Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Into the Woods: Forest Bathing in Mosslandia

While I've always felt better after hiking and playing in the woods, only in the last few years have I learned there's a movement that started in Japan called forest bathing (shinrin-yoku).   

Shinrin-yoku means bathing in the forest atmosphere, or taking in the forest through our senses. According to a 2016 study, forest bathing significantly reduced pulse rate and significantly increased the score for vigor and decreased the scores for depression, fatigue, anxiety, and confusion of the participants.

Not that I needed to be told all those years hiking through Pacific Northwest forests have been good for me. 

But with the explosive growth here, which has spilled over to hiking and all things outdoorsy (thank you social media), the hikes I used to take to mountaintops and spectacular views are being overwhelmed. These days, I often head to forest trails that don't particularly lead to a summit or lake. 

And I especially relish our lush forests west of the Cascades, where the ground and trees are carpeted in moss and ferns along with other native shrubs. Things grow in a western forest, often abundantly.

And when trees fall in the forest, lots more things grow on "nurse" logs. It's a big symbiotic chain reaction.

I've been reading The Hidden Life of Trees, and it raises interesting questions: Are trees sentient beings? Do they have feelings? Do they communicate with each other?

While we can't know for sure whether trees possess self-knowledge, the reactions of trees to various conditions and events is indeed real. And they do indeed communicate and support each other in a forest.

As the author concludes: A happy forest is a healthy forest. And I firmly believe that a healthy forest is a healthy place for people to pass through, with respect. Or, as John Muir said, more loftily:

“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”

I've done many forest hikes over the years and a few recently. Sometimes, like this past weekend along the Salmon River east of Portland, I stop and just sit in silence in the woods, breathing deeply and inhaling the richness of life all around.

Sweet wildflowers sprout beneath trees and along the trail in the spring and summer. As I noted in my last blog post, trilliums are a favorite and still peaking. And this past weekend I was especially enchanted by the abundance of delicate fawn lilies, with mottled leaves resembling the back of baby fawns.

Trillium ovatum

Oregon fawn lily (erythronium oregonum)
So next time you hit the trail, think about a quiet walk in some woods. Observe all the trees and plants, and perhaps think about how they are interconnected. Notice different types and sizes of trees. And then, maybe consider how can you help protect such life and richness.

I no longer blog about every hike I do, but here are a few favorites where you'll get a good "bath" in the woods:

  • For a lowland forest walk near Seattle, try Japanese Gulch or Big Gulch trails in Mukilteo, WA.
  • I've read that the Crater Loop Trail at Larch Mountain east of Portland, OR, has re-opened. However it has suffered from lack of trail maintenance during its prolonged closure after the Gorge fire in 2017. Proceed with caution!
  • Downey Creek Trail outside Darrington, WA, in the North Cascades is reliably quiet. Might have something to do with the 15 miles on rough road to get there.

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! 

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When You Go
Check to see if a parking pass (Northwest Forest Pass, Discover Pass) is required for trailhead parking. And think about taking an extra big bag for picking up trash you find along the way, which sadly is not that uncommon these days. Also think about being quiet rather than talking loudly; focus on absorbing your surroundings. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Pacific Northwest Spring: Wildflowers, Blossoms, and Vivid Green

Salmonberry blossoms
While the lowlands in western Washington and Oregon are bursting with tulips and exhuberant floral displays, in the mountains our natives are emerging more slowly. 

But spotting the season's first delicate shoots of spring green, trilliums, and other wildflowers is always a special treat. 

The last few weekends I've hiked on both the eastern and western sides of the Cascade crest in north-central Washington. Of course the west side is more lush and green, while the east side is more arid. 

Weekend before last we hiked up Sauer's Mountain above Peshashtin (just east of Leavenworth), which was mostly snow free.

While the eastern Cascades are brilliant with golden arrowleaf balsam root flowers and lovely purple lupine in the spring, as of this writing they're still a few weeks away from full bloom. But for an early season starter, patches of delicate yellow avalanche lilies and tiny white flowers were scattered alongside the trail.

View from Sauer's Mountain summit toward the Enchantments

By mid summer it will be hot and dry east of the Cascade crest, so the next couple months is prime wildflower season. I'm pretty sure the shoots we saw pictured below are false hellebore, which will wither away in the summer heat. Any of you native plant geeks know for sure?

After a record-breaking snowy February and almost record-breaking dry March, our weather is back to a typically cool and rainy April so far this year. Last weekend we hiked in a gentle rain near Index off US Highway 2 up the relatively short and pretty easy Heybrook Ridge Trail. Such a lush contrast to the Leavenworth area trails!

Indian Plum
This 1.6-mile trail traverses upward through rich second-growth forest to a ridge with sweeping views of Mt. Index (clouded over during our hike). As we passed a pond just beyond the trailhead, the deciduous forest was full of newly leafed out and blossoming Indian plum, an early season favorite of mine.

Soon the trail transitioned into classic western Washington evergreen forest, and not long thereafter I spied my first trilliums of the year. These lovely and fragile native lilies are also a personal favorite (I think for many Northwesterners as well) and should never be disturbed or picked.

And brightening up the forest with bursts of rich magenta are classic Northwest salmonberry blossoms. The berries themselves aren't so vibrant in flavor, but the colors are sure vivid. Right now they're peaking.

Up top on the ridge, the view is quite spectacular if you overlook the massive electrical transmission line towers. No wildflowers up there yet, but some ferns were beginning to unfurl (bracken fern?).

Even verdant evergreen trees here show spring green, including my totem western red cedar along with Douglas firs and western hemlock.

So despite the rainy forecast for the next week or so ahead, it's an especially lovely time of year to get outside and explore the forests and meadows (those that are snow-free) in our beloved mountains here.

I'd love to hear what you've seen so far or your favorite spring native flowers in a comment below.

Happy Spring and Happy trails! 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.