Friday, March 24, 2023

Winter 2023 in the Pacific Northwest: It's a Wrap

 



Did you have a good winter this year? 

After a chillier, somewhat drier than the old normal year so far, winter is finally loosening its grip here in the Pacific Northwest. The mountains are still getting snow, and plenty of it, so spring skiing should continue well into April.

As I write this, it's raining and cold out (in the high 30sF), after a few teaser days of sunshine and temps in the low 60s. I'll likely be skiing this weekend in fresh snow. But I know it's not for long now, and spring is really happening.

For this skier and nature nerd, the last few months have offered some great days on the slopes and trails. The new year began with, of course, a swim in the Salish Sea on a cold, breezy day. What an exhilarating way to start the new year!

Ballard Wild Swimmers on New Year's Day

My swimming pod kept it up all season with some glorious cold sunny days and some stormy, rainy days. We made it through the winter swimming/dipping every week, sometimes 3 or more times!

Sunset swim, Shilshole Bay, February 10, 2023

My ski season started in January (my Ikon ski pass has blackout dates over the holidays), with plenty of snow coming down at Crystal Mountain, just north of Mt. Rainier, SE of Seattle. It was snowing all day, which is a true test of goggles (mine earned about a grade D). But always a thrill nonetheless.

Taking a break on a warm-up run in off Forest Queen, Crystal Mountain

My next trip up in February was a perfect bluebird morning, with the mountain out in all its hunky fabulousness. We had to stop and get the requisite top of Green Valley with Rainier in the background shot. I have many shots of myself and friends here over the years.


But the peak skiing this past winter was my first trip to Whistler-Blackcomb in over 20 years. The village had grown beyond recognition from my last visit, but then the Olympics there in 2010 gave it a boost. We cross-country skied the first afternoon and last morning, bracketing a glorious day skiing mostly at the top of Blackcomb on Seventh Heaven and Glacier Express area.

Top of Seventh Heaven, with Coast Range beyond.

I enjoyed my first real apr├Ęs ski in years at the Wizard Grill in Whistler Village. You're never too old to dance and group sing along. While we made our own breakfasts at our timeshare in the village, we also had a great dinner out at Caramba, a popular Italian restaurant.

Girls' weekend

Between trips to Crystal and Whistler, there were some winter walks in the woods in some Seattle parks. There's beauty in the sparse winter forest too. A steady rain accompanied me during a January walk in South Seattle's Seward Park below. 



As winter drew to a calendar close last weekend (and temps broke 60 degrees F!), I celebrated with a hike with some of my favorite women in one of my book clubs (Alpine Trails) at one of my favorite places (Deception Pass State Park). I took off my jacket and enjoyed the relative warmth in such a beautiful place.

Deception Pass Bridge
And the day before, I also celebrated the end of winter/coming spring with a swim with the S Pod (or most of it) on a brilliant late winter day.  While the water is still pretty darn cold and won't really start warming up for another several weeks, we lingered on the beach in the sun afterwards. It was marvelous.


As Seanna said, towel sarongs are a thing here.

So that's a taste of a Pacific Northwest winter in western Washington/British Columbia. The weather has been a bit colder than whatever normal used to be. It has been a great ski season, but we're looking forward to warmer and drier days ahead.

How was your winter?

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 7, 2023

2022 in the Pacific Northwest: Taking Stock and Moving on

 



We're starting off 2023 by taking a quick look back at the year just past. For this local, there were lots of walks, some hikes in the Cascades, a bit of kayaking and skiing, foraging for mushrooms, lots of ferry rides, and many swims in the Salish Sea near my home.

2022 was one of the very few years in my life that I didn't get down into Oregon. Except for that quick trip to New York City, I didn't travel farther north than Bellingham, farther east than Leavenworth, farther west than Quilcene on the Olympic Peninsula, and farther south than Vancouver, Washington. For this wanderer, that's quite remarkable!

January



For someone whose teenage passion was downhill ski racing, I unusually missed two years of skiing (due to injury and covid). But in January I had a marvelous start to my ski season at Crystal Mountain, where I was a ski instructor back in my relative youth.

Crystal still feels like my home mountain now, and I usually spot someone I know on the slopes or having lunch in midmountain Campbell Lodge.

Here I am posing for that classic top of Rainier Express shot with Mount Rainier/Tahoma in her full bluebird day glory in the background. I can't tell you how many shots I have of myself or friends taken with that view, which never fails to be awesome.

February



One of the first signs of spring each year are the snowdrops blooming in Carkeek Park. These non-natives, which have spread in the woods from a former orchard, were probably originally planted over a century ago. You have to know where to look for them, since they're off the trail system a bit.

I start watching for them around the first or second week in February, and take shots of them every year despite having many shots of them already.

March



I call Seattle Sunset City, and often they're especially spectacular in the winter or shoulder seasons. On the early March evening I took this shot from Golden Gardens where I often swim, a friend was visiting from Maine. I was happy to be able to share such a glorious evening on my home beach where I spend so much time.

April


In April, I joined the Alpine Trails Book Club for a luscious hike along the Lower Big Quilcene River Trail through lush old growth forest on the eastern edge of the Olympic Mountains. I'd had the good fortune to spend the night before at a cabin on Hood Canal, and my gracious host joined me kayaking along the shoreline. All in all a perfect Northwest spring weekend.

May


In 2022, we had a cool, damp spring, which led to gorgeous wildflowers. While early paintbrush and wildflowers are easy to spot at Deception Pass State Park on Goose Rock, this shot was taken on a rainy Memorial Day weekend hike just south of Anacortes to Whistle Lake

June




Due to our damp spring, wild morel mushroom foraging was still good well into June and early July of 2022. While I can't name specific locations, I was lucky to be invited to go twice with an expert forager friend. We tramped through forest that had burned the year before, a bit east of the Cascade Crest. While the trail that passed through the burn was closed, I found a few stretches of intact trail that offered solitude and spectacular views. And the foraging was excellent too. Hmmm, nothing quite like fresh wild mushrooms sauteed and spooned atop pasta, eggs, risotto, wild salmon, or steamed veggies.

July



We jumped straight from cool and damp to hot and dry after Fourth of July, causing us to seek shady, forested trails. And to be honest, I tend to hike the less popular woodsy hikes now instead of the super popular hikes with spectacular views. It keeps the crowds down.

Some friends and I did the always pleasant Granite Lakes Trail in July off the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River road. While this trail passes through mostly second-growth forest that was likely logged within the last 75 years or less, it's still a nice green hike.


And then there was that incredibly magical late July night swimming in a cove in Chuckanut Bay in the sparkly bioluminescence. You can read about that in a blog post from last year.

August


While I'd done a few shorter kayak outings earlier in the year, I managed to find some friends to join me for just about my favorite kayaking day trip - upper Skagit Bay, with stops at Hope and Skagit islands. It's never crowded, parking is free at the put-in (thank you Swinomish Tribe!), it's beautiful, and the swimming in the bay afterwards was marvelous.

September


During prime hiking weather, a friend and I escaped to the high country for a cool hike on a hot late September day to the very popular Naches Peak Loop Trail at Chinook Pass on the edge of Mt. Rainier National Park. We made the loop longer by hiking down to Dewey Lakes (and lost some of the crowds on the trail).

Tahoma was out in all her late summer glory.

October


Into mid October, with freakishly warm temperatures lingering well past the old normal, the open water "wild" swimming was fantastic. The Salish Sea/Puget Sound stayed relatively "warm" (mid 50s Fahrenheit versus mid 40s right now)  later than usual in the year. At its warmest, I was staying in 25 to 30+ minutes.

A big treat was meeting up with a swimmer from Scotland, who was passing through Seattle, and taking her to the beach for a swim. Cheryl was a hoot and clearly thrilled to join us in the water.

Also, the mountain lake shot at the top of this post was taken on another unusually warm October hike to Snow Lake, a classic trail that had just reopened after a seasonal closure for trail upgrades.

November

With winter coming, we swam a lot still in the Sound as temps started to drop. I took the shot above right before I waded in and swam in this lovely, quiet cove at Manitou Beach on Bainbridge Island the morning before a happy, tasty Thanksgiving dinner with family at my sister's home. The brisk, cold water was an exhilarating way to start the day as the fog was lifting. 

December


With a good hit of snow before the Christmas holiday in the lowlands as well as the Cascades, some friends and I dashed up for some cross-country skiing east of Snoqualmie Pass at Cabin Creek. This friendly favorite Sno-Park is tracked and groomed all winter for Nordic skiing, which truly is one of the best total body and calorie-burning workouts.

While we're not hard core speed skate skiers, it was fun and a great 90-minute workout. Next up: back to Crystal Mountain and a trip to Whistler/Blackcomb in B.C.
 
As always, there are just too many photos and too many adventures to pack into one annual year-in-review blog post, BUT...you can find more Pacific Northwest photos on FaceBook, Twitter (hanging in there for now), and Instagram (links below).

Wishing you a great 2023!
 
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.






Monday, November 21, 2022

Thanksgiving 2022: Seeking Wonder



As I ponder gratitude around Thanksgiving each year, a theme often surfaces. This year, I've been thinking a lot about wonder. Each time I experience or witness something that makes me smile or gasp in awe and wonder, I'm grateful.

These moments take us out of our everyday world and anxieties slip away. I can't put it better than this quote (I found online here):

Wonder helps to put our place in the world into perspective. It not only allows us to see beauty in a crabapple; it reminds us that we are finite and that we are a part of something much greater than our ability to comprehend it. 


Every time I see a sunrise or sunset that stops me in my tracks, witness a solar or lunar eclipse, or spot some wild orcas in the Salish Sea, I feel this awe.

There are a zillion things that can elicit a sense of wonder or awe. 

 

For this blog post, I was initially thinking about natural phenomena, not all of which I could photograph. Actually, thank goodness I wasn't disrupting some of these moments by taking pictures!

As I mentioned in my last post about open water swimming, there was that incredible night this past summer swimming through tiny sparkles of bioluminescent light in the dark Salish Sea. And the sunset that preceded the experience:

Chuckanut Bay sunset.

Hiking through a grove of golden subalpine larches, which I call unicorn trees, is another wondrous experience. People flock by the hundreds (maybe thousands?) to the most popular larch hikes in the region in a frenzy of "Larch Madness" each autumn. These conifers that glow golden for a few short weeks each October seem to cast a spell and draw you onward, wanting more.


I treasure memories of many nights sleeping under the stars during meteorite showers. Spotting a shooting star is truly one of the most awe-filled things to witness.

An especially vivid meteorite encounter was a peak experience, literally and figuratively. As my friend Matt and I neared the summit of Mt. Adams predawn one August morning many years ago, a brilliant shooting star streaked low across the horizon, not much higher than where we stood high on the 12,000-foot-tall mountain.

Mt. St. Helens from the Lunch Counter on Mt. Adams

In 2017, I was fortunate to witness a total solar eclipse from a friend's farm in Oregon's Willamette Valley. I was gobsmacked by that 90 seconds. The image of that black sun with spiky tendrils of light shooting out all around is a moment I will never ever forget.

Photo by Allen Denver.

In 2020, while the world was upended by the first wave of COVID-19, Comet NEOWISE was visible for weeks in the Northern Hemisphere. Several times I drove, binoculars in hand, to the darkest viewing spot I could find near my home in Seattle to see it, seemingly immobile in the night sky.


Sorry I don't know the artist name to give credit, but isn't this a splendid painting of NEOWISE?

Hummingbirds also enchant me, and I always love to hear and spot them. They're an amazing marvel of physics and speed. To the Coast Salish people, they were a sign of good luck.


And the Aurora Borealis! I finally saw them shimmering in curtains of green across the night sky about a year ago. I called a stargazer friend to narrate how awesome and wondrous it was as I watched them dance across northern horizon. I think I kept on saying "THIS IS SO AWESOME!"

 As I was thinking about writing this post, I was trying to catalogue my top wonder experiences (most mentioned above). But then I realized I could write all day about the wonder and awe we can feel every day if we pay attention.

Mt. Rainier/Tahoma sunset from Bainbridge Ferry

So this Thanksgiving/holiday season, I'm feeling gratitude for the capacity to witness and feel wonder. 

May you, too, allow yourself to notice and experience a sense of wonder, today and every day. And I'd love to hear in a comment below some of your wonder moments.

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.

 

 






Monday, October 24, 2022

Open Water Swimming in Puget Sound: Besotted by the Sea















Apologies to those of you who follow this blog for the lack of content this year. While I used to post about all the places I went, all the getaways, hikes, and such, I'm not inspired anymore to promote favorite places that are getting a bit much traffic for my taste. Our special corner of the world is definitely on the map now.

I've been hiking some, been out in my kayak a few times, and attended a great farm dinner this past summer. But somehow I didn't get around to blogging about those things. Mostly what has grabbed me this year is my healthy addiction (is that an oxymoron?) for plunging, dipping, bobbing, and swimming in Puget Sound, the southern portion of the inland Salish Sea.

Although I first plunged into the Sound in January 2020 (for probably less than 15 seconds) and blogged about "wild swimming" last year, this is the first year I've really truly become an open water swimmer. (Exhibit A, short video of me this past January...)


Open water swimming exploded in the region during the first couple years of the pandemic, but I didn't really get my groove until this year when I connected with a regular swimming partner who also lives near the Sound. The camaraderie is a motivator. Since last winter, my swimming pod has grown. And the more you go, the more you start to recognize the other regulars.



Last week I was interviewed on the beach by someone from KIRO radio about being an open water swimmer. [They didn't use my quotes, but here is the story.] She asked, why do you do it? What keeps you coming back?

I don't remember exactly what I said, something like, I start craving the cold water when I don't go for a couple days. It's clarifying, bracing, invigorating. There's always a bit of euphoria.


Plus I've witnessed many glorious sunsets this past summer and early fall while in the water or on the beach right after swimming. Sometimes we're lucky and a curious seal or two pops up close by to check us out. I've seen sea stars underwater as I've swam above them.

A highlight this past summer was the warm July evening we took a road trip north to Chuckanut Bay to swim in the bioluminescence, which is plankton that glows in dark water when it's disturbed. When it's fully dark, I put my head in the water and thrust my hands forward as I began my breast stroke, swimming into bursts of little plankton galaxies.  It was "effing magic," to quote an Irish gal from the Golden Gardens RAFT group of swimmers I join some times.


We've been spoiled this past summer with such warm and dry weather for so long. Now that fall has really arrived, it will take more fortitude to stick with it. Last Friday I did my first swim in a chilly rain. It was still awesome, but I was pretty chilled afterwards. A thermos of hot tea is a must now.

Today we went again in a steady rain. There was only one other solo woman out there.

"This is my favorite swimming weather," she told us. It was especially exhilarating being out there in the elements. It felt more wild.

I was initially inspired by a few YouTube wild swimming videos out of the United Kingdom. In an "it's a small world" twist, the photo above shows me sharing a dip with Cheryl, who was passing through Seattle from Scotland. She found the Seattle Open Water Swimmers FaceBook page and asked if anyone would be willing to join her for a swim.

A couple of us picked Cheryl up at her hotel and spent a fun few hours learning a bit about her life in the UK and taking the plunge. If you want to see a few seconds of pure joy, check out this short video.


 


If you're interested in giving it a go, this piece in the Seattle Times provides some advice and more links. Start gradually and see how you take to it. It's not for everyone. More than half of my friends are a hard no when I suggest they join me some time.

No matter how stressed or anxious I might be feeling, it always dissipates when I hit that cold water and start swimming. I come out with a smile on my face every time.


Like I told the radio interviewer, I'm hooked...on the cold clarifying water, the friends and companionship forged through a shared sense of adventure, the glimpses of marine wildlife, the sounds and scent of the sea, the joy of movement and swimming, and just fully inhabiting and being in a beautiful place.

And mostly, I'm grateful to live so close to the sea and to have discovered this joyful, slightly crazy, life-affirming habit.

If you're interested in seeing some short videos of me or friends swimming, post-swim musings and sunsets, check out my YouTube channel.

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.






Monday, May 30, 2022

Walking Seattle: Garden Whimsey and Peek-a-boo Pets

 


Last year I blogged about all the garden art and gnomes I spied while walking around my northwest corner of Seattle. I'm back again, revisiting and searching for new gems. This time pets crept into my photos, lurking and lounging as I passed by.

As I mentioned last year, looking for garden art really makes my walks feel like a treasure hunt. And since I started seeing more cats (and a few dogs), it brought a whole new level of happy hunting to my walks.

Since coyotes are a real and present danger to cats in the 'hood, I thankfully saw very few wandering on their own. In the last few months, I even trapped a young stray who was then happily adopted into a good home.

So without further rambling, let's get going.


Spotting a cat (or even less commonly, a dog) is a rare treat now in north Seattle. Besides the coyotes, racoons and owls can prey on them. On an hour+ ramble one late afternoon, this black cat was one just two cats that I saw. While black cats don't get adopted as easily, I think they're gorgeous.


While gnomes are the most popular figurine in Seattle yards, frogs seem to be a close second (by my unofficial, off-the-cuff estimation).
 
A month or two ago, I passed by The Goblin Pub (above), which is quite enchanting in the care that was put into creating this neighborhood watering hole. (I assume gnomes are allowed.) I suggest you enlarge the photo of the interior below to see the incredible detail...a restroom door, a mural on the back wall, taps for the different drinks, the patrons, and more.


The likely proprietors of the pub live behind the gate below, which I think also looks like something out of a fairy tale.


The cheerful glass daisies below are a favorite from my spring wanderings this year. I know they were made by the glass artist who lives in that home (we share a mutual friend). And see that little pink gnome in the window flower box?


This super handsome orange boy (pretty sure it's a boy based on size) below matched his porch wood stain color. His owners must have planned it. :)


The lovely tabby in the window below is what started my quest to spot pets on  walks. I assumed they would mostly be in windows, but there were a few porch cats too.


And perhaps Kermit, deeply contemplating the meaning of life reminiscent of Rodin's famous The Thinker sculpture, has inspired the profusion of frog art?


Now this, my friends, is some serious yard gnomery. Or, as my friend Suezy informed me, a very large donsy of gnomes. A friend told me about the raised bed full of gnomes, so I had to check out it for myself.



Yes, there are dogs in a few windows. These pups live just down the street from me, and I often see them out walking their human dad. (This isn't the sharpest image but a smartphone snap.)


This sweet pup was very good mannered and wistfully watched me passing by. I wished I had a ball or stick to throw over the fence for it.


I can't claim the shot below, but it's so alluring I have to include (shot taken by my friend Corey somewhere near Woodland Park Zoo in NW Seattle). Look at that...dragon(?) face, what a character!


And figurine or real cat? At least floofy kitty was posing like a figurine.



I could post many more images, but I'll leave it for now. I'll continue to hunt for pets and quirky or even beautiful yard art on my walks. Maybe this will become an annual post on this blog (at my current rate, my only post per year)? Want more?

I'd love to hear about your favorite yard art/pets/what you see in your neighborhood in a comment below!

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.