Tuesday, January 31, 2012

During our walk tonight, Kelsy was the first of the four dogs to spot the rabbits.  320 pounds of dog can pull you right along when they get excited about bunnies.  I don't think these bunnies are native to Western Washington.  As far as I've been able to figure out so far, there are no rabbits or hares native to Western Washington.  That means they are eating plants that should be reserved for native species.  Coyotes are native to the area, however, and they may keep the non-native bunnies from becoming too much of a problem.  Owls also eat them.  The second rabbit we saw wasn't overly concerned about the approach of four large dogs.  He eventually ambled into someone's hedge. 

A dog can be quite useful in spotting wildlife sometimes.  They can smell when an unusual critter is about.  A dog's eyesight is not great in some respects, but if it moves, a dog can see it better than a person can at night.  Kelsy cannot see her orange ball sitting in the middle of a green lawn, but if it moves, she's all over it.  I pay attention to what the dogs notice.  They have pointed out coyote scat in the area. 

It seems like I have always had dogs, but there was actually a time when I was dogless.  Way back then, I used to see foxes quite often.  One fox in particular would come barking along every afternoon at four.  Now that I have dogs with jingling collars and tags, foxes are always long gone before I come into viewing range.  I assume they are still around. 

Monday, January 30, 2012

The screech owl called faintly tonight, a little distance away.  I had to stop walking, stop crunching the gravel on the path, in order to hear it.  I read that the screech owl holds still on the branch of a tree, disguising himself as a broken stub of a branch.  In the dusk, when I looked out at the trees, I saw broken stubs everywhere, any one of which could have been my little screech owl.

As I walked through the park, I saw that three Garry oak trees have survived the snow, ice , and wind.  They grow so slowly that I will be a very old man before I can stand in their shade.  I hope they survive to provide shade for future generations.  The Garry oak tree is dependent on humans for its survival.  It is one of the few native species that actually requires human intervention.  Well, all species need our intervention in the sense that we had better start protecting the environment before it is gone.  However, Garry oak co-evolved with humans, and it adapted to a regime of fire clearing away the underbrush and faster growing seedlings.  Now that indians are no longer burning the prairies for camas bulbs, the Garry oak relies on those individuals that are willing to provide it a home.  Ironically, next to a paved street is the ideal habitat for a Garry oak.  It doesn't need much.  It just needs to not be shaded out by faster growing species like Douglas-fir.

If I had a typical house on a standard lot on flat land, I would plant a Garry oak prairie in my front yard, with native wildflowers.  It would provide the openness that people like.  The back yard would be full of rioting native plants growing thick and wild.  The front yard could look very tame and civilized while still being great habitat with high ecological value.  I have planted several Garry oaks in my yard, but not with the typical prairie flowers.  I hope their positions, near the street and away from power lines, will give them a chance at living their full 300 years as the property is bought and sold.  I like to visit the grand Garry oaks at the south edge of Seward Park and imagine what my oak trees will look like in a couple hundred years.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Eagle Landing Park is my church, and ecology is like a religion to me.  I put on my Sunday best: boots, rain coat, and floppy hat.  I gather the family, the four dogs, and head off to church.  The sermon today is wind in the tree tops, and silence.  In the light rain and gloom, no birds sing, not even the screech owl.  I walk through the columns and arches of the trees and branches.  It is a style of architecture that lifts me up and focuses my thoughts.   Everywhere, my church is adorned with the artwork of nature, the infinite variety and complexity of leaves, branches, tendrils, and buds.

Nature is my Creator.  It is a simple, undeniable truth.  I am a part of nature, giving and taking.  For my acts of charity, I give my time and labor to the church, restoring the ecosystem as I restore myself.  My form of worship is to walk and watch, listen and learn.  With my words and photographs, I hope to capture the beauty and magnificence of nature.  I am in Paradise when I walk through the biosphere, and I do not look for another paradise elsewhere.

Nature, my Creator, has given me immortality.  I am thirteen billion years old, the latest in a series of configurations of atoms reaching back to the beginning.  The carbon in my body was forged in a supernova billions of years ago.  The code in my genes is shared with all other species in this church.  When I no longer keep my current form, I will return to nature and give my strength to her, living on forever in some other form, a part of my biosphere.

Life on Earth is sacred and singular.  If life exists elsewhere in the universe, no other planet among the trillions of planets has life quite like that on Earth.  My main purpose in life is to defend the sacred life of Earth against those who would abuse and destroy it.  I protect this park, my church, as my own little corner of the biosphere, the place where I can have the most impact.

I have faith in science and nature.  I believe that humans are capable of wisdom and kindness.  Although people have abused and destroyed ecosystems for the past few centuries, I have faith that people will find it in their own best interests to preserve this Earth, to restore nature to her past glory.  I kneel in my church to touch the soil, the living, breathing flesh of my Creator.  I visualize a future where humans once again live in harmony with nature.

I come to my church to find peace.  There may be others who appreciate the sacred and holy nature of this place, even if we don't outwardly express such thoughts to each other.  Some come to the park for benign recreation that does not detract from the beauty of my church.  A few people defile this church either out of ignorance of its beauty and significance, or out of deliberate malice.  If there is a reason for these malicious acts, nature should not be the target.  Justice is not served by harming this church.  Those who harm my church cause harm to me.  This place is my community and my home.  Damage to the park wounds me.  This is a choice on the part of those causing the damage, to hurt this place and hurt its people without necessity or reason.  When they cause this meaningless destruction, they diminish their own lives.  Those causing harm can also choose to end those practices and acknowledge the sacred beauty in this park.  This park is me.  This park is my identity.  I am not one of those people who would deliberately harm this place and all the species present.  My park, my church, allows me to know who I am and who I am not. 

All are welcome in this public park, this church without doors.  Nature bestows her blessings on all who enter the park.  This church can accommodate all kinds, and all who visit this cathedral have the opportunity to give, to leave this place better than they found it.  Anyone can worship here.  Anyone can find peace and solace in this serene sanctuary.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

We saw the Great Blue Heron today.  Spotting one made me realize that I haven't been seeing them much lately.  I used to see one every day, but now I'm seeing the first heron of the year on January 28th.  It could be that my walking routes and times have changed, or that the eagles have been eating them.  They should reach a stable population if we don't interfere with nature too much.  Many predators are gone from ELP, so the food chain is not what it used to be.  Deer, bears, wolves, mountain lions, rabbits, elk, and others are gone from this forest, unlikely to return any time soon.  The avian predators and the fish can still use this ecosystem as if it were an island, isolated by a sea of homes and pavement. Herons are somewhat tolerant of the presence of humans, but they will be disturbed from their fishing if you get too close.  I snapped a picture of the heron for Project Noah, but the iPhone is not ideal for photographing birds.  Some day soon, I will have to go hunting for birds with my telephoto lens on the good camera and see how many species I can bag. 

If a heron was fishing in the shallow water, would you adjust your walking route to give him some space and avoid disturbing him?  Most people hate nature, others are indifferent, and very few people actually appreciate and enjoy nature, judging by the way they manage their yards.  As I walk my dogs through the neighborhoods between Eagle Landing Park and City Hall, I see that nature has been banished from most yards.  They have grass and shrubs and maybe a few trees, but that is not nature.  That is horticulture.  The horticulture industry  makes money by ruining nature.  Horticulture, by definition, says that humans can improve on nature, that nature is inferior.  Horticulture is what most people have and want in their yards.  Very few native plants survive in the yards of suburban homes.  In the neighborhood near ELP, many large native Douglas-firs remain, left standing when the homes were built.  However, those trees are steadily being reduced in number, year after year.  The sound of chainsaws is very common around ELP.

Bringing Nature Home is one of the best books ever written, and if I were King of the World, I would force everyone to read it.  If everyone in Burien read the book and planted their yards full of native plants in place of those acres of lawn, Eagle Landing Park would be much healthier and happier.  What I don't understand is why people think horticultural varieties and exotic species are more beautiful than the native plants that would naturally grow here.  What is it that people hate about nature?  It must be instinctive somehow, a primitive impulse from those days when we were more often prey than predator.  Now, humans pose the greatest danger to humans.  If this hatred of nature is left over from our evolutionary past, then we need to get over it somehow.

I did not always appreciate nature and native species.  I used to be like everyone else, thinking a mowed lawn and a pruned hedge and showy flower cultivars were somehow better.  I would say that education has made the biggest difference in bringing me around to loving nature and native species.  The only reason I can think of that I ever held an anti-nature mind set is that I was brainwashed by society and commerce.  If you would like to un-brainwash yourself, here is a partial list of excellent books to help you appreciate the gifts of nature.

Field Guide to the Rare Plants of Washington
Joseph Arnett
(2011) ISBN: 9780295990927

The Owl and the Woodpecker: Encounters With North America's Most Iconic Birds
Encounters with North America's Most Iconic Birds
Paul Bannick
(2008) ISBN: 9781594850950
The Emotional Lives of Animals
A Leading Scientist Explores Animal Joy, Sorrow, and Empathy - and Why They Matter
Jane Goodall
(2008) ISBN: 9781577316299

Birds of Washington State
Brian H. Bell
Shane Kennedy
(2006) ISBN: 9781551054308

Northwest Foraging: Wild Edibles of the Pacific Northwest
Doug Benoliel
ISBN: 9780913140130

The People of Cascadia
Pacific Northwest Native American history
Heidi Bohan
(2009) ISBN: 9780984252206

Rain Gardens
managing water sustainably in the garden and designed landscape
Andy Clayden
(2007) ISBN: 9780881928266

Allen J. Coombes
(2002) ISBN: 9780789489890

vascular Plants Of The Pacific Northwest
Charles Hitchcock
ISBN: 9780295739878

Origin Of Species
Charles Darwin
ISBN: 9780785819110

Climbing Mount Improbable
Richard Dawkins
(1997) ISBN: 9780393316827

The Blind Watchmaker
why the evidence of evolution reveals a universe without design
Richard Dawkins
(1986) ISBN: 9780393315707

The Extended Phenotype
the long reach of the gene
Richard Dawkins
(1999) ISBN: 9780192880512
How Societies Choose to Fail Or Succeed
Jared Diamond
(2011) ISBN: 9780143117001
Forest Restoration in Landscapes: Beyond Planting Trees
beyond planting trees
Nigel Dudley
(2005) ISBN: 9780387255255
Neil Fletcher
(2002) ISBN: 9780789489869
Evolutionary Biology
Douglas J. Futuyma
(1998) ISBN: 9780878931897

The Tree Collector
the life and explorations of David Douglas
Syd House
(2005) ISBN: 9781845130527

Restoring the Pacific Northwest
the art and science of ecological restoration in Cascadia
Society for Ecological Restoration International
(2006) ISBN: 9781559630788

Wild Plants Of Seattle
Arthur Jacobson
ISBN: 9790962291820

Animals in Translation
using the mysteries of autism to decode animal behavior
Catherine Johnson
(2006) ISBN: 9780156031448

Plants of Western Oregon, Washington & British Columbia
Eugene N. Kozloff
(2005) ISBN: 9780881927245

Gardening With Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest
Arthur R. Kruckeberg
(1996) ISBN: 9780295974767

The Natural History of Puget Sound Country
Arthur R. Kruckeberg
(1995) ISBN: 9780295974774
Living With Wildlife in the Pacific Northwest
Russell Link
(2004) ISBN: 9780295983868

Natural Capitalism
creating the next industrial revolution
L. Hunter Lovins
(2000) ISBN: 9780316353007

The Hidden Forest
The Biography of an Ecosystem
Jon R. Luoma
(2000) ISBN: 9780805064483

Native American Medicinal Plants
an ethnobotanical dictionary
Daniel E. Moerman
(2009) ISBN: 9780881929874

Hiking Olympic National Park (rev)
Erik Molvar
(1996) ISBN: 9781560444572

Between Earth and Sky: Our Intimate Connections to Trees
our intimate connections to trees
Nalini Nadkarni
(2008) ISBN: 9780520248564

Lichens of North America
Canadian Museum of Nature
(2001) ISBN: 9780300082494

Best Hikes With Dogs Western Washington
Dan A. Nelson
(2002) ISBN: 9780898868296

The Bond
Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them
Wayne Pacelle
(2011) ISBN: 9780061969782

Winter Twigs
a wintertime key to deciduous trees and shrubs of northwestern Oregon and western Washington
Patricia L. Packard
(2001) ISBN: 9780870715303

Champion Trees of Washington State
Robert Van Pelt
ISBN: 9780295975634

The Butterflies of Cascadia: a Field Guide to All the Species of Washington, Oregon, and Surrounding Territories
a field guide to all the species of Washington, Oregon, and surrounding territories
Robert Michael Pyle
(2002) ISBN: 9780914516132

The Red Queen
sex and the evolution of human nature
Matt Ridley
(1993) ISBN: 9780060556570

Encyclopedia of Northwest Native Plants for Gardens and Landscapes
Kathleen Robson
(2007) ISBN: 9780881928631

Propagation of Pacific Northwest Native Plants
Robin Rose
(1998) ISBN: 9780870714283
Moss Gardening
including lichens, liverworts, and other miniatures
George Schenk
(1997) ISBN: 9780881923704

In My Nature: a Birder's Year At the Montlake Fill
a birder's year at the Montlake Fill
Constance Sidles
Alexandra MacKenzie
(2009) ISBN: 9780984200207

Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife With Native Plants
how you can sustain wildlife with native plants
Douglas W. Tallamy
Rick Darke
(2009) ISBN: 9780881929928
4 miles today brings me to 75 for the year.

Friday, January 27, 2012

15,000 years ago, Eagle Landing Park was buried under 3,000 feet of ice.  If you stand on the beach today and look across at the Olympic Mountains, that's about half way up the highest peaks you see.  Solid glacial ice.  The glacier retreated by about 11,000 years ago, and Douglas-fir trees marched back into the barren landscape to repopulate the lands where they lived before the glacier.  Those first pioneering Douglas-firs grew on soil lacking any organic material, any life.  As those trees lived and died on this land for 10,000 years, the soil became alive, full of decaying organic material and teeming with bugs, microbes, and fungi.

Over 100 years ago, most or all of the trees were stripped off the land.  The soil remained, mostly untouched.  The living, breathing soil of Eagle Landing Park is 10,000 years old.  The individual organisms may be young, but their genomes are ancient.  The above-ground portion of the forest had to start anew, but the below-ground forest lived on after the logging, mostly unaffected.  When the Douglas-firs grew again, those micorrhyzae were waiting for them.

The soil is very fluffy in most places.  When I want to plant a small plant, I just stick my hand into the earth and feel around for the openings.  I push the soil aside a little, distrubing it the least amount.  To plant a larger tree, I need a shovel, but that is to chop through the roots of other plants in the way.  Although I hate to disturb the soil, the living skin of the park, I do enjoy the feel and smell of having my hands in the soil.

Jon Luoma tells us there may be thousands of creatures under your foot each time you take a step.  If I could count those critters, I would have no trouble reaching 365 species this year.  One critter that does not belong there is the earthworm.  Most worms that you see are not native.  When the glacier retreated, the Douglas-firs marched into lands without most of the worms that we think of as naturally being in the soil.  Those invasive worms may be changing the makeup of the soil, and they may make it difficult to restore Eagle Landing Park to the way it once was.  Of course, no one made an accurate record of the forest before it was cut down, so we have to make educated guesses as we restore the forest to its former state of health.  But as much work as there is to do above ground, removing invasive species, below ground the park is fairly healthy, as far as I know.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

I cataloged about twenty species for Project Noah today.  It is an app and a web-based tool that lets you register the species you photograph.  I set up a "Mission" for Eagle Landing Park.  Hopefully others will join in and help me find 365 species within the park.

On the way out, a couple of kids about 11 to 13 years old were up to something.  It sounded like they were making plans for building a fort or something.  It's what I did when I was a kid.  When I was young, we played in the vacant lot.  There are no more vacant lots, at least not in this area, and public parks are serving that purpose.  Having been a boy of a certain age at one time, I know that there is no more destructive force on the planet.  It would be nice if someone, not me, could redirect them toward more positive uses of the park.

I understand the need for play.  Having three dogs and watching out for a fourth, I certainly understand the need for play.  But, as I am teaching my 80-pound puppy, there are lots of ways to play where no one gets hurt.  He used to play too hard and make all the other dogs mad.  Now he is learning not to bite, when they've had enough, and how to romp around without leaving a trail of destruction.  He is learning what is okay to chew and what is not.

I see this as a real positive with Project Noah.  It gives everyone a chance to play.  Kids can do it, too.  It's like geocaching, in a way.  Instead of hunting for a hidden treasure which turns out to be a trinket or nothing, you hunt for hidden treasures that are hiding in plain sight, the plants and animals in your local park.  I set up this entire biography of ELP as a game, a challenge to collect 365 stones on 365 consecutive days.  I like the game aspect of Project Noah for the same reasons.  It is a challenge.  You have a tangible achievement each time you capture a trophy, a species, and no one gets hurt.  The link to Project Noah is in the upper right corner of this page, and I hope you will check it out.

Stone 26 is lurking in the pool in the clay. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Komu walked with me on another gloomy afternoon just before the sun set unseen behind the clouds.  I couldn't take many pictures because of the darkness.  We came up through the community beach property and cut down the bamboo encroaching on the Douglas-fir saplings.  As I worked and Komu milled about, a screech owl kept us company with her melancholy call. 

The call of a screech owl means dusk.  I have heard them for decades in these woods, and that sound is just a part of the forest.  Sometimes you hear two or three, but you almost always hear at least one.  But you never see them.  In several decades (at least) of hearing them, I have only seen one once.  They are about nine inches tall and weigh five ounces.  They prey on mice, voles, bats, insects, and even butterflies.  They prefer open woods or the edges of woods. 
After grabbing their prey, they need to return to the safety of the canopy or their nest because other birds prey on them.  Great horned owls haunt these woods from time to time, although I don't hear them as often as the Screech owl.  Great Horned Owls are ferocious hunters, and even eagles are afraid of them.  Barred owls also come by these woods a few times a year.  Although I would like to see the screech owls, I understand they need to stay out of sight of the larger predators.

You can hear them for yourself at dusk in the park, or listen to the recording on this page.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The dogs didn't want to go for a walk today because it was rainy and gloomy, and someone in the house was eating.  I was the only one in the park, and it was a dark day well before sunset because of the low, thick clouds.  Near the bottom of the stairs, a sparrow called loudly to someone.  I was the only one around, but I didn't know what to say.  I think it was a Song Sparrow.  He or she hopped around in the salmonberry.  The high tide left very little beach.  More of the south end had fallen away.  You can see the exposed clay, the reason for the sliding hillside.  Water hits that clay layer and can't go anywhere.  The sandy soil sits on top of that water on the clay.  I almost slipped and fell on the wet clay just standing there looking at the hill.  Water runs out of the hill constantly, whether it's raining or not.  High winds are coming tonight, although not at peak tides.

I came back up through the community beach property to the south.  The skunk cabbage was not showing yet.  A large clump of bamboo is leaning over the Douglas-firs I planted a few years ago, shading them out.  I wish I had brought my pruning saw. 

In a healthy forest, a landslide or a fallen tree is an opportunity for native pioneer species to fill in.  In a compromised forest like ELP, each little natural disaster is an opportunity for unnatural invasive species to get a better hold on the forest.  As the gloomy day got darker, instead of enjoying my walk in the woods, all I could think about was the work I need to do, and what could happen if we don't get these invasive species under control. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

The pileated woodpecker tore into an alder tree near the top of the park.  Here is a video shot in 2008 of a woodpecker tearing apart an alder near the parking lot.  Decaying alders may be more alive than when they were alive.  Bats may nest under the buckled bark.  Termites drill into the soft, rotten wood, and woodpeckers dig the termites out.  Flickers may cut out a nest inside the trunk of a dead alder.

If you are patient and lucky, you may get to see two flickers do their courtship dance.  They bob their heads at one another while making funny little squeaks.

 In the picture above, there is a tiny little spider on the wax paper lichen.  Look closely and see if you can find it. 

These are the same stones I photographed yesterday, but with sun on them.
bug closeup

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Stone 22, white, with striped rocks.

Found on the beach.
The land is beginning to move on the south end of the beach near the bulkhead.  A chunk of land plopped out onto the beach, and this skunk cabbage plant was mostly exposed.  I took it home and potted it up.  If it survives, I will plant it back in the park after this round of landslide is done.  If it soaked in salt water, it probably won't live.

Local records indicate there were slides on the property that is now the park in the thirties and the fifties.  During the Depression, men were paid a dollar a day to dig tunnels into the hillside in the park.  This was mostly done to give them work, but it was also done to install drains in an effort to stop the landslides.  The tunnels were big enough for a person to walk into, and they had to be sealed with rocks because neighborhood kids used to explore them.  The only signs they exist are the clay drain tiles sticking out of the slope.  There are three tunnels in the park.  Even if the tunnels weren't there, water would still seep out of the hill all year round.  The drainage tunnels have not prevented slides.  Landslides should not be prevented because they are a natural process.  The sand bars from Eagle Landing Park to Alki Point depend on soil coming out of landslides like those in ELP and Seahurst Park.  Most of the shore is held back by bulkheads, so the areas that do slide occasionally are important to the tidal ecology. 

I saw some white-winged scoters and a Bewick's wren.  Five miles today makes 61 for the year.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

I would like to visit Africa to see the baobab trees.  The only trouble is that I no longer want to travel anywhere without my dogs.  That's okay because the trees of Eagle Landing Park are just as amazing as anything in Africa.  Maybe the alders near the beach are not as massive as African baobabs, but they are sleek and graceful.  Many homeowners consider alders a "junk" tree, something to cut down so you can buy a tree from the nursery.  I don't see how any other tree could be considered more beautiful than the alder.  Certainly no other tree is more beneficial to the environment. 

People have the same variety of opinions about dogs, Canis lupus familiaris.  Well, even my opinion of dogs varies from moment to moment.  Mostly I think they are wonderful.  In certain brief moments, I entertain the notion of taking them all to the pound.  I took all four dogs for a walk in the park today.  I stopped to take pictures, and sure enough, each time I sat all the dogs down and let go of their leashes, someone came along the path.  It is amazing how quickly people come up on you when you are trying to set down a camera and gather four dog leashes. 

People often ask me, "Are your dogs friendly?"  Because I usually have about two seconds to answer, the default answer has to be "No."  The true answer is Yes with an asterisk.  Yes, my dogs are exceedingly friendly.  However, when you get a dog on a leash in tight quarters, she can get tense, and there can be misunderstandings.  I have been asked, "Are your dogs  friendly" by a man with four dogs off-leash, smoking a cigarette in a park where smoking is not allowed.  He did not have control of his dogs, and he kicked one because he could not control her.  In this case, the answer would be, yes my dogs are friendly, but please keep your dogs away since you do not have control of them.  When two dogs meet, and one dog is on a leash and the other is off-leash, it creates an imbalance, and a short bout of snapping and snarling might ensue, even if both dogs are otherwise friendly.  When eight dogs meet in a confined space, and four are on leash and four are off leash, the results can be very unpredictable.  I only have two hands, and it's hard to micromanage four dogs at once.  If I just let all four dogs off-leash, things would probably work out okay, but that's not legal, and it's generally not in the dogs' best interest to be let off-leash in a park.  

A woman with no dogs approached us before I could grab all the leashes.  As my dogs ran up to her to be petted and greeted, she pulled up her hands and asked, in a rising voice, "Are your dogs friendly?"  It sounded a little like, "Are your dogs about to eat me alive?"  I grabbed them as quickly as I could and assured her they were friendly in that circumstance.  

As a general rule, when someone asks if my dogs are friendly, if I say yes, one of the dogs will misbehave and embarrass me.  If I say no, they will all sit there like the happiest, friendliest, safest dogs you ever could hope to meet.  The people we meet have all sorts of attitudes toward dogs, and I cannot say that my dogs will behave themselves in every circumstance.  For example, children often stare directly into a dog's eyes, right at eye level.  In dog language, this is an aggressive gesture.  Each of my dogs has barked at a child who was staring in this manner.  I can't stop and explain to every child that staring like that is rude in dog language.  

The bottom line is, yes, my dogs are friendly.  They are among the nicest people I know.  However, they do have a talent for misbehaving just at the crucial moment.  They have never bitten anyone, human or dog.  Kelsy and Karma work for Missing Pet Partnership, where Kelsy finds lost dogs and Karma finds lost cats.  Komu, the puppy, is in training to find lost cats.  They are not dangerous.  It would be nice if people approaching us on the trail gave us a few moments to get organized so we can be on our best behavior.  If one of my dogs misbehaves, I apologize in advance, and I assure you that you are not in danger.  A little patience and understanding would be greatly appreciated.

Friday, January 20, 2012

It would be hard to imagine a gloomier day, and I loved it.  Ice fell from the trees onto snow no longer white.  The cold rain fell through misty air.  Puget Sound's glassy surface showed each raindrop as it fell.  No one else ventured into the park except me and the ducks.  They dove down into the eel grass beds for their meals.  If you have to dive into Puget Sound for a living, you don't care if it's cold and raining.(I think the diving birds were horned grebes, but I didn't have binoculars, so I can't be sure.)

I don't particularly like the staircase because it attracts people who come to the park only for the stairs. (I have no objection to people climbing stairs for exercise.  It is even possible that most people who climb the stairs also appreciate nature.  There seems to be a minority of people who think the rest of the park is just something you have to get through to get to the stairs, and these people don't feel they should have to take care of the environment.) Even if I think the stairs fit the definition of Attractive Nuisance, they do make it much easier to get to the beach when the earth is mud and ice.  Also, the stairs protect the slope.  If a trail had been cut into the steep hillside, it would channel water, kids would make shortcuts, and the slope would probably slide much sooner than its natural schedule, wiping out the trail.  In a natural environment, the stairs are violently unnatural, but they do protect the environment.  The slope does appear to be getting ready to slide.  This is landslide season, and the forecast for the next ten days calls for rain every day.  The waves at high tide have hollowed out a cavern under the wooden steps closest to the beach.  The alders north of the stairs are completely undermined.  At the south end of the beach, near the bulkhead, water from a spring is cutting under an alder.  There were small landslides in 2008, 2009, and 2010.  I would be surprised if we didn't have another landslide soon.  The wooden stairs at the bottom may fall into the sea, but the concrete landings will be the last thing to go.  The concrete portion you see is really just a cap.  All the weight of the stairs is supported by pin pilings that were driven into the earth as far as they could go.  Each concrete landing is filled with Styrofoam.  They look massive, but they are relatively light. 

Falling branches bring the canopy down so we can study it.  This branch fell from 70 to 80 feet.  Stone 20 is pictured with at least three species of lichen.  I think the one on the right is Lobaria.  I will try to take a good camera and get a better picture. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

An ice storm hit the park this morning, bringing down a few large branches and making the twigs look stunning.  The dogs stayed home because of the risk of falling limbs.  I heard several large trees creak and crack.  I cleared large branches from the path in several places.  The hazelnut branches dipped down into the path.  I left most of those alone because they should spring back up tomorrow when the ice melts.  Mostly, I took lots of pictures, as seen in this gallery.

Hazelnut trees and a few non-native hazelnut trees make up the majority of the middle story, between the shrubs and the big trees in Eagle Landing Park.  I might like to try a hazelnut someday, to see how they taste, but the squirrels and bluejays leave absolutely zero behind.  If you think you see a hazelnut ripe on the branch, it will turn out to be empty inside.  The native Corylus cornuta and the non-native Corylus avellana look very similar.  The non-native has catkins that are lighter in color, almost white.  The catkins of the native are darker, beige to almost brown.  When I asked the scientist from EarthCorp if we should worry about removing the  non-native Corylus avellana from ELP, he replied that it should be the last thing we worry about when removing non-native species.  They are so nearly identical in form, habit, and function that the non-natives don't pose a threat.  They aren't out-competing the native hazelnuts yet.  They don't appear to hybridize with each other.

I walked a couple of miles on the ice, and collected stone 19, pictured below on driftwood.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

About five inches of snow fell last night.  The red huckleberry pictured above has hundreds of tiny little buds ready to burst into leaf.  Hopefully, winter will be done with this sort of weather after tomorrow, and buds can begin to open without too much risk of damage.  Red huckleberries were prized by native Americans, who burned sections of the forest in order to keep the huckleberry plants healthy and plentiful.  The burned huckleberry bushes would shoot up from the roots, forming lush new plants, and the trees that would normally shade out the huckleberries would have to start over again.  I can think of only two red huckleberry bushes in the park, neither of which gets enough sun to produce much fruit.  In the future, since no one will be setting ELP on fire, red huckleberry may dwindle away.  If a major tree falls and clears a new opening in the canopy, that might provide an opportunity for a few new red huckleberries.  You can read about controlled burns for huckleberry yields here.

Although ELP won't be managed with controlled burns, given the proximity of houses on all sides, it will be a managed forest in many respects.  Humans will be choosing what species are planted in the park, and the forest will always rely on volunteers to control invasive species.  Sections of northwest forest have been managed by humans for ten thousand years.  Indians used natural processes, similar to wildfires started by lightning, to renew the forest so that pioneer species and plants that love sun could survive and flourish.  Human numbers were small enough, from 10,000 years ago to 150 years ago, that this management of sections of the forest still left the majority of the forest to progress on its usual course.  Those humans integrated themselves into the forest in ways that we cannot.  ELP would suffer if too many people chose to forage for food from native plants within the park.  We can integrate ourselves into the forest in ways that those first humans could not.  We can photograph the natural beauty found there, and we can learn all about the more than 365 species within the park.  Using science and technology, we can delve into the forest more than ever.

Today's walk took us from the beach to the library and back (4 miles), taking pictures all the way.  A gallery of images from ELP and from around Burien can be seen here.  Stone 18 is tucked in the crevice of the steps in the picture below.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The two alders above are probably in the most need of help in the park.   If they fall while the ivy is alive, they will spread the infection further.  I will try to get to these trees soon.  The section of forest below is actually healthy.  I couldn't see any invasive species from the trail, although there may be something lurking in there.  The health of this section is probably due to a robust colony of salal, which keeps invasive species from geting started. 
Springtime pic of salal flowers.
Salal is very tough and versatile, growing in dry to wet conditions, full sun to mostly shade.  Some people complain that it is almost impossible to kill in their yards, which makes me happy.  Even though it is tough, it can also be tough to start.  It needs that micorrhyzal association.  I have planted salal in several locations in the park, in habitat where other plants are flourishing nearby, and it has died on me.  It is a little sad, the number of plants I've inadvertently killed while trying to improve the park.  Salal does not like extreme fluctuations in moisture, and organic material in the soil and micorrhyzae can even out the moisture.  Until that association is established, you need to water it regularly, and not let it get too dry during our dry summers.  Because of this fungal association with the roots, salal does not transplant well.  You need to get the whole root, which is often eight feet long running just under the surface of the soil.  If you dig up just the roots within a foot of the plant, it will surely die.  King County hosts salvage events, where you can salvage native plants from sites scheduled for construction.  You can use these plants for restoration in local parks, or for your own yard.  I have seen acres of salal that were going to be bulldozed, but I couldn't take any home because it just wouldn't survive.  Salal is an invasive plant in England.  I would be happy to get back at them for what they've done to us with English ivy, but I don't want any plants to be invasive anywhere in the world.

Above is stone 17 with ivy and lichen on maple bark. 2 miles today.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Humans are symbiotic with the biosphere to some extent, whether or not we choose to be.  We breathe out carbon that trees need, and we consume oxygen that would poison the world if too concentrated.  Beyond a few functions like that, humans are parasitic on the biosphere, even though we have the capacity to be symbiotic in all our functions.  We consume the Earth's resources to the detriment of the Earth, and often to our own detriment as well. Our current economy relies on conspicuous consumerism, no matter how bad it is for us or the planet.

Members of a symbiotic relationship do not perform their functions for altruistic reasons.  They do what they do for their own benefit, to become something more than what they could be alone.  The forest of Eagle Landing Park is made possible by micorrhyzae in the soil.  Invisible to us, this fungus in the ground allows trees to become big and strong, and grow much faster than they would without this fungal association.  Fungi, often the main body of the organism that we see as mushooms, wrap around the tiniest branches of tree roots, coating them.  The fungi provide better water and mineral absorption for the trees by being more efficient at interfacing with the soil.  The fungi has a larger surface area, and it releases chemicals to allow the transfer of minerals.  The trees, in turn, provide sugars to the fungi, for food.

All of the trees in Eagle Landing Park are connected underground by their roots and by the fungi that form this symbiotic relationship with them.  Trees can exchange sugars, carbon, and minerals with each other by way of these micorrhyzal fungi.  This may be the only thing keeping some trees alive.  At the top of the park, near the beginning of the trail, a retaining wall was cut into the soil near a giant Douglas-fir.  This excavation occurred in the well-known critical root zone.  (The critical root zone is well known in the sense that anybody doing construction or landscaping would know about this, and if you don't know about the critical root zone, you should not be allowed within ten feet of a tree.  According to the formula, they should not have done any excavation within 48 feet of that tree.)  You could not get a permit to damage a significant tree on your own property with a retaining wall like this.  Indeed, the plans provided for construction did not place the wall there.  No one seems to know why the workers chose that spot for the retaining wall.  They undoubtedly severed and damaged many main, vital roots for this giant tree.  It may still succumb to the damage, as some trees take ten years to die after the fatal wound.  However, it may survive because there is another large Douglas-fir about twenty feet uphill of this tree.  Their roots must grow near each other, and this micorrhyzal association allows them to exchange nutrients, sugars, minerals, and water.  Their roots interlock, providing stability.  The two trees grow as a unit.  One gets more light and the other can harvest more moisture.  One trades sugars with the other, for moisture and support.  Because of the symbiotic micorrhyzae, the trees are able to help each other survive.  Throughout the park, you can see examples of trees of a species growing in groups of two or three, helping each other grow faster and better because of their root networks.  Yes, they grow there because that's where the seeds fell, but they survived and flourished because of their connected roots and the micorrhyzae hidden in the soil.
 Stone #16 is pictured above, front and center, with another interesting stone and two crab shells.  The crab shell above is covered in barnacles, in what appears to be a mutualistic relationship.  The barnacles get transportation to new waters for feeding, and the crab gets camouflage, looking like a rock with barnacles on it. 

I saw a currant blooming today.  A bad picture because all I had was my iPhone and my hands were shaking with the cold.  (The currant is probably a cultivar and not a true native.  It was planted when the park was built, and did not grow from local seeds.)  The dogs and I walked 4 miles, to the beach, to the library, and back. 43 total miles.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Nature is infinitely beautiful.  The park changes every day, and beauty can be found in minute lichens or panoramic views.  All that beauty would be wasted, if not for humans.  One thing humans (some of them) do well, that so far seems to escape other species, is to be aware of the beauty around them.  Trees don't know they are beautiful.  Eagles don't think of themselves as majestic or graceful (I'm guessing).  My dogs don't seem to fully appreciate all the wonderfulness of being a dog, and instead they are content to lay on the couch like a cat or something.  Humans have the capacity, when they aren't busy destroying nature, of being that organ of the forest that can appreciate, record, remember, and enjoy.  I think I would enjoy being a tree, living for fifteen hundred years, and seeing the forest evolve around me.  I would be a Pacific yew, growing slowly, living two thousand years or more.  The tree itself sees nothing.  If not for humans, all of this beauty might be wasted. (Most of this beauty seems to be wasted on most visitors to the park.  Many of them talk loudly and incessantly, which it seems they could have done at home.  Others scream all the way through the park, which it seems like they could have done... never.  Most of them also trudge up and down the staircase, either staring at the steps or lost in their thoughts, as if they were climbing stairs at the park&ride.  Still others view the park as a place to throw their garbage or a place for their dogs to poop.  While I'm sure that many visitors to the park fully appreciate its beauty, they seem to be in the minority.)

Another thing the forest cannot do is plan.  If we are the brains of the forest, we can prepare for the future, such as landslides.  Nature has handled landslides just fine on her own in the past, filling in the barren soil with pioneer species such as alders that grow rapidly and enrich the soil with nitrogen and organic debris.  If a landslide happened today, exposing bare soil, it would be colonized by non-native, invasive species, such as blackberry, laurel, foxglove, alien grasses, butterfly bush, scotch broom, European ash, nipple wort, herb robert, and others.  We know the hillside is going to fail, sooner or later.  For the sake of the forest, we ought to remove all the invasive species from around the hillside, so that when the day comes, native pioneer species can colonize the bare soil instead of invasive species.  This would require a coordinated effort of many volunteers and local government, which seems unlikely at this point.  I hope the landslide holds off a few years. 

Humans are uniquely suited to become the mind of the biosphere.  Planet Earth would do just fine if humans suddenly vanished.  In most ways, Earth would be much healthier if we left.  However, if humans ever stop being a burden on the planet and choose to become an integrated member of their ecosystem, they could benefit the Earth by providing the services of memory, planning, and appreciation of beauty.  We know the Earth will die some day, being swallowed up by the giant red sun in a few billion years.  We ought to take advantage of that time to find a new home for Earth's life and beauty and ensure the survival of all the species of Earth.  Humans, more than any other species (that we know of) have the capacity to be the most helpful, beneficial species on the planet.  I hope they will get tired of consuming the planet to make more junk that will end up in landfills.  I hope humans will choose a symbiotic relationship with mother Earth.