Monday, February 26, 2007


In the 1930's, about 75 years ago(please remember this figure), a huge fire burned in Oregon's Coast Range. It burned so hot the damage was equal to being "glassed" by atomic bombs. Virgin forest was stripped to the ground, soil sterilized by the heat...

(pic from the Tillamook Forest website)

Oregon decided to rebuild the forest by salvage logging and replanting. 73 million trees were replanted BY HAND. 3 billion seeds were sown by helicopter.

Today it is a diverse, lush, thriving forest. It's not a sterile timber farm. I've found trilliums, various orchids, a Pacific Giant Salamander, heard spotted owls and pileated woodpeckers--all species which depend on old growth forest characteristics.

We've camped here a lot, explored trails and streams. Remembering the wasteland of only 75 years ago makes this place miraculous.
I planned to post this for Good Planets Carnival, but Blogger wouldn't load pix. The theme was Fire, so I thought of this place that was so completely and utterly devastated. But in a very short(in forest years) 75 years, nature, with a boost of replanting, has remade itself. The mosses, lichens, fern, shrubs, herbs, bugs, slugs, amphibians, fungus, were NOT seeded--go take a look for yourself what they've been able to accomplish.

Snag Life

I love the wet colors on this old standing snag. The decaying grain waves round old branches, some edges covered with lichen, some freshly chipped away. In the summer you can put your ear against it and hear critters knocking around inside--a bird nest, bugs munching, a squirrel squirreling things away. Big sheets of bark lay around the base. The pileated woodpeckers peck away at it, slithering their long tongues into holes to lick up ants. Deer beds are scattered around the quiet hollow where the snag stands. An old broken up calf skeleton lies half buried in the leaves nearby, probably left by a cougar.
I can only hope I have as much life when I'm dead!

Licorice Fern

This wonderfully big maple(4' dbh)has a nice mane of Licorice Ferns. They have the licorice chemical in their rhizomes, and the Northwest tribes used it for sore throats. The ferns are "summer deciduous", they come out in fall as the moss gets wet and moistens the rhizomes. The pretty fronds last all winter, through snow and freezing, until they dry up in early summer with the moss. Licorice fern can be found on hardwoods--oak, maple, alder, ash--and on mossy cedar shakes.

Snow Day

Just a little bit of snow, 3" that melted away as I walked. The sound of melting snow falling out of the trees was noisy as a heavy rain, the sun worked its way round lazy cloud fog. Maybe more snow tonight...I liked the colors of the bush, the red rust of last year's berry vines, the light green of lichen coated oaks, and the deep green of the fir trees. Frogs silent in the cold. Indian Plum sending out white blossoms. New snowberry leaves curl up against the snow.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Ape Cave, Mt St Helens, WA

I haven't been able to load pix for a few days, probably because of the rain. Which will last the next week. Thick, heavy, wet, Noah-build-an-ark rain. So here's a story about a fun place to visit. You enter the cave in the middle and most folks walk down. But if you go up you can have some fun rock scrambling(flashlight in the teeth), and climb out a hole in the ceiling. I went with my sister's cub scout troup, and we came back to a dead starter in the mini van. And we shocked and amazed other cave hikers as we replaced the starter in the parking lot(dear BIL to the rescue!).

Sept 3, 2005

Deep in Bigfoot country on the south slope of Loowit(others call it Mt St Helens), under a pelt of scrubby young firs and scraggly wind beaten uncle firs, a crack in the ground reveals an old lava tube. Years ago a few bushwhacking Boy Scouts discovered the cave and named it for the Abominable Forest Man, thinking it was the perfect place for his lair.
A steaming live volcano lurks in the near distance. The land has the air of frequent destruction. The braided meandering bed of the Lewis River lies wide in ashy sand and cobblestones. Ape Cave is the remains of a lava river that flowed two thousand years ago. As the edges of the flowing lava cooled, the sides and the ceiling formed.
Long ago lava flowed through the future Ape Cave for about three years, cooling around the edges, bubbling over through cracks. Stone cold now, it stays a constant damp 42 degrees, a fact repeated on signs and by the ranger tour guide--“It’s cold, wear a jacket!”. The walls are alive with slime and I’m warned if I touch it, it dies. Someone asks the ubiquitous bats-in-the-cave question and the ranger explains bats(Little Brown Myotis) abandoned the cave years ago because of all the noisy tourists.
Walking down-cave, the floor is treacherous, strewn with boulders that fell from the ceiling as the empty tube cooled. The ranger assures us that all the boulders that will fall, have fallen. They still look head-splitting. My eyes strain to see as clearly as they’re used to in daylight. I feel queasy thinking of the ancient molten lava that flowed here for three years, but after awhile though the cave starts to feel sheltering, even homey. The cave meanders, just like a river does. The rangers rent propane lanterns and hopefully you get one with a fresh tank. The cave smells of damp sand and old cold, with undertones of burnt hair and clothing from careless lantern-bearers.
Ape Cave was closed for a few years after Loowit blew her top. I remember hearing the blast when Loowit lost her head, an almost subsonic stomach-punch of inconceivable power. During that time of footlessness, sand castles began to form again on the cave floor, colonizing the cave as water dripped from the ceiling to wear away at the floor. The path of the wind is also written on the cave floor. The wind blows down-cave or up-cave depending on the season, gently shoving pebbles back and forth wearing parallel grooves in the floor.
A large part of the fun in exploring Ape Cave is people watching. Despite signs and rangers drumming warnings “The cave is cold and damp, wear a jacket” or “The cave is very dark, take three sources of light” people don’t pay attention. I helped one woman over the rocks with my flashlight as she said “I just don’t understand why it’s so dark in here” (she was wearing sunglasses). Another woman teetered down the steep stairs in a tank top, shorts and high heels --“I don’t understand why it’s so cold in here”. No, they don’t understand…
Listen to what people say…”It’s so dark in here”, “Why can’t they clean up the rocks on the floor?”, “Where’s the Boogey Man?”, “Let ME carry the flashlight!”. Being in the cave brings people in touch with their long-ignored inner caveman, and it is unsettling. Yet some delight in the foreign landscape. Kids rush on ahead to find the Meatball, an Indiana Jonesy stone medicine ball wedged overhead. They beg their parents to please go to the very end of the cave and suggest turning off all light. Terrified parents squeak “NO!”
I’m down to the last bit at last. Time to get down and crawl the last 50 feet or so. The ceiling gets lower and lower, I crouch and waddle, crawl, and finally wriggle like a snake with my flashlight in my mouth to the little room at the end. I sense the immense weight of the rock around me, ready to fall and smash me. Most people(the adults), if they enter the last bit at all, panic a short way in. They turn around with difficulty and rush to get out, breathless, into the now-spacious main cave.
I go further in with the others who want to go to the end(the kids). I like the not-knowing what is ahead…will I have room to turn around, or will we all have to back out? But in the end--surprise!-- there is enough room to stand up. I feel the timelessness, no sun travels across the sky to mark time. I think of the forest growing above, roots creaking down, seeking the water that seeps down around the walls. I want to leave my handprint.
Traveling back up-cave, the way is familiar. By now my eyes are used to seeing in the dark, my mind fills in the blanks of detail left by the dark. I lag behind, trying to find a place in the bends where light disappears fore and aft. I turn out my own flashlight, savoring the inky silent black. I stand against a wall and smile at folks who come along. I can see they think I’m nuts to give in to the dark.
I come back to the entrance, climb the metal fallout shelter stairs back to the surface. The daylight world bursts open, shimmering with a clear, piercingly beautiful light. My eyes are overwhelmed by detail, having gotten used to seeing in shadows. Now coming up into the young woods I feel like I can see everything--the grain of the basalt, the spores on the ferns, every needle, bark bug and far off cloud. The cave has given me eagle eyes.
I breathe deep the sunshine, and Bigfoot smiles from the hillside.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Fruiting Bodies

Flowers of winter! Moss, lichen, fungus and mushroom. A whole lotta spores flyin' around!


I found this snail when I was poking around the streams (look back a few days). All the leaves have turned a deep russet. Alder, maple, oak, cascara, hazelnut--they all turn the same color. And the snail matches.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Spider Webs

I found these webs up on the hill last year, about February. There were about 20 of these particular spider(about 12" across), hung in the snowberry bush and old weed stems. All of them were strung with silver beads of dew. One is beautiful, twenty is dazzling.
There were other webs revealed by the dew, some small and round, about 4" across, some haphazard, attached to three points with a messy mesh. I could see how different kinds of spiders liked to build their webs in different places, or in different heights off the ground.

Thoreau Joke

“When we walk, we naturally go to the fields and woods; what would become of us if we walked only in a garden or a mall?” (from "Walking")

When I read this I had to chuckle--I know he meant mall as in public garden walkway type of thing, but I know he would have been even more mortified at the current meaning of the word and all it implies.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Frog Eggs, Frog Eggs, Roly Poly Frog Eggs

Today I found a globe of Red Legged Frog eggs in the pond. It hangs down under the water to about 6" deep. Each egg has a dark center surrounded by a small clear marble sized sack. There are air bubbles caught around the edges. If you'd like to see a photo of the proud mama or papa(sort of), go to February 11. Over the next few weeks other globes will come into being, and the dark centers will grow teeny tails. And then poof! TADPOLES!

Saturday, February 17, 2007


On the way to the bus stop to get the kids I stopped at this small ravine to poke around, follow the water, slap through ferns. Streams running full after the Noah rain over the past few days...
By molecule rain rises
from the sun-winnowed ocean, and inland falls,
bolting from the lightning-ripped sky.

Drop by drop, rain

burrows deep into the dark,

sluices worm burrows,

licks cleft and crevice,

bursts back into grey day light.

Brown ribbons snap,

snake round root and rock,

slither down gully and gulch,

tangle back into streams, come together

to run away downriver.

And then, in the far gone of the afternoon

emptied clouds drift silent, spent.

The last of the silver streams unlace

from the darkening hills,

braid into final graceful bends before the sea

and slip slowly back into the turning tides.

Friday, February 16, 2007

10,000 Steps

Every day I walk a little or a lot, mostly a lot. When I'm not walking on my land, most of my walking is on a 1/2 mile stretch of road in front of the house, back and forth.

I can see far and wide, near and small. I pass through mature second growth oak/fir forest(second growth because of the annual fires set for a few thousand years by the native americans, but now aging into old growth), young fir replanting at different ages, dry banks and wet dark permanent tree shadow. I can see clear cuts, mature second growth, new replanting, selective cuts, and the tips of a secret BLM patch of gigantic old growth trees. I watch for wildflowers sprouting and blooming. I listen to birds and watch them fly into the west in courtship or soaring thermals. I see where the sun sets each night as it travels across the horizon through the year. At one end stands a lone old growth doug fir with a 8' dbh(I named it Treebeard), at the other end is a long vista through a slot in the repeating hills. I walk in cold, hot, ice, sun, and even rain, and watch weather roll overhead.

I keep a log of miles, if only to imagine when I've walked to Alaska, or Patagonia. Since the fall of 2004 I've walked 1508 miles on this 1/2 mile stretch, worn out two pairs of boots. Barry Lopez sums it up pretty well for me, below.

“Whatever evaluation we finally make of a stretch of land, however, no matter how profound or accurate, we will find it inadequate. The land retains an identity of its own, still deeper and more subtle than we can ever know. Our obligation toward it then becomes simple: to approach with an uncalculating mind, with an attitude of regard. To try to sense the range and variety of its expression--its weather and colors and animals. To intend from the beginning to preserve some of the mystery within it as a kind of wisdom to be experienced, not questioned. And to be alert for its openings, for that moment when something sacred reveals itself within the mundane, and you know

the land knows you are there.”
--Barry Lopez, Arctic Dreams, p 204

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


(stump on the hill with chainsaw graffitti: DP+CP)

Would You Be(Wood Ewe Bee)
in-ground gathered snakes
slumber, slowly sliding round
warm winter dreaming
pressed hearts valentine
up a mud trail, womb-swaddled
fawns kick, moss awaits
furled fiddleheads frond
in secret, green wooly curls
shiver juicy, whorl
pond-held blackeyed eggs
cluster, twig-cradled, ripple
rocked frog hope grows
tender spring tinders
Indian Plum, fingertips
flicker green flames

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Air, part 2

This week's theme for Good Planet is "air". How can one take a picture of air? We see air as what is not-there. I chose clouds, because they are elements of air that come together and move apart, absorb light, reveal mass of molecules with shadows--air becoming visible as it dances between the influences of high and low pressure. So here are some photos of just clouds, all from the past month or so.

Air, part 1

Yesterday's Walk

Fungus on oak twigs. They remind me of cherry blossoms.
Found this shelf fungus at the base of a maple. I think it might be an Artist's Conk(Ganoderma applanatum)? It is white underneath with white spores.
These little red bugs are everywhere in the shallows of the pond. They're about the size of a sesame seed. (can anybody tell me what they are?)
This young maple tree was scraped badly, probably when we were dragging logs around. It seems to be healing itself well.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Appaloosa Deer

I call this local doe the "appaloosa deer" because she has a blanket of spots like an appaloosa horse. She's passed on this trait to two other deer we've seen, a doe and a buck, although their spot pattern is much smaller, just over their back or hips. I've seen her around for about 4 years now, and I hope she has a long life, with lots of her special fawns. I hope I can live here long enough to see how far her genes will spread.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Red Legged Frog

Today I found a slightly squashed red legged frog in the road. They are waking up in their mossy beds in the bush, and making their way to their birth ponds, crossing a road(usually at night). The dead one wasn't broken too bad, I took a few pictures back and tummy(felt like a coroner) and was going to share them, but then it reminded me of anatomy class in college. I had a lab to learn about nerve and electrical impulses through muscles. Our group had to pith a frog, and take its back leg and set it up to make it jerk with little bursts of electricity. I felt sorry for the frog(I believed the whole theory was true, a diagram would've been enough, and besides, I have put my hand on a live electric fence before...). I'd had no problem dissecting a dead bullfrog in high school--that was fascinating. But killing the frog to prove a point seemed too much--I'd have rather watch those electrical impulses hop around a pond. So here are a few photos of LIVE Red Legged Frogs (Rana aurora"dawn, red") I took a few springs ago. I just happened on these frogs being lazy, usually they are skittish.
Here is one floating in the pond. Their bellies and legs are a pretty coral orange. They spend their days and nights croaking on the edge of the pond calling for a girlfriend. It gets quite loud here in February with hundreds of frogs calling day and night, along with the little lime green Pacific Tree Frogs. They will lay their eggs in grapefruit-sized clusters, attached to sticks suspended in water. Last year I counted 13 egg globes in the pond.

They are disappearing from the Willamette Valley, both from habitat loss and being eaten by gluttonous non-native bullfrogs. But in the hills lots of ponds and swampy places remain for them--for now.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Lil' Sprouts

The Dovefoot Geranium is sprouting everywhere in the shady places. Here are some sprouts in a pine cone(Jeffrey Pine? Coulter Pine? I picked it up at a rest stop near Mt Shasta). The first leaf from the seed is a pretty coral pink. When the plants die off in the summer, the leaves turn the same shade of pink(very pretty en masse). It is a non-native species introduced from Europe. Apparently the leaves are shaped "just like" dove feet. Hmmmm--why not Juncofoot Geranium, Ravenfoot...? I'll have to check out the Mourning Dove's feet when they return in the spring--they like to hang out and lick salt from the well outflow in the driveway.

Go check out the Earth-themed photos at for the Good Planet blog carnival.

Friday, February 9, 2007

An Ansel Day

It's probably no surprise I'm a fan of Ansel Adams. Today began in fog, with the top of the clouds just beyond the treetops. The sun would brighten and fade, and finally the sky cleared to grey and gray. A certain species of moss glowed an electric green despite the grey. More frogs are waking up in the bush, croaking yawns. Chipmunk burrows are freshly opened. A few sparrows try out their spring songs. Great light to think in black and white.

leaf buds harden
small stony fists defy
icy winter winds

Saw a cool bumbersticker: EARTH (I want a t-shirt!!!)
Coming home from town today I saw a flock of canada geese school in the sky. They arranged and rearranged themselves in long angled lines, slowly circling over the lush fields of newly sprouted winter wheat and hay. Despite having no "head", or obvious leader, the flock changed direction, swirling as one, without crashing, butting heads, or rear-ending each other.

one thousand geese fly
in one mind, bantering
dark rippled ribbons

Thursday, February 8, 2007


On the east face of a small boulder by the Cougar Tree--a myriad of lichens, let me count their ways. The rock(a big bubble of basalt) the size of a bale of hay. This first photo is an area just off the ground.
This photo was taken near the top of the boulder. Mosses, lichens(all three kinds), liverworts, a small Licorice Fern.
Soon I'll take my field guides up there and do an inventory. But for now, I'll be content to wonder at the variety of life on this one boulder.

From "Walking" by Henry D Thoreau---
"Nothing can equal the serenity of their lives. Their coat of arms is simply a lichen. I saw it painted on the pines and oaks. Their attics were in the tops of the trees. They are of no politics. There was no noise of labour. I did not perceive that they were weaving or spinning. Yet I did detect, when the wind lulled and hearing was done away, the finest imaginable sweet musical hum,—as of a distant hive in May, which perchance was the sound of their thinking."

Sunset in a Rainstorm

Today the rain finally came, we've had a "drought" of 3 weeks or so since the snow and ice. A dark afternoon sky, heavy with humidity and rain. You could almost hear the moss fluffing up with moisture. So, to set the stage, everywhere grey and darkness, all our heads in the cloud.

And then, a hole opens up in the sky right over the setting sun. I think of that line in Isak Dinesen's Out of Africa, when her servant comes to tell her the coffee barn is on fire: "God is coming!" A sight so strange and wild and unearthly it could only mean the Almighty is coming to check up on us. The hole grew along the horizon until eventually a strip of pale gold ran along the mountain tops, and a cobalt cloudy sky hung above.

Good thing I was paying attention!

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

You Can Find Lipstick in the Woods

Found this Lipstick Cladonia (Cladonia"club-like" macilenta"thin") on a dead oak log. Just under an inch tall, the little clubs have bright carmine red little hats, or more scientifically, apothecia(fruiting bodies). The same red on the scalp of male Ruby-Crowned Kinglets, who are sifting the fir tops far above for bugs. A very small speck of red, but such a surprising color to find in the middle of winter.

(click on the photo for the full effect of red)

Proof of Life

A neighbor of ours passed away a few years ago, and now his place is for sale. I took a walk to look around. I knew Mr C a little bit, he'd come by occasionally to visit. He was deaf, but could read lips, and as long as you didn't concentrate too hard, you could understand him. He also carried a little pad he wrote or drew pictures on to help explain himself. I don't know how long he'd lived here, but he told us he was spending his retirement living simple in the woods, and supported himself cutting wood. He had a "hula" girfriend in Hawaii he liked to go visit when the winter got too cold for his bones.

He really did live simply. His bachelor pad was a big garden shed--no power, no water. A propane stove, a futon, a bookshelf with an old rusty can of Chunky Soup, a Tom Clancy novel and a library book "Care and Maintenance of Chainsaws". There's an old 1940's style maytag washing machine out back. Around the property were a few unfinished buidling projects--a framed gazebo and a framed 8x8' cabin--both being reclaimed by the lichens and mosses. This old window was leaning up against the bottom of the cabin. All the buildings(or started to be a building but never got finished)were sitting with a nice view.
Found some old logging tools on a sheet metal wall(I really liked the colors reflected in the corrugation). An ancient bleached white elk antler lay between two cook pots on a small outdoor table. His car and truck are entombed in berry vines.
An old ax stuck in an oak. Wonder how long it will take for the tree to grow around the ax head?
As we walked around we thought of Mr C and I wished I'd taken him more pies. I know he loved living here in the woods, with the trees and all the critters. His home was completely plain and simple--a roof, a bed, a stove, a few books, and various implements for deboning a tree. I knew he was completely content to live here, and I was glad to have known such a person in this world.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Today's Walk

A sword fern(Polystichum "many rows", munitum "armed")frond on its last leg. The fronds last 2-3 years then turn brown and eventually compost back into itself.
A few ribs and vertabrae from a young deer.
Blue sky in Oregon in February...what else is there to say?


Here are a few holes I've found over the past few days. This new hole is in the base of a dead oak snag. Maybe it was made by a Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus "tree sword" pileatus "crested"). I saw a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers today, drumming quietly in the treetops with a few small calls to each other. They swooped from tree to tree, launching and gliding without a wingbeat through the thick tangle of oak and fir. How do they know their trajectory won't collide with a branch? Their flight path was a shallow curve, no deflecting, no turning left or right to avoid a limb--they just know the exact swoop and stall to end up at their next perch.
This old hole is a nesting place within a thick bark ring(about 6" thick, 36" d) that is all that remains of an ancient Douglas Fir stump. I'll have to watch it this spring to see who uses it. It is about 2" wide, facing nnw. Or maybe it's a chipmunk bunk. Here is a matrix of holes in the heartwood of a douglas fir stump. Beetles have done their work to begin breaking down the stump back into the soil.