Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Yellow Island: A Place of Beauty

The first time I ever went to Yellow Island in 1996, I was with  a blind woman—a much loved and respected member of my community.  While the rest of us feasted on riotous colors and sweeping views, she was carefully led to perfumed scents, the rough touch of lichen against rock, smooth and cool Madrona bark, and the raised letters of the memorial to homesteaders Lew and Tib Dodd. I think that was when I first glimpsed the complex character of this small island.  Only 11 acres, The Nature Conservancy's preserve manages to feel like an entire world, existing almost out of time in the middle of the San Juan Islands. 

I didn’t go back for years. When I did, I was in charge of my first group of Beach Watchers and busy with conversations and logistics during nearly all of the intense training period.

That visit to Yellow almost ended with me spending all my time in the cabin, talking and planning. At the last minute, I dashed out, alone and well behind the guided group. I was astonished at the power of the island, and the incredible sense of being somewhere far away, though I was in familiar territory between San Juan  and Orcas islands. The wind was blowing hard and the taste of wild was in the air. I didn’t forget that stolen moment in the 5 visits I have had since.

It was a great honor to go back to Yellow recently, in the company of my friend, the caretaker of this Nature Conservancy gem, Phil Green, along with composer and blogger Alex Shapiro and her partner Dan, and naturalist/author and blogger Monika Wieland and Keith. Note the common theme of blogger. Alex is an amazing composer and her blog about life in the San Juan Islands is a joy to read Monika is an incredible photographer and naturalist who is building quite a compendium of local knowledge about life in and around the Salish Sea
Oh yeah,and then there's me...
From Yellow Island, I know what a San Juan prairie looks like.  Perhaps “prairie” is not the best name…  It might conjure up rolling fields of grass. But the rich and amazing prairie of Yellow Island is not that at all. It is a fragile remnant of what much of the islands used to look like, thanks to the Native American practice of burning.  It is also a place that has been carefully managed to keep away invasive species, guiding and educating visitors so that careless behavior doesn’t destroy the delicate seasonal pageant of an intricate ecosystem . What a remarkable difference.
On this, my 7th trip to Yellow, I thought back to what our blind explorer experienced.  It was also the first time I had taken in quite a few to be still. Instead of shepherding anyone around and talking, I laid on my back in the middle of the path and listened to the heartbeat of the island. It is a place of sound. In constant motion, harbor seals stirred, flapping flippers, grunting, and splashing.  The sweet song of white crowned sparrow floated over the air, interspersed with the whirring wing whistle of the rufous  hummingbird.
When I stopped again in the north side of the island, the low buzzing of the orange-rumped or black tailed bumble bee (Bombus melanopygus), filled the space around me.  The western buttercups that gave the island its name were dominant, a yellow canvas dotted with the blue of camas and the bronzed tones of Chocolate lily. It was abundantly clear to me what a miracle was right before me: the collaboration of native flowers and native pollinators.  I was listening to the sound of life—one that has been threatened nearly to extinction in many other places. It brought forth a favorite quote by one of my heroes, John Muir: “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul.”
Yellow Island is that kind of place. I give gratitude to all that conspired to allow me a day to once again delight in its beauty.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

A Sense of Place Needs Presence

Or maybe it doesn't for everybody. But I had to go all the way to the Green River in Utah to remember why a sense of place is even important. After 7 days in the Canyonlands, floating at river speed, my head and heart gradually aligned themselves to the landscape. I slowed down and time became all of one piece.

Now I am back and looking at the same face of Infinity I did with those ancient rocks, the Salish Sea itself. And without vacation, without a canoe and a reason to float, I am trying to breathe back the feeling of presence that filled me on our float trip.

People often think island life is quiet and perhaps full of solitude. That is no doubt true for many people. But not for me. My life here is fragmented between social engagements, trying to stay fit, trying to eat local and do the right thing, trying to keep our Grange alive, connecting with family and friends, and of course, the one that always falls through the cracks, nurturing creativity.

When I first moved here, I remember having the feeling of being on a boat. Our rock island, completely surrounded by sea water. I could feel the tides move, and sensed the mysterious and miraculous moods of this amazing ecosystem.  Now I remind myself how lucky I am to live here but so many things interfere with really feeling that. The language of Nature is so very different from the frenetic words and actions of humans. I know what I need to do. It is profoundly simple and one of the most difficult things I can imagine. Slow down. I don't need to be in charge of the world.  I do need to feel, and be in, its wonder.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Wolf Trees, Medicinal Yews and Winter Cottonwoods

Octopus Tree

Wolf Trees
The simplest definition of a wolf tree is as follows: a very large forest tree that has a wide-spreading crown and inhibits or prevents the growth of smaller trees around it. Having said that, there is so much more to the amazing beauty and complexity of these enormous beings.

"And yes, all these years later, there’s still something beautiful in these gnarled old forms. There is no symmetry, no youthfulness, but there is a sense of history and mystery, of stories from another time and stories yet to be told. These charismatic old trees witnessed the return of the forest. They remind us that the story of this landscape, and the animals on it, is still unfolding."
From A Place for Wolf Trees.

For a great article on the value of wolf trees and some amazing photos of northeastern wolf trees, check out this link to A Place For Wolf Trees

Raccoon Tree (see them peeking out?)
See them now?
The study in the article above found that wolf trees provide old growth features in a young forest and provided excellent wildlife value.

Forest highways

Doug's Tree
The Pacific Yew Tree 
It is so easy to walk by it. I have, many times.  But this spring, I plan to harvest the growing tips and really value this medicinal tree that grows side by side with more captivating trees.

"The Pacific Yew tree (Taxus brevifolia), is found exclusively in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States ( Montana , Idaho , Oregon and Washington ). Pacific Yew Tree (Taxus Brevifolia) contains taxanes, naturally occurring compounds scientifically proven to suppress abnormal cell growth and invigorate the immune system.

Taxol is one of the most promising of more than 120,000 plant compounds tested for anti-cancer properties. Research shows that the Pacific Yew (Taxus brevifolia) is a rich source of beneficial phyto-chemicals (plant compounds and phytosterols) that are known to be health-promoting.
Yew Tree

These constituents are concentrated in the branch tips during the growing season which is the harvesting period. Compounds include; taxanes (also known as diterpenes), which are unique to the Pacific Yew tree, lignans (lariciresinol and taxiresinol), which have been found to exert significant antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral and anti-inflammatory activities, flavonoids (quercitin, rhamnetin, sciadopitysin), recognized for anti-inflammatory, anti-allergenic, antiviral and antibacterial properties.

The ancient Pacific Yew tree was a valuable source of traditional medicine for Native Americans and pioneers of the Pacific Northwest . Medicines were made from various parts of the Yew tree and included tea, made from leaves and bark." Information from:

Winter Cottonwoods
On another note, this last summer, I was captivated by the floating cotton of the Fairbanks cottonwoods. It was truly magical. This January, I took a trip to visit my 88 year old and failing mom in Albuquerque. It was a lonely and taxing trip. But my eye was repeatedly delighted by the elegance of the winter cottonwoods.  The southwestern colors and the negative spaces of these gorgeous trees gave me beauty to balance the stuffy air of the assisted living home. I am in gratitude for their existence on this planet.

Friday, January 13, 2012

There's Real Poetry in the Real World

Two-Pronged Cedar


Woodpecker's Delight


Briggs Lake


Burned out--alive and well

Nursery Tree

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Heritage Trees Project Takes Root

Heritage Trees: An Introduction

Heritage trees are individual trees that are especially valued for their great size and age, or for some particular historical or cultural significance. In many parts of the world, heritage trees have been identified, formally recognized, and conserved as part of the natural and cultural heritage of a country or culture. This growing recognition of heritage trees is timely as trees of great stature and age, in particular, are vanishing around the world. (From Heritage Trees of Fiji, one of many such projects around the world). This the first of many posts about the Heritage Trees of San Juan County.

Wise Woman Tree

Sunset Wolf Tree

Wolf Sprouts From Rock

Wolf Sprouts From Rock

Wolf Sprouts From Rock

Open Heart Madrona

We Share the Same Root Madronas

Loving Madrona

Loving Madrona

Wolf Tree Family

Shining Madrona

Shining Madrona2

Shining Madrona3

Shining Madrona Base

Shining Madrona4