Friday, May 24, 2013
By now, everyone has heard about the collapse of the Interstate 5 Bridge over the Skagit River. As the crow flies, the bridge is about 12 miles/19 km from where I live. I found it interesting that Google is right on top of it. In less than 24 hours, the Google map is already showing the gap in the freeway where the bridge used to be (above).
There is something else I always find interesting. Whenever the news media covers stories about which I have knowledge, they always seem to be full of errors. For example, this article at Think Progress originally put the bridge in Seattle. They have now replace the word "Seattle" with "Washington" in the text. I wondered if they thought everything out here was Seattle, which is actually about 60 miles from the bridge. They get an F in geography and another F for lazy reporting. These mistakes make me wonder about the accuracy of all the rest of the news.
Then, there is the pronunciation of "Skagit." It's SKA-jit, just like it's spelled. It rhymes with "gadget." MSNBC apparently thinks it is SAG-get or something. The name honors the Native American people who once lived where Mount Vernon, Washington is now.
The route I drive to work every day is now the designated southbound detour around Mount Vernon. This means two lanes of freeway traffic will now now be travelling on one lane of country roads. This will include all of the commercial traffic between Vancouver, Canada and Seattle. I think it will be worse than the Tulip Festival, and it won't be over in a month. I'll find out tomorrow.
Saturday, May 18, 2013
On May 18, 1980, I was living in Sedro-Wolley, Washington. From Duke's Hill on the northern edge of town, I had a nice view of the valley below and points beyond. I remember the morning began with blue skies, sunshine and warming temperatures.
At 8:32 AM I was on my deck in the backyard when I heard multiple explosions, boom-boom-boom-boom in rapid succession. The house and deck shook and I felt a shock wave in the air. Something in town must have blown up, and it was major. I wondered if it was the plant that manufactured logging equipment.
That spring, the leading local news story had been the apparent awakening of Mount St. Helens in southwest Washington. She was one of several dormant volcanoes spawned in the Cascadia Subduction Zone. We were getting nightly news reports about small ash plumes and earthquakes. We were learning the anatomy and physiology of volcanoes. The term "harmonic tremor" entered our vocabulary. These are long, low level vibrations associated with the movement of volcanic magma underground. Measurements had detected the formation of a bulge on the north slope of the mountain. Scientists and news reporters speculated on what all this meant and what would happen next. It is not uncommon for these mountains to rouse for a time, then settle back down to continue their sleep.
It took a few hours for me to realized the explosions I had heard and felt were not from town. They were the eruption of Mount St. Helens 160 miles/258 km away. It had begun with the collapse of that bulge on the north flank which literally and suddenly uncorked the mountain. Instead of erupting upward from the summit, all the furies inside the mountain exploded laterally to the north. This might explain why I was able to hear it and feel it so distinctly. I could also see the ash plume, a big cloud on the southern horizon. What made the experience so amazing was how intimately it was felt, from something happening so far away.
In subsequent weeks I would see two more ash plumes. My deck would also get dusted a couple of times by sparkling grit. Of course, this was nothing compared to what eastern Washington experienced. I still have a shoe box of pumice I collected near the Toutle River on a trip to Portland.
Today, the mountain has been designated a National Monument. It has become a site for scientific research, exploration, education and tourism. Every year on May 18th, Mount St. Helens Day provides a moment to remember the events that occurred in 1980. What memories do you have of the eruption of Mount St. Helens?
Here is a nice concise video chronicling the event:
Photo: Lyn Topinka via Wikipedia
Monday, May 6, 2013
If you have been following the posts here over the last ten days or so, you know I have been on a quest. For almost forty years, I have been growing rhododendrons in the garden. You might call me a rhodie aficionado. I have gotten to know this "king of shrubs" pretty well. But in all those years, I had never seen our native Pacific Rhododendron (R. macrophyllum) growing in the wild.
Thanks to a little help from some friends at Washington State Parks, I found this grove in the Goose Rock forest in Deception Pass State Park. It is located about midway along the Lower Forest Trail. On my first visit, I spotted some flower buds just starting to open. I have been returning at regular intervals to check on the progress of the blossoms. I was back in the grove again this morning, and this time I was rewarded with a single shrub in full bloom.
This kind of floral display is unexpected deep in the forest. At the same time, I am amazed how beautifully these shrubs fit into the understory here. Rhododendron gardeners should take note of this habitat when creating their own gardens.
The Pacific or Coast Rhododendron is the Washington State Flower. It was chosen so that it could be entered in a floral exhibit at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. It was officially designated by the State Legislature in 1959.
The Pacific Northwest is a world center of rhododendron horticulture. Our soil and mild climate west of the Cascades provide the ideal requirements for growing these beautiful shrubs. It has been my experience, however, that the native species does not adapt well to garden conditions. They are acutely and fatally susceptible to Root Weevil attacks. They are also rarely available in garden centers and should never be dug up in the wild.
It is a beautiful flower and well chosen to represent the state. But it is also somewhat rare here. Besides Deception Pass State Park, it can be found growing in Olympic National Park and in a few spots on the western slopes of the Cascades of Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and northern California. I feel privileged to find them so close to home.
Click on the photos to view them full size. Notice the Bumble Bee visiting the flower in the photo above. These pollinators will help assure the future of rhododendrons in this grove.
I noticed something interesting during this morning's visit. The V-shaped branches in this photo belong to a rhododendron growing out of a dead, fallen Douglas Fir trunk. These so-called "nurse logs" typically are host to a number of Pacific Northwest plants, trees and shrubs. The Western Hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla), in particular, is associated with nurse logs. Where soil is poor and sunlight rare beneath the canopy, nurse logs help to sustain the life of the forest. While exploring these woods, notice the variety of plants growing from the decaying trunks of fallen trees.
On my first visit, I counted a total of five buds that would open into blossoms. This morning I found a sixth opening later than the others. You can see the speck of red in the lower right quadrant of the first photo. I managed to aim my telephoto lens through branches and leaves to get this shot. Even the immature blossoms are beautiful.
On my return to the Deception Pass bridge, I was greeted by this fellow, a Douglas Squirrel. This is the native squirrel of Pacific Northwest coniferous forests. These are noisy little guys, usually intolerant of trespassers in their territory. This one, however, seemed unconcerned by my presence. Like so many things around here, (e.g. Douglas Fir), he is named after the naturalist David Douglas who explored the region in the early 1800's.
The Deception Pass Bridge can be seen through the trees along the North Beach Trail. Now that my wild rhododendron adventure has concluded, the bridge will take me home to South Fidalgo Island. Then I can start planning next year's visits to the Goose Rock rhododendron grove.
Sunday, May 5, 2013
This is one of the native Madrona trees (Arbutus menziesii) in my yard and it is blooming like crazy. I don't recall ever seeing this tree bloom before. As I drive around the area, I am seeing Madronas blooming profusely everywhere. Along the Highway 20 corridor into Anacortes, the trees are revealed as giant clouds of white blossoms all along the roadway. I had never realized how many Madronas were growing there.
These are special trees to Pacific Northwesterners, and this year, they are really putting on a show for us. The Madrona (also called Madrone and Arbutus) has been correctly described as one of Nature's works of art. The 'Lem's Cameo' Rhododendron in the foreground of the photo is a Madrona relative.
The flowers are urn-shaped, very similar those on the Madrona's Heath family cousins Salal and Kinnikinnick. On the Madrona, the flowers are arranged on a Christmas tree-like structure at the branch tips. The flowers will produce sprays of berry-like fruits relished by birds. The fruits give rise to one of its common names, Strawberry Tree. Like rhododendrons, new branches will sprout below the flowers.
This Madrona is growing at the summit of Goose Rock in Deception Pass State Park nearby. Even on the warmest days, the trunks of Madronas will feel cool to the touch.
Madronas were also recognized as special by indigenous peoples of the region. In Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast, Pojar and MacKinnon relate two stories from native lore, told by the Straits Salish:
"Pitch used to go fishing before the sun rose, and then return to the shade before it became strong. One day he was late and had just reached the beach when he melted. Other people rushed to share him. Douglas Fir arrived first and secured most of the pitch. Grand Fir obtained only a little; and by the time Arbutus arrived there was none left. Therefore, Arbutus has no pitch to this day."
"Chief Phillip Paul of the Saanich tells how Arbutus was the tree used by the survivors of the Great Flood (a tradition common to almost all Northwest Coast peoples) to anchor their canoe to the top of Mount Newton. To this day, the Saanich people do not burn Arbutus in their stoves, because of the important service this tree provided long ago."
Saturday, May 4, 2013
I was back at Goose Rock in Deception Pass State Park this morning to check on the progress of the rhododendron blooms. I can see five blossoms now, but they are not quite fully open yet. I will check back on Monday. Meanwhile, here is a gallery of some of the rhodies currently blooming in my garden:
|Rhododendron catawbiense 'Album'|
|Rhododendron 'Nova Zembla'|
Monday, April 29, 2013
I was back in Deception Pass State Park this morning to check on the wild rhododendrons. I had seen a little color in the buds when I was there on Friday. The turbulence in Deception Pass caught my eye as I crossed the bridge. I hiked out onto the span to get this photo. The shadow of the bridge on the water is cast by the morning sun. The headlands beyond are Lighthouse Point and Lotte Point in the northern section of the park.
The Lower Forest Trail at Goose Rock is prime rhododendron country. While they enjoy the Northwest rain, they do not like to grow in damp soil. Sitting at the edge of the Olympic Rain Shadow, annual rainfall here is probably similar to my yard, about 20 inches/51 centimeters. Some of that will never reach the ground. It will be caught in the canopy and evaporate back into the air. Then the Rhodies will have to compete with the trees for the portion that does reach the soil. The mycorrhizal fungi around their roots will assist them with this. It is doubtful these plants would survive here without their fungal partners.
Hikers must watch their step on the trail. Some of the local residents will be out and about. This Whidbey Island Banana Slug (Ariolimax columbianus) sustains my theory, that Whidbey slugs have spots while those on Fidalgo do not.
Proceeding along the trail, I suddenly find myself surrounded by the "king of shrubs." I think this spot is becoming my favorite place in the park. I count only four blossoms opening on this plant. These are the only ones I can see from the trail. As I mentioned in the last post, this is not a good year for rhododendron blooms.
I will be able to get back here on Saturday when this R. macrophyllum blossom should be fully opened. I hope it won't be too late.
Here are a couple of photos of species rhododendrons in my garden. On the left in the shade garden is R. catawbiense var. 'Album' native to the Appalachian Mountains in the eastern U.S. On the right is R. yakushimanum from Yakushima Island in the Japan archipelago.
Friday, April 26, 2013
I had a big day today. For four or five years, I have been on a quest to find the wild rhododendrons growing in Deception Pass State Park. I knew they were there somewhere, but I could never find them. Finally, I tweeted @WAStatePks and just asked. They told me exactly where to find them and also sent a link to an updated trail map.
The Pacific or Coast Rhododendron (Rhododendron macrophyllum) is the Washington State Flower. Nevertheless, it is a relatively rare shrub in the state. Olympic National Park and this grove in Deception Pass State Park are two of the few spots where they can be found growing wild. Just like in the garden, rhododendrons love to grow in the understory beneath Douglas Firs, Western Hemlocks and Western Redcedars. Here they will get just enough dappled sunlight through openings in the canopy.
Macrophyllum means "big leaf" and I understand now why they have this name. Many of the leaves on these plants were more than a foot long.
The rhododendrons grow along the Lower Forest Trail, Trail No. 9 on the map (.pdf) in the Goose Rock area. You can park at the south end of the bridge and reach it from the Discovery Trail (No. 10) which crosses through an arch under the highway. There is an alternate route on the map that begins at the Park Headquarters further south on Highway 20.
Rhododendrons produce a compound flower called a truss at the end of each stem in the spring. As it goes to seed, four or five new stems sprout at the base of the flower, each with a rosette of new leaves. Next year's flower bud then forms at the center of the leaves. Leaves are held for two years. Each summer after the new leaves form, the two year old leaves will die and drop off.
I did not see many flower buds on these rhododendrons. Some of the rhodies in my garden are also failing to bloom this year. We had a bit of drought last summer and fall which may account for this. That is the time when they set flower buds for the following year. If conditions are not right, the buds will produce only leaves. Making flowers requires the investment of energy and assets by the plant. This could be an adaptation to prevent wasting resources when conditions are less than ideal. Climate change could have a serious impact on this "king of shrubs."
If you find them blooming, please leave the flowers for others (and me) to enjoy.
Rhododendrons are members of Heath family, Ericaceae. This is a group that seems to thrive in acidic soils and infertile conditions. Members include evergreen shrubs and trees. Many are shade tolerant. They all have an association with mycorrhizal fungi in their root systems which assist in their nutrition.
The photo on the left is one of the Deception Pass Rhododendrons. On the right is a young Pacific Madrona (Arbutus menziesii) growing along the same trail to illustrate the Heath family resemblance. Other more diverse local members of the Heath family are Huckleberry and Blueberry (Vaccinium spp.), Kinnikinnick and Manzanita (Arctostaphylos spp.) and Salal (Gaultheria shalon).
Rhododendrons also hold their seed heads indefinitely. Gardeners normally pop these off after the flowers have died. It looks like last year was a very good year for rhododendron blooms. I did see a few flower buds in the Lower Forest Trail grove. I will try and check back each week to catch those blooms, so stay tuned. In the meantime, here is a photo from Wikipedia:
|Photo: Randy Smith via Wikimedia Commons|
Monday, April 22, 2013
Today, I visited one of the highest points on Whidbey Island, Goose Rock in Deception Pass State Park. Looking southwest from the summit, the Olympic Mountain Range can be seen across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Also visible is the Whidbey Naval Air Station on the left and Cranberry Lake in the park on the right. We have seen those power lines here before.
Several interconnecting trails crisscross the Goose Rock section of the park. Start in the parking lot at the south end of the bridge. The trail head is actually under the bridge. For an easy morning hike to the summit begin by following the Goose Rock Perimeter Trail. Veer right on the NE Summit Trail. Then return to the bridge on the steeper NW Summit route. These trails are wide and comfortable and well marked with signs. As an alternative, continue on the Perimeter Trail into Cornet Bay to view the wildflower meadows. Here, the trail will narrow to a foot or less wide along the steep hillside. Being outside my comfort zone, this is where I double back to pick up the NE route to the summit.
Most of the Goose Rock Perimeter Trail passes through a closed-canopy old growth forest. Some of the Western Redcedars and Douglas Firs are gigantic. Keep in mind that our Western Redcedars are not cedars and our Douglas Firs are not firs! It's a Pacific Northwest peculiarity, I guess. In the understory, an explosion of plants, mosses, lichens and fungi create a wonderful, almost mythic botanical garden. We are learning how the trees in such a forest are linked together by an underground fungal network. The older and larger "mother trees" are apparently passing carbon through the network to help support the younger trees. I can't stop thinking about this when hiking through such a forest.
There was also wildlife out and about. A pair of Bald Eagles called to each other. One was above my head in the canopy, the other was across the pass on Fidalgo Island. Canada Geese on Strawberry Island made their presence known. I also heard Spotted Towhees, Northern Flickers and Black Oystercatchers. A Puget Sound Garter Snake found a sunny spot on the trail to warm itself. A rabbit scampered off ahead of me to hide in the underbrush.
The glaciers of the last ice age receded around 11,000 years ago leaving exposed bedrock scraped clean of topsoil at the summit. This can also be seen in spots along the trails. The movement of ice is revealed by grooves carved into the stone. Visitors are asked to stay off of the grassy meadows up here. Thousands of years of natural processes created them. They could be destroyed by human footsteps in a weekend.
Mount Baker is visible in several spots along the Goose Rock Perimeter Trail. This is the view from the trail looking past Ben Ure Island. The trees in the foreground are Pacific Madronas.
I arrived early in the morning on a Monday and had the entire place to myself. Even the usually crowded parking lot was empty when I got there. Along the trail, I met only one other person on my way down from the summit. It was late morning when I returned to the parking lot, and this time, it was full. At the end of the bridge, it is one of the most visited spots in the park.