Saturday, May 15, 2010

Blue Camas and Beautiful Evening Light

A field of Blue Camas near Oakville, Washington.

Anyone that knows the near-death experience of Lewis and Clark in the Bitterroot Mountains of Montana will also enjoy the scenes in the glacial till areas of Western Washington this week. The blooming Blue Camas is creating carpets of flowers awakening in the warmth of spring.

Blue Camas (photo by GAP Photo)

Lewis and Clark first tasted Camas bulbs after a difficult and hungry passage over the Bitterroot Mountains. Upon their descent into what is now Northern Idaho, they were met by members of the Nez Perce tribe who gave them a meal that included Camas root. The natives dug a deep pit and lined it with split wood. This was to merely heat the rocks in the earthen oven. Once the fire was extinguished, Blue Camas roots were placed between layers of grass and on the hot rocks to cook for two days. The roots were made into bread-like cakes that could be preserved through the winter.
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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Covell Creek Waterfall is no Secret

An impressive waterfall up Covell Creek just a mile from paved roads is easily accessible by foot. In fact, hikers actually have the opportunity to hike underneath it on their way to Burley Mountain .
Covell Creek Falls, Lewis County, Washington

To reach the waterfall take Highway 12 to Randle and turn south on WA 131 towards Mount St. Helens . About one mile south of Randle, take the left hand fork that travels up the Cispus River Valley . Follow the signs to the Cispus Learning Center and drive about 50 meters beyond the main entrance of the camp. There is a small pull-out on the right and directly across the road is the Covell Creek Trail.
Many early spring blooms graced the trail leading up to the falls.  Here, a trillium calls the forest floor home.

The trail starts out gently through the mature one-hundred year old forest that was created after the great Cispus burns of 1902 and 1919. Stay of the left side of the creek, but don’t be tempted by any of the well-maintained trails turn to the left return you to the Cispus Center . A poorly maintained but well-used one hundred yard portion of the trail will drop you off on what appears to be an old road. Veer to the right and the creek will stay within sound and sight all the way to the 60 foot waterfall. It the meantime, you will be dazzled by several smaller waterfalls along the scenic little creek.

Smaller falls dot the terrain below the main falls of Covell Creek.

The trail is actually a small loop, but a blown out bridge near the start makes the first crossing a little “unofficial”.
The waterfall is hardly a secret due to the generations of Western Washington kids that have attended the various kind of camps at the Cispus Learning Center . It is worth a visit whether you have been there before or not.

GAP Photo

Bigleaf Maple Blossom

One could not help but notice the appearance of the Bigleaf Maple blossom this week in the area. Clusters of fragrant yellowish blossoms between four and six inches long hang from limbs. The Bigleaf Maple depends heavily on insects so the blossoms are heavily laden with pollen and nectar. When the sun comes out, the blooms will be teeming with various kinds of insects.

What are those White Flowers?

Dogwood blooms on a tree at McMurphy Park in Vader.

Driving around the area this week, residents could not help but notice the explosion of white blooms on everything from shrubs to full grown deciduous trees and they had to ask, what are those white flowers?
There are actually two answers. The most known of the two is the Pacific Dogwood. Small flowers congregate in dynamic groups and present what appears to be large elongated blooms on the outer and upper limbs of the tree. As spring breezes blow, some might look outside and swear it was snowing as the pedals of the flowers drop daintily to the ground below.

Close-up of a Dogwood bloom.

The Dogwood is unique among the Western Washington hardwoods that grow among the big Douglas fir, Western cedar and Sitka spruce. It can carry out maximum photosynthesis under one-third of the needed sunlight.
A bloom on a Servicebery bush in Winlock.

In second place in the blooming competition this week is the Serviceberry. It is considered a bush but can grow from a few feet upwards to 20 feet tall. It has smaller clusters of blooms than the Dogwood and the pedals of the pure white flowers are slender as opposed to the more rounded counterparts of the Dogwood.
Serviceberry is well known as a supplier of good, edible berries for Native American peoples as well as today. Pioneers without modern day earth moving equipment used the Serviceberry as a calendar. It is said that in colder climates, the emergence of the leaves coincided with the thawing of the ground. Hence, burial “services” could be held for those that passed during the winter.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Bats Coming Out to Collect Insects

Two days in a row last week, students were treated to the spectacle of a bat roosting above the doorway at Toledo Elementary School. Both days, the bats were captured and released unharmed in the woods away from the school.  On Tuesday, I took the second to the old growth forest at Lewis & Clark State Park.

As it turns out, bats are just beginning to emerge from hibernation to begin their annual harvest of buzzing insects.

We have all seen the little bird-like mammal twisting, turning and contorting in the sky at dusk capturing insects within the membranes of their wings. Most people don’t realize that roosting bats are also hunting unwary insects that come near.

It is also no secret, despite their bad reputation, bats are an important part of the overall ecosystem. Each bat it is estimated, eats it own weight in insects every day. That is a lot less mosquitoes.

In all Washington State hosts about 15 species of bats. Most eat insects from the air, but some are able to hunt prey like crickets and scorpions right on the ground or in trees.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Keep an Eye out for Early Spring Season Growth

A unique black & white look up the trunk of an old growth Douglas fir at Lewis & Clark State Park in Lewis County.  GAP Photo

The clock keeps ticking and many plants are taking advantage of the slightly warmer days and additional minutes of sunlight. Leaves are burgeoning and a few plants are starting their early blooms. With the Osoberry past its flowering stage and developing berries, several deep wood plants are flowering even though many most plants are weeks away from their colorful spring zenith.
Deer Fern grows intermingled with moss on the north facing side of a Douglas fir.  GAP Photo

While strolling through the old growth stand of cedar and Douglas fir at Lewis & Clark State Park near Toledo this week, it was apparent that four plants were showing subtle to dramatic blooms even in the dreary conditions that we’ve endured in recent weeks.

Rubus spectabilis or Salmonberry blooms dot the forst floor.  The plant is a member of the Rose family.  GAP Photo
The most notable was the Salmonberry with its dainty little rose-like blooms high above your head as you navigate the wet, puddle-ridden trails within the park. Within a couple of months, this diminutive flora will produce one of the tastiest early summer berries in the deep Western Washington woods.

The trillium and bleeding heart are also giving subtle color to the forest floor. The magnificent trillium decorates it large leaf structure while the bleeding heart places and exclamation mark on a delicate fern-like plant.

Finally, a Red Flowering Currant grew on the south facing stump near the trailhead of the old growth trail. The blooms, were well behind it relatives growing in a more suitable, location like south facing canyon or road cut but it was striking and a surprise within the deep forest. 
Above-A rain-soaked Trillium populates the forest floor while a lone Red Flowering Currant was observed on the south face of a stump.  GAP Photo

Lewis & Clark State Park is one of the few local areas where one can observe many of the northwest’s more minute native plants in their preserved habitat.

Parting Shot

Woodwork and big wood at Lewis & Clark State Park.  A massive Douglas fir sits just adjacant to a viewing deck along the Jackson Highway that overlooks a wetland area within the park.  GAP Photo

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Young Athletes Learn About Track & Field

Note...My newspaper editor is not publishing a lot of my stories these days, so this is the place where they will appear!

Just as sure as the flowers bloom, young athletes step onto the track or onto the field of athletic competition for the first time in local high school meets.

Toledo Sophomore Yaya Crocker traveled all the way to Ilwaco for her first track & field meet. “My big fear was what do I do?” laughed Crocker. “Am I own my own or do I have to do this all by myself?”

As soon as she got off the bus, those concerns drifted away. “I had a couple of friends doing the same events so I just followed them”, continued Crocker.

For a rookie, she had quite a day. Crocker threw the shot put 21”9” and the discus, her specialty, 69’6”. She also placed 3rd overall in the 200 meters and ran 15.57 in the 100 meters.

“The discus is my main event. That is what I am going to focus on” continued Crocker. As for the running events, she competes in those to “get back into shape”.

Toledo Head Track Coach Rene Ketchum encourages new athletes in track and field to sample the goods. “Try a lot of events. You don’t know what you are good at until you try it”.

Ketchum also noted other new Toledo competitors that had excellent days in Ilwaco. She was very impressed with the performances of Sophomore Gibb Freece and Freshman Mikhail Hopf who placed 2nd in the Two Mile.

In the meantime, Crocker will continue to learn the craft of discus and shot while getting into shape on the track.

Brothers With Bats

Outside the rain was driving, but inside Winlock Baseball Coach Brian Demarest instructed his 2010 Cardinal Baseball team on signs; Their communication on the field. “There will be a test on these tomorrow at practice. If we miss them, we will run” he says vehemently.

You would think he wouldn’t’ have much to worry about with a solid core of players that have played ball together since t-ball, but rookies sprinkle in among the older guys and there are challenges.

It is “those guys” that sooth Coach Demerast when asked his goals for the season. “I’d like to see improvement at least; 500 (winning percentage) is a good goal” speculated the coach about a team that won two games last season. Winlock’s reputation for winning has been replaced by a collective positive personality, attitude and humor. “I hate losing, but these guys make it easier,” Demarest smiled.

Coach Brian Demarest enjoys a light moment during a game at Napavine

“Our defense and pitching will be better,” continued the coach. Junior Travis McCarthy, Seniors Nick and Matt Hoven are potential first or second teamers at the league level while 6’5” Junior Collin Kupers will take over catching duties and easily ranks as one of the tallest catchers in the district.

Demarest also believes Junior Kyle Archer will have a great year as well.

Senior Mike Raupp will be moving from catcher to infield to get him ready for the community college level where he hopes to play ball next year.

Raupp recalled one incident that shows why he’s pleased to move from behind home plate. He described a serious collision with now Senior Buddy Smerek. “He plowed me over,” laughed Raupp.

Raupp will tighten up an infield that includes the diminutive Hoven twins Matt and Nick. They are fleet of foot and solid with the glove. In addition, they keep the mood light around the team.

It doesn’t take much to realize that this is a close group of young men that lead each other. Even though Smerek is occasionally confused as a coach by outsiders, he insists that leadership comes from many different directions on the team. “It (leadership) changes from game to game depending on the circumstance” says Smerek. “No one is above anybody until the game is over”.

Senior Nick Hoven recalled last year’s trip to Forks that included rain and hail as one of the memories he will have of Winlock Baseball. For these brothers with bats, memories of a senior season that includes a playoff run will make their narrative collection priceless.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Think Twice Before Planting More Holly in the Northwest

Area residents thinking about adding some form of Holly to your domestic garden display this year should consider it very carefully.

English Holly is an attractive plant at first introduction, but it wears away it welcome over time.

While the several types of Holly that are in the local area are not listed as an invasive species, it creates headaches for homeowners and heartaches for forest managers watching over the northwest’s’ most pristine forests.

It should be noted the English Holly and several other related species are not considered noxious weeds in Washington State. Most counties west of the Cascades, however, recommend their control and discourage planting.

Holly has more than a few positive attributes. Many people love the beautiful berries and the fact that it is an evergreen that lends color even during the drab winter grayness.

The berries of the European Holly are very attractive, but birds take them to other locations where they spread the plant from its intended domestic habitat.

It is those berries though that leads to a much wider problem. Birds eat the fruit and then completely process it in its natural habitat. (Translation...the bird poops it from the limb of a tree after acids make the seed viable). Holly is extremely adaptable. It can grow slowly in the darkness of a thick reproduction forest or at the base of a 400 year old cedar deep in a wilderness area.

Holly grows will in direct sunlight, but can also survive in the darkness of an unthinned reproduction forest like this example.

The latter is a problem for managers at places like Mt. Rainier and Olympic National Parks. Holly has been found in some of the most remote forests in Washington State.
The spiky, waxy leaves protect the tree from any natural predators so the it is left unfettered to grow where it takes root.

Residents that have Holly in their yard gain a fuming disdain for the tree over time as they try to manage it. Clipping one limb leads to the growth of many more in the same location. What should be a stately tree of holiday lore becomes an impenetrable bush of spiny leaves. The holiday romance of holly eventually disappears.

These residents have attempted to trim the base of their holly tree, only to find out that it sprouts back exponentially.

Removing Holly is a seemingly insurmountable task. Cutting the tree down will result in sprouts around the base. Pulling a small tree in moist soil may work eventually, but roots and debris left in or on the ground will surly sprout to form. Control may be achieved through an annual visit to pull the remaining parts of the plant. A larger tree will need the use of a pesticide after cutting. Applying herbicide freshly cut stump or a frilling method is most effective. Foliar herbicide treatment is not very effective due to the thick, waxy leaves. If you want to remove your holly trees with an herbicide, contact your local noxious weed control board for more information on the best methods.

We have learned from our mistakes and now its time to stop making them. While Holly has its own beauties and folklore, it has worn out its welcome here in the northwest. Gardeners should look for more environmentally responsible alternatives before adding more holly to our neighborhoods and yards. This is a tree that knows no boundaries and humans inflict little damage to the spread of this increasingly noxious plant.

Photos courtesty of GAP Photo

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Early Season Flowers Display Subtle Show

The dainty blooms of the Indian plum or Osoberry decorate the roads and transition zones of Western Washington forests.

The first flowers of the new season have arrived. Intermingled with the flowering cherry trees are some of the earliest native blooms. Osoberry or Indian plum, resemble a willow to the casual eye, but is actually part of the rose family. Small, distinctive blooms hang under new leaves that give new life to a rather drab, late winter scene.

These plants are most prominent in the shade, but are most visible along the local roadsides and fence lines in exposed sunshine.

The Osoberry can be upwards to 15 to 20 feet tall like this specimen east of Toledo, Washington.

Native Americans found value in the bark by producing a tea while chewed twigs served as a mild anesthetic when applied to a boo boo. In some cases, twigs were also considered an aphrodisiac.

Humans ate the fruit despite its bitterness, but birds, rodents, deer, bear, foxes and coyotes find the resultant berries an important part of their early season diet.
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