The Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge west of Bonners Ferry, Idaho

The Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge west of Bonners Ferry, Idaho

My step-father is the one who lives there, but I think Jim would like us to think of it as home. The setting -mountains and valleys about 20 miles south of the Canada border- is hard to resist, and my memories peek out at me from all over this region, making me feel connected to the place.

North Idaho used to be my home. When I was itty bitty, I lived in Bonners Ferry, and when I was in Junior High (it wasn’t called “middle school” back then) I lived outside of Sandpoint. The important point is that once my mother saw this remarkable, remote, evergreen wilderness paradise, she wouldn’t be budged. Her choice meant it would remain in my life too, every time I visited her there.

Sunrise on an early season dusting of snow.

Sunrise on an early season dusting of snow. Fog blankets Moyie Springs, in the Kootenai River Valley, below the cabin.

The country here is so beautiful it’s park-like. The only reason the whole Panhandle of Idaho isn’t a national park is because it’s bound east and west by Mt. Rainier NP and Glacier NP/Waterton Lakes NP and to the south by Yellowstone NP. Someone in Washington, D.C. waved a hand and said, “Alright, already. We get your point. It’s gorgeous over there. No more parks, though.”

Jim took us to Myrtle Creek Falls, out past the Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge. There could not have been a better day for a hike. The falls contained two dramatic cascades, wedged between high cliff walls at just such angles that I was unable to capture both in one photo. Resting invitingly between the two falls was a lovely pool that seemed completely unreachable without a helicopter and a rope ladder.

The upper falls, above the pool

The upper falls, above the pool

Myrtle Creek Falls. This is the lower cascade dropping from the pool.

Myrtle Creek Falls. This is the lower cascade dropping from the pool.

Don't adjust your set. Tara's hair was teal that day.

Don’t adjust your set. Tara’s hair was actually that colour.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I love this portrait. Trust me, that is a face built of decades of squinting into the sun, and has not a trace of grumpiness in it.

I love this portrait. Trust me, that is a face built of decades of squinting into the sun, and has not a trace of grumpiness in it.

It was warm enough to take off my jacket. Don't you love a day that starts off crisp and turns warm?

It was warm enough to take off my jacket. Don’t you love a day that starts off crisp and turns warm?

Aside from some Whitetail deer bounding into the forest before I could get the shot, this is the only other non-winged creature we saw.

Aside from some Whitetail deer bounding into the forest before I could get the shot, this is the only other non-winged creature we saw.

We passed the wildlife refuge again on our way back home.

We passed the wildlife refuge again on our way back home.

If I was a bird, I could see myself living in the marshes in this valley.

If I was a bird, I could see myself living in the marshes in this valley. Just not during hunting season.

Then Tara got to see her grandfather’s Model A pickup that he’s been so excited about lately. Jim collects and repairs old cars. He took us for a ride in it, crossing Highway 2 and staying on the back roads till we could cruise downtown Moyie Springs (population around 700). I loved the front panel, or “dashboard” of the Ford. More like: the lack thereof. It is refreshing to see how few knobs and dials are really necessary to operate a vehicle. It’s light years different than the touchscreen in my Jeep. There had been a rain earlier in the day. Along the dirt road from the garage, the skinny Ford tracks really stood out in contrast to the standard tire tracks.

Tara and her grandpa in the Ford

Tara and her grandpa in the Ford

Here you see what is needed in a truck, and nothing else.

Here you see what is needed in a truck, and nothing else.

See the skinny Model A tracks over the fat F150 tracks? Generations of Fords.

See the skinny Model A tracks over the fat F150 tracks? Generations of Fords.

Tara and I shared the spare room of the spacious yet still cozy cabin. It has my mother’s fingerprints everywhere: the light fixtures, the collection of antique toys, the paintings on the walls, the kitchen spice cabinet, and even the witch hazel in the bathroom. We both had a difficult time sleeping the first night, since being in the cabin makes it impossible not to remember she’s gone. Nearly three years later, and I am still struggling to rebuild the cabin in my mind as Jim’s place, rather than Mom’s place. Before bed Tara and I each felt the need at different times to take a walk on the mountain. We wandered out into the dark, amid trees and deer and elk and bear, squirrels and mice and woodpeckers. As always, breathing deeply from the air of paradise is quite restorative.

Sunset from the front of the cabin. You can see the lights of Moyie Springs.

Sunset from the front of the cabin. You can see the valley without fog in this shot!

Tara took this one, and I love it! This is what we call "the pit." It's a rock quarry down the mountain from the cabin.

Tara took this one, and I love it! This is what we call “the pit.” It’s a rock quarry down the mountain from the cabin.

Sunshine-AwardMy lovely friend at Appleton Avenue nominated Conscious Engagement for the Sunshine Blogger Award! On this rainy October morning, a sunshine blog post is the perfect choice. Receiving a nomination is humbling and I know I can never fully convey my appreciation that someone would take the time to validate what I’ve been doing here at Word Press. My thanks will come out all jumbled and silly. It’s just… well… it’s so neat. The best I can do is graciously accept.

So thank you Appleton Avenue!! I love your blog for the way you convey your spirit, your honesty, you bravery in baring your real and personal life for all the world to see. You’ve got an irreverent streak that is irresistible to me.

The last time I was nominated for an award, I did some research to find out more about it. I like the way that post went, and was prepared to begin my next foray into researching blogger peer awards. I was stopped in my tracks by the very first post I read, in which Jo, my newly discovered blogger-of-like-mindedness, did all the investigation for me. This is what she found on her post, Blogger to Blogger Awards: The Sunshine Award Unveiled:

It appears that the Liebster Blogging Award and the Sunshine award may have been the same award at one time. I tracked posts to 2008 that had them intermingled. It’s not clear when they split off into distinctive threads but clearly it happened. The purpose of the ‘award’ hasn’t shifted too much over the years. It is essentially a virtual ‘pat on the back’ for a positive or creative blog that inspires others or brings ‘sunshine’ to their world. Typically it appears to originate from one post that really ‘shines’ on that person’s day.

Jo explains the downsides of blogger awards, including their similarity with chain letters, and the upsides, like online networking. And of course, I can’t ignore the greatest benefit, which is the opportunity to pat another blogger on the back and say, “Hey, I dig what you’re doing here.” Read the rest of Jo’s post, and get all the finer details.

Like every blog award, there are a set of rules. I especially like the part where I get to list 10 interesting things about myself. I am the Rooster in the Chinese Zodiac, and I tend to enjoy being the one making all the noise in the center of the circle, ha ha. In fact, that can be interesting fact number one.

I am also able to nominate others for the blogger award. The rules contained in the nomination I received say it like this:

  • Present 10 deserving Bloggers with the Award – “who positively and creatively inspire others in the blogosphere.”

It’s not my style to nominate. But as I did the last time, I am eager to share with you the blogs I do like to read. In that way I can let the hosts know that they’ve made a positive impact on my life. Also, isn’t the word “blogosphere” kind of fun and spacey?

Ten things about me:

  1. I’m a Rooster (see above)
  2. I almost never make good French Toast, despite the fact that I can prepare a lot more complicated meals with ease. Can anything be more simple to cook, I ask you?
  3. I prefer audiobooks read by people with a British accent.
  4. I’m adamant about proper punctuation and spelling, so much so that when I read poorly written correspondence, I judge the person who wrote it more than I judge the content (I’m terrible, I know). If you find mistakes in my blogs, please tell me so I can edit. Except for the ellipses… I can’t help myself with those.
  5. I still miss my mom.
  6. I’m scared to death of riding a bike in traffic. I live in one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the country, and people are always saying how I should bike because it wouldn’t hurt my bad knee so much and because it’s easy exercise, and good for the environment. But I remain irrationally afraid that the moment I’m on a road, I’ll be squashed by a car.
  7. I can still sing the jingle “Two all beef patties, special sauce…” by heart.
  8. My 17-year-old just registered to vote, and it was not my idea. I’m so proud.
  9. I love eating sweet stuff with my coffee, but can’t stand sweet stuff in my coffee. That’s weird. Right?
  10. I have house baggage. My next house must have a bathroom that will allow me to extend my arms in any direction (or better: two of them!), countertops high enough so I don’t get back pain while washing the dishes (are typical people really that short?), and a kitchen that can hold at least four people. At once. Without hugging. I know that exposes the spoiled American that I am, but there it is: I want a bigger place.

Blogs that I really enjoy reading:

  1. The Crazy Bag Lady @ Bulan Lifestyle (you saw that one coming!) But check this out: She found my blog because of my post about the other award, and we’ve been following each other since. Evidence that blogging awards are a force for good.
  2. A Tramp In the Woods. This blog is fun every single day. Fodrambler’s spectacular micro photos of insects are captivating, and his thirst for knowledge about all the woods-dwelling life forms would make even a teenager excited about science. Every topic is packed with fabulous information and non-stop wit. The guy can be hilarious.
  3. Nicholas Andriani writes about his travels. And specifically, about one amazing time abroad in which he explored north Africa, southern Europe and the Middle East. He cares about the world and illuminates it with his skilled writing.
  4. Monochromia is a photography website for black and white photos. Together, this group of contributors display ridiculously good B&W photos. The photos are surprisingly varied and all remarkable. It’s a beautiful medium to display their art.
  5. Ram On is a great place to get one person’s take on “what it all means in a global sense.” Bruce writes extremely well and somehow manages to find a baseball analogy to nearly every story. His posts are thorough and thoughtful and exhibit his engagement with life.
  6. Corners of the World is without question a window into some corners of the world you didn’t realize you have been wanting to see. Aanchal simply exudes joy and a spirit of exploration as she describes beautiful places and documents her wild adventures.

Six is a good start, yes?

One more thing I need to say: I am writing this post because I realize I am delinquent on acknowledging blogger awards. AppletonAve is only the first blogger to nominate, and there are two more nominations in the queue. I have procrastinated in the hopes of doing them justice, and if you are one of those other two bloggers please know you are not forgotten.

I thank you – all of the people who are reading, and all of you who are blogging – and wish continued exploration for you in both the physical world and among this beautiful community of netizens.

What you see here is a whole lotta corn. Plus some stuff in the distance...

What you see here is a whole lotta corn. Plus some stuff in the distance…

Tara and I went up to Sauvie Island and gave The Uncles a call to bring them along. Jim was driving the streetcar that day, but Larry was available and agreed to come with us. Yay!

Sauvie Island is a wide, flat island created because the Willamette River splits just before it empties into the Columbia River. So, while the north of the island is bound by the mighty Columbia, the south is bound by a long skinny piece of  the Willamette that wraps around the island and finally drops into the larger river. The island has a distinctly rural feel. It’s slower, totally agricultural, and seems almost lost in time. This atmosphere is unexpected because it’s barely 15 minutes from downtown Portland.

Entrance into the maze

Entrance into the maze

Tara and Larry. Yes, for about two weeks Tara had teal hair. Now, it's mostly brown again.

Tara and Larry. Yes, for about two weeks Tara had teal hair. Now, it’s mostly brown again.

Sauvie Island is famous for the pumpkin patch and the corn maze, which they call the Corn Maize. It’s clear that a ton of work is put into this maze each year, and it’s a pretty slick operation. The maze is so huge there are a couple of bridges built inside of it, which allow wanderers to climb above the corn and look around. The opportunity to do this is totally irresistible, but not at all helpful in finding one’s path out of the maze. Not one bit. Sigh.

The day we chose was so lovely. Sunny and warm and gorgeous and we were not pressed to hurry through the maze at all. We were actually challenged by the maze, which made it more fun. The corn stalks towered over our heads and were planted thickly, so on a path we truly could not see where to go next. I got so turned around so many times. And you know, corn going in one direction looks a lot like corn going another direction.

What is this a picture of? You can figure this one out! They were all this easy, but fun nonetheless.

What is this a picture of? You can figure this one out! They were all this easy, but fun nonetheless.

To lighten things up despite all the scary cornstalks, there was a game to play inside. There were CORNundrums (yes, it’s corny. I think that’s the point!). Larry challenged himself to find them all, so we not only tried to find our way out, but we also tried to hit every pathway, in order to find the CORNundrums. We missed four of them, so we guessed the remaining answers at the end of the maze, and Larry dropped his card into the sweepstakes box. Wish him luck!

Afterward we wandered around and enjoyed the many other things to do on site: farmer’s market, petting barn, food stands, etc. The usual faire stuff.

The Haunted Maize is operational at night, and we didn't stay late enough.

The Haunted Maize is operational at night, and we didn’t stay late enough.

Descending from one of the bridges. Nope, don't know which way to go yet.

Descending from one of the bridges. Nope, don’t know which way to go yet. Look at all that corn!

Guess what I spotted from this bridge? Volcanoes! (listen, I'm nothing if not consistent)

Guess what I spotted from the bridge? Volcanoes! (listen, I’m nothing if not consistent)

Now isn't she a beauty?

Now isn’t she a beauty?

I think looking head-on at a llama is about the most hilarious thing ever. I mean, how can you not laugh?

I think looking head-on at a llama is about the most hilarious thing ever. I mean, how can you not laugh?

Ok, ok, I'm not heartless. Here's the same llama, in a much more flattering angle.

Ok, ok, I’m not heartless. Here’s the same llama, in a much more flattering angle.

 

Kids hauling their treasures toward the parking lot.

Kids hauling their treasures toward the parking lot.

This farm chef hooked me up with a delicious elephant ear!

This farm chef hooked me up with a delicious elephant ear!

Larry is recording the latest CORNundrum.

Larry is recording the latest CORNundrum.

Crystal M. Trulove:

Actualization…

Originally posted on The Crazy Bag Lady @BulanLifestyle.com:

botanical illustration

botanical illustration

This one is for Crystal, my blogger friend who posted a flower a few days ago for me on her blog. Thank you and have a weekend filled with pretty things xoxo

Wherever we are, it is our friends that make our world

View original

Flower casts a shadow against a wall.

Flower casts a shadow against a wall.

An example of how my world is larger because of blogging: I’ve been watching this flower grow against the foundation of my neighbor’s house, and I can’t help but imagine it sketched by The Crazy Bag Lady over at Bulan Lifestyle.

The Crazy Bag Lady’s posts are filled with her delights and inspirations and many beautiful sketches. She will sketch anything that catches her fancy, but my favourites are the micro views of plants and flowers.

I just love this flower. The recklessly long and wavy stems, the mismatched petals, the fearless orange center.

I just love this flower. The recklessly long and wavy stems, the mismatched petals, the fearless orange center.

What a beautiful shadow.

What a beautiful shadow.

Some people are naturally inclined to see connections in life. It can be an irresistible game to play – a perpetual mind puzzle – to absorb as much as possible and then to link pieces together and look for patterns. My Tara has been doing it since the toddler days, and at first I thought it was an unlikely skill to have learned from such a young age. But the more I think about it, the more I think that appreciating connections isn’t learned but intrinsic to our character. It will blossom when embraced. Some people (myself included) delightedly blurt out connections we discover, even while people nearby aren’t playing the game.  :)

This flower embodies the qualities I notice in The Crazy Bag Lady’s sketches: haphazard petals, white like the pages of her moleskine notebook, bending stems, delicate and proud stamens in an orange circle like a sunburst. The longer I live, the more intricately my web of connections is spun, now linking me to this flower (and soon only the memory of it), and a lovely lady far away, who expresses her joy in life through her art.

Face to face, flower and lens

Face to face, flower and lens

DSC_0518

Long stems bend to the sun

Long stems bend to the sun

Apartments and a restaurant at water's edge.

Apartments and a restaurant at water’s edge.

I purchased a 2-hour Friday Escape cruise on the Portland Spirit for Tara and me, and then she wasn’t able to make it. Tara had to go to an overnight training camp for Outdoor School counselors. She’ll be gone this coming week, serving as a camp counselor for Portland Public School 6th graders. Outdoor School is one of my favourite Portland traditions: 6th graders across the entire school system spend a week of school at camp. They eat there, sleep there, everything! The curriculum is all science-related, so kids learn about watersheds, and ecosystems, and soils. The high school counselors are used not only as temporary teachers, taking small groups onto the trails and the river beaches and teaching hands-on science, but also to help with things like making sure kids eat, and sleep, stay focused on learning, and don’t get too sad. For some kids, this is their first time away from family, first time sleeping in a place other than a house, and first time living in the woods. It can be very upsetting. Tara loves all of it: the teaching (her specialty is soils), the comforting, the excitement, enthusiasm, the songs around campfires at night.

Anyway….

I had 5 days to find a new date. I called about 10 girlfriends, and half of them couldn’t get care for their kids and the other half had stuff planned already. Two friends would be at weddings that same day, go figure. By the end of the week I was getting a little desperate. Thursday I was writing a Craigslist ad in my mind: “Come hang out with me on the river! No druggies, no lonely college boys, no creepy people.” Luckily, I received a phone call Thursday night.

“Hey, Crystal, I’m in town for a couple days. I’m hoping we can find time to get together,” said my Uncle Mike. Yay! I’m saved from the creepy people! Mike is my mom’s twin brother and I don’t see him enough.

It was a beautiful day and we talked non-stop out on the deck. The Portland Spirit has indoor seating, served a meal, had a live band, and the whole gamut. Mike and I hit the prow and found no reason to move for the next two hours, but the music from the band was piped out to us at least.

Perhaps because of the light, or the non-stop conversation, I am not happy with most of the photos I took. No biggie. The point was to hang out with Uncle Mike. After we docked, Mike and walked around downtown and stumbled onto a new Irish Pub. The weather was still amazing, so we found a table on the sidewalk and kept talking while they brought us food and drinks. The gathering darkness forced us to wrap it up.

This is actually the only photo I really like from the whole cruise. A new bridge is under construction, and this scene was part of the construction equipment.

This may be the only photo I like from the whole cruise, maybe the one at the top too. A new bridge is under construction, and this scene was part of the construction equipment.

I find sailboats romantic

I find sailboats romantic

An uncommon perspective of Portland downtown.

An uncommon perspective of Portland downtown.

In no time, we were south of the city in some rural-looking areas. This is Waverly Golf Course and the club house.

In no time, we were south of the city in some rural-looking areas. This is Waverly Golf Course and the club house.

Two of Portland's 12 bridges spanning the Willamette River and the Columbia River.

Two of Portland’s 12 bridges spanning the Willamette River and the Columbia River. Actually, on the left edge of the photo, you can see a third bridge.

Oregon Museum of Science & Industry, and the famous submarine out front - part of the museum. Scenes from A Hunt For Red October were filmed in that tiny capsule.

Oregon Museum of Science & Industry, and the famous submarine out front – part of the museum. Scenes from A Hunt For Red October were filmed in that tiny capsule.

Western Scrub-Jay checking the area to see if it's being watched.

Western Scrub-Jay checking the area to see if it’s being watched.

I should have been focusing on my work, I know. But sometimes it’s much more interesting to gaze through the window at the backyard.

One of the ubiquitous Western Scrub-Jays was digging with its beak. He must have been hitting a small rock in the soil, because it went “tink, tink, tink,” as the bird gouged its beak repeatedly down. It seemed curious to me that the jay was going to so much trouble to peck a hole. If it was after insects, they surely would have scurried away by now, but the bird focused on one spot.

Tink, tink, tink, tink.

Then it picked up something that looked like a peanut, dropped it into the hole, and scratched dirt over it. What?! As I watched, the jay looked around, picked up a leaf, and dropped it onto the top of the place it had just been digging. I told myself it was coincidence. I would never have guessed a bird would be savvy about camouflage.

A little later, I watched the same scenario again, with another peanut, and a leaf. (That morning I had emptied the last of the contents from my peanut bag, that I keep to feed the squirrels.) I looked it up online, and sure enough, Western Scrub-Jays will cache food. I learned something new today!

Jay up on his tip-toes looking for a good spot to cache.

Jay up on his tip-toes looking for a good spot to cache.

Jay about to drop some food into a hole.

Jay about to drop some food into a hole.

I am so impressed with what I learned that I am going to share some of the fascinating facts with you. Scrub-Jays will also collect and bury treasure, and they actually remember their caches and can go right to them when they need to, remembering not only where they are but also what’s in them. Squirrels can’t be that smart. I’ll bet squirrels just wander around and hope they get lucky. Western Scrub-Jays are not necessarily honorable, but they are clever, and will spy on another jay burying its cache, so that they can go steal it. And, get this, Western Scrub-Jays will remember if they were being watched while they cached something, and will come back later in privacy, and dig it up and move it.

i saw my first Stellar's Jay in the yard today! I see these all over the forest, but now finally, in my yard too. Aren't they gorgeous?

i saw my first Steller’s Jay in the yard today! I see these all over the forest, but now finally, in my yard too. Aren’t they gorgeous?

She says, "Um, excuse me? it isn't polite to stare."

She says, “Um, excuse me? It isn’t polite to stare.”

Entrance into the underground lava tube.

Entrance into the underground lava tube.

Highway 503 is a secondary approach to Mt. St. Helens, leaving the Interstate and heading south of the mountain and around the other side, so that one can view it from the East, rather than the north, as shown in my earlier posts. The stops along the way reveal some fascinating aspects of the volcano one can’t learn from the other, more popular highway.

I first explored Ape Cave, an apt name in this pocket of Bigfoot country. The name of the cave is related to the Sasquatch legend in a surprising way. There are multiple stories, so forgive me that I only include one version: In 1924 some Boy Scouts were goofing around in the area, screeching and acting like primates, picking up lightweight pumice rocks and hurling them into a canyon. They did not know that there was a cabin below. From out of that cabin burst astonished miners, squinting up at the ridge and believing they were under attack by apes, which is the story they reported when they got to town. This led people to speculate that the tall tales of ape men had finally been proven legitimate. Years later, a local youth group named themselves the St. Helens Apes after that legend. In 1951, when the youth group were among the first humans to explore a newly discovered cave, they dubbed it the Ape Cape, and the name stuck.

At the entrance to the Ape Cave, you can see the arched roof formed 1900 years ago. The rubble formed when parts of the roof caved in.

At the entrance to the Ape Cave, you can see the arched roof formed 2000 years ago. The rubble piled up when parts of the roof caved in.

Lava tubes are a special kind of cave, formed in a volcanic eruption. I explored one in Bend, Oregon in 2011. Only once in Mt. St. Helens’ history did she erupt with molten lava. This kind of eruption is rare in the Cascade Range because of our geology. Magma rising to the surface here has a high silica content, which results in the magma taking on a more solid form, trapping gases and resulting in an explosive eruption. Less silica allows a fluid eruption of molten lava, called basalt.

2000 years ago, Mt. St. Helens erupted with fluid lava. As it flowed in enormous, thick rivers, the outside of the river cooled and hardened while the inside remained hot and continued to flow. The lava melted the rock it was flowing across, carrying it away and deepening the channel. When the eruption finally stopped, the remaining liquid river flowed out the end of the tube, emptying it, and leaving a lava shell that eventually was covered by dirt and forest.

Ape Cave is 13,042 feet (2 1/2 miles) long, and I did not have time to explore much of it. I’ll come back another day.

Evidence of the changing season.

Evidence of the changing season.

Next I visited A Trail of Two Forests. On a Thursday morning in gorgeous weather there was not another soul and I had the trail entirely to myself. Sometimes that’s one of the best things about living in the West: hardly any people.

The trail is entirely on boardwalk, and makes a short loop through the forests. The two forests mentioned here are the one that exists today, and the one that disappeared in the lava flow that created Ape Cave. Hollow shells where trees used to be are well-preserved here. It takes hardly any imagination to visualize what was there when the lava struck, since the lava shells tell the story.

One hole from a tree that had been standing, and stretched from the top left toward the bottom right is the partial shell left from a tree that had been lying down when the lava hit.

One large hole from a tree that had been standing, a small standing tree on the right, and stretched from the top left toward the bottom center is the partial shell left from a tree that had been lying down when the lava hit.

What's left when lava hits a forest.

What’s left when lava hits a forest.

Looking into a shell created when lava cooled around a tree, and then the tree burned away.

Looking into a shell created when lava cooled around a tree, and then the tree burned away.

Molten lava oozed into the forest, surrounding huge logs and eventually cooling and hardening. In the meantime, the wood caught on fire and burned up. What’s left is big circular gaps in the forest floor marking the diameter of the trees that once were, and long tree-sized tunnels along the ground. There is a place where a couple of downed trees were beside standing trees, so the hollow tubes all connect. From the boardwalk you can climb down a ladder into one tree hole, and then climb into a horizontal tunnel, following the path where a tree once lay. Halfway through, you turn a corner into a hole left by a second tree lying down, and at the end, climb back out through the hole from another standing tree. (It also makes one a bit in awe of the size of trees…)

Humongous tree hole beside the trail

Large tree hole beside the trail. It’s more impressive in real life.

This is where one can climb down into the tunnels left by trees.

This is where one can climb down into the tunnels left by trees.

I found this video that has some great shots of the places I saw.

I continued on to St. Helens herself. As the Jeep climbed out of the river valleys and up into the ridgelines, the wind rose around me. My destination was Windy Ridge, but I had assumed the name referenced the natural buffeting one gets in exposed places. The wind during my drive seemed unusually high, particularly since I was still far from Windy Ridge.

Wind lifts volcanic ash from the crater.

Wind lifts volcanic ash from the crater.

It’s a beautiful drive and not as geared for tourists as Highway 504. No visitor centers and fewer informational signs at viewpoints. In fact, when I arrived at Windy Ridge, there was not even a visitor center there, though there was a park Ranger giving talks. He stood in a small outdoor amphitheater with a plexiglass wall that provided some protection from the wind while allowing us to see the crater of Mt. St. Helens while he talked. He confirmed that it was an unusually windy day.

We could see clouds of ash lifting from the crater and drifting off to the West. One woman asked the Ranger if it was steam, fearing the volcano was active on that very day. We were in no danger, but it was a fascinating sight to see. The valley I had photographed the day before was murky with airborne particles and I was grateful to be on the East side in all that wind.

The wind! It was tremendous! I didn’t feel safe near the edge of the bluff, and could hardly remain upright as I walked across the parking lot. I decided not to climb Windy Ridge for a better view of the mountain, and risk getting blown into the next county.

Our view behind the Ranger as he talked.

Our view behind the Ranger as he talked.

Spirit Lake in the foreground, and the ashy skies behind it.

Spirit Lake in the foreground, and the ashy skies behind it.

The Ranger’s talk that day was about the wildlife making a foothold in the valley before us. He didn’t bother using his posterboard media and rather we in the audience took turns chasing them down when the wind carried them away. In 34 years, much of the area’s natural wildlife has returned to the land and also to the lakes. He talked about how it began with small critters at first, who flourished and made an appealing smorgasbord for larger critters, who hunted them. Mice came, and other larger mammals, followed by coyotes. I had heard them the previous evening while I sat and waited for the clouds to clear from the mountain peak. Barks and cries of a dozen voices rose from the valley, their haunting songs thrilling me.

A chipmunk nibbles something tasty.

A chipmunk nibbles something tasty.

He also talked about the fish in Spirit Lake, planted without permission by anonymous citizens. Somebody had hiked down the steep, ashy, gravelly slope carrying buckets of fish, one assumes. The lake was packed full of tasty things for fish to eat, so when the trout arrived they did what fish tend to do, and they ate to nearly bursting. The trout grew too much and were sickly, but gigantic. But the species survived. Today the ecosystem of Spirit Lake is balancing out, and the fish are healthier and smaller, but the Ranger says they are still much larger than typical trout ever get. He said no one has ever been spotted trying to fish the lake inside the National Monument, so the purpose of going to so much trouble to stock it remains unknown.

Spirit Lake today

Spirit Lake today

I was so interested in how the air was clear over me, but thick with dust over the ash-filled valley.

I was so interested in how the air was clear over me, but thick with dust over the ash-filled valley.

You've been wondering, "What's that silver stuff in the lake?" Here's a good look. That is a mat of decomposing trees that were blown into the lake 34 years ago.

You’ve been wondering, “What’s that silver stuff in the lake?” Here’s a good look. That is a mat of decomposing trees that were blown into the lake 34 years ago.

I made the return journey slowly, taking time to gaze out at Mt. Adams (the closest volcano), Mt. Hood, and Mt. Rainier from different spots along the highway. I walked a trail to tiny Meta Lake, recovering from the eruption beautifully. Beside the trail were huckleberry bushes loaded with fat, ripe berries, and I ate a bunch of them. To someone who grew up eating huckleberries, nothing can compare. There must be no bears here, or perhaps the berry bushes are loaded everywhere and the bears don’t need to come too close to humans to get food.

Another great thing about this trip was how close it is to home, and that’s where I headed next. I chose the trip for that reason, since my Great Aunt had passed away and I needed to be with family for the remainder of my vacation time. Nice to know that if I ever have a yearning to see some of America’s incredible sights, Mt. St. Helens is less than two hours away.

Mt. Adams

Mt. Adams

Mt. Hood

Mt. Hood

Meta Lake. Remnants of the destroyed forest are still visible while the new one regenerates, purely on Mother Nature's timeline.

Meta Lake. Remnants of the destroyed forest are still visible while the new one regenerates, purely on Mother Nature’s timeline.

Huckleberry deliciousness.

Huckleberry deliciousness.

Sunset on icefields on the west slopes.

Sunset on icefields on the west slopes.

I must have been in the camera groove when I went to Mt. St. Helens. I am merely trying to sort and organize my photos to upload them to flickr, but I keep impressing myself. Some of these are stunning. I cheat, because I was standing in gorgeous scenery. But still… wow.

Evening sun turns the silvery spikes of dead trees into copper.

Evening sun turns the silvery spikes of dead trees into copper. And do my eyes deceive me, or is that blue sky through an arch? You can click for a larger image.

This one makes me think of candy. No Photoshop here, just pure atmospheric luck.

This one makes me think of candy. No Photoshop here, just pure atmospheric luck.

This was so much more astonishing in person, but it's still nice here. The North Fork Toutle River sparkles as it flows West to the sea.

This was so much more astonishing in person, but it’s still nice here. The North Fork Toutle River sparkles as it flows West to the sea. All the particulate is…yes… volcanic dust kicked up in the wind.

Ash kicked into the air as high winds tornado into the crater.

Ash kicked into the air as high winds tornado into the crater.

I want to paint this with oils - all that blue shadow. These are the hummocks in the valley below the observatory.

I want to paint this with oils – all that blue shadow. These are the hummocks in the valley below the observatory.

Awww... ok, I threw this one in for cuteness.

Awww… ok, I threw this one in for cuteness.

Pow! What color!

Pow! What color!

I am about the world's biggest huckleberry fan. Imagine my delight when I found bushes just loaded with ripe berries beside a trail.

I am about the world’s biggest huckleberry fan. Imagine my delight when I found bushes just loaded with ripe berries beside a trail.

The contrast was just irresistible.

The contrast was just irresistible.

I am on the East side of St. Helens, and the wind is Easterly. So the air is clear over the forest, but in the places where the volcanic dust is still on the surface, the particles are raised high in the air. You can see the cloud moving off to the West.

I am on the East side of St. Helens, and the wind is Easterly. So the air is clear over the forest, but in the places where the volcanic dust is still on the surface, the particles are raised high in the air. You can see the cloud moving off to the West.

In case you want to see any more, here’s my flickr link.

…and a shout out to anyone who can tell me why sometimes my images are displayed in sharp focus and sometimes they look blurry, or grainy low quality, when displayed in WordPress. Is it just my computer that does this? Is it the template that I’m using?

Mt. St. Helens in the setting sun, from Johnston Ridge Observatory

Mt. St. Helens in the setting sun, from Johnston Ridge Observatory

Gary, this one’s for you.

When I was 10 years old, Mt. St. Helens erupted. Down south, in Steamboat, Oregon, fine powder fell for a couple days, noticeable only to those looking for it. We could drag a finger over the hood of a car and see a trail in the dust.

A plastic juice bottle filled with volcanic ash.

A plastic juice bottle filled with volcanic ash.

The sideways blast in the north slope of the mountain, coupled with prevailing West winds, blew much of the ash over to Idaho from Washington. I spent that summer with my mom in Sandpoint, Idaho, and I recall the drive up there because of seeing the devastating heaps of white-grey ash from the car windows during the trip. In the worst places, June 1980 still had many people wearing masks and shoveling the stuff with snow shovels. Like snow does in the winter, the weight of the ash had damaged roofs. Unlike snow, it would not melt away, and had to be removed by hand. I watched teams shoveling ash a foot deep off bridges, off business roofs in small towns, even plowing it with trucks.

Later in June, my family went on a picnic along a north Idaho river. The river held large smooth rocks that had collected ash in irregular bowls shaped into their surface from erosion. After I finished my juice, I rinsed the plastic bottle out in the water, and set it in the sun to dry. Then, I walked barefoot through the water from rock to rock, collecting the fine powder by brushing it with my fingers into the plastic juice container. I still have that container today; one of the very few mementos of my childhood that survived the many moves across more than a dozen states in my life.

I brought my very old plastic juice container to Mt. St. Helens with me last week. I had been determined to go to the mountain since I was 10 years old. Can you believe it took me 34 years to pull it off? One thing I will say about myself: Like the tortoise, I may be slow, but I do reach my goals in the end. (…says the woman who finally made it to University in her 30s…)

Hills of Noble Fir as seen from Highway 504 on the way to Johnston Ridge Observatory.

Hills of Noble Fir as seen from Highway 504 on the way to Johnston Ridge Observatory. A ranger called them “Lego trees,” cautioning us not to look at them too long or we’d go cross-eyed. The effect on your vision when you are right in front of them is pretty crazy.

Bare ridges betray a traumatic history.

Bare ridges betray a traumatic history.

It’s an easy drive on a good road from I-5, and I was within the National Volcanic Monument in an hour, passing thickly forested hills, the homogeneous stands of Noble Fir making it obvious that the trees had been planted by the land owner there, Weyerhauser Company. There were a few vista stops, but each time I stopped, the only thing I could see was a curious, moonlike valley, and clouds obscuring anything with elevation. That was frustrating, because much of the sky was cloudless blue, and only the highest peaks around St. Helens were obscured.

It wasn’t until I was in the immediate vicinity of the Johnston Ridge Observatory when I could tell this had been a place of devastation. Things today are lovely – truly lovely. However, not all the pieces in of the scene felt right. Humongous decaying logs laid about, on bare land with tiny trees just getting a foothold among kinnickinnick and lupine. The surrounding ridges were also mostly bare, with the silver remnants of tall trees. The wide valley had no forests, no brushy stands of willow, and the streams cut deep, sharp channels through what looked like very soft and crumbly soil. It does not look like any other place in the Pacific Northwest.

Closer to the mountain, more evidence of the volcanic eruption can be seen.

Closer to the mountain, more evidence of the volcanic eruption can be seen.

Remnants of towering trees still lie where the mountain's blast shoved them down, 34 years ago.

Remnants of towering trees still lie where the mountain’s blast shoved them down, 34 years ago.

Spirit Lake (seen in the distance) became famous after this eruption.

Spirit Lake (seen in the distance) became famous after this eruption.

As I explained in my previous post, the clouds finally cleared away from the volcano, and I was treated to stunning views of the huge gaping crater. If the mountain had blown it’s top vertically, we at the bottom would have less to see. Since the eruption took off the north slope of the mountain, we are able to look inside at the newly forming glaciers, and the new volcanic peak growing inside the crater. You know what that growing dome means, right? Yes, this remains an active volcano.

The largest post-1980 eruption was in 2004, when steam and ash again billowed forth. For the next four years, lava continued to extrude, filling the crater floor. Seven percent of the volume lost in 1980 has been replaced by subsequent eruptions.

Here I am, waiting for the clouds to clear.

Here I am, waiting for the clouds to clear.

A park ranger gives a talk on how expectations of what to expect when the eruption happened, didn't quite come to pass.

A park ranger gives a talk on how scientists’ expectations of what would happen during the eruption didn’t quite come to pass. Prior to the eruption of Mt. St. Helens, we had very little data on Plinean eruptions, or pyroclastic flows of hot gas and rock that roared down into the valley.

I listened to a great talk from one of the rangers there. He told the story of how exciting it was to be a vulcanologist in the time leading up to the eruption. The best data available at the time was of the Hawaiian lava flows, but they knew this would be different. The size of the resulting violent explosion took people by surprise. Luckily, scientists had convinced authorities to block access to the popular recreation area (despite loud criticism), and prevented many deaths. Sadly, 57 people died in the blast, most due to asphyxiation. The most interesting (to me) of those people was David Johnston, a geologist just crazy about volcanoes, who had observation duty that morning. He radioed headquarters, “Vancouver! Vancouver! This is it!” and then died instantly. The people who heard the broadcast, and knew his voice, said what struck them about his message was that it wasn’t a voice of fear, but of something more like boyish excitement. I’d like to believe that David Johnston died the way he would have most wanted to go.

One of my many guises

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