Early crisp clear mornings, when summer starts to fade into autumn and all around nature is still waiting for the sun to rise. These are the moments I live for, the moments when the quiet sound of nature waking up for a new day. Here near the shore of the river is where life takes a pause, a breath, and a reflection.
Funny how in the constant movement of our lives, we forget to bring ourselves back to a peaceful state. A state of peace we search for in our busy lives, but never seem to find within ourselves. The state of peace for me has always been fishing. It does not matter if I caught anything or not. It is more about being in the present moment of peace within nature-within the energy of flowing water.
With the autumn season, the stillness of a crisp mornings and evenings along the Skyhomish River only magnifies how beautiful nature is if choose to pause for a moment in time to soak it all in.
Hiking is a rewarding experience many people in the PNW thoroughly enjoy. Last summer I had the opportunity to experience hiking in remote, alpine regions of Western Washington. When I first started out on the big adventure last summer, I failed to realized I may not know what I was up against. I learned the hard way on a few occasion.
What I failed to realized turned into an adventure within an adventure. Here are the things I wished I knew before hiking in the alpine.
Altitude sickness is not for planes:
I have spent most of my life at or a little above sea level and only experienced altitude sickness when in Tanzania. I should have listened when my own body started to struggle with keeping water and a granola bar down. Breathing started to become harder as I climbed further up the mountain, and the dizziness set in when ever I had to exert more energy to get over a log. I thought I was out of shape, but this is not true.
Lesson: Hiking takes a lot of effort to reach the end point. When hiking in alpine mountain regions, you have to take your time going up, and really tune in with what your body is telling you before it is too late. I was lucky it did not get to this point, but it could have become a major medical emergency.
Beware of snow:
Sheets of ice is more like it! Snow can be found in areas in the middle of summer. Avalanches still happen in the summer as they do in the winter. I recall a moment when hiking up to Fremont Lookout in Mt. Rainer National Park last summer where what sound as a gun shot going off in the distance followed by the sound of a roar alerted everyone in the hiking group of an avalanche sliding down the side of the opposite mountain side! Not to mention slipping and landing hard on a snow cover rock or worst falling into a craven or a lake! You may want to have a snowball fight, but be warned, they hurt when it hits you!
Lesson: Be aware of the snow around you. Falling and breaking something is a danger no matter how prepared you are.
Toilet paper is your friend:
The one time I decided to forgo the toilet paper was the time there was no toilet paper to be had! Normally I would carry a role of toilet paper in my pack, but the one time I forgo it was at a trail head outhouse where there were no rolls left by other hikers. Thank goodness it was not while in the Olympic National Park (mountain goats smell urine and can result in a deadly encounter!), but in Mount Baker National Forest. Hiking up the trail and air yourself out is not the best way to start a hike.
Lesson: Always pack a roll of toilet paper while hiking, traveling in a remote area and road trips. I had mine in Tanzania, but for some reason, I did not have one in the wilderness of Washington!
Wildlife, they are not always afraid of you: The sound of marmots whistling at you is a warning to other marmots of your present, but a deer, bear, cougar or any other such animals, are not afraid of you. I will not forget the time a hiking group left me alone out in the open when a deer suddenly bolted upright and headed into the trees sensing a predator. I at the time sense something was not right, and that a bear or cougar was in the area. Fear of knowing at any moment those two animals are not afraid of you is scary. Imagine hiking down the side of the mountain with just a headlamp and see a bear or worst a cougar in your path. These animals think you are the prey.
Lesson: Be aware of your surroundings, and take caution when hiking through bear or cougar country.
Alpine lakes are cold, proceeded with caution:
When there is snow present, there is a lake or river somewhere near by. Lakes in alpine regions are cold-hypothermia cold. Most alpine lakes are fed by snow or glaciers melting, making these lakes crisp, cold and deadly clear. Swimming in them should be done with caution if not ever. On a hot sweaty hiking day in the summer they are inviting, but not all alpine lakes are the same temperature, and each one you encounter will feel different. Having your body submerged in for one minute can cause hypothermia to the body. I remember standing in such lake up to my wast, and started to not be able to feel my legs!! It was difficult to get out of the water, and took ten minutes of rubbing my legs to get the deathly white color to a living flesh color. The rest of the hike back down to the van was painful.
Also, the water is not exactly safe the drink either from a glacier stream, river or lake.
Lesson: Just dip you hot sweaty feet into the water instead of the shoreline and treat the water you pull from the lake if drinking it.
Storm clouds are in your face:
I will not forget staring face to face with a dark black cloud on the Johnson’s Ridge Observatory Trail at Mount St. Helens. Being high up with little to no treeline protection can mean anything can happen in a split second. Scary when the cloud can have lightning. Hurricane Hill in Olympic National Park I remember how fast those clouds moved across the landscape, and how one minute it is a nice sunny day with warmth to a few seconds it is blizzard conditions and the temperature drops to freezing. A simple rain jacket is not enough, nor a simple baseball cap and even the fleece jacket does not keep you warm. Hypothermia strikes by lightening or anything nature throws at you can become life to death situation.
Lesson: Be prepared for all-weather conditions and pack winter clothing when hiking in higher regions of the mountains not matter if it is an eighty degree weather day. Dressing in layers that can be easily shed during the hike or put on is your friend.
Go Girl can be a lifesaver: Men have it easier than women when needing to go on a backcountry trail. Men just go off into the bushes without much thought, but us women, we need to find a secluded vulnerable place to do our business. After having to (TMI alert) pee off a trail stripping to be half-naked, and almost if not peeing on ones self, is just too much work (and cold wind blowing on your bum). Not to mention some other hikers just don’t get it why you are crouched down in the bushes!
Lesson: Get a Go Girl to use for hikes where the nearest outhouse is miles away, and you can discreetly just go behind a bush.
Wildfires: Where there is smoke, there is a fire! This is not something I learned the hard way, but it was always in the back of the mind. Hiking in the alpine and backcountry regions of the mountains during the late spring through the fall can put hikers into the path of a wildfire. From an old fire lookout, I saw a two (one-off in Canada, the other in Eastern Washington) wildfires in the distance burning in the opposite directions from me. Still, to see the smoke hanging in the air, it was a sign to start back down to safety in case the fire decided to switch directions.
What to do: Always check conditions before leaving on the hike, being aware of the surrounding area, and when you smell smoke, see it or hear it, move fast away from it. See this link for more information: Dos and Don’t s of Wildfires.
Once you hike in the alpine, you are never the same again!
This summer go enjoy a backcountry hike, and don’t do what I did!
Every first and third Saturday of the month Amazon lets the public tour inside the spheres and on this particular trip, the Corps flower was ready to bloom!
I will admit, I am jealous of the employees of Amazon for having access to an amazing space to work and wish more companies would utilize more nature in their buildings. The Spheres exterior is made up of 2,636 panes of glass, making it a greenhouse/bio dome effect. For the plant nerd in me I was in heaven!
This living wall in 60 feet tall and expands all the way up to the fourth floor of the middle sphere.
The Spheres have over 40,000 plants from cloud forests around the world. The plants inside are native to mid-elevation cloud forest ecosystems at altitudes of 3,000 to 10,000 feet. The plants are a remarkable testament to biodiversity found in nature around the world with 3,000 of the plant species coming from tropical forests. All plants present in the Spheres are sourced through collections at universities, seed growers and are not taken from the wild.
There are orchids, epiphytes, succulents, and carnivorous plants hidden among all the other tropical plants. The Spheres even houses ethnological species that cure disease and some are endangered in the wild.
Now this rather large plant is the Corps flower which when it blooms it will give off a smell described at rotting flesh. If you are reading this live, the flower at the time of visit was just days from opening. The flowering plant is a rare sight to behold since it takes years for the flower to fully form to bloom.
The canopy walk and the birds nest are crowed favorites! The wooden boards give the effect of an old tree house when taking across them!
As a scientist and a nature nerd, I highly recommend going to see The Spheres and learn more about Amazon’s innovative thinking about the how workplace spaces in urban offices should have a direct link to nature. Also on weekends the public parking garages under the Amazon buildings close by are free.
Spring has finally arrived here in Seattle! As the cherry trees blossoms awash the area in whitish-pinkish color, there are many signs of spring has finally here! The tulips are starting to come out of their slumber, and the yellow heads of daffodils are shining brightly through the gray days of spring. Finally after a roller coaster ride of a winter season, spring has come.
While large crowds crammed themselves into the University of Washington’s quad full of cherry trees, the Washington Park Arboretum and the Japanese Garden’s cherry trees where in bloom minus the large crowds. For four hours I walked the winding paths through the different gardens soaking in the spring sunshine with the cherry trees and dogwood trees in full bloom.
Unexpected find in the rhododendron garden! These beauties are Camellias. They are a broad leaf evergreen shrub with pink, white and red large showy flowers. I want to have these in my garden one day!
This girl may have been watching too much Hallmark Channel Christmas movies and now it may have gone to her head… a little. Christmas time for some reason makes past eras (1800s anyone?) seem closer than any other time of year (except for baseball season).
Last year a friend told me about the Meeker Mansion being all dressed up for Christmas in a Victorian theme. Every year the Meeker Mansion opens its doors day after Thanksgiving through eighteenth of December to the public for a special holiday exhibit. This special Christmas showing raises funds for the Puyallup Historical Society’s upkeep and repairs of this old historical home.
It has been a very long time since I have been down in Puyallup (last remembered 2011). When you have all the Christmas shopping done early, and need to get out of the Seattle holiday madness, go further south.
The Meeker Mansion sits in the old part of Puyallup as a relic from a time long gone, and every year the mansion is decorated for Christmas in the late Italianate Victorian style. Ezra Meeker the man the Victorian mansion is named for was a leading pioneer (physical parts of the Oregon Trail exists today because of him), first mayor of Puyallup and the “Hop King” of his day (Washington Hops).
During Christmas season the house is dressed up for a Victorian Christmas. Each of the seventeen rooms on the tour are decorated ready to receive guests for a Christmas house party at any moment.
Even the kitchen is decorated for the holidays!
Today the mansion is still undergoing painstaking work to bring all the rooms back to original decoration during the time when the Meeker’s were in residence. At the time the first and second floors of the house are completely finished to include period era furniture with all the trappings of grand house at the turn of the century. The third floor, unfortunately, is not open for exploring.
The house around the time of it being built had modern convenience of having electricity and running water. As you can see the tree is plugged into an outlet in the wall that is original to the house.
Cannot have a real Victorian Christmas without a piano. This one was waiting to for Silent Night to be played.
Scene out of many of those Christmas cards!
A little crowed at the beginning to day, but my the time I got to the first floor most of the people were already gone. I would recommend coming a little later in the day as it is not so much crowed.
A long time ago I had some very bad mussels dish at a fancy seafood restaurant which was the reason I never touched certain bivalves. Clams where the only thing I would eat with a shell in this department. This all changed when I toured the Penn Cove Mussel Farm on Whidbey Island and Taylor’s Shellfish Farm in Bow. Not only did I get to sample fresh mussels, clams, and oysters, but I learned more about how each farm raises them in the most sustainable ways possible. I even was able to see a geoduck up close, something very few of us are afford in a restaurant.
Penn Cove Shellfish Mussel Farms
To get to the mussel beds out in Penn Cove, I had to board a boat at the old Coupeville Wharf. This is the famous wharf everyone has to take a picture of for social media, and on this morning, the wharf had a coastal seaport asleep vibe waiting to be awoken by the sun.
Once in the boat, I sported the most stylish bright orange life vest and off towards the mussel beds we went. Once in the area, we saw mussel beds loaded down into the water with harbor seals lounging on top looking very happy. Most of the beds at the time had small mussels growing, but a few of the beds were big enough to harvest. It takes about a year for a mussel to grow the size for harvesting.
Penn Cove Shellfish Mussel Farms grows more of a native mussel to the Pacific Coast-Penn Cove, but they also grow Mediterranean Mussels as well. The mussels are grown mostly in their Penn Cove location, but they also grow other shellfish like clams and oysters at their other location in Willapa Bay.
After the tour was finished, our group received a 15lb bag of mussels to bring back to share with our friends.
Interesting fact: mussels are more popular in Belgium, Netherlands, and other landlocked German-Franco countries. The first mussel farm on the west coast of the US was established in the 1970s and is Penn Cove Shellfish Farm.
Taylor Shellfish Farms
When you hear Taylor Shellfish Farms, you may think of the Oyster Bars popping up all over the Seattle -Bellevue area of recent. But the real treat is to visit the location of the farm itself off Chuckanut Drive in Bow. Here you can have a taste of oysters while enjoying the view of the oyster growing beds and seeing first hand how those oysters are harvested.
Here I tasted the different types of oysters grown and got an up close look at a delectably, the goeduck which goes for $70 lb which translates into $80-100+ at a seafood restaurant! I really wanted to try a small piece just to see why people want to eat this, but only if you buy one.
What does a person do with a geoduck? This even sparked some… let’s say.. inappropriate jokes regarding what a goeduck looks like. Even a shirt being sold in the market store played on this inappropriate joke. Pacific Northwest native the geoduck is known as “the good time clam.” Yep, I typed that!
The famous oyster shells are spread all over the ground outside which goes to show how close from tide to table really is.
Overall, I do believe I will be eating more bivalves in the future. Spending a whole day touring both shellfish farms was a treat, by had the opportunity to see how sustainable shellfish farming is and how it contributes to a healthy environment in our water ways, all the while eating homegrown shellfish in the process.