Category Archives: Uncategorized

Beaver!

Our lot is bordered by a creek on one side.

It’s a good creek, year-round, but at this time of year it is made up of pools connected by a trickle of water. It’s a good time to put out the game cam, and see who’s around.

We knew we would see raccoons and coyotes; what we did not expect to see was a beaver!

T86

We knew that the creek had beavers — an old map of the creek marks a beaver dam farther upstream, and a couple years ago a beaver came up a seasonal offshoot in March and took out a few aspen seedlings and a bunch of ferns.

That was a thrill (once we got over the aspens), but the creek was running high, and beavers can come quite a ways when there is water.

There is not currently much water… the photo above is taken from the middle of the creek bed.

We’re not sure where the beavers are living, but it can’t be very far. We adjusted the position of the game cam the next night, and got a number of good shots of the beaver hauling salmonberries home for the winter.

T86

Yesterday, we discovered that the beaver had moved on to larger prey.

It took out not one, but two, 10-20 year old Big Leaf Maples.

They were nice trees, but in a somewhat awkward place, so we weren’t broken-hearted, but we’ll be doing a review of other trees close to the creek.

I might also don waders and go down the creek a bit, see whether I can find the den. Given how hard it’s foraging in our backyard, it can’t be coming that far!

Stay tuned!

Garden Update

We’re about halfway through the summer, so I can see what’s working well and what… not so much.

I think my attempt to keep the jungle of Ozette potatoes more balanced has been successful. I really like the signet marigolds tucked around the edge, along with feverfew and breadseed poppies.

I also planted cosmos in the middle. Those are just starting to bloom, and may not be tall enough — even though I’m trimming the potatoes this year!

Left to their own devices, Ozettes grow 6′ tall and tip over (at least for me).

So far, pruning the vines has been pretty effective, but I need to keep on it.

Rob’s garden is looking nice: borage and hollyhocks, with Larkspur just starting.

Next year, I may try some hollyhocks at the backs of my potato beds. They’re so colorful!

Normally, the deer eat them, but Rob got some blood-based spray that has been doing wonders at keeping the deer away.

Finally, my pots! Some of these are native trees and shrubs that we’re growing out for another year; others are flowers and herbs, some of which I may tuck around the garden.

I’ll be experimenting more with potted plants in the garden. It seems like a good way of keeping the color and balance through the season (quite a challenge, if you rely on in-ground plants!).

Bees in Summer

The bumblebees are enjoying the mid-summer garden, and I’m enjoying the bees! Here’s a lovely bumblebee on a hollyhock.

And here’s a bumblebee on toadflax.

And here’s a bumblebee on oregano. Can you see the flecks of pollen?

But the borage is king! It’s very peaceful sitting by the borage and watching the girls forage.

Borage can get looking a little odd later in the summer, but I always keep it going as long as possible. The bees love it so, and the little birds eat the seeds.

Start of Summer

The garden is burgeoning with the start of summer.

I spent a couple hours yesterday adding a bunch of stakes to the garden, so that things don’t all flop over in the next few weeks. For a little while it will look a little goofy, until the garden grows into it.

This year I’m going to try keeping the potatoes trimmed a bit shorter, to try to keep them more compatible with the flowers. We grow Makah Ozette potatoes, which are yummy and grow into a glorious jungle… but left to their own devices, that glorious jungle grows 4′ tall and tips over.

Potatoes with feverfew and signet marigolds

The late-spring flowers are still going. Some of the foxgloves are getting rather gawky, but this little cluster is still lovely.

Pink foxgloves above feverfew, with a backdrop of hardy fuchsias.
The other pink spikes are toadflax.

The valerian has been blooming for a couple weeks now. This one is taller than I am, and smells very sweet. The pollinators love it!

I was trying to catch this Tiger Swallowtail, and only noticed the solitary bee after the fact.

Tiger Swallowtail and solitary bee on Valerian

The first breadseed poppy opened yesterday. I’m looking forward to the flush of early-summer color!

Spring Flowers

We’re easing from early spring into mid spring here.

The first Pacific Trilliums opened about a week ago. Over the next month or two they’ll go from pristine white to a gentle, dusky pink, as the blossoms age.

Pacific Trillium in the woods. The pristine white shows that it opened recently.

If you ever see a trillium of any sort in the woods, please do not pick it. It’s a bulb, and those three pretty leaves providing a backdrop for the flower are the only leaves it will ever get.

If you pick it, it will either die, or — best case! — grow a tiny little set of leaves next year. There won’t be a flower for several years. Common wisdom says seven years, but I’m not going to do a test on this one.

Our earliest rhodie just opened. The next two months will be a glorious march of rhododendrons here. We have a native rhodie, and it has been hybridized with a number of Asian varieties to give a glorious range of rhodies that thrive in our climate.

We got a delivery of soil (manure and sand), and have been topping off the garden beds. I’ll be direct-seeding poppies and some other things in the next few days.

I also have way too many seedlings under grow lights right now. Figuring out when to plant them out is always a challenge!

I love this time of spring: more and more flowers blooming; more and more birds singing. The spring chorus has definitely started here, with the Pacific Wren the most melodious virtuoso. There are still a few types of birds we’re waiting on.

I try to get out for a morning walk with Merlin to see who’s in town.

The wood ducks arrived a couple weeks ago. They’re definitely our showiest migrant.

Blurry iPhone picture of two male and two female wood ducks

Based on last year’s bird list, we’re still expecting Pacific Slope Flycatchers, warblers of many types, and Western Tanagers.

Because I’m very reliant on song for the flycatchers and warblers, it’s possible that they’re already here, and just haven’t started singing yet. The Pacific Wrens live here year-round, but they barely sing in the winter.

Either way, I’m looking forward to the burgeoning chorus!

Spring!

Spring is springing here in the Pacific Northwest.

The first queen bumblebee showed up a couple weeks ago, and now they are regular visitors on the Pieris.

Queen bumblebee sipping on a cluster of Pieris flowers that we brought her

The Osoberries (the earliest native shrub) are blooming, and the red flowering currants are opening.

But the clear indicator that spring has really, truly arrived is that the wood ducks are here. They arrived a couple days ago, and may have been here since March 28th or so.

Here, four males and two females are on their way to get the corn the neighbor sets out.

Cell phone photo of wood ducks

Wood ducks are beautiful, but frustratingly shy. I’ll have to pull out our good camera to get a good picture.

Right now there are eight males and two females. Most of the males will probably migrate on within a few days, but the two pairs and a couple spares will likely stay until June.

I have a bunch of seedlings going in the garage and mudroom. Hopefully I’ll be able to plant most of them out before a business trip in early May.

We’re getting some more soil delivered next week. The joy and labor of spring!

First Case of COVID

Having been both careful and lucky for nearly three years of pandemic, my care and luck ran out at the beginning of the month.

I had a work trip in Louisiana, my third work trip in six months. I had skated through the first two, masking at the airport and on the airplane but taking some risks once there.

I did the same in this case… but this time, one of the other attendees brought the plague, and half of the attendees were sick the following week. Including me.

I got home Friday evening, and felt the first bit off Saturday evening. Sunday morning, 2/5, it was clear that I had something.

I thought it was either a head cold or RSV. Rob suspected otherwise, as witnessed by the label he added to this photo of me napping Sunday afternoon. I had a minor fever (99.7) when I went to bed Sunday night.

I tested positive first thing Monday, although it still mostly felt like a head cold. Still a bit of a fever (99.8, with a high of 100.5). I napped a lot, but didn’t feel too bad.

By Tuesday, I was able to work a part day, but still napped in the afternoon.

Wednesday, I was able to work a part day, and failed to nap in the afternoon — clear sign that I was on the mend. I felt about 80% in terms of brain and energy.

Thursday, I worked a full day, felt about 90%.

Friday, I tested negative, and nudged above 90%.

By the following Monday, I was aaalmost back to normal. Since then (almost another week now), I have battled the notorious lingering cough.

I’ve been taking dextromethorphan to try to prevent my lungs from becoming irritated by gratuitous coughing. I have also been masking a lot — that little pocket of humidity helps a lot. And hydrating, of course.

My chest still feels a bit tight, and I’m not sure what lung imaging would show. I’m definitely being careful not to push myself physically; my big fear is getting Long COVID.

At present, I feel like myself plus a cough. Is my energy a tad low? I think so. Is my brain a little creaky? Possibly.

Overall, I think I’ve fared fairly well, but it isn’t an experiment that I’m keen to repeat. The actual acute phase wasn’t bad for me (fully vaxxed and boosted!), but this lingering impact is worrisome.

Hopefully in a couple more weeks I’ll truly be back to normal. We’re getting on to spring and gardening season, and I want to be feeling my best!

Update: the lingering cough lingered until around March 6th, so a full month from first symptoms. That said, I’m prone to lingering coughs, and it felt like the same general type of lingering coughs that I get from colds.

My sense of smell was impacted for a week, maybe two. It never went away completely, thank goodness.

I’ll try not to do this experiment again for a goodly while.

More Hair Ice!

After an unusually mild January, we just started a bit of a cold snap. That means hair ice (frost flowers)!

Larger sticks can “grow” longer hair ice, but small sticks sometimes have especially pretty formations — especially if it wasn’t especially cold. This was a fairly small stick.

This is a much larger stick — really a branch, maybe 3-4″ diameter. The length of frost grown is comparable in this case, but the result isn’t as spectacular. However, it shows off the way the frost grows quite nicely!

Sometimes the tiniest sticks produce the prettiest formations — because you can actually see them! In a big, fluffy formation, it can be hard to see the individual strands of frost. This formation is on a tiny stick at the side of the driveway.

By contrast, here’s a frost flower that looks like a piece of cotton wool. It’s neat, but also hard to see enough detail to truly appreciate it.

I’ll close out with one that puts the “hair” in “hair ice”. They really do look like powdered ringlets! That’s because as the ice grows, it has a slight curve in one direction, resulting in a curl šŸ™‚

KÄ«lauea!

Rob and I were lucky enough to visit the Big Island of Hawaii for a few days. We were even more lucky because KÄ«lauea had resumed erupting a few days before, and had a lovely lava lake in the crater!

We got up well before dawn to see it before dawn, and it was well worth the effort. It truly felt like looking into the heart of the earth.

Glowing lava lake, with brilliant lines of incandescent red split by black
KÄ«lauea lava lake, taken from the KÄ«lauea overlook

Note that we didn’t have a good camera, so this was taken with my iPhone. It gives the right impression, but doesn’t do it justice. In reality, the “cracks” in the cooled surface lava are crisper and cleaner, but the incandescent light tends to overwhelm even a decent camera.

It probably takes a really good camera and maybe some filters to really capture it. As dawn broke, it was easier to catch a somewhat representative picture.

Dawn over the KÄ«lauea crater. The crater is still vivid.
KÄ«lauea crater at dawn. The level of incandescence is more accurate at this point. The bright points are lava fountains.

This was at 6:42 a.m., well into dawn. I’m really glad we arrived in full dark, but people arriving at this point still got a good show.

However, people arriving after full light got a completely different experience!

KÄ«lauea crater, the inner crater steaming and black. There is one visible spot of red, which is a lava fountain.
KÄ«lauea crater at full light. The inner crater that is steaming is the lava lake. The temperature hasn’t changed, but the liquid lava is no longer clearly visible. One lava fountain is visible at the top/center of the crater.

It was still amazing, but not nearly as awe-inspiring as clearly seeing the liquid lava.

Highly recommended, if you are lucky enough to get the chance!

Frost Flowers with Snow!

We’re lucky enough to live in a region that gets frost flowers (hair ice) several times each winter.

On the morning of the solstice, for the first time we had both frost flowers and snow. I was initially disappointed, because I expected the snow to ruin the frost flowers, but it was a very light dusting of cold, small flakes — so it actually added an interesting dimension to the frost flowers.

Curving strands of frost support a delicate snowflake
Closeup of hair ice holding a perfect snowflake.

Frost flowers (hair ice) form when there are sodden sticks that dip below freezing overnight. Around here, the sweet spot is ~28-31 F. It needs to be cold enough to produce frost, but not so cold as to freeze the stick solid.

The ice forms on the surface of the stick, and is extruded as it freezes to form ā€œhairā€ which can take beautiful forms that look like silvery locks or silvery flowers.

 Curving threads of ice that look like parted white hair, coming from a stick
Characteristic hair ice formation

There is a fungal association with Exidiopsis effusa. Around here, there is also a clear preference for alder twigs and branches. I’m not sure whether that’s what the fungus prefers, or whether the wood somehow favors frost flower formation.

Frost flower and hair ice are two terms used semi-interchangeably. As far as I can tell, the distinction is mostly based on the type of formation. If it’s a burst formation (e.g. from the end of a stick), it’s a frost flower. If it looks like hair growing out of the middle of a stick, it’s hair ice. Even though most of what we get is probably more hair ice than frost flowers, I like the latter term better šŸ™‚

Frost flowers and hair ice are relatively rare worldwide. They require specific conditions to “grow”. In climates with cold winters, you might be lucky enough to see a few in the autumns.

Here in the Puget Sound area, the winters are mild and tend to only dip below freezing occasionally. We also have an abundance of alders. That gives us the ideal conditions for hair ice and frost flowers.

White frost formations growing from a branch against a leafy background
Frost flower in the wild

To see them, go out on a cold morning and check any local alder groves. They tend to be more common at the edges of alder groves, where the sticks are a bit more exposed… but that depends on the temperature range. On a very cold morning (25-28F) there may be such formations deeper in the woods.

They are most common on mid-sized twigs and branches (~1/2-2″ diameter), but occasionally they grow on larger or smaller branches.