Thursday, February 23, 2012

When you see bird poop, look up.

The day is cloudy, overcast and still with the sound of running water all around.  The previous few days were heavy with rain and that rain has not yet left the valley.  It hangs in the air and runs down the sides of the hills, it is everywhere and in places that I am not used to seeing it.  The river gauge had pulsed up several feet in just a few hours, and then retreated part way in just a few more.  The North Fork of the Stillaguamish does that with heavy rain and part of my motivation is to witness the change on the gravel beaches and see what new heavy items the river has left behind.  I don't even bother with my hiking boots, going straight into the knee length rubber ones.  The lower farm also holds the rain for some time.

A lot of water is flushing out of the creek today.  It has overrun the road near the barn and the old creek bed has a current in it today.  It is a maze to get up to where the creek comes from the hillside, a serpentine route to avoid stepping into a channel that is more than boot deep.  The gravel bar created by the USDA restoration is now doing what a gravel bar does, dissapating and absorbing the energy of the stream flow.  I try to walk out to a couple of my favorite cedar stumps, but the field that appears to be "just wet" is actually mid shin deep at its shallowest.  The long grass that grows here in the summer is floating on top, an illusion.

The lower beach is narrow today and in places I am right up against the brush line.  I notice that the rocks have been shingled - with my back to the river I can see that all of the rocks are tilted downstream.  I'm not sure why I never noticed this before, but maybe it is something that is most noticeable right after high water.  I find a plastic tag with the number "108".  It is attached to a short length of nylon rope.  It looks like it might have been a livestock tag.

I can't get to the upper beach without getting very wet.  The ford to the north fields is mid-thigh deep today and I'm not going to brave the high log alternative while carrying my camera.  As I sit to figure out my next direction, the coyotes let loose unseen out in the north fields, yipping for a minute and then going silent.

I take a meander up the creek that drains the DNR hillside.  It's easy uphill going for a little while if one knows where to start.  On my way back out, I notice bird crap on the ground and I look up, as I always do.  A growth on a tree branch looks odd.  It looks odd because it is a bird butt.  It is only 8 ft away and so still that it might be a stashed kill.  I walk back under the branch and look up to find a tiny owl staring back at me.  It is a Northern Saw-Whet owl, only 7 or 8 inches in size.  It tolerates me to no end as I walk back and forth and all around trying to get the best photograph.  I'm there for some time.  Then I go.

On the way out, I stop in the fake shelf fungus cedar grove to check the mud for tracks, of which there are none.  But, tap, tap, tap send my eye to a red breasted sap sucker, which is almost as tame as the saw-whet owl was.  It is working a cedar tree, the tell-tale holes of its mission clear all up and down the trunk. 

The day has been everything that I needed.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Finding the edge

"A" and I arrive at the farm on a quiet and cloudy morning with just the lightest touch of wind, a day for shirtsleeves as long as one is moving.  For all her time at the farm, A has not yet seen the squatter's cabin and she is eager to find out what this is all about.

We stop once, as I always do, near the river gauge.  There is a fine sand shore here that records particularly clear animal tracks.  But, this time, we find nothing new since Monday when I was last here.  Rain has eroded the sharp edges of the old tracks, including my own.  We can move on.

To find the turn into the woods, I tell A how many strides to count.  It will be close enough, even with our different pacing distance.  We hear a woodpecker before we leave the road.  I let A continue up ahead of me so that she can have the cabin emerge from the brush as her own.  When I catch up, she is standing, watching.  A pileated woodpecker is down low on an old alder working away.  Thunk thunk thunk, a colorful crow sized bird throwing large chips of rotten wood.  It seems unworried to our presence.  We watch.

When our movements become too much, it leaves, flying directly and closely over A and nearly crapping on her.  Then we examine and discuss the cabin.

When we move off, we bushwack in a clockwise direction around the DNR hill.  I don't expect to get too far, but I want to see the lay of the land farther in this direction.  We have a lot of salmon berry thrashing to do, but it does go easier when we can stay under the cedars.  Eventually, we begin to follow deer trails up the side of the hill, getting higher than planned, probably within 200 ft of the hilltop.  But, we also find that we have an excellent view of the first valley north of the Stillaguamish.  It is a perspective of the land that will anchor the wanderings with a reference to the planned world.

We make our way home.  We are both tired, but more than that, we are relaxed.  We talk about naps, when we talk at all.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

I'm not there

Today, I'm down in the shop building boxes to hold more of the specimens that I've collected wandering through Smoke Farm.  But, sometimes the specimens transport me to the farm and things that I should be thinking about while I'm there arrive here. Specimen 61 is a no trespassing sign that I found half buried in the cobbles of the lower beach.  It is scratched, bent, and has a good dozen BB marks from someone's shotgun.  I'm pretty sure I know where the obnoxious thing came from, and he's not getting back - it is a specimen.  It's currently one of my favorite finds.  It brings to thought the connections that people form.  In this case, the connection with property, which is dramatically different than a connection with land.   One thing that I detected very early on at Smoke Farm was that the people here had a connection with the land and while they do own the property, they seem to own the property because of the land that it is.  The land is not fenced, it is not signed, but it is carefully maintained, watched over and respected - more than anything, it is respected.  I've met people from three different government organizations on the property.  They show up to do restoration, or to verify that the river gauge is working, or to look for spawning salmon.  They are looking out for the land as well.  I've talked with them and walked along to see what they do.  They know where that sign comes from too.  They know because they aren't allowed on that property (see - it is no longer land).  Having and owning might not be the same thing.

Artwork and that neighbor kid, again.

Until March 24, the first 39 specimens and some other stuff are on exhibit at the Anchor Art Space in Anacortes.

Monday, February 6, 2012


My good friend KF meets me at the farm in the morning.  She has been here once before, but has never wandered farther than the lower section of the farm.  While I waited for her to arrive, for as I suspected, she was trying to find her way here by 6 month old memories, a hawk slope-soars back and forth overhead, its' screeee call coming out each time it wheels to change direction.  A cool wind comes down the valley, putting a temporary chill on a sunny day that will be unseasonably warm.

squatter's cabin

Once we pass the shop building, it is new country for KF.  We stop at the small beach near the USGS gauge finding it reconfigured, a new channel cut through by recent high water.  I find an especially good raccoon track and pour a casting that we can retrieve on the way out.

I take KF up to the squatter's cabin.  She is familiar with some of the artist shacks that were built at Fish Town near the mouth of the Skagit.  KF finds the cabin fascinating, a seemingly excellent spot for a person to do some writing and an improbable location for a prospector.  I know that she will think it over.

After some time there, we head farther up the diagonal road to the area that K and I passed through a few weeks ago when we missed our descent route off of the DNR hill by a couple hundred yards. I continue making family portraits with the forest women....Mother and Son...Mother and Daughter....Mother and Children.  I go through a lot of pixels.

When we feel the need to do a bit more walking, we head up to the upper beach.  It is interesting to see how the river's gravel bars have changed - some changed shape, some changed texture.  Places that were cobbles in the summer are now smoothed over in pea gravel, as are some of the sand patches that I used for finding animal tracks.  KF finds a coyote scat pile on the way across the fields and I carefully collect it as it has many bones from a recent meal that should be identifiable.  I find an aircraft fragment in the gravel of the upper beach.

Today, I collect a good number of specimens. It was a fine day any way you cut it.