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.
This is a departure from my usual content. I just posted this on my other blog, One Sweet Earth but I thought it might be of interest to my readers here with an added poem…
I have always been fascinated with the unseen world of nature that exists beneath our feet or is too small for our eyes to see. Some years back on a forest field trip for my 6th-grade science students, the guide pointed out small mounds covered with small bits of debris on the muddy parts of the forest floor. I’d seen these before, never giving them much thought. “Those are earthworm middens,” she said. HUH? How did in all my years of natural science and ecology did I miss this one?
The guide informed us that earthworm middens are the entrances of earthworm burrows. The reason they are built up like little volcanos is they pile their casings (poo) outside and alternately store bits of organic material at the entrance to later come up and feed upon. In January I came upon in one in the yard with a magnolia leaf sticking straight up from the entrance like a rock from Stonehenge. It appeared that this leaf was too large, tough for this worm to manage.
Yesterday I was doing my home exercise routine when my zippy Irish music was interrupted on Spotify by one of their ads (I’m too cheap to buy a $ 120-year ad-free subscription). It was an extra-long commercial about Spotify Premium and the many reasons I should upgrade. The last one was something like this “Never be without the music you love! Stream anywhere, even when you are offline!” This got me to thinking why we always need content streaming in our ears? Have we lost the value of quiet?
Workout routine done (don’t be too impressed, I don’t work that hard) I changed my clothes and headed out the door with my 13-year-old Golden Retriever for a ramble. We drove to the Benedictine Abbey less than 10 minutes away for a walk in the woods. They have a series of trails that they allow the public access to.
Car parked we headed off. It was a relief to be out of the house and in the fresh air, sweet with the scent of coming rain. We headed uphill on a muddy trail, thick with woods, mosses, ferns, and lichens. The calls of hidden birds surrounded us as Dougie and I made our way up by a gurgling stream with miniature waterfalls. By gosh I was streaming a real stream! An unlimited sensory experience brought to you by NATURE!
Imagine what I would have missed if I had earbuds in. I think about the students in high schools I sub in. They are constantly with their earbuds, listening to music, watching videos, checking social media. What about the sounds of birds and the ruminations of their own thoughts? I’m sad for them.
It was a lovely walk. I spent a lot of time observing and looking for ideas to include in my paintings in my new online painting class. You might see some things from my photographs in my coming artwork….
I wrote this poem last year while I was subbing at a local high school
“Have you also learned that secret from the river; that there is no such thing as time?” That the river is everywhere at the same time, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the current, in the ocean and in the mountains, everywhere and that the present only exists for it, not the shadow of the past nor the shadow of the future.”
― Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha
Over the July 4th weekend we took our annual trip camping up the McKenzie River here in Oregon. The river has its beginnings at Clear Lake, from springs that immerge from lava tubes at the North end of the lake. It then runs down a steep grade in a series of gorgeous waterfalls & pools before running free. The water is sparkling clear. Being by the McKenzie River is healing, but being on it and part of its energy in our kayaks is akin to a spiritual experience.
I find peace in rivers, especially the McKenzie. They provide inspiration for my art & poetry.
The River Called to Me
With a voice born out of eternity
Fluent in all languages
By my sparkling water
A silver ribbon in a dark forest
“McKenzie Rapid”- Gelatin print & stamps over pen & ink. The feeling of being in the midst of a rapid in a kayak is so exhilarating. I tried to capture the energy here.