Rain! Bears! Seeds! Colors!

It is refreshing to have the nip of Fall in the air now, to be free of the smoke that swallowed the Seattle area for so long this summer. We got ½” of rain in mid-September. Yay! That was enough to perk up the Sword Ferns (Polystichum munitum) a little bit and damp down the trail dust. I’m not sure if that first rain was enough to trigger the “first flush” phenomenon; the first rains of Autumn are a mixed blessing. They wash contaminants—chemicals and hydrocarbons—off pavements and lawns and into lakes and streams. Those of us in cities and suburbs (with lots of ‘impervious surfaces’) will have to get past this before the water clears. That is one excellent reason to keep as much water-filtering natural vegetation as possible.

More rain is in the forecast. It will take a while before the creeks start to fill their beds and the rivers rise enough to welcome the spawning salmon home to their natal beds. Aptly named Bear Creek, which flows past Tadpole Haven, hosts a relatively healthy salmon population. I don’t know if there are still enough returning salmon for their spawned-out carcasses to nourish our bears, but I’m sure the bears will appreciate whatever they can find.

Speaking of bears, you will be thrilled to know that I found more bear poop! Two mornings in a row, in the same spot: in the middle of the driveway, right in front of God, the Pope and everybody. NOT in the woods. Handy, for me, the intrepid bear-poop hunter-gatherer.  More seeds to plant!*

I still haven’t gathered seeds from the Foamflower (Tiarella trifoliata). It has produced a lot of seeds, but it just keeps on blooming! It’s been blooming since April, I think. A perennial plant, whose constellations of petite white-to-pinkish flowers reach a modest 15” height, Foamflower looks terrific when planted in multiples. A nice patch of Foamflower gives the illusion of sea foam on the waves of green. The 3-leaflet leaves usually don’t die back completely in the winter—they just flatten to the earth and wait for spring.

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Foamflower (Tiarella trifoliata)

Foamflower is often found in the same habitat as Vine Maple (Acer circinatum): shade (at least partial) with good drainage. They are both often under an open canopy of large evergreen trees like Western Hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) and Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii). Foamflower is part of the forest floor layer of vegetation, helping provide shelter for insects, amphibians and essential decomposers. Vine Maple, which can reach 20’ or so, fills a mid-level niche in the forest, providing cover and food for birds and small mammals.

Vine Maple in full shade tends to bow over at a certain height, creating dramatic, graceful arches. Thus the name, VINE Maple. In open areas, such as roadsides, it grows more erect, and exposure to the sun helps it develop stunning Fall color. Already, I’m seeing some beautiful colors on them: peach to orange to coral and crimson.

You can observe those gorgeous colors along Paradise Lake Road on your way to Tadpole Haven Native Plants!

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Bears About!

The forest is VERY dry.

Our native plants are adapted to our wet winters and droughty summers, but 2017 has been extreme. That staunchest of natives, the Sword Fern (Polystichum munitum), is suffering in multitudes. Its proud fronds that three weeks ago were standing four feet tall off the forest floor have collapsed and their little frondlets are twisted and crunchy. Devil’s Club’s (Oplopanax horridus) huge spiky leaves are wilted and soft-looking and evergreen tree branches have sagged as their cells have lost moisture. When will we be delivered from all this foliar suffering?

The wild animals found a partial answer; the nursery is an oasis. Everything is so juicy. The deer have pruned the Red-twig Dogwoods (Cornus sericea), one of their favorites. The rabbits, too, partake. They like the small plants, especially Tadpole Haven’s young huckleberry crops, wild strawberry plants, and Redwood Sorrel (Oxalis oregana). Most of these plants, when grown in abundance, only suffer around the edges—the rest of the patch does fine. The deer also love to neatly trim off Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus) leaves one at a time. Luckily, Thimbleberry is a resilient plant and this will not set them back one whit.

The bears have also been visiting the nursery and the surrounding woods. Two different bears, one young and one old, trek through the woods on a regular basis, often choosing to nap in the woods between the nursery and the mailbox on the road. I know, because Gus the Brittany tells me exactly where the bear is. Lisa and I saw the small one TODAY, thanks to Gus’ alertness! It ran into the swampy woods on the far end of the lower field. Exciting, but a little scary!Screenshot_20170726bearatpottingbench

Not only did the bears provide summer thrills more wholesome than any creepy summer movie clown, they answered one of life’s persistent questions: Does a bear s**t in the woods? (Yes–with ample solid proof)

I had been planning to harvest some Cascade Oregon Grape (Mahonia nervosa) berries for seed. So I walked up the mailbox trail, where I knew I could find a lot. But they were all gone—the bears beat me to them, I bet. I ventured off into the woods, searching for the little “grapes” and realized I was on a wildlife trail. It became obvious that this was the trail the bears traverse past the nursery; I found three piles of bear scat. Full of seeds! Eureka! The mother lode! Some of the seeds must be Oregon Grape, I thought. I ran back to the nursery shed for a bucket and trowel.

That’s been 10 days ago, easy. I’ve been in possession of a moldering lump of bear poop since then. Today is the day.

Okay, so I snapped on a pair of latex gloves and chunked up the bear poop with the sticks, fir needles and moss that had come with it. Once semi-spreadable, I plopped it into two propagation flats. Voila! Now I just have to wait 1-2 years…

What other kinds of seeds are in there? Devil’s Club? Cherries? Salal (Gaultheria shallon)? Pacific Crabapple (Malus fusca)? Cascara (Rhamnus purshiana)? What’s your guess?

A cheery note about Weather!

I promise, next time I will write about bear poop.

After the wondrous strange beauty of the eclipse, now the sun shines blood red in a sky full of smoke, ashfall dulling every leaf, every shiny surface. The days feel heavy. Our native forests burn.

Tuesday, the sun glowed red-orange all day. The dog lay listless, a flat slab in the dust that used to be a green field. Even morning was muggy and hot. My shirt stuck to my back as we spread wood chips for a new crop of Sword Ferns (Polystichum munitum). Every so often I found myself not thinking entirely clearly; I forgot what I had planned to do just a moment before, or I said something that didn’t make sense, garbling my words.

What to make of this portentous weather? Climate change? The evidence is piling up. Here, right now: a record-breakingly wet winter followed by a record dry summer.  Elsewhere — in the southeastern part of the USA and South Asia — storms, hurricanes, floods. If not quite apocalyptic, at least akin to science fiction. Climate change models predict that here in the maritime parts of the Northwest we will get wetter winters and drier summers.

But it could be that this year is just an exaggeration of the weather pattern in which native plants and Seattleites have evolved to thrive: rainy winters and summer drought. Just a one-time anomaly. Don’t you think?

I would prefer climate change stay in the realm of science fiction. In fact, I really don’t want to know about climate change. I don’t want to hear about it. I don’t want to deal with it. I just want to live my life and go back to the genteel days when weather was a light topic for everyday chitchat, especially useful when socializing with those of opposite political viewpoints: everyone can agree to complain about the rain in the winter or joke about the summers in Seattle being three days long.

This is how I really feel. But the wildfire smoke, the oppressive wraparound smoke: I wake in the wee hours with a sore throat. The smoke reminds me of my place, a creature enveloped in creation. No attempt to hold myself apart from or above nature will succeed. My every breath confirms that something is wrong in the world of nature; it is wrong in our very depths. Any power we have should not be wasted on escape attempts, but wielded creatively and helpfully to craft solutions. What can we come up with?

If we can’t talk about weather for fun anymore, maybe we can enjoy our native plants together. We can admire the changing colors on Vine Maple (Acer circinatum) leaves. We can talk about which is cuter, purple-flowered Early Blue Violet (Viola adunca)  or the four-foot tall pink flower clusters of Henderson’s Checkermallow (Sidalcea hendersonii). We can agree that Twinflower (Linnaea borealis) is one of the most exquisite groundcovers on the planet (and even though it only grows four or five inches high, it is classified as a woody shrub).