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.  

Saturday, March 19, 2022

A Pacific Northwest Winter's Slow Fade into Spring Flowers


It's Spring Equinox Eve here in the Northern Hemisphere as I write this, and winter's grip is loosening in the Pacific Northwest. 

Our weather is still chilly, damp, and snowing in the mountains. But signs of spring are bursting out all over.

In western Washington where I live, while we can have freakishly warm winter days (more common than it used to be) and infuriatingly wet and chilly summer days (my most miserable cold day ever was a July sailing trip in the San Juan Islands), we do have four distinct seasons.

Every year I say autumn is my favorite season. Then I relish winter's biting chill and sometimes snow in the lowlands. 

But when spring rolls in and flowers and green emerges all over again, it's molto bellissimo. (That's very beautiful, but with an Italianesque flair for dramatic proclamations).

Red flowering currant

This past winter has had its moments. There was that gorgeous week of snow between Christmas and New Year, with skiing around Seattle. And there were some awesome days skiing at Crystal Mountain.

View from the top of Green Valley at Crystal; Stuart Range in the distance.

But evidence of spring started in February. The first sign of spring renewal each year for me is the delicate snowdrops that grow feral in Carkeek Park near my home. Every year I feel compelled to seek them out with my camera, despite having many shots from prior years.

Then the brown forest floor layered with last fall's downed leaves suddenly becomes green again with sweet coltsfoot, which comes up in late February.

Delicate crocus are also an early harbinger of spring, and it's like a treasure hunt spotting random patches of them around my neighborhood and nearby neighborhoods that I regularly walk.

And I can't forget the hellebores. They're a real workhorse flower to get us through the later winter and early spring. 

And especially just in the last week, suddenly it's all over - cherry blossoms, daffodils fully up and open (and up in the Skagit Valley too), violets, and much more.

I hear the cherry blossoms are close to peaking over at the University of Washington's Quad, which has become an event that draws visitors and photographers from all over. When I was a student there, it was just picturesque to walk through between classes.

Native skunk cabbage are also unfurling in our forest and woods now; I think its flower looks like something you'd more likely find in the tropics.

Since the daffodils are in bloom up in the Skagit north of Seattle, I'll head up for a look. I'm hoping tomorrow's rainy and cool weather will keep people away. 

Do you have a favorite spring flower or blossom, wherever you are? Honestly, I can't pick a favorite, or rather, it varies day to day. I'll take them all, in their 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.  

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

2021: A Pacific Northwest Year in Review

So long 2021. I can't quite settle on how I feel about you. After 2020, we all had great hopes for you.

For me and most of my friends, who can no longer be called young by any stretch of any imagination, life in the time of SARS-COVID 19 is still more tamped down than the "before times." We had a brief few months of semi-euphoria in the late spring and summer after vaccination. 

And then came delta, followed by pesky little sister omicron.

But I'm not here to write about the pandemic. I'm here to share a year in photos and a few videos of my special corner of the world, which I haven't left since late 2019. Please join me!

January: Into the Woods
To be honest, most of my year was into the woods. But for January's sake, we'll start with several trips cross-country skiing the lovely forested trails at Cabin Creek, a few miles east of Snoqualmie Pass (which is southeast of Seattle in the Cascade Mountains). This gem of a trail system, tucked against the side of Amabilis Mountain (which I've skied up and down too), provides an excellent workout in as little as an hour or as long as you want to keep skating and gliding or tramping.


February: Across the Sea
My winter routine involved lots of walks around northwest Seattle where I live, punctuated with trips every few weeks to Port Townsend to visit my aunt and friends for Monday morning coffee. This involved leaving my house and boarding a ferry across Puget Sound before sunrise (the 7:10 a.m.), which provided opportunities to shoot the changing hues in sky reflected on the horizon. 
Westbound on the Edmonds to Kingston ferry.

I always stop at a quiet overlook on Port Gamble Bay and walk about 20 minutes on the bluff trail to greet the day, camera in hand.
Port Gamble Bay

March: Into the Sea
In March I met a group of swimmers at Golden Gardens near my north Seattle home who were actually, like, swimming in Puget Sound and not just plunging in and out like I'd been doing. My neighbors were the nexus of the group and invited me to join them. So I resolved to take a few extra strokes each week to build up my endurance and time in the water.

This began early in March on my birthday, which happened to be an unseasonably brilliant day:

...and the day was topped with one of the most gorgeous sunsets over the Salish Sea I witnessed all year.

April: Across the Mountains
Come early spring, I started embarking on my first overnight getaways from Seattle in almost a year. A friend graciously let me stay at his gorgeous cabin just outside Leavenworth, where I enjoyed brilliant views of the Enchantments and met up and did some walks/hikes with friends who live over there.

Sleeping Lady near Leavenworth, Washington.

May: Onto the Island
A top 2021 highlight was my first trip back to Orcas Island since 2016. How could it have been that long?

I hiked, swam, and paddled with friends also visiting the island (including an Orcas ex-pat "native" visiting her mother in Eastsound). Another friend who lives there showed me some of her secret special places. It was an absolutely perfect spring weekend (can you hear me exhaling slowly?) with blue sunny skies.

Kayaks and standup paddleboards do mix! Eastsound, Washington.

And because I can't adequately put into words how incredibly wonderful this hike up and down Turtleback Mountain was, here's a short video clip:

There was also a marvelous weekend east of Chinook Pass at a friend's cabin, with hiking, good food, and some morel foraging. Life is indeed good here in the Pacific Northwest.

June: Up and Down the Region
Family moved front and center in June and cousins were up visiting from California, so there were trips to the Portland area and Port Townsend. I booked (and my sneaky aunt called and paid my bill) an overnight at the historic and charming Palace Hotel in Port Townsend. I also joined my cousin's wife for a swim in the sea there too.

Can you say charming street front? Palace Hotel in Port Townsend, Washington.

I guess I must mention the unprecedented heat dome we experienced late in the month. The only respite was walks in a nearby forest, where the temperature dropped at least 10 degrees as soon as you entered. This says something about the value and necessity of saving our urban trees and woodlands.

July: Honoring and Revisiting
A super busy work period kept me inside a lot, but I did get down to Portland for time with family and old friends, in light of a loss. I watched a beautiful sunset on a warm summer evening with friends on Rocky Butte and was up and out before sunrise for a lovely hike in the Columbia Gorge with some other friends. The Portland area will always be as equally home to me as Seattle.

August: On the Trail
In preparation for a backpacking trip in early September, I hit the trail more in August (and work died down). Highlights were a hike up to the Tolmie Peak fire lookout in Mt. Rainier National Park with the Alpine Trails book club (on a day smoky from regional wildfires), a morning hike to Wallace Falls just outside Index, and the grind up and down McClellan Butte in the I-90 corridor east of Seattle. With poor visibility and prudence, we did not do the rock scramble to the true summit.
Any day on the trail is a good day.
And a long weekend with dear high school friends on a Puget Sound beach was the restorative balm we all needed. 💚

September: Across and into the Mountains
While my knees are still willing, I was thrilled to join some friends for an absolutely awesome backpack trip in Glacier National Park. On the eastern crest of the Rockies and at higher elevations, we passed through some starkly beautiful landscapes.


October: Back into the Woods, Water, and Mountains
Yes, this Northwesterner's life involves lots of time in the woods and mountains. There was also a sweet afternoon kayak trip on the Sammamish River and Swamp Creek in a splendid Pacific Northwest rain (video below), a wonderful hike to Lake Valhalla, and an overnight at Sleeping Lady near Leavenworth, where the fall colors were cranking up.

Lake Valhalla and Mt. Lichtenberg beyond.

November: Stalking Mushrooms
Actually I got out with a friend in September to forage for chanterelles, but in November the hunt is with cameras in hand to shoot them. They're easy to miss if you're not looking in the right places, but this downed log on a side trail near my home was wild with mushrooms. I'm still learning, so I can't name this variety, can you?

December: Snow Comes for the Holidays
This year with vaccines, boosters, and testing, it has been wonderful to gather with family and friends in person for the holidays. After another quick trip to Port Townsend, the snow arrived in full force the day after Christmas (
thank you weather gods for sending the snow a day late and sparing us from snow driving that's so problematic around Seattle with our many hills).
It's a rare treat to be able to ski outside your front door here. Below is a short clip of a ski down into the ravine near my home:

And with that it's a wrap on the year. It was a mixed bag overall, but as I've been composing this post, I realize there were many wonderful experiences and memories made over the past year.  So 2021, not bad. Not perfect, but moments of perfection.
Here's to 2022, may you bring us many laughs, smiles, and good times ahead!
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.