Raging Nature

I’ve had an emotional week. It took the insistence of my cocker spaniel, Murphy, to get me into the solace of the forest today, rather than curled up on the couch watching re-runs of Psych.  We had a little bit of overnight rain after a long coastal drought, and by afternoon the clouds had lifted and even the air quality seemed to have greatly improved, relieving us of the smoky haze that has been hanging over the coast for several days.  On a day like today it might seem fathomable that nothing bad could be happening anywhere.  From the beauty of our personal, mossy, fern filled forest one would barely imagine that less than 150 miles east of us a 30,000 acre wildfire is gobbling up the beauty of the Columbia Gorge and that other huge fires are consuming vast areas of forest land in 8 states and Canada.

Columbia Gorge Photo Credit: Tristan Fortsch/KATU-TV via AP

A wildfire burning in Glacier National Park has burned down the historical landmark Sperry chalet, a stunning, unforgettable memory for me of a 13 mile round trip hike I took with friends in my early twenties.  I could not stop the tears.  Though many of the fires were started by lighting, some, including the Eagle Creek fire on the border of Oregon and Washington, were human caused.  It is hard to accept that the majesty of the Columbia Gorge will be changed forever because some teenagers were reckless with fireworks. That has been the hardest thing for me to turn around in my heart.

In the past week I’ve allowed both natural events and political instabilities world-wide to slowly smother my usual sense of joyful curiosity and gratitude for the simple beauty around me.  I’ve let a kind of despair begin to choke me, letting anger and blame to creep into my field of emotional and spiritual vision and then kept myself smoldering with an ugly dose of cynicism, all of which has come out in a variety of truly unflattering ways.  I have been particularly angry at the seeming indifference of those teenagers and more than ready to declare their punishment.

I spent days stewing in an overwhelming morass from it all.  So much suffering and nothing I can do.

But eventually I had to look at reality.  Is that actually true?
Of course not.

There are many different disaster relief programs set up in any of the affected states for anyone interested in contributing. You can google local efforts to assist those in need, or simply start with the Red Cross. I know I can’t give to all of them, but I can do what I can.

We are a beautiful country, a compassionate country.  We are givers.  We want to help.  So with the West on fire and the clean up from hurricane Harvey barely started while hurricane Irma barrels toward Florida, just take some time to consider what you can do from your own resources.  And that doesn’t have to mean money.  There will be hands on restoration groups being put together who will be grateful for any kind of volunteer help in the months to come.  And there is prayer. There is compassion and empathy.  There is forgiveness.

A friend of mine recently reminded me that we always have the choice to let love win over anger.  Today, when I really felt my heart change, I fully understood exactly what she meant. Moved to the top of my list now of those I wish I could help if there is any way to do so, are the kids who started the Eagle Creek Fire.

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Memorial: The land as a friend

I am what is refered to as “middle aged.”  In just a few days I will hit the amazing double nickle birthday, then be on a new adventure toward 60.   I try not to get hung up on the numbers, because they are just that.   I have many wonderful friendships in my life, spanning from the very young, to beautiful souls in their 90’s.   I know people who, “by the numbers” are considered “old”, but who exude an infectious, youthful energy.  I know people who are considered young but seem wise beyond their years – “old souls” as some like to call them.  Each of the people in my life share with me their unique personality traits and talents. Each is a treasure.

There is another kind of relationship I have developed over the years that is just as inspiring and just as important to me.  A relationship with the planet earth and the landscape that stands upon it.  A relationship with not only the wild spaces, but also with lovingly landscaped yards and gardens, the empty or abandoned lots left to be reclaimed by nature, and the preserved and tended spaces of parks and recreation areas.  Each has it’s own unique traits, draw and energy.

I have lived in many places over my 55 years, different towns, different states.  In each place I have been introduced to amazing people, many of whom have become fast friends, but also to amazing outdoor spaces that have become the places I go to for inspiration, solace and contemplation. Having a relationship with a natural space doesn’t simply happen.  It is a product of shared nuances between the land and the people on it. Delight becomes a choice to spend time in a space, gratitude becomes a deepening connection and devotion to it’s enhancement and protection.

I still have vivid memories of city parks in the small town where my family lived when I was under the age of five.  Wonderful playgrounds and what seemed to a young child like endless green spaces.  In that same town I have a memory of a small triangular shaped space where a street divided, just a small bit of dirt in the middle of that split, held in by the concrete curbing.  But every spring my parents would fill that bland space with colorful petunias to beautify the street and they would tend it until season’s end.  I remember the shape of our yard there, and the big old tree (I think it was a maple) that was home to “Earl, the girl squirrel”.  I remember the empty lot across the street and the path through it that took us to “Grandma Saunders place”.  Spending time in a space and a resulting emotional connection creates the relationship.  It is doubtful that many other people ever think about that one little triangle of dirt in the middle of that split street in Monroe, Wisconsin.  But I do.

In Chippewa Falls Wisconsin, where I spent the next chapter and the rest of my childhood, there is a wonderful 300 acre park in town that I spent endless time exploring over the years of my youth.  In that park I hiked and biked with friends, found secret spaces, fell in and out of young love, wept for the death of people and pets I loved, celebrated,  and introspected.  I spent time there in every season, marveled at the autumn colors and the spring flowers.  I still know that park like the back of my hand and love that space.  I mean, I really feel love for the space, and such joy when I visit and return to it – because it is an old friend.

It is the same experience with our family cabin in northern Wisconsin.  Our family has had a relationship with that land since I was six or seven years old.  It is a place that feels as if its open arms are always awaiting our return.  It is a member of the family.

In Montana, where I spent my first years as an adult living on my own and making my own way in life, I cultivated relationships with such stunning outdoor spaces that my heart aches sometimes to remember them and to know I have not returned since leaving there over 20 years ago.  Those spaces and my experiences in them are part of me as surely as the many people I have known along this road of life are part of me.

My husband and I have been living on the Long Beach Peninsula of Washington state for almost 14 years now.  I have made many wonderful friends here who have truly become like “my tribe.”  I have also discovered and connected deeply with wild spaces that have taught me about the incredible diversity of coastal nature and keep me filled with wonder and gratitude. I return to these spaces again and again to renew my connection to the earth, to spirit, to curiosity, to playfulness and adventure.

So it is with real sadness that I report the loss of a dear friend.

A glorious stand of forest here that I have come to know and love over many years is currently in the process of being clear-cut.  It is a forest that has simultaneously taken my breath away and fed the core of my soul in countless hours of hiking and exploring her stunning acres.   My whole being grieves.  For me and others, it has been a sacred place that will be deeply missed.  Of course there are other forests, even very similar forests, but like any friend, this one was unique, with it’s own unique story, energy and beauty.

In that forest I often had a sense of the inexplicable, an eternal presence – give it any name you want – and it was a space where I often found myself completely humbled by beauty.   I have left behind anger in that forest, found answers in that forest, I have been returned to hope in that forest, shared painful secrets with that forest, cried out in reverence in that forest, and I have danced and sang beneath those trees. I have  pushed through thick clumps of huge ferns, imagined the tower of ancient souls as I stood dwarfed beside the giant stumps left from the original logging.  I have watched awed at dawn as the first rays of sunslight slipped through the lacy hemlock branches and laughed out loud sometimes listening to the squeals and groans of trees in wind. I have explored the mysterious deep ravines, crossed mossy log bridges laying toppled across their bottom, gotten my feet wet in the chilly seasonal run-off gurgling down the hillsides, watched deer pass only feet away from me.  I have loved every bit of the staggering and stumbling, slipping and lurching, the careful footsteps to avoid stepping on tiny newts who made their home in the thick compost of the forest floor.  I have returned in the constant tug of curiosity to follow the wild trails used by deer, elk and bear. I have thrilled at the discovery of dens and burrows, and paused in hushed respect for animal remains found on the forest floor.  I have loved the startle of large animals moving through the brush out of sight and the endless hope for seeing them.  I have shared that forest with friends and spent time there in solitide.  I have left prayers among the trees and offerings at the base of twisted roots.  I have loved every minute of my relationship there.

As with any beloved friend, it is hard to accept the loss and I have been angry.   Yet slowly,  parallel to the sadness, I have found the balm of gratitude.  Without a doubt I have been joyfully blessed.  Many never got to experience the amazing things there that I have seen, touched and delighted in for so many years.  It is gone now, but I am one of the lucky ones.  That forest will always be a part of me.

So let the healing begin.  Let new babies rise from the rubble.  Let divine grace show me once more that there is purpose in every loss, that the trampled seeds, buried beneath the broken surface, encased for the moment in thick mud, are already knocking on the door of light, ready and eager to meet us.

 

 

 

Posted in Forest, Nature, Pacific northwest, Spirituality, Uncategorized, Washington coast, wilderness | 8 Comments

In a land of clouds

img_9534-large-e-mail-viewRemember as a child, laying in the grass, looking up at the clouds?  The Nimbus or Cumulus clouds as they boiled high into the sky like great cotton candy towers, the cirrus clouds smeared across the blue like a molt of white feathers from some great celestial bird. Remember your imagination, how you dreamed you could walk up there, climb the clouds, run on the puffy hills, maybe taste the velvety white snow?  Remember that amazing land?img_0116-large-e-mail-view

And then adulthood happened.  And maybe life took you away from the innocence, took you away from those moments of pure bliss into the world of adult things, the striving, the busy-ness, the tiredness, with no time or energy for dreaming.

Yesterday I watched a storm front move in from the southwest.  The clouds were stunning, rising above the horizon like steamy burls from a great volcano, like foam churned up by an angry sea, like train loads of raw cotton spilled and piled above the landscape.  I found myself day dreaming, as I did when I was a child, about a magical world up there, an innocent world that in my imgaination I could hike and explore.  I stood there watching the clouds slowly shift and change, and after several minutes had to chuckle, realizing that like some expert mountaineer studying maps and photos, I was actually looking for my route to the summit!

img_0076-large-e-mail-view

Dream of the Billowlands

I stood before the approaching storm,
I watched it swell
unfurling in knobby balloons
and I dreamed again
like I did as a child
of hiking the Billowlands,
a cumulus whimsy
a nebulous dream.

To leap from earth
into the stormy sky
to clutch and clamber
to hoist and heave
hand over hand
through a transient world
where sweet mizzle
plasters my hair
runs down my face
as I scramble, grapple
claw my way
up colossal silver mountains
weaving up and around
gray-white spires
to sweet vistas
and dizzying heightsimg_0112-large-e-mail-view

A timeless place
where toes dig
into the foamy loam of a wispy world,
and I move with easy grace
to carefully skirt the shifting ridges
the gaping crevasses
to peer in wonder
down dark steamy valleys
and bottomless swirling chasms.
A world where I stand awestruck
before the looming mouths
of stunning unstable caverns
that curl into existence
only to disappear in moments,
a land where I run in bare feet
across filmy ribbons of white meadow,
soft fertile slopes of cotton.

With strong legs
and a quiet heart
I scale
the formidable pinnacles,
the bulbous protrusions,
the slippery cliffs
surrendering to an uncertain route
and the humble buoyancy of trust.

Up and up into the high thin air
to the sunny summits
the white and misty peaks
the seat of the Gods,
the palaces of magic.
There, I bound exuberantly across
the voluptuous knolls,
the brilliant snowy crown,
the cap of the storm
and hope to meet
the wondrous child I once was
racing toward me across the gleaming rim,
to wrap her in a joyful embrace
to whisper to her in the song of the winds
my simple prayer –img_0110-large-e-mail-view

These lands were always real.
You were right to spend time here,
you were right to dream….
Never stop.

– Linda King

 

Mossy whispers:  You were right to dream…. Never stop.

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Autumn Song

Autumn is without a doubt my favorite time of year.  The air is filled with the musty scent of leaf decay and the drift of smoke from burn piles, wood stoves and fire places.   It’s a season that feels like a housecleaning before closing up a beloved summer house, a tucking in of the year’s responsibilities and accomplishments, a cup of warm cider on the porch swing before bed.  It’s a time for gathering, reflection, a drift along slow creeks of thought and emotion, a quiet meander through memories.

wisconsin-autumn-2

I grew up in the hardwood forests of north central Wisconsin where autumn comes in a riot of color so stunning some years, the beauty of it can literally take your breath away.  Here on the Washington coast, with its tall stands of pine, cedar and fir, autumn arrives a bit more subtly.

Reflection of Canadian geese flying over wildlife refuge on a blue evening ** Note: Slight graininess, best at smaller sizes

Geese photo credit: whyuniverse.com

We don’t get the same grand splashes of color, but it starts with some of the best weather we experience here in the rain zone, sweet sunny days and near perfect temperatures in the upper 60s and low 70s.  By September the 6am air begins to feel sharper and the sun, moving into its winter arc, seems to share a richer kind of light, a golden hue that gives both forest and ocean beach a soft amber glow just after sunrise and again just before sunset.   The geese begin to gather in large noisy groups along the waterways and in the fields. Something in the quality of their honking seems different, compels me to pause and listen each time they fly over. It stirs a dormant yearning in me to join them when they leave for wintering places and keeps me spellbound, watching the sky and listening until their voices fade away on the horizon.squirrely-1-medium-web-view

A series of pine cones plunk to the ground through the branches above.  They land near me and continue to drop around me in sporadic pings and plops like hail stones.    The squirrels and chipmunks have started the work of summer’s end.  They herald Fall’s arrival with a noisy harvest as they begin the task of stashing their winter store. linda-chipmonk-medium-web-view

One of my favorite personal photos is of me feeding a chipmunk at about age three. My mom tells that I was a bit apprehensive, but brave.   It seems my love affair with wild things started early and has never left me.misty-squirrel-medium-web-view

I still love to watch and photograph these sweet-faced, nimble creatures.
On morning hikes and evening walks, squirrels scold and chatter at me, annoyed at my intrusion into their busy work. I watch them peek at me from various lookout posts or see them bluff at bravado in a series of staccato charges down a tree trunk as they tell me in no uncertain terms that I am not welcome!

squirrel-midden-medium-web-viewEvidence of their dining habits and food stashes can be found everywhere.  The holes they dig are often stuffed full of the untouched cones they have chewed off and dropped to the ground.  The piles of scales left on stumps or outdoor tables and benches from stripped cones are called “a midden”.  Research shows that sometimes squirrels will use the same eating spot over generations!

squirrel-8-medium-web-viewBoth squirrels and chipmunks have vibrant, comical personalities, like a beloved aunt whose dramatic scolding does little but bring a chuckle.  Their hectic darts and dashes across open space, the animated bounds with pine cones or other bounty stuffed in their mouths make them look like a silly thief who doesn’t realize he could have the loot for free.

chipmunk-medium-web-viewIn Autumn’s winding down something in me seems to pause briefly, to pull inward, gather up, listen more deeply.  Autumn ignites an old soul connection to celebrate harvest, light ancient fires, reminisce with family and friends.  Here on the temperate coast it is a golden song that carries the geese, calls the rain and births the patient waiting winter.

wisconsin-autumn-090-medium-web-viewMossy whispers:  Listen to the leaves as they leap in trust from the fingers of trees.  Watch them skip and cartwheel across the roadways like groups of gleeful children let out for recess.  Feel the connection to ancestors.  Pause to savor the pungent flavors and aromas of the season.   Immerse yourself in Autumn’s full, beautiful song.

 

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Dens, burrows, tunnels and magic portals….

tree-toes-large-web-viewWhen I am in the forest, my senses are usually in delightful overload.  All around me stories of wild life are being told, layered within hues of gold and green, russets, tangerines, grays and blacks, hidden in symbiotic textures of soft moss ribbons, bulged knobby burls, chipped craggy stone, fuzz and thorn.  Information sifted through changing shapes and angles, spoken on wind crescendos, in the grind and groan of trees, chirps, chatters, twig snaps, howls and screeches. burrow-11-large-web-view

Within this cacophony of sensory bliss, I often stumble across holes and tunnels, the doorways to homes of mammals who live in these wild spaces.  I rarely pass a den or burrow entrance without studying the opening for clues to its occupant.  Sometimes these doorways are found in rock piles or cliff sides, sometimes the entry is a perfect dark mystery leading into an old stump or beneath the tangle of mossy roots of a live tree.burrow-5-large-web-view

I have sprawled on the ground, eye level to den and burrow openings, hoping to glimpse an occupant or see bones from a recent meal.  I’ve peered into well used, narrow grass tunnels in search of fur tuft or quill, the clues to understand who travels them. I have patiently watched the holes in rotting snags to see if birds are nesting inside.inside-burrow-medium-web-view

I have climbed inside the cramped hollowed core of colossal old stumps, the cavity inside just big enough for me to squeeze into, exploring a space where some creature probably slept, hoping to experience what it must feel like to curl up on the duffy floor, smell the gloriously musty interior and sense other creatures as they move through the ferns outside the safety of the dry den.

These spaces all feel magical and mysterious to me, a gateway to another world.

I was told as a little girl that fairies live in old stumps and within the labyrinth of exposed passages that beckon between the gnarly roots of aged trees.  It was suggested that I respect them by leaving a pinch of bread or something sweet when passing by their home.  It is good to stay child-like, to remember the draw of fantasy, the lure of possibility.  To this day I still find myself enchanted by the same whimsical beauty, imagining that maybe fairies DO live in such places, especially living here in the moss curtained, fern draped pacific northwest where great sentient trees appear to harbor complete communities of magical beings in their arched root palaces.   Sometimes I still leave a small offering of bread crumbs or a pinch of sweet granola in their root twists and recesses – just in case.fairy-tree-large-web-view

I recently returned to my home town and on a walk around my old haunts I discovered that one of the great fairy trees I used to pass on my daily walk to grade school had long since been cut down.  Where it used to stand there was only an uneven hump of earth and a heave in the sidewalk from the old roots.  I stopped there, with a little hitch of mourning in my throat, childhood memories flooding me with their sweet innocence.  Before walking on I left a sprinkle of granola bar on the spot the tree once stood, whispering a tiny prayer of hope that the fairies had found a beautiful new home in some thick gnarly place deep, deep in the woods

burrow-againI’ve always had a vivid imagination.  As a child I took my bucket full of various plastic animals outside and would search the yard for just the right snaggly root cave or cozy bed in the thick litter beneath bushes for each play critter to call “home.” When traveling long distances in the car, I would watch the landscape going past the car window, imagining some animal racing or galloping along beside us, searching as we drove along for protected places that animal might stop to rest or sleep.

linda-in-tree-large-web-viewI guess maybe in my grown up way I am still playing those games as I investigate the wild places, constantly curious and captivated by the entrances to dens and burrows.  I am still infatuated, exploring the pathways, doorways and tunnels – the secret portals to their alluring world.

fairy-home

 

 

Mossy whispers:  Fantasy is part of every healthy society, it is life blood.  Find your way back to the earth, to your hands and knees, to your imagination. The magic places are waiting. The fairies remember you….

 

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A shoreline voyage

light houseSo often I write about the lush forests I love to explore along Washington’s temperate coast, but the truth is we initially moved to this area to be near the ocean.  Our house sits directly between Willapa bay to the east, and the Pacific ocean to the west, less than a mile from the beach as the crow flies.  I saw the Pacific ocean for the first time as a young child – maybe age 7?  We were on a family vacation from Wisconsin and visited the Oregon coastline along Cannon Beach.  I remember the awe, the wild thrill and mystery of it all – the great sea stacks looming from the waves, the screaming gulls, the flocks of sand pipers Murph and Beach 238running along the surf as the waves receded, seeing the mollusks and starfish clinging to the rocks at low tide, my ever adventurous dad wading out to bring a couple of them back to us so we could examine them close up.  I remember standing ankle deep in excruciating cold water for family pictures and the endless treasure hunt for sea gifts that had washed up into the sand.  I was hooked, and I spent a life time dreaming of living near the Pacific Ocean. At last, over 30 years later, that dream actually came true.Benson Beach

I’m almost embarrassed to admit that now that I’ve lived here for many years, I find myself taking the ocean for granted. I do not walk the beach every day, as was my dream when I lived in hot, dry, treeless places, nor do I particularly enjoy the ever faithful rain here, which I swore would never bother me as I dreamed of coastal living.

But!

Orca 4 Medium Web viewThere are days here…incredible days, when that old thrill comes back, when I feel like a kid again, when I can’t imagine a grander place to live.  Most of this week has been a string of those days, full of beach exploration, mystery, fascination and surprise.

My husband and I have lived on the Long Beach Peninsula for 13 years now.  In all those years, neither of us have ever seen whales.  At last, this week,  I got a glimpse of them at the mouth of the Columbia river.  They were a bit far away for my camera, but I was able to watch them spout and see their backs roll out of the water from time to time.  It was a thrill that made me feel like a kid again, yelling “Did you see that!?  There it is!!”Pelican

Also this time of year the brown pelicans spend time along our shores.  These great birds feast along the mouth of the Columbia river, part of great hoards of birds feeding on anchovy and other small fish. Groups of pelicans are often seen flying low above the waves like squadrons of fighter pilots in perfect formation and dive from high in the air, plunging to submerge into the water to feed.  It is a thrill to watch, a challenge to capture, and a gratitude to experience.

Millie friends 2 Medium Web viewSea lions are another local attraction that never disappoint in entertainment value and I spent time this week watching them.  Like a couch full of irritable basset hounds (My husband and I had the great fortune of living with and loving a house full of bassets for more than half our marriage), they lounge on docks, push and bellow, have noisy showy squabbles, then sleep with their heads resting on each other.tracks in sand Medium Web view

This week I explored secret coves, had thrilling new experiences, found artistry in wind swept trees and tracks in the sand, watched the sun set over the beach.   I renewed my love affair with the ocean and my gratitude for this amazing, adventurous life I live in one of the most beautiful places on the planet!sunset bird

Mossy whispers:  Delight awaits, even in the familiar.  It is endlessly possible to renew the extraordinary within the ordinary.  The child in you is waiting in excitement to fly out the door!  

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The meditation of observation

The word “meditation” for me has always conjured images of mats rolled out, people seated in the lotus position, eyes closed, lost within some inner sanctum of peace reached only when one has been successful at the process of staying still and completely emptying the mind.  IMG_1429 Medium Web viewWell, I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve never managed that.  I have a hard time sitting still and doing nothing for even 5 minutes.  And emptying my mind?  Before long I’m making shopping lists, trying to remember if I gave the dog his morning eye drops, making a mental note that I need to make a call or schedule some neglected appointment, all the while trying to rid myself of some frustrating song playing over and over in my head.  Obviously this model of meditation is very helpful to some, and I am in no way knocking or attacking anyone else’s practice, it simply hasn’t worked for me.

I recently viewed a video post on social media about meditation that talked about a way to stop the mind’s continuous chatter during meditation by giving it a “job”.  The job suggested in the video was that of listening to breath.  That certainly  sounds reasonable, but again, sitting still doing nothing is challenging for me to begin with and listening to my breath, well, quite frankly, sounds boring.  So I started thinking (probably during meditation!) maybe there are other “jobs” to give the mind that can be just as effective as listening to the in and out of breath.  I have often found myself completely losing track of time, problems, looming responsibilities, when hiking or during creative activities that fully engross my mind, body and spirit.  It makes me wonder if perhaps any activity that engages and fulfills a person so completely that time seems to slip by unnoticed, could be considered a successful form of meditation?  Here is an example:IMG_1037 Medium Web view

In late afternoon I hiked up an empty logging road along the clear cut, gravel crunching softly beneath my feet, my breath a steady rhythm in and out as I ascended the hill.  Clouds were beginning to move inland from the ocean on a plucky breeze and the sun was angling lower in the sky.  Purple thistle blooms along the edge of the gravel caught my eye. Upon closer inspection I noticed the softness of some of their spent blossoms, the way the downy seed clusters almost looked like spiders sitting on fur as they waited to be shaken free by the wind, or by some passing animal brushing against them.

Swallows flew in and out of branches jutting from jumbled slag piles nearby, I didn’t know if the birds were resting, on sentry duty, or staking territory.  IMG_1054 Medium Web view They darted from the branches to dip and circle around me, feasting on bugs I suspect, in an endless mission to feed their young.  Thin gray clouds moved across the sky, creating a cotton candy background as the birds swooped and made sharp turns through the open air.IMG_1160 Medium Web view

Further on, thick patches of wild blackberry brambles reached long crisscrossed runners across the gravel.  They snagged my pants cuffs hard enough to make me stumble so I was forced to pay attention to where I was putting my feet.  The berries were ripening and for awhile I stopped to eat my fill of the juicy fruit, feeling as if I’d found a secret treasure, wishing I had a bucket with me.  As I snacked, I marveled at the fact that black bears sustain themselves mostly on berries, and pondered how that is possible for such a large animal.IMG_0737 Medium Web view

IMG_1030 Medium Web viewAhead of me, a variety of wild grasses bobbed in the breeze, their seed heads bending, nodding like thousands of spirited horses.   Their texture and the way they caught the light stopped me again.  I brushed my fingers through them, enjoying the softness, watching tiny seeds release, then noticed a garter snake sunning himself on the gravel ahead.  I moved toward him slowly, observed him quietly, hoping I wouldn’t disturb him, admiring the bright stripes, the shape and texture of scales, the thin flicking tongue, his intense eyes.  After a lengthy study, I made a wide arc around him, then left the road to hike into the forest.

The forest at the edge of the clear cut was quiet, protected.  Though a vigorous breeze rose and fell, often moving the tree tops, the air along the ground was mostly still.  I picked my way carefully through lush ferns as high as my chest, over limbs and huge old logs blanketed in moss, around massive stumps left over from logging seventy-five to a hundred years ago.   IMG_1065 Medium Web viewOccasionally the trees above me would groan or screech, rubbing together in a crescendo of wind, and twice the screech was sudden enough to startle me into a gasp and then a chuckle.  I stopped to drink water and nibble on a snack from my pack, sat on a mossy ledge above a deep ferny gully, enchanted and as always, grateful to be there.

Eventually I retraced my steps through the dense green, emerged from the trees, made my way back down the logging road to my car.  When I checked the time, I was shocked to learn that three and a half  hours had passed while I had been observing the natural world around me!  Not once in those hours had I thought about the past or the future.  I had been completely seated in the present.  Not once had I thought about myself or anything that nagged at me.   I have discovered a beautiful thing.  My ego has no job in nature, and I think that is why it has such power to renew me.   My only role there is as witness to endless wonders.  So it seems I find my sense of inner peace as I hike, keeping my spirit nourished and my mind delightfully busy in the meditation of observation.

Tonasket June 2016 150 Medium Web viewMossy whispersLet nature be your meditation guide for a day. Stand still and listen to the breath of the wind as it lifts and falls.  Let yourself get swept into the currents of curiosity and fascination where time dissolves and renewal can be as simple as evening sunshine glowing through a feather in the grass… 

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Beauty in the dung heap

It can be a difficult topic for some and I certainly understand why. Let’s just get all the troubling names for it right up front.  Dung, droppings, scat, piles, meadow muffins, do-do, leavings, poo, pies, all words that conjure images that are not very pretty.  Still, finding animal droppings is part of how I search for experiences with them in the wild.  It gives me specific clues into who has been around and some idea of what they’ve been up to.  Bear garbage Black Lake 009

Some of the loveliest things grow from the ugliness of fertilizer, colorful flowers and a variety of interesting mushrooms for example.  Tonasket June 2016 040Sometimes it’s the surprising shapes of the droppings themselves that bring me a smile. TONASKET April 089

Cow manure left behind on open rangeland often dries in interesting, even artistic shapes.  I’ve seen droppings that are outright comical, some that resemble numbers, arrows that seem to point toward something specific, a question mark.   

What I have come to appreciate is that animal scat shows me part of the animal’s story.   It isn’t that I set out with the intent of looking for it, but when, let’s say, I happen upon a distinct pile left by a bear, I’m always curious, because through what is left, I get to witness some of the mystery of that animal’s day.  Scat can give good information about where he’s been and what he’s been dining on. Has he eaten in the cranberry bogs, or has he been enjoying a variety of wild berries?  Are there twists of plastic bag woven throughout the droppings, indicating he has been foraging in human garbage?  Is there evidence that it was a mother and cubs that have moved through the hiking terrain I’m traveling? Forest and blog photo 066

Coyote dung is particularly distinct and fascinating to me.  Sometimes peppered with bits of bone, there is often nothing left behind except thick grayish fibers of undigested fur.  I find them left in loops or wForest and blog photo 062avy piles, like fraying rope or coils of undyed wool that someone dropped on the trail. 

When I see clusters of small pellets I recognize deer have moved through.  When I find piles of larger grassy round stone shapes I know that I am in elk or possibly moose territory and it thrills me.  The number and proximity of scat piles to each other can determine how popular an area is, how much it is frequented by a particular species of animal and how recently they may have passed through.  Are the pellets dark and fresh or are they dried and beginning to disintegrate?   Tonasket May-June 2016 221

Sometimes the decay process creates its own delicate artwork, growing a lovely coat of silver mold so that it looks like a soft clump of animal fur was left on the edge of the trail.Black lake May 034

I recently found the perfectly dried exoskeleton of a bee laying in a cluster of either elk of moose droppings while hiking in a wilderness area not frequented by humans.   The idea that I happened to look down at my feet at just the perfect moment, that my eyes were lucky enough to notice something so unique, overwhelmed me with gratitude.  I took a photo of it and left the area with quiet reverence.   That is how I feel about all of nature.  Lucky to be an observer, grateful to occasionally witness some of this planet’s fleeting secrets.  Tonasket June 2016 183

I don’t apologize for my curiosity of animal scat, or it’s surprises.  It’s there I find some of the clues to the ever beckoning mystery, the intrigue of wild stories – the beauty in the dung heap.

 

Mossy whispers:   Beauty can rise to the surface, even in the worst of things.  Mystery is a challenge to the mind and a satisfaction to the spirit.  The wild story is always there if you are curious enough to search for it.  Give yourself a simple gift, consider following the clues for a while. 

 

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The patterns and textures of wild

I really enjoy going to art galleries and museums.  Without doubt, humans have the ability to create phenomenal works of art.   But in the end, I believe nature will always be the superior artist, with the rest of us trying to copy her amazing diversity of tBlack Lake textures 104exture and color.

When I hike, whether in the shaded forest, through colorful open meadows, or along the gray toned beach sand, my eyes are always drawn to the gorgeous assortment of patterns and textures I find in nature’s pwood textures 6erfect artwork.

Sometimes it’s the way shadows fall on the ground in abstract patterns in the evening light, the way frost settles on grass and clover, how wood grains cascade in lovely patterns like petrified waves of a wise crone’s beautiful gray hair.Black lake May 001

I can find myself holding my breath in amazement over a thousand water droplets clinging to grass seeds, hanging above the sturdy blades like glass beads on a fragile sculpture, or smile as I walk the beach marveling at the way early sun lights up the patterns of beak holes and sand critters scuttling as the waves recede,Beach walk 028 or the way the waves leave interesting patterns of shallow ridges across an expanse.  I can find myself admiring a small pile of ropy kelp because in the ocean’s perfect placement it looks as if someone left a beautiful necklace coiled on the sand.Elk Bones back cover, beach walk 166

As I walk along I am intrigued by the endless textures, the light and dark, the bubbled, the fuzzy, the sharp, the cupped, the layered, the dripping, the pocked, the poked, the rippled and ridged.  The imperfect beauty of it all.

I will always stand in awe of Spring textures of 2014 005a huge lip of shelf fungus beaded with dew, clinging to a dead tree.

I am endlessly fascinated by cloud patterns that lift in soft smudges like the downy feathers of some giant celestial bird or billow like the ash from the birth of a great imaginary mountain range, by paw prints and beak prints, wood grain and water ripples.

Black lake May 020I might stop to admire a cluster of flocked white fungus clinging like furry shells to a rotting log or the way it stacks on an old stump like the colorful layered skirts of twirling Spanish dancers. black lake reflections 026

I love the jigsaw puzzle texture of ponderosa bark and find the semi-translucent, amber-orange seepage of pitch from a dripping pine wound beautiful.TONASKET April 098

Nature’s textures and patterns are a treat to the eye, a gratitude to the heart, an inspiration to the soul.  I will never tire of the riotous medley of beauty, the interchange of light and pattern, the perfect art of nature.

Mossy WhispersImperfection is never a mistake.  It creates a beauty unique as a snowflake and as interesting as a Van Gogh or Monet. 

 

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From a slug’s eye view

This post is probably going to be a little bit different than some of my previous posts, and if you’re at all squeamish about things soft and slimy, it is possible you should skip this post altogether.  My subject matter may not lend itself to flowery descriptions and yet, didn’t Ray Stevens say it in his song?
“Everything is beautiful, in it’s own way….”

I admit it.  I’m strangeBlack Lake five-thirty AM 006.  I often spend time observing things that would probably at the very least bore, if not outright disgust a lot of people, but the world of wild things is endlessly fascinating to me.  Not just the large lovely features, plants and creatures but also the smaller, not-so-pretty realities, the life forms sharing our world that might be seen by some as unattractive.

Take for instance the uniquely large slugs of the pacific northwest.  The banana slug, my favorite, is a part of a group of  gastropod molluscs without shells.  Since the first time I saw one of these grand beauties, stretched out to at least 6 inches, cruising along on its mucus highway like a long glistening dollop of butterscotch pudding dropped on the grass at my feet, I continue to enjoy a pause now and then to watch or photograph them.  Even after thirteen years of living on the Washington coast, they still thrill me, somethiBlack Lake fox gloves 028ng that friends enjoy teasing me about.  These slow movers come in a variety of colors, ranging  from yellowish brown with no spots, to golds and tans, often covered by random patterns of black spots – like an over-ripe banana.

One day I took my camera and spent well over an hour laying on the ground, crawling around, following a slug along the forest floor, just to see where it went and what it did.  But before I continue the story, there are some important details to share.  Slugs are Slug! 109considered simultaneous hermaphrodites, which means they have both male and female sexual organs.  To call the slug “it”, seems impersonal, so for the purposes of my story, I will refer to the slug as “he”.

It was early morning at the mossy base of a small cedar tree.  The slug caught my attention because he was stretched full out, slipping along at what may have been his top speed, 6.5 inches an hour according to my research.  I watched him move slowly and smoothly around the base of the tree, over moss, sticks and exposed roots, through a constant scattering of pine needles, some dead, some freshly fallen.  Slug! 107As he moved, more and more needles and bits of leaf matter began to get stuck in the slime he was leaving beneath his back end, clinging to him and dragging along behind him like an orange-green bouquet.

Suddenly (well, as suddenly as a slug can move) he looped around, turned his face toward his back end.  Go ahead and laugh, but I was riveted.  What would he do?  Eat the needles?  Bite them off?  Slug! 126

It turns out that slugs eat with a part of their body called a radula, which is a grasping organ complete with small tooth-like protrusions called denticles.  I watched my subject grasp several times at the cluster of needles stuck to his hind end until finally he had them completely cleaned off.

Slug! 129With his tail free of debris, he  continued on his way, unburdened.  At that point I decided that an hour and a half was long enough to hover over him so I thanked him for slowing me down for awhile, wished him a long life (slugs live about 7 years) and bid him farewell, noting that it is actually a very lovely world from a slug’s eye view.

Mossy whispers:  Slow down for an hour.  Get rid of the excess that drags you down. Look beyond what you’re used to seeing.  There are a million kingdoms conducting business at your feet all the time.  With patience you can witness miracles. 

 

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