Monthly Archives: October 2012

Up the Elwha!

Before I dash off into writing about our gentle autumn weather here, let me pause and say that I am thinking good thoughts for friends and former co-workers affected by Sandy.

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The other day we returned to one of our favorite areas to hike: the Elwha River watershed. We caught a brief respite from our two weeks of drizzle and managed to hike for five hours through a rain forest without getting wet! Although we never saw the sun, it was a glorious day.

There are two main trails in this area, both of which eventually cross a bridge and head far up into the mountains. On this trip, we took the trail that we did not take on our most recent hike up the Elwha.

The aptly-named big-leaf maples showered the trail with foot-wide, golden leaves.

Besides the maples, the trees in this forest are mostly conifers… Douglas fir, Western red cedar, hemlocks, and others. The understory is lush with ferns, salal, and in some places an inches-thick layer of moss. The ferns are beginning to fade, mostly turning brown but in a few places ghostly white.

One deciduous tree stood out with its graceful slim leaves that glowed pinkish orange. I’m not sure but I think this may be a Pacific dogwood.

Up close, the forest revealed another set of delights. Here is a patch of lung liverwort (sort of a giant moss) clinging to a boulder.

I had to look closely to spot this interesting specimen. I believe it is a variety of coral fungus.

Despite all of the fabulous photo ops we did manage to actually hike to somewhere. Our turnaround point was Lillian Camp, almost five miles up the trail, on the Lillian River just above its confluence with the Elwha. I want to camp here someday — imagine going to sleep under the trees with the sound of the river close by!

The trail crosses a bridge over the Lillian River here, and you know what that means — bridge inspection! The bridge itself is humble, but I love the diagonals in this view — they pull me in and make me want to hike further… maybe on a long summer day next year?

The view of the river from the bridge is nothing short of idyllic.

I was taken by the leaves on that boulder in the foreground, and the water rushing around the boulder. It’s tough to photograph moving water in low light without a tripod, but I did my best to balance myself against a bridge post. Not so bad for hand-held?

We lingered at Lillian Camp for half an hour, but as the sky began to darken we knew we needed to start back if we hoped to beat the rain and sundown. That didn’t stop me from taking a few more photos of those glorious autumn leaves… they’ll all come down overnight as soon as we get the big windstorm that always seems to come this time of year. But until then, this is a place to be enjoyed and savored. I’m privileged and proud to live here.

After a perfect autumn hike, we celebrated with a homebrew. Our “Angeles Porter” exceeded our expectations and we’ll be brewing this recipe again. Its creamy-sweet maltiness is, I confess, easy to drink and tough to resist. Yum!!!

The next batch of homebrew after the porter is an English style Extra Special Bitter (ESB) – think Bass Ale. “Bass” makes me think of “fish,” and of salmon swimming upstream – up the newly-freed Elwha past the old dams now coming down. I’ve named this beer “Up the Elwha ESB.” We’re bottling this weekend, so in a couple of weeks I hope to report to you that it’s as rich and heady as a hike up the Elwha on a crisp autumn day. Cheers!

Autumn Reflections

Even though CFL and I are dedicated to the slow happy life, sometimes we still need to remind ourselves to slow down and look closely. The other day we walked a trail that I usually run. We stopped on the bridge and spent a long time looking at the coho salmon in Morse Creek. I have lived here ten years and never before seen salmon at this location.

They huddled almost motionless here, about a mile upstream from the mouth of the stream. I’m not sure whether they were still adapting to their return to fresh water and would soon move further upstream, or whether this was at or near their final spawning destination and they were gathering strength for their last hurrah.

The light wasn’t right for photographing them in the water. However, to give you an idea of the scene, here is a similar view that I captured in Sitka, Alaska last summer. As I recall, these were pink salmon. The coho are a little darker than these.

I spent a long time trying without success to find an angle that would reduce the glare off the water and allow me to photograph the fish. But I just couldn’t get it to work.

Then suddenly I was struck by another view. This is what was hiding in plain sight, all the time I was trying to get the right shot of the fish.

As you go about your busy day today, I hope you take the time to slow down, pause, breathe, look closely… and reflect on the autumn beauty surrounding you.

Playing tourist in Seattle (and online)

Yesterday we took a day trip to Seattle to have lunch with a family member and take in the sights and sounds of the big city. CFL worked here several years ago, but I (LKS) don’t know Seattle very well. Most of my previous visits downtown have been by car. I haven’t seen much of Seattle at street level.

We parked the car at the Bainbridge ferry dock, walked onto the ferry, and walked through downtown, looking into a few of the interesting stores along the way. I was casually looking for a pub table — the old-fashioned rustic kind with a solid wood round top and a sturdy base, the sort of table you can safely spill a few drops of beer on. I didn’t find it, but the hunt was fun.

When we found ourselves with a few minutes to spare before lunch, we strolled through the Olympic Sculpture Park. Yes, I’d seen this before — from a car! I was not prepared for the experience of walking through Richard Serra’s immense five-piece metal sculpture, “Wake.”

My iPhone photo does not begin to do it justice. Two of the pieces are hidden in this shot. That’s a rather huge building behind it.

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After a lengthy and enjoyable lunch, we did a bit more walking and exploring. Of course, we couldn’t leave Seattle without sampling at least one microbrew. Our brewpub du jour was Pike, which is located right at the Pike Place market. En route to the pub we dodged a few flying fish (if you’ve been here you know what I mean) and also took in the Gum Wall — another landmark (albeit slightly icky) that you can’t experience by car.

The Pike ales were good but (in our opinion) not world-class. Our favorite was the pale ale, which was their first beer when they started in 1989. The brewpub was large, a little touristy but then what would you expect given its location? We had no complaints, and from there it was a short walk back to the ferry. We dodged the first raindrops of the day and called it a successful excursion to the big city.

In researching the Richard Serra sculpture online today, I chanced upon this 360-degree image of it. And that happy discovery led me to 360cities.net .

WOW! What a great way to lose yourself for an hour or three online! Think of a famous place, an amazing building, or a beautiful view, and someone has probably done a 360-pano of it and posted it on this site. Have fun looking — and please tell me about your favorites in your comments!

Slow Happy Brewing: We’ve got beer!

It seemed the day would never come, but we tasted our first homebrew on October 5! This was 23 days after we thought we’d set the place on fire while attempting to boil our wort on September 12. We racked our proto amber ale to the secondary fermenter on September 19 and bottled on the 26th.

As befitted the momentous occasion of bottling, I took a lot of photos.

The first step of the process was to thoroughly clean and then sanitize 48 used beer bottles. Well, even before that we had to (1) consume all that beer and (2) find room to store all those empty beer bottles. Suffice it to say that we have been preparing for our homebrewing operation for a while, quietly in the background of our busy lives.

CFL has done most of the reading about and researching of homebrewing techniques, and has developed an appreciation for the taste and health benefits of impeccable sanitization. We bought this very cool bottle drying rack. With 48 bottles suspended from it, it looks a bit like a Christmas tree, don’t you think? It may even replace my Festivus pole this year!

Once the bottles were ready to go, the next steps were “simple”:

  • Boil 3/4 cup of corn sugar with a like amount of water, create a solution and then let it cool.
  • Siphon the wort (which was now completely fermented and completely flat) from the secondary fermenter into the bottling bucket.
  • Add the cooled corn sugar syrup to the wort in the bottling bucket. This beer/syrup mixture, once bottled, would start another fermentation process that would then produce carbonated beer.
  • Siphon just the right amount of beer into each bottle
  • Cap each bottle.
  • Wait patiently for as long as we could stand it, before opening and drinking.

We had obtained a nifty siphon tube attachment that did, in fact, siphon just the right amount of beer into each bottle — if you were quick about lifting the tip at exactly the right moment. Achieving that little feat of perfect timing was my job.

It didn’t go so badly — I only doused myself with beer a few times. As I filled each bottle and set it aside, CFL grabbed it and capped it. For this task, we had an amazing little machine that may or may not have been made by the Ferrari company. It was made in Italy, it does say “Ferrari” on it, and it was marketed to us as “the Ferrari of cappers”!

When we were done, we had 48 bottles of amber ale. We’ve named our beer “Call 911 Amber Ale.” We haven’t yet designed a bottle label for it, but you are free to use your imagination.

In this photo you can also see what we were drinking in order to collect those 48 used bottles. It was a tough job!

Our recipe said the beer would be ready to drink 7-14 days after bottling. Well, we opened our first beers 6 days later… because we were going to be out of town on the 7th day!

It looked beautiful in the bottle!

However, it seemed to be missing something. Where was the head?

We’re not quite sure why, but that final carbonation step wasn’t 100% successful. Our beer tastes great — we’ve had independent confirmation from friends on that point. It has a crisp, clean flavor that tells us CFL nailed the sanitization part. We feel a touch of carbonation but don’t see as many bubbles as we’d like. It may be because we opened them too soon, but the ones we opened yesterday were still almost as head-free. It may be because we are serving them too cold — this is, after all, an ale, and ales are supposed to be served a bit warmer than lagers.

We’ve now become hyper-sensitive to carbonation levels, and guess what? We’ve sampled some very good commercial microbrews over the past few days and they were only marginally more bubbly than ours. So we think maybe we’re being too hard on ourselves?

In any case, we’re happy enough with our Call 911 Amber Ale that we’re not going to let any of it go to waste!

Meanwhile, our second batch is well underway and we’ll be bottling again by this weekend. We’re making a porter this time, and I think it’s going to be fairly hefty. While in the primary fermenter it actually blew off its airlock! Here it is being siphoned from the primary fermenter to the secondary fermenter. Look at that yeast/malt residue in the primary (upper) carboy!

We’re trying to come up with a suitable name for our porter. Ideas have included “Pop the Cork Porter” and “Coal Porter” (because it is DARK). Do you have any suggestions for a strong, lively, black, chocolately-smoky beer? If you do, please let us know!

Chasing whales and ales in Victoria BC

This past weekend we made a quick trip of approximately 20 miles across the strait to Victoria BC. I like being able to see Canada from my house! Victoria is a lovely and very English city. Although it’s much larger than my home town, Victoria’s downtown area is very walkable. It’s entirely possible to walk from my house to the ferry dock, walk onto the ferry, cross the strait, walk off the ferry, have a nice lunch, and then turn around and walk all the way back home.

We went to Victoria with a couple of specific things in mind to do. The main thing was the Victoria half marathon that I (LKS) planned to run on Sunday. You can read about how that worked out for me here (I had a great day!).

Before Sunday, however, we had other plans. As it happened, it was my birthday weekend. I’d been wanting to go whale watching for a while. I usually try to go at least once a year, but with all the running, hiking, biking, and brewing, the summer had gotten away from me. So soon after I’d picked up my race packet on Saturday morning, we were out on the water in a 74-passenger whale watching boat.

I belong to a Puget Sound area whale advocacy group called Orca Network. Their email, Facebook, and Twitter updates keep me well informed as to the general whereabouts of our local orcas, gray whales, humpbacks, and the occasional minke whale. I knew that our Southern Resident orca population (the salmon-eating orcas) had gone out to sea a few days before, but that there were a couple of transient groups (the marine mammal-eating orcas) hanging around. These two groups both frequent our local waters, but never intermingle and are in the process of becoming separate species.

When we headed out of Victoria harbor and went straight east toward the San Juan Islands, I figured that the captain was aiming for an area where orcas had already been spotted earlier that morning. Once we saw a tight grouping of stationary boats on the horizon, it was obvious exactly where they were. All of the whale watch companies do a great job of working together and informing one another of any whale sightings — they all offer some sort of guarantee, so it’s in everyone’s interest to make sure that everyone sees whales. The whales we were about to see were apparently the only ones in our local waters at that moment — so everyone was there to see them.

So here we were — nearly a dozen whale watching boats all slowly following (at a barely-legal distance) a small and leisurely group of orcas. The on-board naturalist quickly identified them as transient whales… specifically, the T49s and (I believe) T36s. In transient orca nomenclature, “Txx” is the matriarch of the pod and her children (who stay with her for life) are designated as TxxA, TxxB, etc. Therefore, what we had here were a couple of moms and their children, traveling together. Positive ID is made from the individual differences in the markings near their dorsal fins, and from any nicks or scars on those fins.

These orcas had apparently eaten recently, as they were traveling slowly. The average transient orca eats one seal a day, but these guys weren’t hunting at the moment. While we watched them, they continued to slow down and tightly synchronize their dives. We were watching whales in the process of going to sleep.

How do orcas sleep? Half a brain at a time. They can never go fully to sleep because they must maintain conscious control of their breathing at all times. While one brain hemisphere sleeps, the other hemisphere is making constant decisions to dive, surface, and breathe. Later, the sleeping hemisphere will awaken and the waking hemisphere will sleep.

I felt a little sorry for these poor whales trying to grab some shut-eye while leading a parade of boats, but as the naturalist pointed out, if they were really bothered by us they would have moved quickly away from us. All of the boats maintained a respectful distance and posed no threat to the whales.

I took a bunch of photos, but it’s tough to photograph a moving and diving whale from a rocking boat. Here are a couple — both substantially cropped (we weren’t anywhere near as close as it seems). If you look closely at the first one, you’ll see a young calf spouting, very close to mom’s head (on the right side of the photo).

We probably spent the better part of an hour watching these whales (time flies when you are in their amazing presence) before heading back to Victoria.

Now that we’d seen the whales, it was time to go hunting for some ales! Victoria has several brewpubs, with half a dozen located right downtown near the waterfront. Given that it was my birthday weekend, I wanted to celebrate! But with a half marathon coming up at 7:30 AM on Sunday, I couldn’t go overboard. I limited myself to one brewpub, at which I consumed half a sampler (CFL and I shared) and a pint of the lovely pale ale that won the sampling contest for me. I was back at the motel and sound asleep before 8:00 PM! What sort of birthday is that???

(It was a great one!)

We did manage to hit another brewpub after the race on Sunday, but I think we’ll be going back to Victoria again to check out a few more. The Victorian microbrew scene is subtly but distinctly different from here in Washington — a bit less hoppy, a bit more focus on lagers versus ales. It’s amazing what a difference a few short miles across the strait can make. The pints are bigger too! What’s not to like about that?

Hiking up the Elwha River

Autumn is definitely coming here in the Pacific Northwest, after a late but glorious summer. There’s still no rain in the forecast, but the temperatures are dropping and the leaves have begun to turn colors. The other day I (LKS) wanted to take a long but easy hike to gently keep my muscles working during the time between the Rogue Run half marathon on 9/23 and the upcoming Victoria half marathon on 10/7. The complex of trails in the Elwha River watershed provided the perfect opportunity to get out and enjoy the natural beauty surrounding us in this place and time.

The trails are mostly level except for sections that lead down to and back up from the river’s edge. For a good part of the way, the trail we chose meanders through flat, open forest and mossy glades.

The maples were still in the early stages of their autumn glory, but everything was highlighted beautifully under the azure sky.

 

CFL had suggested that we hike as far as “the bridge,” which he’d seen once before, but I really had no idea what to expect. I soon learned that the bridge in question is a suspension bridge that crosses the Elwha at a point where the canyon becomes too deep for hikers to continue directly alongside the river. The first glimpse of it through the trees is not all that impressive.

Even the signs acknowledge that it’s quite human-scale as suspension bridges go.

It may not be the tallest or longest suspension bridge, but it fits its location perfectly. It gracefully and efficiently spans the river. We spent some time studying it, and CFL explained the structural engineering details to this non-architect. I’m still bemused at what it must have taken to build it here. All that steel had to be hauled three and a half miles up a narrow trail, from a trailhead that is five miles up a steep, narrow dirt road that branches off a small road that is at least five miles off the highway, many miles out of town. Now here it sits on a lightly-traveled trail that most people will never see. This bridge is now one of my favorite places.

From this angle, it’s clear why hikers are forced to cross the river at this point — there is nowhere else to go!

In a couple of weeks, once my last half marathon of 2012 is behind me, I’d like to go back — get an earlier start and continue up the trail beyond this bridge. The other side beckons.

The big news about the Elwha is the ongoing removal of the two dams downstream, but up here the Elwha has always run free and the bridges are humble. What an extraordinary privilege it is to be in this place!