Monday, June 29, 2020

Pandemic 2020: Re-emerging, Getting Outdoors, and Recreating Responsibly

 With national parks and forests, state parks, and city parks closed for a couple months this spring, many of us urban dwellers were pining to get outdoors for real. Although things started reopening in May, I decided to re-emerge even more gradually.

While Washington was in lockdown for over 2 months, I did a lot of walking/exploring close to home. I didn't fill up my car gas tank from late March to late May. But in June, well, Juneuary weather or not, I finally started to stray farther afield.

It has been beyond wonderful to see some favorite places/trails again and explore a few new places, while striving to recreate responsibly (physical distancing as much as possible and masking up around others). And honestly, these outings are a shred of normalcy in these strange days. 

The First Escape from Seattle
My first foray outside the Seattle city limits in over 3 months was a trip to the Issaquah Alps on a rainy, stormy (thunder and lightning) morning. With the sometimes scary weather (one bolt of lightning was so close it sounded like three gunshots in quick succession overhead), we only saw a couple other joggers in two hours on the trail.

The vivid spring green was a welcome dose of Vitamin N.

The Birds and Me in the Rain
A week later I took a solo trip up to the Skagit River Delta for another walk in a driving rain. The marshy river delta was rich green with late spring, and I walked along levees in solitude, passing a few birds hunkered down (a great blue heron, swallows, and red-winged blackbirds are what I could identify).

I reveled in the escape from traffic noises and the wide open, rain-soaked space.  An occasional distraction were a few jets from nearby Naval Air Station Whidbey Island passing overhead.

The Scenic Drive
About a week later I drove even farther north to Bellingham to take my kayak for repairs. On the scenic drive home, I stopped for a hike off lovely Chuckanut Drive that winds along the sea. 

This bluebird day was much needed. The view shown below is reason #237 why I love living in my home state. I also stopped at Snow Goose Produce on the way home for fresh wild, local shrimp.

The Getaway
Just a couple days later, my first overnight away from Seattle since late December was way overdue. I returned to Port Townsend, where I walked in the woods with friends and helped my aunt celebrate her birthday (all outdoors of course). Although Anderson Lake south of Port Townsend is closed, I snuck in a 30-minute walk skirting the south lake shoreline.

Around Port Townsend, it was quieter than it would normally be nearing peak tourist season. My lodging for the night was the historic and comfortable Palace Hotel on Water Street, where I had a view of the Keystone ferry to Whidbey Island skimming across the Salish Sea outside my window. I brought greens from my garden and other provisions to share with my aunt in her back yard rather than trying to dine out.

There were definitely people around town, but it wasn't crowded by any means. Sunday morning, however, when I stopped for tea and a late breakfast from Cafe Tenby (formerly Pippa's Real Tea), a line gathered outside. And on the drive back to Seattle Sunday evening, there was definitely a wait for the ferry.

The Real Deal
And finally, for the first time since...last fall, a real hike this past weekend. We strayed farther east up the I-90 corridor toward Snoqualmie Pass for a 2,300-foot grind upward through thick, mossy second-growth forest into sub-alpine old-growth forest with raindrop-kissed wildflowers.

As we ascended higher through the rain, the foggy/misty forest was especially magical. In the background, silhouettes of trees hovered like benign ghosts.

When we came to a dicey snow bridge crossing an avalanche gully, we decided to call it a day and head back down. It was 4.5 hours of hiking, with almost 5,000 feet of elevation gain and loss, which was fine for three rusty hikers.

Thankfully the rain kept the crowds down on the trail, and most everyone we passed was thoughtful about distancing. (It was the seventh weekend in a row here with rain, which a true Mossback doesn't mind.)

So it's not completely back to normal, but it's good to be back outdoors. Next up, a great way to get outside and distance: kayaking.

Always trying to get the shot.
How about you? Are you getting out and being/feeling safe?

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBookTwitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news. 

Thursday, May 14, 2020

The Time of Simple Pleasures

What a strange and different time it has been these last few months.
First, I hope you're healthy and well. I'm good.
But while some things are the same, my world in many ways is much smaller. This isn't necessarily a bad thing.
As I mentioned in my last post, life is simpler and closer to home now.
I've been walking and bicycling a lot. In the last 2 months, I haven't refilled my gas tank or driven
 more than 12 miles from my home (there was that trip to the ER for stitches in my finger).

Life in lockdown has not been that difficult for me. I hope it hasn't been that tough for you, either. I recognize that I'm very fortunate to have semi-steady work, and many others aren't so lucky.

But the current reality has required a shift in expectations and activities. If you've read this blog before, you know it's about exploring this special corner of the world and being outside as much as possible.

But for now, well, it's about paring things down. Appreciating the everyday and close to home.

Yippee! Spring sunshine!

It's about simple pleasures. Like spotting this millipede on my walk in the woods last night.

Or pulling out my grandmother's teacups and using them for sipping my morning tea while I work, instead of saving them for a special occasion.

As Janelle, the lovely co-proprietor of Stokesberry Sustainable Farm said in her latest email:

Lately I find myself celebrating when I find the kind of laundry soap that I like to use or making an especially good dinner in spite of not having the certain ingredient I ran out of. One less trip to the grocery store!!

So I've been noticing spring flowers in my neighborhood that I'd not noticed before, despite walking by many times.

Or finding and exploring a new trail that I'd overlooked for years in a much-visited park nearby.

As our state is easing out of the lockdown and reopening trails, parks, and national forests, I'm not jumping out there quite yet. I've heard stories about super crowded trails and overflow parking at trailheads; these are things that have put me off anyway the last few years from some of my former favorite places.

I'm still simmering on what this all has meant and what a new future might encompass. After all, our planet has been breathing a metaphorical sigh of relief with so much less pollutants and emissions spewing into our atmosphere. I'm going to think more about this before I ramp up again, and perhaps I'll continue to keep it simpler, with fewer trips.

So for now I'm appreciating what's within a bike ride or walk from my home. 

I'm grateful to live so close to the Salish Sea, for the spectacular sunsets that can be swooned over and quietly appreciated. I'm grateful for the wildflowers in the park or the cultivated flowers in my neighbor's yards. I'm grateful to have space for a vegetable garden and raspberry patch and have been harvesting fresh greens for salads already.

From last season; about a month away still.

And of course the simple pleasure of texting, but even more, talking to friends and family over the phone. And regular Zoom meetups with some friends.

And how are you doing? I'd love to hear in a comment below.

Take good care, be safe, and considerately distance.

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! 

In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBookTwitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Social Distancing and (Sometimes) Sleepless in Seattle

How are you faring in this strange new reality?

I'm doing okay. Sometimes sleep doesn't come easily, and other nights I can hardly keep my eyes open by early evening and sleep deep and long.

But I'm getting outside as much as possible for long walks and bike rides, trying my best to stay socially distanced. On popular trails, it's tight. So I'm going in off hours, whatever that means now.

I'm very fortunate to live within walking distance of the Salish Sea and some woods in a big city park. Getting to these regularly has been a salvation.

During this interlude, which could extend months (?), we're all being challenged to stop relying on driving long distances to trailheads for our outdoors fix. Now it's all about being where you live.

For some of you lucky enough to live on the edge of the mountains, you'll have a lot more solitude this summer. For those of us in more densely populated urban settings, well, we'll do what we can.

I've discovered a sparsely used trail in the woods near my home that has been yielding early spring treasures (like my first trillium sighting of the year and fiddleheads on ferns).

Today on my walk, as I was rounding a bend in the trail by a salmonberry shrub ripe with brilliant magenta blossoms, a shimmering green Anna's hummingbird buzzed past. I watched in wonder as it poked its long thin beak into three blossoms in quick succession. I didn't have time to get a shot.

But it was a magical moment. In that instant there was no pandemic, no anxiety, just a beautiful little bird blessing me with its presence for a few memorable seconds.

I'm very fortunate that my work is still relatively steady. I've worked from home for years anyway, and my normal routine is not that changed. 

What has changed is not roaming the region, skiing and hiking. And not seeing friends and family.

My regular morning coffee group has scattered - several are holed up in their vacation homes away from Seattle, and the rest of us are hunkered down here, disconnected. I live alone, so really miss that regular camaraderie. No Book Club dinners, no tai chi classes, no athletic club workouts, no hikes with friends, no regular meetups for tea at my local haunts, and so on. There are some Zoom meetups, so hopefully more to come.

And how are you doing? I'd truly love to hear in a comment below. I promise I'll respond!

Take good care, be safe and be well.

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! 

In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBookTwitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news. 

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Coronavirus Epicenter USA: A View from Seattle

When just 3 weeks ago I wrote about 2020 being a year of firsts, I did not anticipate that we would soon start experiencing our first global pandemic in over a century.

Welcome to uncharted territory. Nobody on the planet has lived through what's happening now.

I'll admit to simmering anxiety in this surreal, vaguely dystopian new reality here in Seattle. Sometimes it boils up to the surface, like last week when I was working a ton of overtime, juggling three projects on top of each other, and reading doomsday scenarios.

But since I stopping reading all the scary stuff and started getting outside more and taking long walks, things are back in balance. Seeing the new season begin to unfurl with bursts of exquisite spring green has been a wonder and a balm.

In the last year I read a few books that focused on the health benefits of being in the woods and in nature. I'm definitely leaning on regular doses of Vitamin N (nature) and O (outdoors) for sustenance.

Between almost daily walks near my home and weekly wild swimming plunges, life feels relatively normal, if quieter. But then, I've worked from home for years, so my normal routine hasn't been upended that much. Just a lot less socializing out.

While the brunt of what is happening hasn't hit me full force, and to this point none of my friends or family have been affected, we'll see in the weeks ahead.

But the simplicity of dialing back my often hectic life of running around town and beyond, trying to do as much as possible, is actually an interesting time out. Going down to the beach near my home to watch the sunset when the skies are fully or partially clear is a highlight now. 

for me, there are some upsides to the current situation: 

  • I foresee finally being able to use those many nice hand lotions I've received as gifts to soothe my chapped, frequently washed hands. :)
  • I'm losing weight because of the long walks and cooking healthy meals rather than eating out regularly.
  • Been seeing lots of neighbors, physical and virtual, reach out with kind offers to help those older and infirm. 

Of course I don't want to belittle the pain of those who have lost loved ones. We can only hope that "social distancing" and more such measures will slow down the spread and, ultimately, stop it. 

And also taking a big hit are restaurants, arts venues, and more. Seattle's vibrant restaurant and cafe scene is already seeing closures.  Today I spent more $$ than I normally would at two bakeshops (Preserve & Gather and Coyle's Bakeshop)  and family-owned Taki's Mad Greek Restaurant, where the proprietor was clearly stressed at the huge dropoff in business and catering orders.

So far, for me, it's the solace of nature and watching the season transition from winter to almost spring that's helping the most. And of course talking to family and friends.

So please be mindful, follow all the sensible suggestions for cleaning, and take good care of yourself. Humor is a good thing too. (A friend told me that Seattle's homegrown pizza chain Pagliacci's was offering a special COVID-19 pizza with 19 toppings. He had me for a second.)

How are you? I'd love to hear how you are coping/feeling. I promise I'll check for comments and respond within a day or less!

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! 

In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBookTwitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news. 

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Northwest Winter Getaway: Port Townsend's Historic Charm and Good Eats

Every time I get on a Washington State Ferry and cross Puget Sound, I feel a little bit of magic as we draw closer to the Olympic Peninsula. From drippy ancient forests, to wild ocean beaches, to picturesque towns, it feels a place apart.

And in the winter, its charms are slightly different but just as wonderful. 

Although my destination for this chilly, gray winter weekend is Port Townsend, my first stop is in charming Port Gamble. This historic former mill town sits at the northern tip of a small finger of much larger Kitsap Peninsula between Hood Canal and Port Gamble Bay. En route to Port Townsend, I usually stop there for a hot drink at the old Port Gamble General Store, and sometimes pick up gifts too.

Mid-morning on Friday I meet a friend for sea kayaking on protected Port Gamble Bay. Yes, even in winter you can rent kayaks at Olympic Outdoor Center, which is situated in the old town firehouse. Although we have our own sea kayaks, it's easier to just rent a double and spend a few hours paddling along the mostly undeveloped shorelines.

Despite the winter chill, it's a lovely few hours exploring the shoreline and narrow inlet at the end of the bay. Our kayak glides over clear shallow water littered with barnacle-encrusted oyster shells and green-brown rockweed algae.

Afterward we grab lunch at the Port Gamble General Store & Cafe, where Matt enjoys a tasty bowl of veggie soup and I go for spicy bean and veggie tacos. By mid-afternoon I leave for Port Townsend.

My aunt had booked me a room at the old Victorian-style Palace Hotel along Water Street in downtown Port Townsend.  What a treat! With high ceilings and beautiful Victorian-era decor, I'm transported back in time and try to imagine what it would have been like here a century ago.

Whenever I go to the Port Townsend area,  I eat very well. Perhaps a little too well. Between cozy cafes, restaurants, pubs, farmstands, and more, the variety and quality of food is excellent.

Friday night dinner is a delicious Italian-style meal at cozy uptown Lanza's Ristorante. Hot-out-of-the-oven rolls arrive at our table first, followed by crisp salads and very generous entrees. Cousin Nia and I split the nightly special, a chicken breast with prosciutto and pasta in a creamy sauce.

Then off to dreamland in my room, named Miss Alice in honor of one of the "working girls" employed here during in one of the Palace's more colorful past incarnations.

A big perk of the Palace Hotel's locations is being able to roll out of bed and stroll right across the street to Better Living Through Coffee, where I meet up with cousin John for early morning coffee.  As we catch up over hot drinks, day breaks across the water outside the widow and more locals wander in to fuel up on caffeine this dark winter morning.

After Friday night's rich dinner, on Saturday morning we all take a long walk from North Beach through upper Fort Worden State Park. We wind along the trail through forest to wind-swept bluffs with sweeping views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca  where it merges into the Salish Sea.

My aunt Sylvia declares that there's a place in Port Townsend that makes the best grilled cheese sandwiches in the United States. Of course we must check it out.

Pane d'Amore has a breadbox-sized location where they sell artisan breads and pastries, and offer grilled cheese sandwiches to go. For the sandwiches, you choose from breads baked the same day, several cheese varieties, and extras like ham, salami, pickles, pesto, and marinated hot chile peppers. 

And yes, I think those sandwiches are that good. Best in the U.S.? Maybe. Key is the high-quality, fresh bread and ingredients, much of which is produced and sourced locally.

After lunch I head downtown solo to hit a few of my favorite shops, like William James Booksellers. Then of course I must stop for tea at Pippa's Real Tea, one of my happy places.

Dinner Saturday evening at Tommyknocker's Cornish Pasty doesn't quite hit the high note of lunch, but the Washington apple salad with local greens, apples, walnuts, dried cranberries and cheese is refreshing and excellent. This cute little space is bright and clean, and the service is very friendly.

And it wouldn't be a trip to Port Townsend for my family without a stop at Elevated Ice Cream, where we all indulge in a scoop of their made-in-house gelato or ice cream. While Swiss chocolate orange is their signature flavor, I'm partial to the maple walnut.

I awaken early, refreshed after two good nights of sleep at the Palace Hotel and a shower in their clawfoot tub. Then off for another morning coffee/tea at Better Living through Coffee, where my cousin and I bump into a Seattle ex-pat we know.

And sadly I must head home early. But not without a stop at Metro Bagels on my way out of town (because I love a good fresh toasted bagel) and then Chimacum Corner Farmstand south of Port Townsend for some fresh produce and salmon.

While there's lots more going on in Port Townsend, such as live music, literary readings, and much more, my weekend was relatively low key. But knocking around town with family, eating good food, getting some fresh air and exercise, and relaxing was just perfect.

Shout Out
On my way north up State Route 19 a few miles south of Chimacum on Friday, I stopped to check the oil in my car at the old Beaver Valley Store (now Sugar Hill Farms). Friendly owner Michael Hill offered to check it for me and was very helpful. He told me he and his wife Brenda are the new owners and sell their homemade chocolates and fudge at the corner store. I bought a chocolate raspberry truffle, which was delicious. Stop by next time you drive by!

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! 

In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBookTwitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news. 


Sunday, December 22, 2019

Northwest Holiday Traditions: A Walk in the Woods

On the solstice, the first day of  winter, I was antsy to get outside. After two days of torrential nonstop rain, it was a relief to hit the trails in the woods near my home. Even this Mossback had decided against hiking in the record-breaking deluge.

While the ski season is off to a bumpy start this year with uneven snowpack, we are otherwise always up for a walk in the woods around here. In fact, many celebrate the holidays with a hike or long walk.

With all the those holiday gatherings, cookies, and meals, being active outdoors is especially important. Plus we really need whatever natural daylight we can snatch during the shortest days of the year up here in Upper Left USA (if plants grow better under natural light than artificial light, we must benefit from it too).

So I took to the trail in north Seattle's Carkeek Park, curious to see how things fared under the heavy rains. Surprisingly, I didn't see that much mud or even puddles.

What I did notice is that the ubiquitous sword ferns, western red cedars (thuja plicata), and moss seemed visibly happy for the good, long drink of water after an unseasonably dry November. So maybe I'm anthropomorphizing, but honestly, I felt their vigor.

I've been dismayed at how many cedars have been showing signs of stress the last few months, with more rusty boughs than normal. But when I looked carefully on this walk, I didn't see as much as I thought I had a few weeks ago.

I started walking just an hour after the rains ceased. It felt wonderful to be out in the woods again. A healthy lowland forest in northwest Oregon or Washington is where I feel the most at home. 

As I walked I thought, if my body's not too toxic from pollutants in our environment, I'd like my remains or ashes to nourish a western red cedar in a forest.

In this relatively urban forest, the small streams were coursing full, muddied from stormwater runoff. And small streams flowed where they usually don't most of the year (what biologists call intermittent or ephemeral streams).

Instead of a mucky mess after so much rain, this temperate rainforest I walked through seemed especially alive and refreshed.

After emerging from the woods, I always go down to the beach and dip my fingers in the Salish Sea. I started doing this ritual years ago, and now it seems like my walk isn't complete if I don't. 

My route takes me back into the woods and along Piper's Creek, where just a month ago salmon were swimming upstream to spawn. Surprisingly, I still mostly had the trails to myself except for a few people with dogs anxious to stretch their legs.

I ended up back near my parked car and stopped a moment to revel in the delicate beauty of small streams, cedar boughs, raindrops poised to drop off the bottom of branches, and all the other scents and plant life that create a forest ecosystem.

On Christmas day this year we'll be hiking, farther outside the city in the foothills likely. And if it's like last year, we'll see others out doing the same: families, solo hikers, pairs, hipsters, dogs, and kids. Many will say "Merry Christmas" as they pass by, and Christian or not, I happily respond in kind.

Because it's the spirit of the season.

Wishing you and yours a very happy holiday season!

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! 

In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBookTwitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news.