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!

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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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.

Garden Dreams, Garden Realities

This is the time of year when my thoughts turn to gardening. I always have grand visions, which usually don’t turn out quite the way I imagined. But it’s fun to dream big! This year, we have a lot of work to do. Shortly before Jim lost his job, we sold our big house in the suburbs and bought a small place on almost six acres out in the boonies. It turned out to be one of the few really good things that has happened in recent years, as we no longer have a mortgage, and that is truly a blessing with our money struggles.

It does mean that we need to be much more creative. We are trying to be more self-sufficient, which isn’t a bad thing, even if money isn’t tight. But for us, it’s a necessity. It can be a challenge, but it can also be a lot of fun! We have about an acre cleared out of a portion of 20 to 25-year poorly managed Douglas fir. I’m sure the timber company sold off the land some time ago, and therefore, it was never thinned properly. Our vision is to slowly restore the property to a more natural state. But first, we must deal with the cleared area and work on establishing our garden, so we can grow some of our own food (the deer think it’s for them, but we will work on that!).

One of our biggest problems is soil. Anyone in Western Washington probably knows what I’m talking about. Rocks, rocks, and more rocks. All of the lovely glacial stuff left behind. We do have a few pockets of good soil, but they are either in shade all day or under water seven months out of the year (or both). Cranberries maybe?? The one big sunny patch is also the area with the most rock (of course!). We’re not even trying to clear the stuff away; we’re just building up on top. And that’s where the fun and creativity come in. I’ve been reading lots of books and magazines about woodlot management and self sufficiency from the library and online. Last year we started a straw bale garden, which is becoming quite popular. We had mixed results. Some things did very well, others not so much, though I think weather had far more to do with it than the straw bale setup (growing tomatoes the the NW is always a crapshoot). The biggest problem for me was expense. We did it sort of last minute and it ended up being more expensive than I had hoped. Straw is not as cheap here as it is in some other places! It did, however, leave us with a nice pile of rotted straw that we can plant in again this year and then compost in what will become the main garden.

This year we are planning the main garden, which will eventually be fenced against the deer. We are using two strategies–lasagna gardening and hugelkulter. I must admit, I want to do the hugelkulter in part because of the name. Who doesn’t want to be able to say “I’ve got a hugelkulter in my yard!” OK, maybe I’m the only one. But both use what we’ve already got. Today I spent several hours (and about 2 miles of walking around the property, which is good because I’ve been slacking off on my exercise program!) building the hugelkulter mound. I won’t go into too much detail, but it’s a long-term garden solution using wood debris, tree limbs, and whatever organic matter you have around to build a big mound which breaks down slowly but adds tons of wonderful nutrients to the soil. Since we have lots of thinning to do, there will probably be quite a few of these mounds around the yard! The February/March 2017 issue of Mother Earth  News talks about both types of gardening, plus several others.

We’ll keep you posted on the progress of our garden experiments!

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Look at that lovely soil we’re starting with! Found a huge mound of fir cone remnants in our woods. Using several buckets of it to add to the pile. Still lots of work to do.