Autumn News

I recently made the decision to delete my Facebook page. I’ve thought about it for some time and have deactivated it for short periods in the past. This time, I am done. Already I feel a difference–a little more at peace. October was the perfect month for me to let go. I love October–that perfect blend of the last of the sunny days, the beginning of chilly nights, some much-needed rain that can be appreciated now (we will get tired of it in a few months here in the Northwest!). The colors are beautiful, nature is bountiful. It’s a time for a last burst of work in the garden, and then we turn inward–to cozy homes, cats on laps, good books, family gatherings, and introspection at the winter solstice.

Our year was full of ups and downs, as most are. For us, the last few years have seemed to bring far more downs, but there have still been good times. We did quite a bit of visiting this summer–two weddings, a small family reunion, a lovely trip to Alaska thanks to my wonderful Mom. We saw lots of family and some very dear friends who might as well be family!

At home, it was a quieter summer. I am still recovering from a shoulder injury in May so there wasn’t much in the way of hiking and very little kayaking. We had a particularly hot and smoky summer in western Washington, which also made for a little less adventuring. Our garden was mixed–decent on the veggie side though not as productive as last year’s, but pretty good for my calendula and chamomile crop (which, along with the nasturtiums, are still blooming).

We’ve finally been able to get out and about locally the last two months for some easy hikes, a light paddle, and some successful foraging for berries, apples, rose hips, and huckleberries. We found a great place for U-pick corn. Our freezer is full of goodies! There is something so immensely satisfying about a freezer full of food from your own garden and woodlands.

I’ll close with a few photos from October outings. On to November!

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/

 

Huckleberry Vodka

A few months ago, when our woods were exploding with huckleberries, we decided to use some of our bounty to infuse vodka. We prepared our mixture, poured it into mason jars and let it sit in our garage for two months. Yesterday was the opening of our concoction. We didn’t make much, not being sure how it would turn out, but it’s pretty darn tasty so next year we will be making more!

Here’s our recipe, which can easily be adapted to your own tastes:

Unflavored Vodka (the only way it came when I was growing up!)

Fresh huckleberries (we use evergreen, as that’s what grows in our yard but wild mountain huckleberries would be even better)

Several slices or chunks of crystallized ginger

Local honey

Dried Valencia orange peel (although fresh would be delightful as well)

Quart mason jars

Add one generous cup of berries to each mason jar. Fill 3/4 with vodka. Add two to three tablespoons of honey and a few dashes of orange peel per jar. Drop one or two good-sized slices of the ginger in each jar (we used one this year; will probably add more to half of them next year). Seal jars and keep in cool, dark place for at least one month. When ready, shake well and strain into decorative containers.

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The resulting color is beautiful, and the vodka tastes fine on its own (keep it in the freezer for best taste). It also makes a good mixer with juice, as it’s not too sweet. Here are a few suggestions:

Serve over ice with lemonade and a dash of gingerale.

Use in a vodka martini, mixed with cranberry or a cranberry mix juice and ginger syrup–shaken, not stirred.

Enjoy!

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

First Impressions are Not Always Right

This week we had an interesting hands-on experience of why one should not make snap judgements. We were camping at a state park here in Washington. We had settled in already and were relaxing in the campsite (with our tent and tent trailer) when a very large fancy RV pulled in a few spots down. They had the generator going pretty quickly and I remember thinking, I hope that doesn’t go on all night. Apparently there are rules in most campgrounds that state the generators should be off by a certain time–from what I hear it is 10:00 in many places but was 9:00 at this particular campground. We didn’t think much of it while going to bed, other than a mild irritation that it started up again later in the evening. We went to bed very early that night. Right after nine, there was a huge ruckus down the road. Swearing, yelling, an air horn that scared the crap out of us, and all kinds of hullabaloo. Other campers were indignant about this RV running its generator late at night. And I must admit, at the time I was kind of on their side. I like the peace and quiet of old school camping. But we didn’t get involved in the fray.

The next day we found out that the poor man who owned the RV turned on his generator that night because his wife had a severe attack of heat exhaustion. He was running it to keep the air conditioner going while he was trying to pack up his campsite late at night so he could get her home. Did anyone offer to help? Did anyone ask him nicely to turn the generator off? Did anyone ask why he was running it after hours? No, they started right in with the swearing and belligerence. He tried to explain that his wife was sick but was shouted down. Isn’t someone’s health more important than an hour of noise?

We all make these snap judgements at some time. It’s one of the big problems in our society. How dare that person buy a cake using food stamps, how dare you have an Iphone instead of health insurance, how dare you have a car that actually runs well if you are getting any kind of aid, how dare you this and that. It’s time we take a step back and use kindness as the first approach. Is there a reason for this behavior that we may think is wrong? If so, how can we help? If you have no idea of how someone came to be in their situation, maybe you shouldn’t put them down until you hear their story. And just maybe you shouldn’t put them down regardless of their story.

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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

 

 

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/