Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Enchanted Forest

When I was growing up, there was a small forest behind our house on Pine Street. At one time, I don't have any idea how long ago it was, there was an active quarry in that section of woods as well.

Aboard the ferry "Salish" to Whidbey Island, I caught this
nice pattern of shapes and color before we departed.
I used to go for walks there by myself when I was probably five or six years old. Those were the days when children were less at risk for getting lost just because they spent time exploring. And it probably was a contributing factor that my mother was an artist who didn't really want to spend time mothering, so the nanny she hired to care for my younger brother was preoccupied with him. (This is not "Oh, woe is me, poor abandoned child..." but a statement of fact.)

At any rate, I went to this piney woods often in the summertime. It was quiet, and there were some huge boulders that had gotten pushed into each other, creating a cozy little hide-away, filled with needles and leaves and cones from winds and previous seasons, in between them. (I know I didn't go there much after I was 10 or 11 because I was too big to fit in that space anymore.) It was my enchanted forest, where fairies and gnomes and my mystical life got nourished.
On this grey day, the canopy of trees took on a lovely
pattern only seen when one looks heavenward.

Once, when returning from the boulder site, I came up a path and was face-to-face with a doe and her two rump-spotted fawns and an 'auntie,' and I think a yearling. They stopped and looked at me, sniffing the air, and I was transfixed with the beauty of the group, standing breathless watching to see what was going to happen next.

It was one of those moments in time that seem to stop clocks... the world might have even stopped spinning as we faced each other. A crack of a twig somewhere broke the silence.  We all looked in the direction of the noise and there was the male, leader of the herd, fully antlered, coming to check on his girls.

There was no fear anywhere. We all sort of nodded at each other. The deer clan headed calmly off to the nearby field for grazing, perhaps to the place where I knew berries were nearly ready, and I sank to the ground, exhausted by the exhilaration of being so close to creatures I had read about.

72-acre Earth Sanctuary is located on Whidbey Island, off
Newman Road. It is $7 per person and $1 for the guide.

Fallen trees also serve as homes for the wildlife.

Yesterday I walked through a nature preserve, the Earth Sanctuary, on Whidbey Island that is privately owned and maintained. This forest fed me with the same etheric energy of my childhood. I returned home refreshed, cleansed and totally exhausted from it, sleeping two and half-hours, getting up for dinner and then falling into another wonderful and restful sleep until the six o'clock bird-fest outside my window woke me up.

This 72-acre Sanctuary is not unlike that of Willard Pond, another precious bit of protected land that our family gave over to New Hampshire Audubon to manage. I grew up appreciating the dangers of avarice for beautiful ponds and my grandmother Elsa dePierrefeu's wisdom created a 1700-acre wildlife preserve that still today offers the pavement-weary soul a place to retreat, repair and renew one's energy.

The wooded wetlands of this private land have over 80 species of native plants, including some delicious-looking red and yellow raspberries. (No, we did not take any. We did not see a sign that said we could not, but we felt we were on sacred ground and should leave the fruits of it to the residents; the deer, the birds, the beavers and muskrats and other critters that call this home.)

Raspberries are coming to fruit all over Washington now.
Ponds and bogs each have their role to play in nurturing a
healthy forest environment for all creatures, including slugs,
which are my least favorite creature overall.
I have never seen this fruit in the marketplace, but went to a
class recently to learn how to grow them at home.
There are printed, self-guided naturalist tour guides for free ($1 if you decide to keep one.) and posts with letters on them to help you determine what you are seeing, along with an explanation of why it is what it is.
The trail to the left leads to first Medicine Wheel area while
the trail to the right leads to the ponds and the Labyrinth and
Prayer Stone, more easily accessible.
The echoing basso-profundo music of these residents made
for a curious question by a tourist ... "What is making those
sounds?" I showed her how to find the source; she was entranced
and now, informed. Perhaps she also learned that they are
invaders and not particularly desirable, unless the Osprey
enjoy having them for dinner.
By taking the trail to the left, we found our way to the Cottonwood Stone Circle and the Tibetan Prayer Wheel. There is a spot for making an offering and burning tobacco. If it had been sunnier, we might have stayed long enough to see how the shadows played out on the ground.
Tibetan Prayer Wheel

Cottonwood Stone Circle

If you are planning to experience the Medicine Wheel section, be prepared to remove your shoes, carry some fresh tobacco for an offering, and either matches or a lighter to light it. At the time of our visit there was some tobacco and some sage for smudging, but the matches were wet. Also, no photographs are allowed of this sacred place, so please do not violate Native American customs by taking any.

Path is wide, but has a significant incline in
both directions. A bit challenging for wheeled
chairs or folks with walking issues.
In my opinion, the wetland trails on the farther part of the western end of the Sanctuary are not un- wheel-chair friendly, but a bit challenging, based on inclines in both directions for people with walking limitations. For example, my walking partner, due to knee issues, wasn't able to walk up the Celestial Trail at this time due to the steepness coming down.

There are plenty of places to sit and meditate in the area.
As it is not a public lands place, this is certainly not required to be ADA, but useful to know if you are traveling with someone who has such limitations. We were not able to explore the eastern end beyond visiting the Stupa very briefly due to time and weather, but another visit this fall is intended.

As we were returning to the parking lot, my totem, the American Robin, came and perched on some piled up prayer stones - a sign for me that I had come to the right place at the right time.

Visitors to the Stupa/Tibetan prayer location can use the
prayer wheels and the gong to enhance the experience.
All in all, it was a wonderful walking and meditating experience, shared with a special friend. There were a few other folks, but it wasn't at all crowded, and everyone respected the purpose of not talking while on the paths.

You can visit the Sanctuary on a day-trip basis or stay at the Retreat building on site. For more information, go to

If you don't have email or internet access, you can phone Celia at 360-321-5465.

Monday, June 23, 2014

A Sol Duc Sunday

Ahhhhh, you ask, "Just what is a Sol Duc Sunday?"
Lake Crescent, Clallam County, Washington
on the Olympic Peninsula, about an hour's drive from
Port Angeles. It's three hours from Seattle.
No, it isn't something to eat. It's a drive on the Olympic Peninsula, up past Lake Crescent to the Sol Duc Hot Springs, (both are attractions in  the Olympic National Forest), for a lovely hot soak after a wonderful bike ride.

We got a late start, my friends and I, but the weather was so lovely, we felt no need to rush. The sun was out, a light breeze was tousling our hair, and then we put on our bike helmets.

I should say that we put on our helmets once we arrived at that portion of the Olympic Discovery Trail near Camp David, Jr., on the north side of the lake. There are plenty of signs off Highway 101, so it is easy to find the road.

This lake is incredibly clear and today it was also very calm.
Once we off loaded the bikes, we were reminded this is a good time of year to carry mosquito repellent as they started swarming us until we were moving along.

You take the trail westward, with a slight uphill trend, (easy pedaling, really) for about 30 minutes, until you reach the port-a-potty and the western entrance off Highway 101. Then you turn around and go back the way you came, gliding all the way!! I don't think I pedaled my bike more than a couple of times on the way back.

We didn't see any folks until we were headed back and then we saw two hikers/walkers on the trail. This whole area has lots and lots of trails for both bikers and hikers. Most of the bike shops have a trail map that is accurate and helpful.

A closer look at the submerged log, above and below.
We saw a doe, who looked more than a little puzzled at three helmeted humans bearing down on her at a pretty good clip. She took off, crashing and making a terrible racket in the forest, probably thinking she was going deaf not hearing us until we were so close.

At the western-most end of Lake Crescent, there are some
campsites, picnic grounds, boat launching pier and a small
area for swimming, at your own risk... it's pretty cold.
All in all, the biking portion of the trip, from start to finish, was about an hour. We did stop for about 20 minutes to enjoy a mossy clearing where we laid down on Nature's mattress to stare up at the canopy of forest. Curious to us was the protection we had from the mosquitoes while we were on the moss. Even though it was slightly damp, they did not seem to care to approach us there.

The light filtered through
the moss-covered trees.
By this time it was after 1:30 p.m., we were pretty hungry, so we stopped at the western end of the lake and enjoyed our packed lunches. There is a little store right there, so people can buy sandwiches and drinks and snacks if they aren't inclined to bring their own.

Taking a break on Nature's mossy mattress, making that
"earth connection" that is so rejuvenating.

The Olympic Discovery Trail near Lake Crescent.
With lunch done, we started the short drive to the road that takes you to the Sol Duc Hot Springs and campground. But that 14 miles of roadway after the Ranger entry station (It will cost you $15 per car if you don't have a national park pass.) is slow and winding. It will take you about half an hour from the ranger station to the hot springs.

There is also a lovely waterfall to hike up to, but we are going to do that another day.

The water really is this color!! And this clean!
About half-way along the road there is a spot to watch the salmon returning and leaping up the Sol Duc River, but since this was June, there were no fish to be seen. Their return is in the autumn.

Obviously the water is not really green, but it is so clear
that it reflects back the colors of all the trees near it.
Still it was incredibly lovely and peaceful, so we wandered about that location for a bit. It seems that a lot of people go to the Hot Springs for the full day or weekend. We only were there a few hours, but the sulfur heat was really helpful to my back after the workout it got on Saturday and my legs felt refreshed from the bike ride.

The largest pool is about 70 degrees. The closer circle pool
runs very hot, somewhere between 106-109 degrees.
This pool, closest to the administration and showers, is a
comforting 99-100 degrees on average. All sulfur.
We are not sure why the administration of the facility is being so sparing of help on a busy weekend, but it didn't help having to stand in a long line to pay to go in.

Oh, and yes, there is a fee for that as well. $10 per person. Pretty hefty if you have a large family, in my opinion.

You can go to the link to read all the details about this unique experience, and get information if you want to do an overnight visit.

I was quite stunned at the variety of cultures present on this day. I heard Ukrainian being spoken, German, Italian, Mandarin (Chinese), and one other dialect I couldn't identify.

It is very child-friendly, but not pet-friendly. Don't even think about bringing Fido along.

Other tip: wear water 'slippers' because the aggregate surface is really painful to walk on and the other walking surfaces are quite slippery.

There are towels for rent, food at the little restaurant, lots of beverages and sunscreen if you forget to bring it.

All in all, it was a truly delightful day and I'm so glad I've had a chance to see a little more of the paradise I am calling 'home.'

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Conservation Tour

Where I now live used to be farmland, much more than presently exists. A group called North Olympic Land Trust has, since 1990, been trying to conserve large parcels of this land for future use.
A view from one of the farms that has been saved from
commercial development; over 60 acres for grazing or growing.

Today I joined a small group of bicyclists to have a tour of the lands which have been put into conservation easements and while it was a long ride (over 15 miles!!), it was a lovely day and I had a chance to see parts of the peninsula I might have otherwise missed.

While certain realtors and developers might not like this saving of lands with prime views and such, it is important to save these farms for future use.

As land is sold and developed, it is removed from the resource of access for grazing or growing, thus making it necessary to have the farms farther and farther away from the people who really do need them, in spite of those who think that milk comes from a carton and meat comes packaged in the store.

Siebert's Creek runs clear thanks to protections by a non-
profit land conservation organization.
One land owner is a breeder of draft horses, and he bought
it knowing about the conservation easement. His use keeps
the land in agricultural production, but still protects it for the
future, and other agricultural uses.
Some years ago my family gave up land to a national trust for management and care and, in the long run, it is a better decision than letting it get sold for some developer's gain. The pond and land around it still supports the wildlife and is a place of enjoyment for fishermen, canoe paddlers and swimmers in the summer.

I have seen what happens to places where little concern is given to protection of the land and where the rich come in and buy up places for their own use. Small villages or towns, once appreciated for their unique and special qualities, soon are overwhelmed by new landowners of carefully manicured acres of lawns, and the chemicals used to keep the 'estates' maintained run off into streams and rivers.

There is so much more to the issue of land use that I cannot go into it all here, but it is encouraging that some folks are beginning to see that none of us really 'own' the land, but are merely users living on it.

Spending the day on a bicycle, seeing how some of the owners have chosen to protect the land for the future, gives me hope.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Blaming Bergdahl

Bowe Bergdahl is being blamed for a lot of things since he was 'traded' for some Taliban operatives.

If it is true that he left his post, just walked away from the Army, he probably thought, at the time, it was the best thing for him to do.

There are a lot of occasions when it is a very good choice to walk away from conflict.

It is hard to assess the damage caused by a man's decision to leave his post during armed conflict. And particularly when there are conflicting reports about how much damage was caused by his 'disappearance.'

Not only is the disappointment, rage and failure of performance to support fellow combatants a part of the issue, but there is the threat, although unspoken, that a trend might develop for those left behind.

Before blame is placed squarely on the shoulders of Bowe Bergdahl, perhaps there should be a deeper investigation into the ability of the U.S. Army to assess personnel for the potential to break under pressure.

It has been a tradition to call deserters by the label “traitor,” and usually before any further infection of the disease of wanting to get away from all the craziness of war reaches other 'assets,' the lone individual is either jailed or shot.

Is it really wrong for someone to finally say “F-- it, I'm through with this...?” 

It is considered very wrong if others are depending on you, especially in an organization that has expectations that their training has been successful.

We may never hear Bergdahl's side of the story, and perhaps it doesn't matter so much because no matter what he says, or believes, it's what others say and believe - as long as they can convey it to a large enough audience - that will be the story that is put forward.

But it would seem that the Army's inability to completely brainwash someone to fight against the odds, to obey commands to kill, is the real failure here.