Monday, December 12, 2011

Out with the neighbor kid

My neighbor J comes with me to the farm today.

As we reach the Stillaguamish valley, the heavy overcast melts away to clear skies.  We find the farm deep in frost, the temperature below freezing, ice on puddles but not in any running water.  It is cold enough that the rime on the tree branches is not becoming forest rain. 

With an assistant for the day, I plan one of the hikes that heads into steep and difficult terrain.  It is one that I would do alone, if the days were long and the nights not so cold, but with the sun dipping behind the hills by 4pm, it would not be a good place to turn an ankle alone.  We head out to the squatter's cabin, seeing a several eagles along the way.  Coho salmon are running and they seem to bring a great many more eagles than when the pinks come up in September and October.  At the turn uphill from the river, we change from our lowland rubber boots to hiking boots. 
From the squatter's cabin, it is 50 yards of salmon berry and dense brush until we reach the edge of the tall evergreens.  There, the brush changes to ferns and salal.

It is steep, very steep.  When we can find a deer trail heading up, we follow it, otherwise we weave in and out of downed branches and trees, and around boulders, seeking the easiest terrain, when we can imagine it.  About half way up, the salal suddenly disappears and is replaced with a thick cover of Oregon Grape.  We also find a few non-native Hollies and one or two Himalayan Blackberry vines.  But mostly, it is the plants that we should find in a northwest forest.  We notice no stumps.

The neighbor kid, J
I notice something white near my feet and pick it up.  One to two inch long hairs of ice are clinging to a branch in a dense clump.  In fact, I thought it was animal fur when I spotted it. They are amazingly delicate, although we discover that they can be pushed and sculpted by gently pushing them with the finger.

They can also be made to disappear by blowing warm breath on them.  I've seen a lot of rime and hoar frost before, but never like this, never in the forest.

When we crest the hill, we find cedar stumps again.  Perhaps the steep hillside was too rocky for cedars to survive, but here they are again at the top of the hill.  The top is an old clear cut.  We walk to the high point for a view.

After some coffee and cookies, we return the way we came.  I had been careful to look behind me, so I would remember what the scene should look like if we come down in the right place.  It's harder on the legs, but easier on the lungs than the climb was.  We find the drainage that created the blow-out on the diagonal road...just another piece to some puzzle that I haven't created yet.  It doesn't seem to run with water anymore.  We come down just a hundred yards from the squatter's cabin intersecting a deer trail that, for some reason, I remember and recognize from a month ago.  I wish I knew how that part of the brain works.

To finish off the day, we hike up to the upper beach where we find a bird kill site, a dismembered coho salmon and a drift boat coming downstream.

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