Taller than man…

May 2, 2014 § 4 Comments


columbia hills 2014 gorgeThere’s a place where the flowers grow taller than man…if that man, or woman, decides to lay down.

Do. There, in that grassy spot.

columbia hills 2014 mix

Sit, take off your shoes and socks. No, not there. Watch out for the ants; a little to your left where the grass is smooth. Yes. There.

columbia hills 2014 lupine

Now, stretch out. Get comfortable. You’ll want to stay in this place and let me warn you,  it will be most difficult to know when you should leave. So, perhaps set your backpack as a pillow, tilt the brim our your hat to shade your eyes from the sun, and  be still.

columbia hills 2014 desert parsley

Then, the only thing you’ll see are flowers and sky. Green, yellow, purple, blue. It’s not the primary palette but the hue of Spring on the Columbia Plateau. Balsamroot, lupine, and desert parsley now tower above you. You are but a small thing in a wide-open world of brilliance.columbia hills mix3

Breathe deeply. The perfume of the balsamroot is sweet, soft, and finer than the priciest Coco Chanel concoction.  Even the persistent Columbia Gorge winds are not strong enough to carry away the luscious scent. You lie there thinking that it might be pervasive enough to infuse your clothes, your hair, and your soul, with the gentle fragrance of this place, forever.

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The wind whips the broad balsomroot leaves and they make an unlikely clatter amid this peaceful scene.  Leaf against leaf, against stem, against blossom. A regular vegetative cacophony, but one suited for the finest concert hall…Now appearing at the Met:  East Wind solos on the balsamroot. But, it’s not really a solo. Western Meadowlarks lark, and bees buzz, and far away a hawk cries. If my hearing were only more acute, perhaps I’d hear the wings of the ochre ringlet as it works to navigate this pollen paradise.

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Sit for a while and you’ll know why the blossoms parch and fade. Even with the cooling winds and afternoon hours you soak up sun – none other than a solar sponge. But, don’t go yet, if you like the color now, just imagine what the sunset will bring./

columbia hills bleached

The Cork

April 14, 2014 § 4 Comments

 for my fabulous cousin

beach 064bwDon’t wash me up on a sandy shore
To view the same scene day after day

after day

Send me out into the straight
Mix me with the tides and turbulence

and flotsam

Break waves atop my poor bobbing soul
Make me gasp,  feel the breadth and depth

of life 

Roll me in the surf until I’m waterlogged
Saturate each cell with the saline

natal brew

I will then know the view from the benthic depths
And I will be in it

for always.

Hoping for Coyotes

April 5, 2014 § 2 Comments

Alas poor readers you’ve waited out quite the dry spell of blog posts. Yet while I’ve not been writing, I’m still out adventuring. So don’t worry, I AM doing one of the things I’m called to do.

So, today I return with a little travelogue following a visit to one of Oregon’s newest state parks – Cottonwood Canyon State Park.

From Portland, there are a few routes to take, Mr Mudlips and I chose a circuitous and backroadsie path. So, from Portland, we exit from the interstate and climb out of the Columbia Gorge onto the greening wheat-producing Columbia Plateau. High above the river is a land of well-worked rolling hills and canyons of basalt poured out over 10 million years ago from some volcanic fissure. We wind through the wheat land down miles of some-paved-some-gravel country roads, one a dead-end but followed anyway for its vista overlooking the mighty Columbia River several thousand feet below.

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And from those same roads, the other story here – strong winds – is obvious with the proliferation of large wind farms dotting the wheat fields.

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We zigzag to the fine wheat-growing town of Condon, Oregon where we find the best darn lunch of fresh greens and veggie salad, home-made soup and bread from one of the friendliest proprietors  at Sandi’s Deli & Catering- all in the local pharmacy/variety store . So, there’s some window-shopping while we sup.

Then on to our destination. As we head north to the park, we descend from over 2800 feet down to about 600 feet. The wind is still with us but the temperatures are slightly warmer and the new park quite welcoming. While open to the public the park is still not finished as staff is still planting trees and grass.  But, who cares, the views are spectacular.

The John Day River flows through the 3000+ acre park and the tall basalt cliffs it cuts through in this canyon are exposed and dramatic.  To our surprise, no other campers!  Well, it is a week day, with a high of perhaps 47 degrees and a chance of rain overnight. But, hey, I thought Oregonians were tougher than that.  The vacancy rate allows us our pick of campsites, so we settle in and test out the view from the tent: approved with flying colors – or should we say basalt cliff colors!

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After the chores are done a short nap and then an exploratory hike down river towards those tent-viewed cliffs. We find several secrets – birds nesting, sheep trails (big horn sheep), and rocks that echo the river as if the river flowed through their ferric minerals instead of below the bank. After a few miles back to camp, where we don our warm wear,  huddle under blankets, sip tea, and await sunset and supper time.

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A day well spent, means a night well slept. Sleep was sound and restful, although I rue not being awaken by the howl of coyotes or the hoots of owls. The sun rises and the clouds part – no rain today. Just another hike, this time upriver.  More secrets are revealed by the flora and fauna: we startle two very healthy deer that bound up the steep scree slope of the hillside and are 300 yards away in a matter of a minute. Ducks and geese flush from the reeds and blushing willows that line the river in places. The Canyon Wren calls his laughing call, we hear it often but never espy the little brown job of a bird.

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We head toward the bend in the river drinking in the color and texture of the weathered basalt cliffs.

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After reaching the end of the trail it’s a stroll retracing our steps as we  return towards camp. But, from this direction the views are different. Along the way we dream of climbing high to vantage point atop an outcrop and of floating down the river in a raft.  Ah, but not this time, next time perhaps.

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We  spot a Prairie Falcon perched atop one of the outcrops – he’s there just to the left of where the con trail intersects the horizon. We follow him in flight and watch as he joins another of his kind, then they perch together for a spell near what appears to be a nesting site – not showing that photo.

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And, just as the falcon headed home, so did we. But what a sweet, short, desert interlude it was. Oregon, my dear readers, is a great place to be. I was in a Sitka spruce forest at the coast just 3 weeks ago, up to my ankles in mud, and then here I was in the sage brush desert of the Columbia Plateau watching Prairie Falcons and seeing the first blooms of the desert’s spring wildflowers.  I hope your homeland is equally rich and diverse and I hope you have time to get outside, if even for just one night, feeling the wildness, connecting with nature, and hoping to hear the howl of coyotes.

Riding out the storm

January 12, 2014 § 2 Comments

Barb Winter 2013 357a

The limbs of the Pacific ninebark sway in the wind and on board one arching branch a Bewick’s Wren sits like the figurehead of a ship. He’s a brave and bold figure at that as the wind tosses the spray of the branch and the wren holds fast. His bill is a bowsprit facing the ship into the wind and the waves. That slender bill lifts as it calls out in song as if this ball of feathers is a lighthouse rather than a wee winged sailor. Amid-ship the beam of the ninebark is firm to ground. Its dense wood and roots act like a keel holding it steady. It’s a favorite vessel for many a bird. Most shelter from the weather deep in its tangled cinnamon spars. But the wren’s place is on the prow. He’s on watch with only a respite or two to visit the galley where’s he’s challenged by the other shipmates. Even the black-capped chickadee can unseat him from his feast for the wren’s bravery is bent on challenging the wind, not other passerines. 

One can only hope that the easy courage and grace of the wren could be theirs when a storm hits. Would I still keep cheery watch and sing such a hale and cheeky song with a gale in my face and a rocking boat beneath my feet? Or would I like the other birds seek shelter amidships until the storm has passed? I may find out as life’s storms are always brewing. But, then I know too that the cloud breaks always come with their silver fringed cumulus and crepuscular rays. The breeze always softens, sometimes into the doldrums.  And the whitecaps smooth into silk. So I think I’ll choose to be present and accepting of waves and calm alike with the Bewick’s wren as my shipmate.

New Year

January 4, 2014 § 2 Comments

The moon is a thin crescent, waxing if I’m not mistaken. Orion sits a little more upright these days, and Jupiter blares on the eastern horizon. Earlier this afternoon the low-angle sun brought color to the cool sky. Northbound jets left  con trails crisscrossed by resident geese. I mention these things not because they’re remarkable occurrences but because it is unusual to see the sky, and the happenings aloft, through our winter clouds.

The green band of land that lies west of the Cascade crest and north of the California border is famous for its winter rain by rule. Yet, there are exceptions to each of nature’s rules and this rain-year we’re lagging woefully behind in precipitation.

Our mountains should have six-foot shoulders of snow this time of year but instead we’re all shrugging our shoulders at the barely six inches of snow barely clinging to winter. The creeks of Portland’s West Hills are behaving as if in their mild summer mode. Instead of tumbling torrents that threaten to burst beyond their channel, the streams whisper rivulets as they casually mosey to the Willamette River. The Willamette is flowing low and relatively clear of turbidity and debris. The loess mud of the hills too is out of sorts. Instead of the slip silt of most winters the trails are firm, even dry in places.

I’m not worried yet. We still have several months of winter ahead and one good February storm could restore the snowpack, streams, and miry mud, to normal. Besides, it’s not as if it hasn’t been cold. Our temps have been near or below average. Cold pleases my polar bear soul. I revel too in the fact that this dry weather pattern keeps the wind at bay.

Less rain and lighter winds means that the wood pile remains dry and cured. The fir wood carefully stacked outside last spring migrates indoors log by log. A large stack sits between me and the wood stove. Cold is fine outdoors but has no place inside. It is the cold outside that makes sitting by the fire on a winter’s eve oh, so pleasant. So, time to put another log on the fire, nod out the window at the setting moon, and then pick up my knitting as I sip some tea and nosh a little almond cookie.

The evening is promising to be lovely; the New Year will be what it will be but I’m expecting lovely ahead too. Here’s wishing you a year full of seeing the cup as half full regardless of the rainfall, chill, or if you’re sitting south of the equator, blazing sun.

Happy New Year


November 28, 2013 § 5 Comments

thanksgiving tyee

I’m a little impatient about waiting for the cold weather to arrive. Below freezing temperatures appear to be stalking the rain that follows this cool dry and sunny patch. I’ll be thankful for just seeing another day dawn but ask me to choose and I’d say that nothing beats being out for a little exploration on a chill autumn day. The cooler and crisper the better.thanksgiving ice

Rather than wait for the cool to arrive, I go to it: up to the mountains, where the adiabatic rate guarantees lower temperatures. Indeed, when the sun shines through the bare alder onto the spring-fed Tyee, you may almost be fooled into believing you can unzip your coat. But, just a few feet from the bank, the marshy ground is frozen. Rime heaves out of the boggy soil  as if in a spasms. Frost gilds the leaves of the few perennials still holding onto their greenery as if hoping for a halt to winter. Fallen maple leaves are plastered to the trail,  parchment thin and waiting to scribe the tales of the passing elk. By spring they’ll be invisible, their script known only by the detrivores that finish them off.

thanksgiving vine maple

The elk browse here but today only their icy foot prints and scat lay witness to their preference for this place. My footprints mix with theirs in the one or two thawed pockets of loamy soil. I worry not about soaking my feet, as I would have last summer. Instead, there are no worries, just the rustle of leaves and ice underfoot and the whistling of the wind in the bare branches above.  This is the feel and sound of gratitude. As I bushwhack back to the car my earlobes are icicles, but my heart and soul have been warmed by the woods in its readiness for winter. For me, this is Thanksgiving.

It’s a Bird, it’s a Leaf?

November 20, 2013 § Leave a comment

fall 003a

Years of wildlife spotting have trained my eyes to dart  skyward at the  slightest motion and  to study each dark form perched in any tree.  Which means this leaf-fall time of year becomes a tad daunting for my senses. Falling leaves are not initially distinguished from birds and other flighty animals. I reflexively avert my gaze at the mildest flutter, expecting a chickadee, a nuthatch, even a sparrow, only to see yet another leave dropping to the ground.

And that dark speck sitting in the tree, it’s not a robin, it’s a golden pear. It and a few raindrops are all that remains in the hold of this tree. But, it drew and held my attention as I sorted out just what kind of bird it was, or was not.

On calmer days the eye-darting is occasional. A few leaves fall from the giant poplar by my window. One at a time they descend. One at a time they fool my reflexive gaze. On stormy days the deluge of leaves keeps me looking out the window constantly. My eyes skip from one leaf to another, and another as the foliage drops like snowflakes.

Then, there’s the bonus. In the midst of that leaf watching my eyes are drawn to the next leaf. It’s moving upwards…wait, that’s not a leaf. The motion on the bark of the tree IS actually a bird and an unusual urban bird at that. I know the Brown Creeper the instant I know it not to be a leaf. Slender and brown and creeping up the bark .(Aptly named.) It climbs then turns showing its white throat and breast and drops  to the base of the tree only to resume climbing. Up it goes. Pausing. Climbing. Then to the base again.

It’s been over 15 years looking out these windows and today is the first time a Brown Creeper has graced our home. They’re not unusual birds in the woods. In fact, I think they’re fairly common, yet always delightful to watch. They’re especially charming when they’re in a group of two or three and peeping messages at each other. And it’s always delightful to be in Brown Creeper habitat; a place of mature trees and wild things.  But it stopped by today, in the middle of the city, while my eyes were darting wildly around and surprised me by not being yet another leaf.


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