A leap to the dry side

I tend to think of mossy realms as existing only where the rains are plentiful and dampness settles across the landscape in misty layers.  But there are mossy realms everywhere, even in extremely dry places.

I recently spent 12 days above the Okanogan valley, near the small town of Tonasket Washington (north central Washington, about 17 miles from the Canadian border), where we have a 20 acre parcel of unimproved timberland in the Okanogan Highlands between Mount Annie, Bannon and Tunk mountains.  The area boasts 300 plus days a year of sunshine and there are summer days when the temperatures reach well above the 100 mark.  Winters can be snowy, frigid – and often quite magical.

The land is rugged, remote. Beards and Tonasket 157Although electricity is available, it is costly and many people living above the valley have chosen to stay “off the grid” with the use of solar power, generators, composting toilets or outhouses.  Once off the main highways or paved secondary roads, driving is generally slow on wash-boardy gravel, then degrading in jolts and jostles to narrow dirt roads that are full of deep ruts and pot-holes, often with home-made signs pointing the way.  Tonasket May-June 2016 048 There is no cell service where we are, other than an iffy spot on a steep hilltop we have to hike to where sometimes we can get a single bar – but only if the cloud cover is just right, the wind isn’t blowing too hard and you have the ability to stand without moving even an inch. It is 30 miles from our property gate to the town of Tonasket but we are lucky to have a tiny general store nearby, open 7 days a week, run by a wonderful couple.  “Nearby” is about 12 miles down the hill from us.  The store in relation to our property is considered extremely close in terms of most parcels in the highlands.april tonasket 629

Some of the nicest people I have ever met have made the decision to live in this wild seclusion.  People who are incredibly hardy, capable pioneers, neighbors who wave when you meet them on the road and stop to make sure you’re ok if you have pulled over. People check on each other and willingly lend a hand.

The land itself is stunning, wild in a way the coast simply can’t be.  These are the foothills of the Cascade Mountains20160603_113024_resized where wild flowers bob in high breezy meadows, where open ponderosa forest gives way to dramatic granite cliffs that rise from the steep hillsides.  It is dynamic terrain where sweeping bedrock domes, exposed by thousands of year’s erosion, hump up from the earth like the bald scalp of some buried giant. These are the vast expanses where elk, deer, black bear, moose, wolves, coyotes and even herds of wild horses roam, where lichen covered boulders lay everywhere in interesting jumbled piles providing protection for small mammals, lizards and snakes, and where old fallen trees, mummified in the dry heat, Tonasket May-June 2016 060create beautiful gnarly sculptures in meadows, on rocky ledges and under stands of pine and tamarack.

And there is even moss here!  Mossy, ferny shady places, thick olive blankets of it covering sections of rocky outcroppings, or in long sheets down smooth rock walls like the cascade of a fuzzy green-brown waterfall.  Moss on bonnie rock 2There are hairy tufts of neon moss clinging to gray weathered wood and crisp black patches dried on the sunny rock faces where there is no shade.  There are long brown strands of beard moss dripping from the lower branches of ponderosa, as if clumps of fur from some mammoth beast were left snagged on the bottom limbs as it meandered through the forest.

It is always difficult to leave the Okanogan.  There is something about the solitude and rustic beauty that resonates deep in my soul.  Every visit leaves me with renewed gratitude for the two worlds I get to inhabit, Tonasket Fall 2015 041traveling in a single day from the cool damp-misty, to the jagged, dehydrated, dusty.  As always, I return to the coast carrying a heart full of coarse-craggy, dry wind etched, wildflower nodding adoration.

Mossy whispers:  There is softness to be discovered even in the stony and the rugged.  Consider leaving the convenience of pavement.  The bumpiest roads can lead to the most amazing places. 

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The secret hush of moss

I frequently write about my hikes in the morning forest and the magic of first light, but today I want to share the thrill of a late hike through forest understory at the end of a sunny day.  It is a seductive hourGolden evening when the light seems to take on richer hues as the sun sinks behind the trees in a blinding orange ball.  Once again I am drawn to the darkening woodlands.

In the late evening forest, light casts an apricot brightness to trunk and fern, stump and rotting log.  Everything seems to stand out more clearly for a short time in an amber tint.  Gnarls and tangles, unnoticed during morning or mid-day, become stark silhouettes of abstracElk bones proof book 030t forest art. Thick slices of tangerine light climb branches like fire, then disappear.  It is a time of day my camera rarely works well and I can’t explain it, almost as if the forest wants to keep those moments secret, allowing them to be experienced only by being present in them.  

 Golden Evening 3!It’s the hour they call “the gloaming”, a powerful, lovely stretch of time when light becomes mysterious, when it seems to pull the darkness toward it, starts to wear it like an overcoat.  It’s the hour when everything mossy begins to glow like hot embers, when the last chipper bird notes fall against the golden air, gliding through it like a knife through soft butter.  It is the time of day I imagine forest life beginning to tiptoe, knowing that soon the dark hunters will be on the move.  It is a palpable shift when plants and animals seem to hold their breath, when I can almost hear the light speak, whispering against the trees in soft citrine tones.  It is a collection of slow minutes that feel otherworldly, as if the steadily slipping daylight might also briefly hold the possibility of a doorway between realities. 

 Black Lake evening 052As I make my way out of the shadowy forest, my instincts become sharper, I feel fully present and alert.  I sense the quiet rustle of night predators beginning their vigilant hours and know that everything else, even the carpeted green knolls and hanging beards of moss have secretly hushed, bowing to the advancing darkness in somber reverence.

Mossy WhispersPlay in the golden twilight.  Give your soul a touch of amber mystery. Listen to the coming night, let it bring your instincts alive and surprise you with its deep, hushed beauty. 

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In a friendship with flowers

 

Black Lake five-thirty AM 150I have often heard or read the phrase “He or she has a good relationship with the land.”  As I devote more and more of my free time to exploring wild places, I more deeply understand what that means.  A good relationship is an investment, a commitment to be in union with, to respect and care deeply about the well-being of another – in this case, this planet we inhabit and the impact I, individually, have on it.  I receive far more than I will ever be able to give back to this beautiful earth, though I try to do what I can.  But today’s post is not about environmental problems.  It is about friendship.       

In April and May on the Washington coast spring is in high gear and everything seems to change so rapidly.  20160330_155752_resizedA few warm days can mean the difference between naked budding limbs and branches filled with colorful blossoms, or between a nest with speckled eggs and the gaping yellow beaks that hatch from them, squalling for meals.  They are months that begin in the boggy places with the pungent yellow, scoop-shaped blooms of skunk cabbage, also given the playful moniker “swamp lantern”.  They are the months that fill the woodlands with the enchantment of white trilliums, fairy bells and tiny yellow wood violets hidden like shy kittens under the tree canopy.  Fairy bells20160418_144213_resized

To me, springtime is like a favorite story I know by heart, yet I can’t wait to read again.  It culminates with giant showy blooms of cow parsnip, thorny pink sprawls of wild roses and the stately bell towers of fox glove dramatically dressing trails, fence lines and roadside ditches. Near the ocean shore, carpets of tiny wild strawberry blossoms spread across the sand beneath slender twining stalks of purple vetch swaying among new green blades of dune grass.  Black lake May 009

I adore wild flowers.  They are like beloved friends that come for a brief visit every year.  I wait for them, look forward to seeing each variety as they cycle through.  Even the ever-green shrubs of salal and huckleberry dress themselves for a short time in delicate white bells that hang like jewelry along their branches.    salal bells

I have read that skunk cabbage has the ability to generate heat in the air around it as much as 50 degrees to melt snow away from its leaves and entice early insects to pollinate it.  I have stood beside stalks of cow parsnip well over 8 feet tall and read that the plant is sometimes called “Indian celery” and was valued by Natives as a vegetable.  Rose hips are high in vitamin C and Fox glove (Digitalis) is well known as the basis for some heart medications.  

As I write this, the cow parsnip is at its peak.  The plant simply thrills me.  ItCow Parsnip! 161s impressive height and giant leaves make me think of things Jurassic. The huge, sweet smelling blossoms conjure images of something old fashioned, like crocheted hats or white lace doilies.  Nature is marvelously artistic and inspiring. 

So it is with continuing gratitude that I anticipate each month’s changing wild display, delighting in the endless opportunities I have to walk this planet Cow Parsnip! 001in tender awe and to cherish it in genuine friendship. 

Mossy whispers:  Nature’s beauty is always ready for you, waiting for you to notice it.  The dappled moss is happy for your feet upon its back.  Get to know the ditches and the marshes.  It is a friendship that will always bless your efforts.        

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The magical messy mossy garden

There is simply nothing like spring here on the peninsula.  It comes early in this moderate climate and Maylawn 2016 031 brings a rollicking parade of colors that excite the senses like the surprise of a flock of wild macaws landing in the yard. 

Azaleas and rhododendrons burst open like ruffled fireworks, nubby blossoms of California lilacs hang above yards and patios in thick blue nebulas, sweetening the air with the light scent of vanilla.  Graceful fountains of ornamental grasses pour from the earth.  golden chain again 004The stunning blossoms of the Golden chain drip from Yard 2016branches like long dollops of honey or the painting of an exotic tree left in the rain – yellow streaks running down the canvas.  Sometimes it reminds me of  a delicate crocheted afagan artistically draped for show.

My husband and I worked long hours to create our Shangri-La when we bought our property ten years ago.  Every spring as I look out over the explosion of color, I think, “It can’t possibly get any more beautiful than this!” yet every year it seems to take that challenge and win again.

After about five years on our property, we gave up trying to keep the moss out of everything.  We had originally wanted our garden to be part of the existing landscape, to seem natural, tucked in among the sword ferns, salal and huckleberry, yet we had lofty ideals about how “tidy” that could be.  Having come from drier climates, we had no idea how much of a battle there would be with moss in the garden.

I actually love moss, to me it’s one of the most enchanting things about living here.  The challenge is, it grows EVERYWHERE.  There are varieties of moss that take over the ground, there are others that crawl up tree trunks, some drop from the sky, blown about by wind or carried by birds to establish themselves in the branches of trees. It is like an expanding furry green slug, creeping slowly, steadily across every outdoor space, over every unattended structure.  It grows in the lawn, it grows on the roof, it grows over cement, over stone, over wood, lawn 2016 040over metal.

We eventually realized that surrender was the only answer.  Instead of fighting it, we chose to just let it become a lovely part of our landscape, a soft green carpet, only removing it where it might choke out ornamental trees or shrubs.

The “east lawn” (I know, it sounds like the White House, but we have three and a half acres of landscaped yard, areas need identifiers!) is now mostly moss.  The area we call “The oriental garden” is now mostly moss.  The understory of the cedar grove on the west side of the house we have left to become a magical mossy realm.  Black Lake Misty morn 054

It has been an interesting journey surrendering my ideas of the “perfect” garden in favor of a different kind of beauty.  It takes a lot less effort to go with the flow.  Nature knows how to create her own whimsical charm.  Who am I to try to make her do anything else?

Mossy Whispers:  Let the thick moss grow like a soft blanket over the demands you put on yourself today. Go with the flow. Give yourself and others permission to be beautifully imperfect.  That’s where unexpected magic happens.

Posted in Nature, Pacific northwest, Spirituality, Washington coast | 5 Comments

Living in a tourist destination

I decided to write today about the area I draw so much of my inspiration from, the amazing place I call home, the Long Beach peninsula on the southern coast of Washington state.  I am blessed to live in an outdoor lover’s paradise, with a climate moderate enough to enjoy most activities year round.  Thanks to several small, hard working communities, there are more things to do in nature along this 30 mile long, 3 mile wide spit of land between the pacific ocean and Willapa Bay, than any place I have previously lived – and I take full advantage of it!Cow Parsnip! 007Ladies Hike Cannon Beach 051

For starters, there are several state parks, two of them providing miles of unpaved hiking trails. In Cape Disappointment state park on the south end, the trails wind through crooked alders, lush clumps of sword ferns, in and out of moss covered old-growth hemlock and spruce. The trails climb along rocky cliffs that drop straight into the writhing ocean surf below, past ruins of civil war military bunkers flocked with moss and dangling wild cucumber vine, then continue on to two working light houses, one of which can be toured during the summer.DSC00739

At the north end, visitors to Leadbetter Point state park can hike along Willapa bay, an estuary where at low tide the sand is littered with broken clam shells, where seals or sea lions can often be spotted and a variety of birding activities can be enjoyed.  Eventually the trail turns away from the bay to wind inland toward the ocean, through a dense shore-pine forest, rolling up and down mossy hummocks through tunnels of huckleberry, pine and pacific wax myrtle.Black lake Leadbetter 062

Murph and Beach 111There are also unpaved trails around Black Lake, a small freshwater lake at the southern end of the peninsula. These trails are well maintained, cleared through old logged forest, with several of them created specifically for mountain bikers, offering a variety of challenges.

There are approximately 18 miles (round trip) of paved trails for biking, walking, jogging, roller blading, skate boarding, that undulate through the dunes along part of the 28 miles of continuous ocean beach.Dune trail

This area was the final destination of the Lewis and Clark expedition with various points of interest open to the public.  There are several wildlife refuges open to visitors and within a short 20 minute drive along the bay, a stunning hike into an ancient grove of coastal red cedars, western hemlock and sitka spruce, gratefully saved from loggers.  Many of these inspiring trees are well over 1000 years old.

This area is a tourist destination and in the summer a variety of festivals celebrate everything from sand sculpting and kite flying, to “Jazz and Oysters” and “The Rod-run to the end of the world” when over 500 hot rods roar up and down the peninsula for several days.

By September, most local residents, myself included, are ready for the returned quiet of the “off season”, but I am very grateful to live in a place where so many enthusiastic individuals come together to create such a diversity of activities, a place where I am afforded endless opportunities to explore the area and all its incredible natural treasures.

Mossy whispers:  Become part of.  Share your passion.  Community is the beginning of opportunity. 

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A primordial dream

I hike into the dawn forest as the sun begins to rise from behind distant hills.  This is my favorite time of day and it always feels like a special secret.  Black Lake five-thirty AM 053

I weave beneath the trees with electric anticipation, waiting silently for the spellbinding moment when the shadowy landscape begins to glow and change as the sun breaks above the horizon to stream across the forest floor in soft gold blankets.Black Lake five-thirty AM 065

The wild spaces around me slowly bloom into a gleaming primordial dream.  Everything comes to life in a breathtaking display of golds, emeralds, blacks and chartreuses that almost seem more music than light.  Blazing halos outline dark mossy trunks and hulking stumps. Ferns reach their tender spring fingertips into chiffon curtains of light and hemlock boughs turn to lime colored lace.

I sink once more into the alluring majesty of deep forest, into the rapture of first light, my soul dancing in pure shimmering gratitude.

Mossy whispers:  Rise early.  Begin your day with magic.  Leap into your own wild joy.  The day only asks for you to shine brightly as yourself.        

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The adventure of mystery

When I hike, I usually start out from an established trailhead, a loggingLadies Hike Cannon Beach 010 road or a well worn path, but as frequently happens, somewhere along the hike some magical space snags my curious spirit and tugs me off the trail, begging to be explored. It might be an established animal trail weaving away through the huckleberry or sudden shafts of light illuminating a small clearing in the distance. It might be the way a perfect tumble of logs have fallen as mossy bridges across the bottom of a deep ferny gully, or the dark shapes of giant old stumps huddled in groups like families of black bears between the bars of trees.  I can never resist the detour, the mystery.    Black Lake long hike 049

Eventually I’ll settle in somewhere to journal, maybe seated beneath the moss-furry trunks of alders or on some soft inviting knoll. Often I find myself so completely overwhelmed by the beauty that I simply can’t write.
It seems that even my pen, floating above the paper, only wishes to be reverent here in this wild mystery, to simply experience moments of perfect stillness in these changing rivers of light and shadow, the layers and textures of this endless green heaven.

Mossy whispersStay curious.  Practice stillness. Trust the mystery, it is the beginning of divine adventure. 

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Sunshine through mossy curtains

I left the house at 6:30 to hike the trails behind Black Lake, a picturesque freshwater lake at the southern end of the peninsula.  Forest and blog photo 007

It is spring and each day brings new gifts to the forest.  Delicate fronds unfurl, the beautiful mysterious trilliums seemed to have appeared and disappeared within days. The tiny yellow blossoms of wood violets have finished just as the enchanting white blooms of false lilies rise from their carpet of heart shaped leaves to spread across the forest floor. Forest and blog photo 047

Early morning is my favorite time to hike, especially when there is sunshine.  It streams and puddles throughout the quiet forest like warm honey, and when it shines through branches hung with long valances of beard moss, I see the manes of a thousand green horses lifting and falling in the breeze.  I stand inspired, with a filled heart.

Mossy whispers:  Keep the wonder.  Move toward the leaves and moss.  Feed your soul with textures. Love the simple. 

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