Yeah, I’ve been gone for a good bit. I can explain. Politics, the pandemic, and health crises sapped my will to write. Then the sun came out. (And there were so. many. volcanoes.) In this essay, I will ‘splain what’s been going on, and show you some of the beautiful sights we saw as we broke free from a confining year.
This was a summer of slowly learning how to adventure again.
The pandemic was rough, even for introverts. We couldn’t travel out to our favorite volcanoes, and even local outdoors walks in areas without many people felt fraught. The winter was especially tough. My partner was an essential worker, and though we never caught COVID, we risked it daily. Political turmoil made everything much worse, especially when the Capitol was attacked in January. The stress of it all caused me to withdraw and him to relapse. We nearly lost each other. Words failed me for a long time. It felt like nothing would ever be safe again.
But in spring, he went into residential treatment, and my friend M and I began tentatively venturing out. Just to nearby parks, at first. She introduced me to Union Bay Natural Area, where magnificent views of Lake Union, the Issaquah Alps, and Tahoma (Mount Rainier) provide a lovely setting for many fantastic birds. That’s when my passion for the sun was rekindled after a year of being unable to venture out.
I brought her to North Creek, where trails through the wetlands and along ponds provide many more opportunities for birding (yes, it’s become our thing), plus lovely views of the ridges that the Cordilleran Ice Sheet bequeathed to the Puget Lowlands.
While most of my old haunts were familiar and comforting, many things had changed in sometimes astonishing ways. For instance, the entire Seattle Times building was demolished. When we got to North Creek one day in spring, nothing remained but mountains of rubble. The gigantic structure had been reduced to piles of pulverized concrete and chaotic jumbles of wiring. I found it oddly fascinating, strangely beautiful. We spent the summer watching it morph from newspaper printing to townhome complex.
We returned to those places again and again, day and night, weekends and weekdays, bringing my partner along as he rediscovered the joy of hiking in his recovery.As the days lengthened and nights retreated, we started darting out on impromptu adventures in the evening. Sometimes, we found ourselves arriving at a destination just in time for a spectacular sunset. The fierce and fleeting beauty of those painted skies could stop every thought aside from wow, every emotion except for awe.
By early summer, all three of us were vaccinated. We had a safe little pod, even as COVID began to burn through the unvaccinated population. But its advance was still as terrifying as the apocalyptic fires, fueled by a warming climate, that consumed forests and towns alike throughout the West. Though western Washington remained a microcosm of serenity in a terrifying world, we weren’t yet ready to venture far from our little Seattle-Lynnwood-Bothell cocoon. But then a ferocious late June heat wave sent much of the Pacific Northwest into triple digit temperatures. It gave us the necessary impetus to escape our comfortable orbit. We set a trajectory to Anacortes for a day, where the natural air conditioning of the San Juans and the Sound awaited. At home, some of my plants literally roasted to death, but we stayed relatively cool as we visited the exotic terranes of Fidalgo Island.
After a few days of temperatures more suited to Phoenix than Seattle, things returned to near-normal. We spent the next few weeks watching birds thrive on the North Creek ponds, and chased dragonflies around Magnuson and Meadowbrook parks. We decided to go track down baby coots in Kent, but road construction kept us from our destination. No worries! We checked out a lovely new-to-us park at Lake Fenwick, and then headed over to Des Moines for a taste of the sea. These were some of the first sights I’d seen when moving to the Seattle area from Arizona, and they were as enthralling as they had been in those early days.
For the rest of July, we kept mostly to our familiar haunts: UBNA and North Creek. But we added the North Creek pond on 29th Drive in Canyon Park, which sometimes hosts shorebirds you don’t normally see away from shore, and nutria so big they look like capybaras. We tested out Scriber’s Lake Pond, which boasts some marvelous dragonflies, lovely woods, and wetlands. Sometimes, we did the North Creek loop in the dark, and we’d see bats and coyotes pursuing dinner in the warm summer nights.
August started with a bang: my first visit to Loowit (Mount St. Helens) in four years! I went down to show one of my best friends and my honorary nephew around the most exciting volcano in the state. Wildfire smoke from California, Oregon, and eastern Washington caused a sad haze, and my car’s air conditioning failed, but we managed to have a marvelous day. After dropping them off, I went for a solo evening ramble around Silver Lake before returning home. This was the furthest afield I’d managed to get in years, and it was so lovely, a powerful return to being myself again.
I’d taken some extra time off, so my partner and I followed up with another jaunt to Fidalgo Island. This time, we explored the park at the tip of Cap Sante in Anacortes, where the rock exposures cause geologists to scream in delight. And then we watched the sunset from Rosario Beach, which was utterly enchanting.
Later in the week, M and I checked out Bob Herman Wildlife Refuge, which I hadn’t seen since moving up here nearly fifteen years ago, and found a huge and peaceful pond there. Wood ducks and a kingfisher provided companionship in the stillness. I’ll go back in spring to see which birds have made it their nursery, and maybe will traipse by this winter – if I’ve scored a deal on tall rubber boots. The trail to the pond promises to live underwater for most of the season.
Bob Herman took no time at all, so we zipped over to Al Borlin Park for extra time in the sun. The water level in the Skykomish River was low, so there were gravel bars for days. All of those lovely, lovely cobbles being washed down from the Cascades and piling up here will one day make a marvelous conglomerate. Most of them looked the same on the surface, but inside, they had many different geologic stories to tell.
Towards the end of August, we all tried Marymoor Park for the first time. I’d only ever been to the tiny slice within reach of a short lunch break when I worked in Redmond, and my companions had never stepped foot there. We explored the Audubon Bird Loop, finding a Common Merganser hangout and many lovely views along the river. On our second visit, we found the heronry (alas, too late for baby herons), and got some spectacular views of Mount Rainier from near the model airplane field, where we’d parked to stalk ospreys.
At the end of August, we returned to Fidalgo Island for an all-day adventure. We started with a spur-of-the-moment walk along the Padilla Bay Shore Trail, which we’d never done. The views were spectacular, and the hummingbirds! So many, and so close by. We also kept hearing an eerie, strange roar in the distance, which turned out to be fighter jets from Whidbey Island on maneuvers. When we headed over to Rosario Beach, we got to see the jets flying. We walked a loop from there through Bowman Bay, around Lighthouse Point, and back again. It was well over six miles in total, some of it vertical, all of it breathtaking.
Occasionally, it was hilarious: on Lighthouse Point, my partner got charged by a territorial Douglas Squirrel. I sincerely regret not getting the camera aimed in time! (No humans or squirrels were harmed in the making of this memory.)
In early September, we visited Lake Tye and Lord Hill in Monroe. The cornfields near the lake were absolutely full of starlings, while the lake shores hosted Brewer’s blackbirds who mingled with the kids playing in the waves. We explored more of Lord Hill than we ever have, taking small back trails that wove through the forest and along serene ponds.
Our last major excursion of summer took us to Snoqualmie Falls and Evans Creek Nature Preserve. I’ve been to the falls many times, but this was only the second time I’ve been on the lower trail. The rocks of the ancient volcano were beautifully exposed with the falls only a summertime trickle. Standing there, looking at fifty million years of history, all felt right with the world.
After drinking our fill of the view, we went trekking amongst the boulders along the river, which are huge and speak to the enormous force of the flow at flood stage.
On the way home, we stopped at the Evans Creek Nature Preserve for the first time. It had a hawk in it, and a lovely walk through meadows and then up a forested ridge. I made a pledge to return during busier bird times.
Summer adventuring season ended with one last visit to the 29th Drive pond at North Creek on one of the best sunny days, with a very happy nutria having a bath in a brimming drainage channel.
And now the rains have come, and it looks to be a La Niña winter, so cold weather adventures will be sporadic at best. I’ll have time to write up more geology, show you some of the best birbs, and review the dozens of books queued up for you.
Come spring, I’m looking forward to venturing further afield. We’re planning a trip to Oregon, possibly to the Olympic Peninsula, and a visit to Australia isn’t out of the question. I can’t wait to ramble again!
Where did your summer take you, and where would you like to go?
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