We’ve had a bit of a heatwave here in Oregon this past July. Temps hovered in the high 90s to 100 degrees for over a week. Even though I had AC installed in the house as a result of the catastrophic heat dome a year ago in June, Raymond and I were feeling a bit housebound. For a reprieve from the heat we headed out to Netarts Bay on the coast to kayak for the day.
Coincidentally, also seeking the bay’s refuge was a population of brown pelicans who were aerial feeding- quite a sight. Watching them was the highlight of my day. This poem came to me shortly thereafter.
(The following is a memoir piece I’ve been working on off and on for several years about my family’s annual camping trips to Yosemite in the late 1950s and 1960s)
In August, my middle class family packed up our ’56 Chevy Bel Air red and white station wagon and left our suburban L.A. home to camp among the cool pines of the Yosemite Valley. We left in the wee hours of the morning to avoid driving in the oppressive Central Valley heat. My older brother, Steve, and I would occupy the “way back,” converted into a bed with layers of soft quilts. This functioned as our sleeping and play area. Seat belts were not even thought of back then. There was no digital world in the late 1950s and early 1960s so upon awakening we would occupy ourselves by reading our stash of comic books and Mad Magazines. We would play endless card games of War. When we were tired of that we would sing folk songs in lively two-part harmony, our parents joining in on “I’ve been working on the Railroad, Suwanee River, Clementine, or our favorite, “the Titanic ”.
I was on an amble on Franklin Street in Astoria, Oregon last weekend when I came upon this remarkable rock wall below a Victorian home. Little pink flowers were growing from the cracks of the stones of the wall. Had I been in a rush, I would have failed to notice this striking little art gallery. Here are a few examples of natures hand on a city side street.
in cracks of cold stone
Who doesn’t love flowers? There seems to be even more of a special place in people’s hearts for the wildflowers found in nature. Here in Oregon it is prime wildflower season. Some are even blooming currently in my new native plant garden. Especially prevalent right now are camas (Camas quamash), beautiful blue-violet spikes of star-like flowers that pop up in the meadows. They were a significant food source for the Native Americans that once inhabited the area
About 40 minutes away from my home in the town of West LInn a new Nature Conservancy site opened up last year, the Camassia Nature Preserve. The 22 acre parcel is a mix of lush forest, meadows, and oak savannah with a boardwalk that meanders the main route. There is about 2 miles of hiking trails in the area. Also prevalent are glacial erratics- boulders from Montana and Canada that were dropped in this area after the great floods that occurred after the melting of the ice sheets that covered the north during the Ice Age.
Yesterday the weather was lovely, partly sunny and in the 60s, a welcome change from the rain and cool temperatures. I decided to take a drive and check it out. I was not disappointed!
Here are some of the things I saw in this special place.
A bit of wildflower trivia…
The reason you may often see the dazzling combination of bright yellow and purple wildflowers together is that it attracts pollinators- and humans seeking beauty.
And…my photos really don’t do this place justice!
Looked what bloomed today!
a wild Iris
a queen amidst my garden
her lilac petals arch gracefully
like arms in a curtsy
about her throat a white collar
etched with fine black lines
with a blush of gold
Gaudy hybrids shout for my attention
down the driveway
but it's her sublime elegance
that captures my wild heart
It’s been a very cool spring – even by NW Oregon standards. April set a record for the wettest ever recorded so native plants planted in late February & Early March have been slow to emmerge. Still, it’s been thrilling to watch the ferns unfurl and various flowers to reveal themselves in my native plant garden. I’ve been adding some artistic touches with some old sculptures of mine scattered about the garden.
One great find at “Hortlandia” was a little table made of scrap wood for a top and legs of thick curly willow. I added two small benches cut from the stump of an old walnut tree that was taken out a few years ago. and sorely missed. Now I have benches to remember it by This area is my fairy tea spot.
In the 28 years I’ve lived in my home I’ve watched the surrounding hills logged acre by acre making way to vineyard land. I used to live out in the country. Now I say I live in the “wine country” to add a reference point to the location. To some this is no big deal, but for me losing our forests is a tragic loss of shady walks, natural habitat, and carbon storage. We shame the loss of tropical rainforests but turn a blind eye to the logging of our own temperate forests.
When this happens nothing is left for wildlife, no corridors for migrating birds for deer, or any of our native species to survive on. Where do all the creatures go that made those forests home? Most die. It’s all for human profit now. This collateral damage is met with barely a shrug. Add to that the recent catastrophic wildfires in Oregon have left thousands of acres of forest graveyards. I was heartsick on a recent camping trip to the Cascade Range where we drove through miles of blackened mountains, burnt towns, and majestic forests turned to black matchsticks. This was once verdant scenery. Rampant salvage logging is only making matters worse for long-term recovery.
I have written letters to editors, congresspeople, and blogged about the environmental issues at hand but reciprocity to nature is not a concept our culture embraces. It’s about profit. There is a total disconnect in our relationship to the earth and the long-term consequences of our consumerism. We take without giving back and that will be our ultimate demise. I’ve realized through all this the only real power we have is through our actions and not those of governments or corporations. This includes our own piece of ground.
So in an act of defiance, I am bringing nature home to my one little acre in Oregon. I am starting the slow process to convert my land into a tiny nature sanctuary by planting native plants and creating a wildlife friendly habitat. Until recently I landscaped my yard the way everybody does-by what would look nice. That meant planting common cultivars from Asia without a thought to what nutrition and cover they would provide to native species including pollinators, butterflies, birds, reptiles, and amphibians.
Will this make a difference? Well to me it does! To future furred and feathered visitors it will, and if enough other homeowners join in it will make a huge difference. All I know is that when we recently planted a big leaf maple in our yard and planted my overgrown planter barrel by the porch entrance with milkweed, and native wildflowers I felt empowered. If you would like to join me on my radical gardening journey, tune into my other blog, One Sweet Earth where I will be sharing my process bit by bit.
I live ten minutes from Our Lady of Guadalupe Trappist Abbey. The order of monks that reside there have been so gracious to share the trails of their large natural area with the public. It’s a treasure- one of the few places left closeby where one may take a quiet ramble in nature. I set off solo early in the morning for an Earth Day hike. It’s pleasant with friends but by oneself you have the opportunity to notice so much more and the birds and other wildlife are much more willing to present themselves.
The main Guadalupe Loop is a steep one- about 1.5 miles up. At the top of the mountain is a primitive shrine to Our Lady Of Guadalupe where visitors can meditate, admire the view, and leave offerings- Catholic or not. It’s the kind of a hike where you can leave with a storm in your brain and then come down with head full of sunshine.
It’s good to remember where we come from especially now- the earth needs our attention and love more than ever.
Some of you may have witnessed this event called a “murmuration” of starlings- thousands of starlings swirling through the sky in a grand, seemingly coordinated performance. If you haven’t, do watch the video included with this post. I have noticed them more this year than in years past.
With technical photography, scientists are understanding more about the phenomenon. I think its one of natures “trade secrets.”
I am not fond of starlings
But in late autumn
Sometimes they crowd in the treetops
In a chirping chorus
Like a reunion of relatives
With an abundance of news to share
Who knows what stirs these rather uninspiring birds
To gather in in such a cacophony
Then on queue as if the din is too much
They rise from their perches to find positions
In an undulating dance that wafts over harvested fields.
I watched an incredible movie last night- truly such a piece of art in so many ways I thought I would try to spread the word. The movie is called “My Octopus Teacher,” available for streaming on Netflix.
“My Octopus Teacher takes viewers into a world few humans have ever seen. In 2010, debilitated by adrenal fatigue, Craig began free diving in a freezing underwater forest at the tip of Africa. As the icy water re-energised him, he started to film his experiences and in time, a curious young octopus captured his attention. By visiting her den and tracking her movements everyday for months, he won the animal’s trust and they developed an unlikely relationship.
As the little octopus shared the secrets of her world, Craig became first witness to the beauty and drama of a wild creature’s life and in the process, underwent an incredible mental and physical transformation.”
Everything about this movie was stunning, the cinematography, the story, the narration, the octopus. It was like watching poetry. It made me ask the question, are we humans smarter than an octopus?
If you want a break from the ugliness of the world right now, this is a great movie to watch.
If you have country property here in my corner of Oregon, you have probably noticed an explosion of small mammals, including ground squirrels, rats but especially voles this year. Rodents have population cycles peaking every few years and then falling after the predator population catches up to them. This is a banner year for voles
Voles are rodents, bigger than mice with smaller ears and short tales. They are chiefly vegetarians munching on roots, nuts, young plants, and bulbs. They are proficient tunnelers. You don’t want them in your garden.
On the positive side, they aerate the soil and distribute nutrients in the soil layers. My inner biologist recognizes their role in the great circle of life but my outer gardener is extremely frustrated. I am perhaps the first person to write a poem about vole holes?. Adding a bit a humor has made the situation in my lawn more tolerable.