Intimations of Spring

Seattle does this. In the midst of a chilly, drab, damp gray winter, a few days burst out with sun and warmth, as if the Pacific Northwest has gotten as tired of the cold and dark as its inhabitants and decided to skip forward a few months. It will go back to being winter again before long. Gather ye sunshine while ye may, then.

I fled the house after some lounging about in a brilliant sunny bedroom with a cat lolling in sunbeams, and headed off on a ramble up over the drumlin to North Creek. I propose to take you with me. There’s precious little geology to be found along this route, but there are a few points of mild interest, and birders may scream with joy.

One of the things I like about living here is the shy little glimpse of Mt. Rainier. You wouldn’t expect it in Bothell, exactly, but over the shoulder of a drumlin, Mt. Rainier puts in an occasional appearance.

Mt. Rainier from a drumlin

There were rather fewer clouds than it appears in this photo, lurking about on the horizons as if ashamed to be intruding. We’re supposed to have more of the bastards tomorrow, but I put about as much stake in the predictions of the weather reports around here as I do in the prognostications of psychics and most economic forecasters. The weather seems to delight in proving them wrong on the fine details.

But I digress.

The road over the drumlin, alas, hadn’t changed much over the winter. I’d been hoping a few intriguing rocks had washed out – this is where I found my outstanding chunk of garnet mica schist – but it was just the usual run of rounded random bits, all sorts of glacial outwash that used to confuse me before I discovered why it looked like there’d been streams running over the tops of the hills. A bit more than usual is visible this time of year, though, with the leaves off the trees and the blackberry brambles going bald. In fact, I discovered a cut in the drumlin I’d never seen before:

Drumlin Cut

Granted, not the most exciting thing in the universe, but for those who like to look upon the innards of a drumlin, there you go.

Just down the street, I came across a lovely example of a Pacific Northwest glade.


The sorrel-colored leaves and the bare pale trees made a lovely contrast to the brilliant green sword ferns and firs. A couple of tiny streams ran through it. That’s one of the things that still astonishes me about this area: the sheer profusion of tiny streams. And it’s completely wild to stand on what seems like solid ground and discover you’re standing atop the stream:

Standing on a stream

If you dug a hole where my foot is, you’d hit water. It’s probably roots that did it. I’ve seen those places where some wood fell across, and roots followed, and then soil and leaf mold collected, and of course mosses and plants grow everywhere here. Before long, you have a bit of solid ground with a stream running under it. Quite fun for someone not used to such things.

I walked down the drumlin to the intersection and turned up toward my workplace. Along the straight road there’s a place that dips, which nearly always floods during storms, and along the side a screen of vegetation. The reason for the extra-heavy vege and the flooding is because what we would, in Arizona, call a creek and get quite excited about flows right alongside. Here, it’s more of an unnamed nuisance. There are parts where the water lies still in little sandy pools, and other places where it’s reed-choked even in this late season, and others where woody debris and other vagaries of the bed cause a profusion of miniature waterfalls. It’s quite wonderful, and nearly impossible to photograph. It wasn’t my quarry anyway. Ahead, there’s a lovely dry stone wall. Dry is a misnomer. Any number of minute streamlets drain off the hill and sometimes cause some pretty spectacular waterfalls to course down that wall. But they’re great chunks of stone, and considering how little geology there is round here, I made a beeline for them. I’d not gotten my nose against them before.

I was not disappointed. I found something intriguing.

Could it be... sedimentary?

My field identification skills, never excellent, are somewhat rusty. But I believe this is sedimentary, and I seem to see some graded bedding here. Have a closer look and tell me what you think:

Detail of intriguing rock

It put me in mind of turbidites, and I liked it. Even if I am completely wrong about it.

Alas, we’ve had a few nice days, so no waterfalls spilling over the wall. Just a few damp patches, and here and there a trickle of water. I crossed toward North Creek, and came across the first flowers I’ve had the pleasure to photograph this year, complete with bee.

Bee and flowers

I’m very pleased with this shot. I had my nose down amongst the bees, who were being buggers, refusing to hold still, but this gentlebee finally did strike a pose. I love shooting bees. They’re always too immersed in what they’re doing to notice me, and they turn out surprisingly well sometimes.

Just down the way, nearer the creek, some hawks were circling. I got lucky enough to catch one in mid-soar:

I think it’s a hawk, anyway. It’s possibly an eagle. I don’t know my birds so well as I should. All I know is, the sun’s shining behind it, and it’s quite lovely, if a wee bit blurred. Have you ever tried to photograph a speck of a bird with a point-and-shoot camera against a featureless background at full zoom with no tripod? It’s difficult.

Not much further on, the road intersects North Creek. There’s a wonderful wide greenbelt here, with broad pea-gravel paths running along the tops of the levees. In between the commercial buildings, you feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere. There’s an abundance of wildlife and wetlands, where you suspect what you might see but are never quite sure. Sometimes, you get only crows. Other times, there are bald eagles. Today, the motif was blue herons. There was a gentleman on a bike stopped at a curve in the path, and he pointed out a particularly fine example hanging out by the creek looking for lunch.

Blue Heron

Blue herons are a particular favorite of mine. They’re among the first wild birds we saw when we moved up here, and they’re lovely. Besides, any fan of Robert Jordan has got to have a soft spot for herons.

I took the left-hand path, which curves round toward the interstate along a fairly large pond. And in that pond were some magnificent cormorants, one drying itself in grand fashion. They made the whole walk worth it.


I don’t know why the one bothered to dry itself off – it just dove back into the water and swam again. Wonderful, aren’t they? I’ve never seen them up at North Creek before, nor so close, so it was a pleasure. I shared these photos with a group of walkers a little further up the trail, who’d gotten past the cormorants and were on to ducks. That’s one thing you’ll always find at North Creek on a sunny afternoon – people who like sharing bird sightings.

The trail pretty much ends just past the pond, but instead of doubling back, you can cut through a parking lot, head along the street, and come to a few items of interest. One is this incongruous building that looks a bit like a dairy barn, smack in the middle of prosaic rectangular commercial buildings. It looked particularly pastoral today.


And then, just beyond it, you intersect North Creek again at one of the best spots for seeing something of interest. This is where bald eagles come to roost, and salmon run, and blue herons lurk about. It’s also a lovely view down the creek, with old snags and weeping willows.

North Creek

No bald eagles about today, alas, but there was a blue heron on the bank. You can see him in the lower left of this photo, a dark curvy speck amongst the tan wetland grass. He was in an excellent spot for photographing, and obliged by not moving while I darted here and there looking for the best angles.

Blue Heron II

I’m quite pleased. Proper sun and everything. Now if only I can get the bald eagles to strike the same pose…

Going down the other side of North Creek, I ran short on birds. They’d all gone in for a siesta, it seemed. But I found a tiny spur trail down to the creek, and a bit of geology lurking there: a nice boulder with quartz (or possibly calcite) in:

Boulder with Quartz

I’ve been down that spur before, but never noticed the boulder. It’s usually hidden by a screen of vegetation. I knelt down to make friends with it, and the sunlight filtering through the trees did wonderful things with the quartz (or possibly calcite) and moss:

Quartz and Moss

Don’t ask me why these things make me so happy. They just do. So do raccoon tracks in the sandy bank:

Raccoon Track

So, raccoons. I shouldn’t be surprised.

That bank put me in mind of ichnology. Lots of traces, there: the raccoon, and birds, and crawling things. All it asked was for a nice flood to deposit a layer of sand over the top without wiping clean the traces, and then a few million undisturbed years to set it in stone, and then a few million more to lay the tableau bare again. And there you would have, frozen in time, one day in the life of North Creek.

Just down the trail, the trees clear out a bit, and there’s a wide area of the North Creek wetlands where it’s all reeds and grasses and just a few little trees. And here, there was a couple talking about beavers. Beavers, on North Creek. I’d never suspected such a thing, but I should have. The buggers were inside having a nap, but I snapped a photo of their lodge, which I’d never noticed until the couple pointed it out to me.

North Creek Beaver Lodge, LLC

They have, they said, seen as many as nine beavers at that lodge before. Presumably, they’re more industrious than the beaver that lived by us on Forbes Creek, back when I was in Kirkland. Laziest beaver ever. He’d begun a dam, and months later, as we moved out, had felled exactly one tree and added a stick or two. I miss that non-busy beaver. Beavers are cool.

North Creek takes a bend down by the pond near 195th St, and there you can find a quite nice bridge. It’s even somewhat visible this time o’ year:

Rustic Bridge

In the summer, it’s delightfully shady and cool. In winter, it turns out, it basks in plenty of sun on the days when the sun ventures out. And it turned out to be a good place to photograph flying geese from:

There’s a field not far from here that’s always full of them. The crows have the ballfields, the geese have a vacant lot, and everyone’s happy.

The remaining geology is sparse, I’m afraid, and consists of some rocks causing rapids near a knot of trees with some truly outstanding roots:

Roots and Rocks

The roots give a definite mangrove impression, even though these aren’t by any means mangroves. The rocks aren’t very visible from this side, and from the other bank, you’d have to brave blackberry brambles. I’m sorry, but I’m not that desperate.


There were trees along that side of the bank, however, that captivated me. They had a lovely coppery sheen. I’m not sure what they are – it’s hard to identify without leaves when you’re a rank amateur such as myself – but I’m thinking of them as copper beeches for the moment, and fell head-over-heels in love with them.

Copper Beeches

The camera couldn’t do them justice, alas, but this last photo came out well enough:

Copper Beech Closeup

From there, it was on down the creek past the ballfields and home for lunch with kitteh. In a few months, the fruit trees will flower spectacularly, and then the oaks and willows and various other deciduous trees will leaf out, and everything will be emphatically green. Things on display right now will retreat. North Creek will look like a somewhat different world. But in this spring preview, bare under brilliant sun, it’s revealed a few surprises, and proved it rewards a ramble no matter what the season.

Intimations of Spring
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7 thoughts on “Intimations of Spring

  1. 2

    Thanks for sharing your walk. Glad you took your camera. Isn’t it fun to find special places tucked around the edges of civilization? I remember 30 years ago while living in Houston TX finding an area of well over 100,000 acres that the Army Corps of Engeneers turned into a flood plane to divert the copious spring runoff. The whole area was surrounded by a 10-12′ earthen wall. I would scramble over the dike and walk for hours, never seeing another person. A little bit of Paradise surrounded by 3.5 million people. Seems like a certain personality type is drawn to these spots.
    Oh, by the way, that hawk looks like a Red Tail.

  2. 3

    The bird in flight appears to be a red-tailed hawk. Although the tail is more rounded than I’d have expected. Definitely not an eagle.

    The barn was part of a very beautiful farm that I used to enjoy seeing as I drove by on 405. Some tech company or other bought the property and developed it, leaving the barn as (I think) the employee cafeteria.

    Lovely post, thanks for taking us on a walk!

  3. 5

    I enjoyed sharing your walk.

    Here in Michigan, we had another weirdly warm and beautiful day. I put in a few miles on my bike, and had to keep reminding myself that it’s February. It certainly has been an odd winter so far.

  4. 6

    Saturday was the day. We went to Langley on Whidbey island and had a great time.

    I’m not saying it is going to stay this nice, but I think we are not going back to winter. The times they are a changin’.

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