit to a slice of urban nature.

Tuesday, May 15, 2001

A fter an all-day buildup to tonight's storm, those of us in the Puget Sound area can rest easy. As usual, the heaviest winds came from the hot air of TV news teams set on promoting another wind storm that, almost on cue, turned into a respectable blow, but nothing to worry about. Top winds here in Tacoma pushed to 30 miles an hour, or about half the speed of the top winds predicted earlier in the day. But I can't discredit the meteorologists, with their computer models and high tech radar and satelite imagery. It is pretty standard in this area to use these forecasts as a guide for what could happen, prepare for the worst, then expect that at the last hour the storm will take a different route over or around the Olympic Mountains and throw off all of the forecasts.

Because of the bluster and the heavy rains that fell this afternoon, there were some interesting weather photo opportunities. I slipped outside shortly before the sun fell behind the cloud bank to snap today's shot, which shows a wisp of gray clouds whisking by in front of the darker clouds off to the west.

I look forward to venturing down to Puget Creek tomorrow to see how that slice of nature weathered the storm...

One quick site update note. I added a number of Nature writing and Resources links to the page tonight after digging around a bit on the Internet.

Monday, May 14, 2001

T his is another spring day marked by heavy rain and now, as I write this late on Monday evening, talk of a wind storm that may be bound our way tomorrow. The breeze is blowing outside now, but even though the barometer has dropped to 29.84, this is nothing. It sounds like we could be in for an interesting day and night tomorrow.

I stole outside briefly this afternoon to snap the pair of photos I include today. The first shot, of the calla lilies that are along the steps to our front porch, I took from under the cover of the porch. But the second shot of the sparrow below was taken from inside the house, peering through the front window as one of the sparrows that has made its home in a bird house alongside our front door where we can hear baby birds chirping when the parents go out into the yard foraging for food.

Interesting news links for today:

Smaller Bills, More Smog: Bush Plan Costs and Benefits - The tradeoffs between saving a few dollars and the long term costs of the Bush energy plan, set to be unveiled this week, are detailed in this story from the Seattle Times. None of this makes sense to the 1970s our nation realized we needed to cut our reliance on fossil fuels, and by the end of the 70s we realized that nuclear power wasn't the safest alternative power source, yet here in 2001 a pair of oil buddies feel we need to forget the lessons of the past because there is oil to be found, and more nuclear waste to be created... I guess I should play the Bush Administration game and just be glad for the short term, then let our kids and grandkids pay for our folly.

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