Of Knees and Trees and Too Much Rain

Way overdue for a post here, but I have to admit, I’ve been a bit grouchy. I don’t want to complain too much, because my Midwest and East Coast friends have had it way worse, but I am tired of our very wet, cool spring here in the NW. I don’t know why–we’ve been here for almost 30 years, but this spring has been mentally tough as well. Still going through challenges with Jim’s job/non-job. There needs to come a time when one must just move on, but then something comes up that gives hope. The back and forth makes planning for the future difficult; but then, that’s what this blog was supposed to be all about. How to deal with changes you were not expecting.

Along with the monetary challenges of a much-reduced income, we are starting to feel old. We can still do all the things we used to do, for the most part (I will never kneeboard again, but didn’t care for it much in the first place!), but we no longer recover quite as quickly. Last November, I had a fall due to a startled cat and possible overconsumption of wine. My knee was just starting to recover when we had a nice week of weather and decided to order 12 yards of dirt for our eco-lawn and gardening projects. After moving 11 yards of the dirt (half of it by myself) and then replanting 32 raspberry plants that our neighbor didn’t want (Jim had to dig them all up first), my other knee decided it was only fair for it to have time off as well. So much for spring hikes of any length or difficulty! At least, in this case, the bad weather has helped. I have not felt the need to venture out in one of the wettest Aprils in Washington’s recorded history.

We have managed a few shorter and/or easier ventures that have been quite enjoyable.

We’ve gone back to Bloedel (my mission is to go once a month–next visit is this Friday).  After two visits I am already thankful for having purchased the yearly membership. Such a lovely, peaceful place.

We made two other trips before the last rainstorm hit–one up the North Shore of Hood Canal to DeWatto and another to the Rocky Bay Conservation Area. The DeWatto trip was more of a leisurely scenic drive than hike, but perfect for my injured self. We first stopped at Menard’s Landing and then took the back road to DeWatto. Who knew we had our own ‘road to Hana’???? Complete with scary turns, cliffs, and grouchy locals, but not nearly as long or as crowded. We came home the easy way, past Tahuya. The DeWatto campground was closed for camping but we were able to walk around the campground and along the river. We hope to go back and kayak on the bay this summer.

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Our next mini-adventure was Rocky Bay Conservation Area. This was a pretty, easy hike that’s close by Belfair, Gig Harbor, and Port Orchard. Several people were out with their dogs, as it was a lovely day. We met one woman who paints rocks and hides them along the trail for the kids (and us adults!) to enjoy. Saw some salmon fry in the creek. The only drawback for this site is no bathroom. Still, I was able to enjoy this hike with little knee pain.

Today the rain finally let up and I was able to get back in the yard. Planted potatoes in old grain sacks (my recycling project for the day), and pulled bunches of alders and scotch broom. We had grand plans for our place when we moved in but the job loss has put most on hold. We have however, managed to get a good garden in and are slowly gaining ground. The slower process has let Mother Nature take a greater hand and it’s been very interesting to watch our great bare patch of dirt turn into a nice meadow with very little input from us. The deer love to hang out there and we even had a duck visit our seasonal pond/mud puddle the last few days. We’ve planted native flowers in one of the remaining bare spots, so am hoping to get more bees and butterflies. A little at a time, but it’s getting done!

Serenity at Bloedel Reserve

A few weeks ago, we made it out to Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island. Bloedel is one of those in-your-backyard sort of places that we always seem to put off. It’s going to be too crowded, it’s too expensive, it’s just a garden, we’ll do it another time, it’s not adventurous enough, it will always be there. I have talked about going for years but always came up with an excuse. I am so glad we finally went.

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Bloedel is not just a garden. It’s 150 acres of spectacular scenery, both wild and groomed, and full of life, even in the middle of February. We saw ducks, geese, a Pileated Woodpecker, and a number of smaller birds. Heard a raven and frogs. Saw a deer and a coyote. Flowers were already blooming–hellebores, camellias, primroses, and others. As beautiful as it was on the overcast, chilly day that we went, I can only imagine what it will be like in April or May.

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We enjoyed it so much that we went back to the admissions desk and bought a year-long pass for the two of us, plus two guests. Well worth the $100 (plus you get a 10 percent discount at the gift shop, which has a lovely selection of local art and things–and where else can you find squirrel earrings!). I plan on going back once a month to chronicle the changes throughout the seasons.

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There is lots of information on their website and at the Reserve so I won’t tell you all about it here. Part of the fun is reading about the history in the lovely home on the grounds. There are a number of special events throughout the year, or you can just go for a walk on your own. It took the three of us almost three hours (although some of that was in the gift shop!). We were constantly stopping to marvel at some beautiful plant or scene, but there were also people who live a little closer who use the Reserve for a brisk walk for exercise. I think I would do that if I lived on Bainbridge as well!

PS: Do be aware that pets are not allowed, and they will not let you keep one in your car while you visit (good for them!).

http://bloedelreserve.org/

 

Salmon at Twanoh

It’s been a pretty quiet autumn so far. We’ve had the normal shit going on and some illnesses and injuries to recover from. In fact, I am just getting over my latest injury. It finally happened–one of the cats tried to take me out. He bolted under my legs and literally knocked me off my feet. I fell and hit my knee and chin on the floor (always graceful). When he realized it was the food lady he almost killed, I think he actually felt remorse and spent some time trying to make amends. I now shuffle my feet whenever he is around.

We were able to get out for a few very local trips in the last few weeks. When one lives near Hood Canal, local is just fine. Especially at this time of year. Maples turning yellow and spreading a lovely carpet of gold everywhere (I can say that because we don’t have any and I don’t have to rake!). Mist rising off the still waters on the Canal. Birds of all kinds everywhere. And my favorite–the return of the salmon. Watching the salmon run is fascinating–both beautiful and sad. It makes me feel closer to nature to be able to witness such a marvelous thing.

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Twanoh State Park is the perfect place to watch the Chum Salmon returning to spawn. It is a little jewel of a park, right on the water. The campground itself is across the road, tucked into a narrow canyon with the river running down one side and a trail going up the river. On the water side, there is a big beach and roped off swimming area, picnic tables, restrooms, and a boat ramp. It’s a great place for camping, a short hike, a swim on a hot day, kayaking whenever the water is calm, and even just a quick stop to watch the sunset. And right now you can get a closeup view of the salmon. But do it soon because it will start to get a little smelly soon!

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http://parks.state.wa.us/294/Twanoh

Comments Concerning Cairns and the Tedious Business of Huckleberries

Last month we found ourselves in Moab, Utah, for a week of hiking and quad/dirt bike riding with friends. I had my first quad trial by fire (i.e.; ride, which was supposed to be easy, except for the hair-raising ride up and down the incredibly rocky, narrow ledge that passed as a road) but prefer the quiet moments out in nature so Jim and I did some hiking as well. Our last hike of the trip was to the Fisher Towers along the Colorado River just NE of Moab. Stunningly beautiful territory and a hike we would heartily recommend to anyone planning a trip to the area. Do watch the weather, which comes in quick (as it does here in the NW). We were keeping an eye on some thunder and rain storms that pretty much split the formation we were hiking. (The lyrics from King of the Mountain kept going through my head! “Mountain in the shadow of light, rain in the valley below”–Midnight Oil). Wind was wild in places, and really caught everyone off guard as we came around a corner to one of the popular stopping points–from perfectly calm to wind that blew the glasses right off my face and sent someone’s backpack tumbling back down the trail. I basically dropped and clung to the bare rock for fear of following my glasses over the edge. But the wind did die down and Jim was safely able to rescue both glasses and backpack. The trail ends on a similar windy, bare, exposed rock with an incredible view. I crawled up it; Jim of course stood right at the edge.

This hike, in addition to being amazing in so many ways, was also interesting in that much of the trail is marked with cairns. We usually do relatively easy day hikes here in the Olympics and the only cairns I see on a regular basis are often found along our rocky riverbeds, where the rocks practically beg to be stacked. However, I now see exactly why experienced back country hikers hate to see cairns that are made for no reason. They really do make a difference is some areas. When you are hiking across hard, bare rock, they may be the only way to mark a trail. Randomly piling up rocks can send people off in the completely wrong direction. So if you love them, make one, take a photo, and then take it down, or make them in your own yard.

On a completely different subject, we returned to huckleberry season in the NW. These are not my favorite berries to eat right off the plant, but they are wonderful in pancakes, muffins, and other such things. They are also free and in great abundance on our property. With our meagre income, who are we to turn down free food? On the flip side, free is not necessarily easy. I see why someone in the area is charging $9 for a half-pint of the berries. After several days of picking and sorting (which is way worse than the picking), I think she was undercharging! They are lots of work. But my stash in the freezer is growing and I will keep at it until they are gone for the year. We will all be glad in mid-winter! Tomorrow we tackle the mountain of green tomatoes in the kitchen.

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The Elwha Loop

First of all, a big thank you to those of you who have stayed with us! We did not, quite, drop off the face of the earth–just had to sit back and weather the storm for a bit. On the plus side, Jim has made an incredible recovery from his second-degree burn. I really thought he might be out for the whole summer, but he has almost completely healed. As long as he slathers 50+ sunscreen on his leg, he is good to go!

One of latest adventures was the Elwha Loop just past Port Angeles. Because of Jim’s injuries, we haven’t done as much this summer and we were looking for something not too strenuous. This was a great hike–quite easy and very beautiful. A bit of a drive for us but easily done in a day.

One of the things that struck me most about this hike was how quiet it was. This is an easy hike in the Olympics, and we went on a Friday in late July–prime tourist time. And yet we saw very few people on the hike–just the way I like it!! Contrast that with a recent hike to Lake Serene in the Cascades, also on a July Friday, which was like I-5 at rush hour through Seattle. More on that adventure later! This is described on some sites as a heavily trafficked trail, so we may have just been lucky, or maybe some people are still not sure what’s going on after the removal of the dams on the Elwha. Whatever the reason for the lack of people, it worked out for us!

The trail itself was well maintained and shady most of the way (we also lucked out with weather and had an overcast and cool-for-summer day). We took the lower part of the loop to start and made the very short and definitely worth it detour to Goblins Gate, which is stunning! The color of the water is spectacular. Could get really crowded very fast, but we saw only two others people there. Perfect!

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Another detour worth making is the Dodger Point Trail to the suspension bridge over the  Elwha. This is another beautiful spot–nice place for a bit of lunch if you didn’t already have it at Humes Ranch. You can check out Michael’s Cabin on the way back, though it appears that local rowdies party there. The sign out front said you might be able to find remnants of spearmint in the garden. I just found some skivies and nasty old socks. I think someone had too much fun there. Lots of rat poop on the porch too, so be careful where you sit. You are more daring than I am if you choose to climb the ladder and look in the loft!

All in all, it was a good hike. Worth the drive. No blisters either!!

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Close to Home

Last week we took a short trip to Mason Lake with the kayaks. I had wanted to go to Twanoh, thinking that Mason Lake was just the slough out to the big lake. Beautiful but full of boats and often rough. Thankfully, Jim talked me into the lake. Little did I know the wonders of the lagoon and creek off to the left of the boat ramp. Lily pads, herons, ducks, flowers, and absolute tranquility awaited us. We even headed down a little creek, with a definite flow and a bit of a paddle back! Too far down and you lose your head in a culvert under the road. We didn’t get that far! But what a gorgeous day. Never underestimate the little secrets close to home. Sometimes the best adventures are fifteen minutes away.

That little adventure can be all that it takes to reset your balance in life. You don’t always need an exotic trip or an intense hike in the mountains. Take that path across the street, bike that easy trail you always pass up, kayak that little lagoon. Find yourself in those small moments of beauty and peace. Namaste!

 

 

#masonlake #kayakingadventures #stillwaters

 

 

Icicle Canyon

Jim and I had a very short but wonderful trip to Leavenworth just over a week ago. One night, two delightful hikes. We almost didn’t go, but I am so glad we did. Not only was it a good break from the constant drama that seems to be our life now, but it turns out, it also might be the last hiking we do together for several months.

I postponed a blog post about this until after the long holiday weekend, thinking that many people would be out either enjoying the great weather or attending services in remembrance of loved ones. But on Monday, my husband had a nasty little accident (honestly, no alcohol involved) with a fire. It had been going well but he got tired at the end and a little careless. He now has second degree burns on his left elbow, wrist, and a really big one of the outer leg, from just below his knee to a few inches above his ankle. He is lucky in many ways–it could have been much worse, but he had the presence of mind to stop, drop, and roll (yes, those childhood lessons do help) and he had a running hose readily available. Sadly, his hiking days are over for awhile.

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It’s been hard to start this post, but it is, after all, a blog about dealing with cosmic crap. It happens to all of us. I’ve been depressed this week (more so than usual), thinking about how our summer plans will be changed dramatically, but honestly, this kind of stuff happens to all of us. I just need to suck it up and move forward. At the least, I can share some words and images from our little trip–sharing some spectacular scenery (though from comments I’ve heard from friends, my husband and I may be the only people in Washington that haven’t been to Icicle Canyon before!).

Our first hike was the Eight Mile Lake hike. What an interesting hike! We saw mountain goats, chipmunks, and a marmot who posed quite a bit for us. Wildflowers were blooming in abundance (lovely to see as it’s still early here on the west side of the mountains!). The landscape is a fascinating glimpse of the incredible power of the elements. Earth, wind, fire, and water have been at work here, reshaping the environment. The water is flowing fast and furious and you can always hear its roar from the trail. There was still quite a bit of it on the trail itself but only a tiny bit of snow left way up by the lake. Cold and windy at the lake, but we managed to find a nice protected spot (near the marmot) for a quick lunch before heading back down. Ended the hike with some beautiful Western Tanagers flying around the parking area.

We took it easy the second day, as we had a long drive home ahead of us that afternoon. The Icicle Gorge Trail is a very pleasant four-mile stroll up one side of the river and back down the other. As with every “creek” we saw in Icicle Canyon, the water was raging, and spectacular to view! This day was warmer and not as windy so the bugs were out, especially in one marshy section of the trail. Once you got through that, it wasn’t bad at all. Again, lots of wildflowers everywhere, including an abundance of fairy slippers. We had lunch on a wooden bridge about halfway through the hike and spent some time there watching a water ouzel in the creek.

Honestly, you can’t miss in Icicle Canyon–everywhere you look it is stunningly beautiful. Lots of campgrounds and trails and climbing areas and river rafting (and on and on). An outdoor paradise for sure.

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Lower Big Quilcene Trail

We hit the Lower Big Quilcene River Trail a little over a week ago, on one of our rare non-rainy days this year in the NW. We got lost on the way but saw a bear crossing the Penny Creek Road, which made the extra time worth it (I would rather see a bear from the car than on the trail right in front of us!). The directions we followed weren’t great–actually the signage in the area isn’t great. Stay left when Penny Creek Road splits. Follow the signs for the trails, even though Lower Big Quilcene isn’t on the sign. It is marked once you get on the right road, and it’s the first trail you come across.

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This is one of those trails we put off, as it wasn’t rated highly in our Day Hikes book, but it has the advantage of being open most of the year! We have found that these easier trails are quite lovely in the spring. Not crowded at all and lots of little waterfalls everywhere, which will probably dry up later in the year. They also have a bit of sun, as the deciduous trees haven’t fully leafed out yet. And quite honestly, sometimes you just need to get out and commune with Mother Nature. It’s amazing what it can do for high blood pressure and depression. Try it!! This trail was pretty easy, with no major elevation gains. It is long if you do the round trip (almost ten miles for us) to and from Camp Jolley. You don’t always get that close to the river but you can always hear it it–sometimes a distant melody, sometimes a raging torrent. Always beautiful!!

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We saw quite a few Trillium that have survived our recent downpours. Also lots of yellow violets and even a few bleeding hearts in the sunnier areas. Salmonberries are flowering as well. Rhodies should be blooming soon, but maybe a bit later than usual with our weather this year.

We usually try to be well prepared for our hikes, and generally they are not that difficult. So far, we are definitely day hikers. But sometimes we over look little things. I wore the same hiking boots I have had for the last several years, with no problems at all, but I recently purchased a new pair of fairly spendy lightweight hiking socks. They did not work!!! Try new things on short trails! I ended up with four blisters and a bloody toe, simply because of my socks, which didn’t breathe as advertised and moved around too much because they weren’t as thick as my normal socks. Won’t be wearing them hiking again!

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http://www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/lower-big-quilcene-river

Twanoh State Park

One of the wonderful things about living on Hood Canal, or anywhere on the Olympic Peninsula, is the ability to start your hike in the forest and end the day at the beach. Our beaches are more likely to be covered in rocks than sand, and they might be windy and cold, but they can still be pretty fascinating, especially when the tide is out.

April hasn’t been the best month for us, but we did manage to get out to Twanoh State Park for a great day with a dear friend who came to visit earlier this month. Twanoh is small and close by, which makes it an easy trip when everyone forgets to set alarms for an early morning! The weather was perfect for hiking and we enjoyed the walk. Things have been blooming a bit late this year, due to our record amounts of rain and cool weather, but we did see some Trillium and Salmonberry beginning to come out. We even saw the sun make a rare appearance for part of the day!

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After our hike up the service road and back down the trail above the creek, we headed across the street to the water’s edge. We caught a very low tide and had a great time exploring. Lots of people were out gathering oysters (FYI, you have to shuck them at the beach). We saw oysters, clams, mussels, barnacles, snails, tiny crabs, and even what appeared to be small eels under some rocks.

Twanoh offers camping on the forest side and day use on both sides of 106, with a swimming area, picnic tables, hiking trails, and a boat launch. Bring your Discover Pass! Be sure to check it out in the late fall when the salmon return to spawn. It is an amazing sight (and it’s a little smelly!).

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http://www.stateparks.com/twanoh_state_park_in_washington.html

http://www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/twanoh-state-park

http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/beaches/270460/

 

Disc Golfing in March

Western Washington springs are usually pretty wet, but this one is starting off to be a whopper. Walking in my yard is like walking on a giant sponge. The dirt access road behind our property still looks like you could kayak on it–it even has some mild rapids. Trails in the area sometimes look more like creeks. If you are hiking out and about in this weather, bring extra clothes, especially shoes and socks!

Mother Nature did give us a lovely little break on Saturday and we jumped at the chance to get away for an afternoon. Jim had a shoulder surgery and two wrist surgeries recently, so he hasn’t been able to enjoy one his favorite past times–disc golf. We also haven’t been on many hikes lately so we combined the two and headed up to Hoodsport Hills, on the way to Lake Cushman.

The whole area around Lake Cushman is beautiful, with trails galore, but Jim has wanted to check out the new (and still unfinished) disc golf course that we always pass on our way up to Staircase. We arrived late morning with the sun working hard to warm us up, though layers were necessary to start with. There is a parking lot with a surprisingly clean and well stocked port-a-potty (always good to know for us ladies!). The course starts on the near side of a lovely little creek and continues on into the forest. So far, there are only nine holes completed and they are not in order (you go from hole 5 to 15)! Signs can be confusing, as they still have lots of work to do. Your best bet is to go to DGCourse Review and print out their 2016 review. Jim found it very descriptive and helpful.

I don’t play disc golf, but I do like to tag along, as the scenery is often very nice. This one is by far the prettiest course I have been on. It would be a nice area just to hike around, and in fact, there is a trailhead for some very short hikes nearby. The hikes and course cross over each other a few times. We saw eagles flying overhead and several small woodpeckers in the trees. Jim loved the course and is looking forward to its completion. I will certainly go back when he plays, just for the walk. As far as a disc golf course, I will say this–it doesn’t look like the easiest course in the world! If you love the game, I think you will enjoy this course. It seemed fairly challenging to me, and at this point, most of the underbrush hasn’t leafed out yet. When it does, it’s going to be even more difficult. There is also the creek, which Jim had to fish a disc out of! It’s running rapidly right now, so we’re pretty happy he found it.

For those who don’t know much about disc golf, here are some good resources to check out:

http://www.wsdga.org

http://www.dgcoursereview.com/reviews.php?id=8481&mode=rev

http://www.pdga.com

It’s a fun and inexpensive way to enjoy the outdoors.