Arbor Day Giants

spring flowers

It’s a day to celebrate the trees.  If you plan to hug a tree, you might choose the majestic Big Leaf Maple, a native to the west coast. You would, however, have a challenge getting your arms around these gentle giants.  They are pollinating this week, covering everything in a fine yellow dust. The pollen settles on every surface and outlines the leaves of all the plants below its canopy as it settles into the thin lines caused by the veins of leaves. It is making me miserable with itchy nose and eyes, but it does not alter my love affair with them. I’ve never seen such heavy pollination from these grand trees as is going on this year. I pick up a lawn chair to sit in the warm sun and a yellow cloud rises from it!

Mature Maples can grow to 100 feet tall with a canopy spread to 50 feet. Their protecting branches are umbrellas in a spring rain and shade shelter on a hot summer day. I have measured leaves 12″ across. They are the largest North American maple tree.

Everyone loves Big Leaf Maples. The sapsucker is back for another year of nesting in the ones on the driveway near the house. All our resident woodpeckers dine on Maples regularly. Squirrels make them their homes and use them as their highway system. Covered with thick mosses of various colors and species, there are micro worlds on each tree, bugs living busy lives who never leave the tree. These mossy worlds are the 24 hour diners that attract all manner of birds and critters.

People too can dine on these big Maples. The blossoms of Big Leaf Maple are edible, you can add them to spring salads, and those whirly seed pods, called samaras, can be eaten, usually with the ‘wings’ removed and often cooked. Though dried they can provide winter nutrition, they are better and less bitter when greener. Native people would peel young maple shoots in the spring and eat the tender flesh.

Though the sugar content is low, you can make syrup from Big Leaf Maples. The US Forest Service has a 1972 brochure on how to do this.

fall color

Coastal tribes used Big Leaf Maple wood to make many functional items from boxes to dishes and pipes and paddles. The inner bark can be made into baskets and rope.  Maple wood is used commercially for furniture, interior trim wood, and musical instruments. Sadly, here locally, poachers have cut giant Maples off private land to sell for the prized wood.

Big Leaf Maples  die slowly, occasionally letting go of an old rotting branch. The giant limbs fall to the ground in wind storms or when their weight is too much for the tree to bear, where they continue to be a home and a food supply for many critters.

In the fall, if the weather is right, the huge leaves of this gentle giant of a tree turn bright yellow (if a wet fall, they turn more brown before falling) and carpet the ground, eventually rotting into the soil around its base, providing nutrients for the baby Maples that will grow from the those whirly, rotating seed pods as they too make their autumn descent.

These giant yellow trees are a beautiful contrast to the evergreen trees who are their neighbors throughout their coastal homelands.

Other tree posts:

Oak Lady of San Juan Island

For the Love of Trees

Jody and the Cottonwoods

Flutter Tree


The View


the view on these frosty 24 degree mornings!

the view on these frosty 24 degree mornings!

New day, New Year. Mike and I both having a second go around of a winter bug. Yesterday was Mike’s day of misery, which I was hoping to avoid it, but today Mike is better and I’m miserable (those who’ve had this bug know the misery!) and grumpy, so grumpy Mike called me a professional grump!

The peach tree out my window in winter frost and full of birds, all that is visible is a plump Varied Thrush.

The peach tree out my window in winter frost and full of birds, all that is visible is a plump Varied Thrush.

Yes, grumpy. I was hoping for a healthier start to the New Year. Last year began while I was recovering from a mastectomy, two years ago I was diagnosed with my first bout of invasive breast cancer right before New Year’s Eve. Lots of health challenges and surgeries over the years have given me more than my share of ‘sickly’ New Years! So the ego is grumpy, feeling like I’ve paid my “dues”. I wanted a year that started off relatively healthy, in spite of a painful, dysfunctional knee that has a torn meniscus.


But as I lay in bed being grumpy, I’m also deeply grateful. Grateful for this view. DSC06244Through decades of health challenges, through the seasons of life, through the seasons of the years, this view of trees….in mid-day sun, or swaying in the wind on a stormy day, or silhouetted in the moonlight… deciduous trees winter bare or green with new spring leaves, towering evergreens reaching for the sky, a flowering currant ablaze in hot-pink blossoms in spring, or it’s bare, red bark branches adding color to the winter landscape….fills my view.

DSC09531When I lay in bed I can watch birds and chipmunks eat the red berries and seek shelter in the Honeysuckle vines covering the garden gate trellis.  Intertwined with pink roses in the summer……they add to a view alive with life, color, and seasonal change.

If I open the window, I sometimes hear birds that fill the branches of the peach tree, or between the car noise on the road, the sound of stillness. The stillness is less and less, but it’s rarity makes it more precious.

peach tree in spring

peach tree in spring

from my bed I only see the trees and sky.

from my bed I only see the trees and sky.

For over 35 years I’ve watched these trees grow, and watched some come down. It is not a ‘picture perfect’ view, not a ‘million dollar’ view…it includes the functional surroundings of our life…a duck coop, a rainwater tank, our trailer, and a garden sometimes lovely, often weedy, in the winter rather bleak. But is it still a window on Nature that keeps me sane when the body has kept me housebound. It is the view I stare at when life has overwhelmed me, when the mind is numb, when my thoughts don’t know what to do with themselves, except stare at the trees. And when I am feeling grateful.


My 2016 resolution…. let gratitude grow like the trees out my window. Even the most challenged of lives has blessings. May your view in the New Year include seeing your blessings daily. Even when you’re feeling grumpy!

Picture taken through my window last year of occasional visitors.

Picture taken through my window last year of our occasional visitors.



The Background of Life

"classic" NW - ferns & moss growing on Big Leaf Maple

A “classic” – ferns & moss growing on Big Leaf Maple.  A background scene in NW woods.


We all have a background to our lives, that which is not the focus, not the front-and-center, but as in a photo, the setting which makes up the background.  It is like the backdrop on our particular stage of life.  Because it’s so familiar, sometimes what’s in the background becomes unnoticed until it is disrupted and catches our attention, then, briefly, it might move to the foreground.

For those living in a residential or urban environment, the background of life includes perhaps the ‘hum’ of certain noises that are constant, as well as various buildings, empty lots, the neighbors second car that seems to always be parked in the street and the ubiquitous Rhododendron, unnoticed until it bursts into colorful spring bloom. Ever notice that if you leave something in the yard for an extended period, you just don’t ‘see’ it after a while?  Even the neighbors purple garage door becomes mundane after a few months!

We pass these background ‘props’ every day en route to our activities and daily dramas.  If asked, sometimes people aren’t able to identify these ordinary props in their life. (Remember the older Newlyweds game show, they’d ask one of the spouses to describe something in the couples every day life, like the color of a room, and the person wouldn’t be able do it.) Someone unfamiliar to your neighborhood might notice something you barely take notice of any more.  In our homes  it is much the same, the hum of the refrigerator, the knickknack on the corner table you couldn’t describe if asked.

As I sort, delete, and organize photos on my computer today I’m drawn to the photos I’ve taken in the woods.  I have folders for ‘wildflowers’, ‘birds’, ‘butterflies’, ‘garden flowers’, ‘Mt. Rainer’, etc.  but the photos of daily life in the NW woods, the flora that’s here whether flowers, critters or butterflies show up or not, are really just as remarkable as these “showier” facets of Nature. These are of the ‘common’ plants most people in the Coastal region of the Pacific Northwest have in the backdrop of their lives if they live in or near woods.  Some of these are seasonal, most are not. They are the plants that make the Evergreen State green.

My deep appreciation for what makes up the background of life here is obvious by all the photos I’ve taken of the trees and plants I see every day. I never lose my awe of  giant Douglas Firs and Big Leaf Maples, of the lacy needles of Hemlock, or the brown fibrous bark of Cedar.  The ferns, evergreen bushes, and tiny plants that make up the understory of the woods seem the stuff of fairylands to me.

To someone who does not live here, who might be walking in the PNW woods for the first time, or who only gets to do so occasionally, these stalwarts of the woods are anything but ordinary.  It’s nice to see with fresh eyes these remarkable plants that are the backdrop to life on the Northwest stage.

I selected some of my favorite photos taken over the past 7 years to share. Hope you enjoy this walk in the woods. No woodland wild flowers (though most of the plants shown have blossoms), no colorful berries, no birds or critters, no butterflies, no exotics, just native green stuff….plants, trees, and a few fungi (because in a NW woods, fungi are abundant!).


(Click on fern photo to start slide show of photo gallery below, or roll cursor over bottom of each photo to read captions. Not all photos are captioned. Most photos are taken in the woods where we live, a few from nearby walks.)




The Oak Lady of San Juan Island

Mature Garry Oak trees, once abundant on San Juan Island, became rare, but now, thanks to restoration efforts, will thrive for future generations.

From the San Juan Island National Historic Park website:

“…native peoples collected foodstuffs such as acorns, camas roots, and bracken ferns…and burned the forests regularly to create habitat for game animals, promote the growth of weaving materials and food such as camas, and maintain an open prairie…lack of fire in recent years spurred an increase of Douglas fir trees, which have deprived the oak trees of sunlight, water, and nutrients.”

Through prescribed burns, the park has initiated a program to bring back the native Garry Oaks, an important tree in the unique-to-western Washington prairie ecosystem of the island.

Elsewhere on the island, on a mountain hillside, lives a remarkable woman equally dedicated to re-establishing native Garry Oak forests on the island.  She has supervised the demise of hundreds of Douglas Firs and personally planted hundreds of oak seedlings.  As she walks the land she shares with her partner, she points out each young plant, tenderly planted, caged and cared for.  She is distressed when she can’t find one, or finds it has died.  With determination she voraciously pulls out fir seedlings, an ‘invasive species’ in the island prairie habitat.  The oaks are her ‘babies’, though the slow-growing trees will barely be out of childhood and into their adolescent years in her lifetime.

In her own words, excerpted from an article she wrote in 2009 and published by the Garry Oak Ecosystem Recovery Team in Vancouver, Canada, she describes the property:

“….[it] is comprised of 20 acres..…a south-facing slope divided by micro-habitat types into thirds…ranging in elevation from approx. 600 – 400 feet. The top third is open grass meadow with a few [mature] Garry Oaks and minimal rock outcroppings; the middle third is mainly rock outcroppings, shrubs of Snowberry and Nootka Rose, wildflowers, Arbutus, Garry Oaks and ancient Douglas-firs; and the bottom portion is primarily a dense Douglas-fir forest with trees ranging in age from 300 to 20 years old. Our restoration project is concentrated in the top two sections of the property.”

Her article continues to describe the flora of the land, project objectives and challenges, the different methods used to remove the firs, and how she encouraged other native plants to become established.  It is not a paper written by an arborist, or biologist, or nurseryman, it is written by a person in love with a piece of land she is honored to steward, a love that grows from a passion for Nature and Place.  It is a privilege to know this special Lady of the Oaks.

Mike, the tree-planter, helping the Oak Lady plant her oak babies

Cousins by birth, friends by Nature!

Shaun, a paternal cousin and close friend, is the closest I have to a biological ‘sister’.  Though we did not grow up together, my family having moved east when I was 5, she 3, the sister title comes through a familial friendship which grew when we “met” after I moved back to the NW in my 20s. When I was living in Oregon we had an annual tradition of  “double dating” to the Joffrey Ballet when it was in Seattle. Once I moved to the Peninsula there were long phone conversations over the woes of relationships, jobs, life, once we had a ‘crush’ on the same guy; another guy, who was my dance partner, fell head over heels for Shaun.  She unequivocally filled the previously empty sister-role in my life.  She was the last-minute-brides-maid at our wedding in CA, and played my favorite waltz at our wedding party in WA a week later.  I have contra danced to her fiddling in Seattle, Port Townsend, and at Deception Pass, where I played along on my autoharp and called out the dances.  She provided me retreat and respite when, after 2 years of serve illness, I took my first car trip alone and headed to her island home, and when plans for my 60th birthday trip fell through due to new health challenges, she again was the place I turned for Mike and I to have a November get away.

Shaun, (who has 3 fabulous ‘real’ sisters) as any sister might be, is different than me in myriad ways.  We rarely see one another due to full lives and differing lifestyles.  There are too many ferries between us and our paths rarely cross.  But our strongest bond, besides the shared genes, is a mutual passionate love of Nature…especially Nature in its native garb here in Washington.  She is the only person I have ever talked with for an hour, on the phone, about noxious weeds, looking up pictures on the internet and sharing woes and knowledge of different plants we battle in our differing habitats.  In the spring we are both out photographing the tiny new blooms showing up in our respective environments, sharing the photos and the joy of seeing them, as if for the first time.  We speak of Spring Beauty and Star Flowers.  She sends me pictures of Mt Baker from her island home; I send her pictures of the Olympics and my trips to Mt Rainier.  We are Washington women!

Why do I write of this Nature loving, fly fishing artist, photographer, musician and world traveler on my blog?  Because she, my ‘little sister’ and friend, turns 60 this week, a life event she will commemorate with her partner Harold and their friends at various social events.  I sent her a modest gift for quiet moments back in her island home after the festivities, but  I write, and writing of her life is my gift, my tribute to her.

Besides restoring the Garry Oaks to Cady Mountain on San Juan Island, Shaun also has been involved in the Western Bluebird Reintroduction Project to bring back bluebirds to the island.  She has hosted a breeding pair for several years.  Her support of the project has been bittersweet, with successes and disappointments.  But with Shaun’s persistence, I belief there will be a time, perhaps by the end of this new decade of her life, that she will look out her window to see and hear bluebirds singing in her oaks!

Shooting Stars flourish in the prairie atop Cady Mountain

Until then a newly awakened prairie of shooting stars, camas, chocolate lilies, and other wild flowers will greet people who walk the proposed nature trail to the Cady Mountain Preserve owned by the San Juan County Land Bank.  Those flowers, the growing oaks, the wildlife that enjoys the newly formed habitat will all have a home far into the future, as the land that Shaun and Harold now steward eventually combines with the Land Bank’s  Preserve.  Thanks to Shaun’s vision and hard work, future generations will see what island prairie hillsides looked like in the past when Shaun’s maternal ancestors were among the earliest white settlers and the oaks were big and plentiful.

Happy Birthday Shaun, you are a mere 60 and you have already created a legacy, made a difference, and changed the world where you live.

For The Love of Trees

January 1872, J. Sterling Morton used his status as a prominent, successful journalist and editor, to propose there be a holiday in Nebraska, where he lived, to plant trees on April 10th of that year.  Morton was a passionate and knowledgeable arborist. That was the first Arbor Day.  Prizes were given to counties and towns for planting the most trees and it was estimated over one million trees were planted in Nebraska that day. Later Arbor Day became an official Nebraska holiday and moved to Morton’s birthday. Eventually other states adopted Arbor Day and the day settled upon for most places was the last Friday in April, though often states set dates more ideal for planting trees in their region.

Here in Washington, the Washington State Legislature designated Washington’s Arbor Day as the second Wednesday in April, which this year was April 11th, 140 years and one day from the first Arbor Day.

Arbor Day, and the Arbor Day Foundation (founded in 1972 on the centennial of Arbor Day), is designed to encourage people to plant and care for trees.  In recent years Earth Day, April 22, which began in 1970, often overshadows Arbor Day, with a larger, global and multifaceted agenda. Yet for obvious reasons, the two go hand in hand. Without trees, not much else on earth will survive.

I am a tree lover. In fact I have a tree lover.  It is a stately beauty (to my eyes) I saw from a distance about five years ago, a fir that seemed to stand out from its neighboring fir buddies due to a bluish/grey tint to its bark.  It is a secret affair. We hug, well I hug, and chat a bit with it when I am in its vicinity.  It has been there for me through many difficult times and I comfort it when winter storms bring down its huge branches. Although my husband knows about this affair, they have never met.

He (my husband Mike) is also a tree lover. His particular fondness is for Big Leaf Maples. He is always proclaiming one Maple or another to be the LARGEST Big Leaf Maple he has ever seen.  During his years as a tree-planter Mike estimates he planted half a million trees, all conifers, mostly first.  When we are driving around on the Olympic Peninsula, or traveling in some other area of the state where he planted, he will point out a section where ‘his’ 20 or 30 year old seedling-children have grown to be fine young strapping trees.  He continues to plant seedlings here and there in the woods where trees have fallen or we have had to take down a tree or two.

We did not plant any trees this Arbor Day, in fact a few weekends ago Mike fell a small Big Leaf Maple that grew back from the stump of a tree he took down several years ago.  It is a playful game between him and the maples, they never die, they just start over and we enjoy them until they become ‘problematic’ in their over abundance of shade, or their limbs threaten to fall on the house.  We live among hundreds of trees and we kindly have to explain to some that we too need a bit of space to thrive.  It is with reverence we remove a tree, and it is with gratitude we appreciate the warmth it provides us in our home. A large fir, fallen by a winter storm, became the beams of our meditation building.  A true gift of life.

I can go on and on about trees, about particular trees, like the unusually large and beautifully colorful Red Osier Dogwood out my window, or the wonderful pungent scent of fresh-cut Alder, or the little Grand Fir on the trail we have walked around and watched grow for decades, or about my cousin Shaun’s Oak Tree Restoration project on San Juan Island.  Like many residents on the ‘wet side’ of the Evergreen State, trees are omnipresent in my life.

If Arbor Day here in Washington passed you by, remember any day is a good day to plant a tree, care for a tree, hug a tree.  At the rate the world’s largest forests are being deforested, Morton’s idea to set aside a day to encourage the planting of trees has never been more relevant. If you join the National Arbor Foundation they will send you free seedlings to plant. If you are looking for some native trees to plant, we may have a few seedlings to share!

With enough moisture, Big Leaf Maple trees host moss, which in turn hosts young ferns, all under the protection of the huge tree branches with its umbrella canopy.

A wonderful book to read about one man’s passion for trees is My Life My Trees, written by Richard St. Barbe Baker, the “Tree Man”. The autobiography of this remarkable man, who inspired the founding of the Civil Conservation Corp, as well as organizations around the world for reforestation, is the story of a man who impacted the world one tree at a time, and by writing 30 books!

Another book I enjoyed reading is The Attentive Heart, Conversations with Trees by Stephanie Kaza. The author interweaves her personal biography and relationships with trees, giving voice to, and interesting information about, the trees.

Slow down…

This photo has nothing to do with this post, except it shows the slow, transforming power of Nature, as the ocean carves these 'sea stacks' at Ruby Beach, Olympic National Park

As I posted my thoughts about trees falling, and falling trees, I reflect on how incredibly boring this topic, and no doubt many of my posts, would be to the majority of people in our urban, fast paced society.  A whole blog entry on trees falling down! Get a life lady!  My blog certainly does not follow the ‘rules’ for keeping a blog interesting – be clever, fast paced, contemporary.  There are of course wonderful blogs full of philosophical, even spiritual sentiment and positive guidance.  I hint at such in some of my posts.
Perhaps my slow blog, (should I start a ‘slow blog’ movement?), moving at the pace Nature often moves here in the Northwest (think slugs, snails, big trees,mountains, though some of them move quite speedily when erupting!) might slow down a few readers. If I put people to sleep that would be a great service as insomnia reaches epidemic status!  
If slow is not your thing, think about this, in Nature life forms which go, or grow, slow – giant tortoises, elephants, Redwoods, Spruce, even our Douglas Firs – will out live us, and most everything else.  Obviously not all in Nature is slow – gazelles, waterfalls, bamboo, move or grow quite accelerated! But we’re talking slow here.
To create what we want requires focus and intent.  In order to eliminate something in our personal lives or as a society we need to turn our attention, thus our energy, away from it.  Our energy, or life force, is designed to nurture and create.  Continually staying focused on, and pushing against, what we want to bring an end to nurtures it.  Seems counter productive doesn’t it?  Right now in the world many well intended and energized people are not creating the future, but are engaging, and thus buttressing, the status quo.
Psychologists, philosophers and spiritualist alike have expounded upon this truth. It has come down through time.  I humbly subscribe to it, having seen it work in both the grand scheme and my own little life.  
So I offer up small, anecdotal reflections and stories about Nature, for it is my simple but steady way of staying focused on what I believe is a powerful antidote to the stress and troubles we all face.  Reconnecting to the slow, healing power of Nature, drawing from it substance to nurture and create our future as individuals and as a society shows wisdom. Nature offers us lightness and teaches us humbleness, it shows us when to slow down like a tortoise, when to take action like a gazelle.  We must first slow down to allow ourselves to be in its presence.
Are you falling asleep yet?  Good-night!

Evergreen, ever growing

About 75 rings tell age and history
of the cedar, some years
wet, some droughty.

A few weeks ago we came home to a fallen tree across the driveway, not just any tree, it was the cedar snag that stood, dead as a door nail, for the 30+ years I have lived here.  Not particularly old, for a conifer, this tall tree towered above its surrounding, and living, neighbors, mostly Big-Leaf Maples and a few smaller cedars.  It was the look out of numerous birds and the convenience store for a variety of woodpeckers.  Many a fascinating bird sightings came from just looking up to the top of this cedar beacon.

a well used tree, the cedar snag came down
on a windy day

It began to lean a few months ago, but often trees lean a long time before falling, so though inevitable, it was still with sadness we saw this giant bird perch lying on the ground.  No doubt it will be missed by the resident woodpeckers even more than by us. Finally having a chance to see the tippy-top, it appears they excavated it down to a thin bit of wood, but it was the wet ground, causing the base to rot, that brought down the tall timber. Retired as a look-out and feeding station, it will now become firewood.

It is always with mixed emotions we decide to intentionally fall trees, but this winter it was with resolve we made the decision to do so. Our summers have been getting darker and darker, even on days when the rest of the NW might be enjoying sun.  Unlike children, trees do not noticeably seem to get taller, it seems to happen both subtly and suddenly. When I realized I could no longer hang clothes to dry, for the window of sun in our yard was less than a few hours, I looked up more. Accustom to blaming cloddy clay soil for our gardening challenges, I had failed to notice, until a few years ago, our sun seeking veggies were having a difficult time growing, even surviving, in the shade of giant evergreens.  The Douglas Firs had become sentinels whose job, it seemed, was to keep the sun out.

Aware of our woodsy surroundings, long ago I resigned to growing modest primulas, mugworts, and other shade “tolerate” flowers, but for decades I managed short season and cool weather veggies in a plot on the south side of the house.  Peas, lettuce, beets, and even some summer squash seemed to adapt to the short, but often intensely hot, mid-day sun (trees do hold the summer heat).  It was my own growing summer ‘blues’ that made me realize we had been engulfed by the firs surrounding us.  When I would go somewhere, anywhere, even the post office, I would notice there is SKY ‘out there’!

two giant Grandfather Firs frame the half moon

After saying good-bye and thanking them for their majesty and the warmth they will be providing as firewood, a few tall firs were fallen to open up sky to the garden and our own sun-seeking souls.

The first tree down showed some rot, so perhaps that was a good one to fall, before it fell in a less opportune place.  The next few seemed to fall almost gracefully, hitting the soft ground with more whoosh than thud.  As the last tree fell, an Eagle flew over, circling.

Though a wider window of sky now exists between the stands of the giants,grandfather firs that will never be taken down, ancestors of all others, the space opened by the fallen trees is barely noticeable.  Nature, the original succession planter and sustainability grower, has young trees behind, to the side, and in front of the ones that fell. They too will now thrive and grow with the added light.  We are not greedy, wanting only a bit more sun, and in love with the trees that surround us, this next generation of tall timbers will be here long after we are gone.