Tag Archives: nature

Don’t let another moment slip away

In keeping with this blog’s theme of slow HAPPY living, I usually try to keep things here light and upbeat. Sometimes, however, a bit of philosophy is in order.  After all, I AM a bit of a philosopher… but I’ll try to restrain myself and not do any really deep navel gazing in this post.

Today I went for a hike. Usually CFL and I hike together, but he’s busy working on a big project. If you wonder whether the economy is ever going to improve, you may take heart from the fact that architects are suddenly getting work again. That’s great for CFL, but it has put a crimp on our summer hiking plans.

So today was a perfect, clear and warm late summer day. We’ll only have a few more of these days before the rainy season returns. I sat around the house for a while, but when I found myself watching cat videos I knew I needed to get out of my chair, get outside, and move my feet.

We’re 255 days into 2013, which means we’re 255 days (and I’m 1,520 miles) into our activity streak. On a busy day like today CFL still manages at least a two mile walk around the neighborhood. But I like to do a little more than that.

So today I went for a hike. I went up to Hurricane Ridge and hiked the same trail that I did back on August 4. It’s an up-and-down trail that meanders along the side and top of a minor ridge, ultimately connecting with trails that climb steeply up the north side of the mountain. The elevation of this section of trail ranges from about 5,100 to 5,600 feet. Nothing really strenuous, just a lot of ups and downs, and on a warm day like today it’s a good workout.

It’s a front country trail, so I felt comfortable hiking alone knowing there would be others in the area and that I would never be more than three miles from the car. As it turned out, I saw about ten other hikers — busier than some days but not so busy that I couldn’t do a whole lot of thinking and simply taking in the views and the moments of silence.

Views like this kept me happy.

I turned around at the first major fork in the trail.

The Klahhane Ridge Trail (the trail I was on — and yes it is misspelled on the sign — if you look closely you can see that someone has corrected it!) begins to climb steeply at this point. The Switchback Trail descends very steeply down to the road a few miles below where I’d left my car. This sign, therefore, marked the perfect place for me to turn around and return to the visitor center.

I returned a little more slowly, even though the shadows were beginning to lengthen. I found myself deep in a meditation about life, about how wonderful it all is, how awesome is the fact of simply being alive. Not merely being here but participating in it, making it happen, step by step by intentional step.

Sometimes I wonder if this whole “activity streak” has become an obsession. Perhaps it has, but if it has, I’m convinced that it’s an obsession of an entirely positive sort. It’s become a way of marking my days, of keeping a promise to myself that I will do something every day to ensure that I live it. I log my daily miles and how I attained them in a spreadsheet (are you surprised?). It’s become a diary of sorts. I can look back at the end of a day, a week, a month… or soon, a year… and know a little something about how I chose to spend my finite, precious time.

Today I did a 5.3 mile hike in Olympic National Park. I stopped along the way to notice things like the moon low in the summer sky over Hurricane Ridge.

As  I was driving down the hill toward home, I lost myself in another way, listening to music in the car. Michael Franti’s “Hey Hey Hey” came up. It’s a simple song, and the lyrics as a whole aren’t that relevant to the thoughts I was having today. But the catchy refrain “I won’t let another moment slip away” resonated deeply.

Despite the best efforts of the medical profession and the best care that I could give him, my late husband spent the last days of his life angry and in pain. Perhaps in some part of my heart, in my daily quest for significant movement, I am still running away from my memories of those moments. I prefer to think that I am running toward the opposite of those moments.

I want my moments  and my miles to add up to something. I want to experience each of them fully — slowly and happily. I don’t want to let another moment slip away.

Right now?

I’m relaxing and having a home brew. And writing.

And tomorrow?

I’m going for a run.

Oh yeah, and after that there is grocery shopping and bill paying and pre-cooking for a potluck. Those moments matter too. I shall be intentional about doing them, however. And then I’ll go out and meet some friends for dinner.

What did you do today?

What will you do tomorrow?

Don’t let another moment slip away!

Marmot monitoring in Olympic National Park

Over this past week we spent three days in our “back yard,” participating as volunteers in Olympic National Park’s marmot monitoring program.

NOTE: All of the marmot photos below were taken with a zoom lens. Although marmots are not particularly bothered by the presence of humans, I would never get so close to a wild animal in its natural environment.

Wouldn’t you want to spend as much time as possible with these cute little guys?

The Olympic Marmot is endemic to the Olympic Peninsula; 90% of the Olympic Marmot population lives within the boundaries of the Park.

Historically, a stable population of 2,000 or more Olympic Marmots existed, but about ten years ago anecdotal reports began to indicate that the population was in rapid decline. By the year 2006 the estimated population was only 1,000. The probable cause of this decline is predation by coyotes, which are not native to the area. Although the population is currently rebounding, the marmot’s lifecycle (slow reproductive rate, long hibernation time, limited mobility within its range) and other factors including climate change cause concern for the long-term viability of this unique species.

In 2010, Park biologists began a citizen marmot monitoring volunteer program. The idea is to survey areas within the Park that are known or likely sites of marmot habitat. The program is now in its fourth year. CFL and I volunteered to participate this year and were thrilled to be selected!

We began with a morning of classroom training followed by an afternoon in the field. This video taken at a prior year’s training will give you an idea of what is involved.

The survey method is straightforward:

  1. Hike to an area (“unit”) delineated on the map
  2. Use a GPS device to confirm that you’ve arrived at the right location
  3. Look for marmots within the boundaries of that unit
  4. If you see a marmot
    1. Hike to its location and mark it as a waypoint on the GPS
    2. Count all the adult and juvenile marmots you can see at any one time
    3. On your data sheet, enter the marmot count and mark the unit as “occupied”
    4. You’re done — move on to the next unit.
  5. If you don’t see a marmot
    1. Hike around within the unit looking for marmot burrows
    2. Mark any burrows on the GPS
    3. Determine (based on fresh dirt, feces, etc.) whether the burrow is occupied or abandoned
    4. Mark the unit as “occupied” or “abandoned”
    5. Move on to the next unit.
  6. Keep looking for burrows until you’ve surveyed the entire area
    1. If no burrows, mark the unit as “no sign”
    2. Move on to the next unit.

As first-year volunteers with (in my case) no overnight backpacking experience, we requested and were assigned to a front-country area. The most remote of our units was only about three miles from the trailhead.

Hiking out to each unit was the easy part! Once there, we left the trail and scrambled across meadows. These sub-alpine meadows are extremely fragile, and we would normally never go off-trail — but this time we were doing it in our official volunteer T shirts. We felt like kids getting away with something!

In many places the meadows are steeply sloped, and getting around the unit can be difficult. The next photo shows a typical occupied burrow. Note the freshly-dug dirt as well as the dirt on top of the rock (left behind by sun-bathing marmots). To get here, we had to hike for some distance sideways across the slope. It’s a good workout for toes, ankles, knees, and hips!

Accesses to and/or within couple of our units were so steep that we didn’t attempt to hike into them — but we didn’t need to, because we could survey them from above with binoculars.

There are (at least) three marmots in this photo. Can you spot them all?

The pups are grayish in color.

Adults have two-layer coats, brown to yellow-brown with a darker undercoat. Many of them are in the process of molting right now.

This big guy is sporting an ear tag. We’re hoping that the Park biologist can identify him or her from our photos and tell us more about him.

He or she was very patient with us while I took numerous photos in this stunning setting.

However, he finally expressed his displeasure by showing us his incisors, so we moved on and let him enjoy the rest of his day in peace.

To our surprise, we didn’t see a single black bear or mountain goat during our three days of off-trail excursions. We did see a golden eagle (a first for me), lots of deer, and some other interesting birds.

I believe this is a female sooty grouse (formerly known as a blue grouse). She had at least three chicks with her, but they were impossible to find through the camera viewfinder in the tall grass.

These are horned larks.

Sadly, the wildflower season is pretty much over, but we did see some beautiful specimens. This is pearly everlasting.

This is red columbine.

I have no idea what this gorgeous flower is, but we saw it only in a few places where there was loose shale.

All told, we hiked about 15 miles over the three days, at least a third of which was off-trail. We saw marmots and/or marmot burrows in 12 of our 14 units. We were very happy citizen scientists! We will certainly volunteer to do it again next year — maybe even venture into one of the back country areas. All in the name of research!

A postcard from the Olympics

Remember post cards? What a quaint custom that now seems to be. It’s been a long time since I have gone on vacation and sent home (via snail mail!) a purchased image of the place I’d visited, with a few scribbled words. You know — something like:

“Having a great time — wish you were here!”

The other day CFL and I went up to Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park. While ONP is a destination for people coming from all around the world, we like to think of it as our back yard. Yes, we are spoiled that way.

The Ridge was particularly crowded on this day, as it was the park’s 75th birthday! We decided that rather than hike one of the popular trails, we’d go out and back on Obstruction Point Road. This all-wheel-drive dirt road is normally open to vehicles by this time of year, but due to budget cuts the road still has uncleared patches of snow and is blocked by fallen trees in several places. However, the wide roadway gave us easy hiking and offered many dramatic vistas across to the mountain peaks. The air was even more crystal clear than usual, and I took dozens of photos.

So here, if you will, is a blogospheric postcard from the Olympics… a photographic sampling of a perfect day in a beautiful place.

By the way, we did have a great time — and don’t you wish you were here?

Chasing rarities

Some things are rare, special and worth pursuing…

I made a beer run the other day.

San Diego-area brewery Stone Brewing’s Enjoy By series of imperial IPA is always rare, special, and worth pursuing! These insanely hopped big beers are brewed and bottled in small batches every month or so, with a drink-by date emblazoned in huge numbers right on the label — each beer is actually named for its unique “enjoy by” date. To further enhance the “buzz” around this beer, Stone ships each batch only to a few selected markets around the US. Which markets? Well, each batch’s destination is decided by fan voting (via Twitter and Facebook). This brilliant marketing idea creates a scarcity mentality that keeps beer nerds clamoring for the next batch. This scarcity mentality, in turn, leads retailers to guard their supplies and limit sales to just a bottle or two per customer.

Of the half dozen or so batches brewed so far, three have come to my corner of the country. I managed to find a single bottle of Enjoy By 2/15/13 at a convenience store right in my small town, just a couple of days before the expiration date. That one bottle was enough to hook me, and now I regularly check Stone’s web site for news of their latest release.

Enjoy By 4/1/13 was here also, but I actually drank plenty of it in San Diego when I was there in March. I never needed to look for it here.

The latest release, Enjoy By 7/4/13, was my target when I set out on my beer run. I knew from Stone’s helpful map that two stores on my side of Puget Sound had probably received some. As it happened, both stores were in the same town about 65 miles away. What a perfect excuse for a road trip on a sunny spring day!

At the first store they were sold out! But I struck gold at the second store, where they surprised me by willingly selling me… umm… a bottle or two more than I expected. I now have a nice supply of Enjoy By 7/4/13, and I expect to enjoy them a few times between now and the 4th of July.

Having a bottle or two of a rare beer like this one in the fridge is a tasty temptation to anticipate while out on a hike. Recently we hiked up the Elwha for the first time since last autumn. The river was running just a tad higher than it was back on that day. The mossy rocks I photographed were nowhere to be seen!

Along our way we encountered a few rarities. Wildflowers, mushrooms, and odd specimens are popping out everywhere! This is a candystick. It’s one of the strangest but aptly-named plants I’ve ever seen.

It’s not always necessary to hike upriver to find rare and special things. The other day we went to a picnic with some friends at a local county park. Here is the view from very near our table.

That’s a Nootka rose, our local wild rose, in the foreground. Nootka roses aren’t particularly rare here, but special? Indeed! Worth chasing? Completely.

Until next time, keeping it slow and happy….

To the end of the earth… or this corner of it anyway

You may have noticed that I’m not blogging much lately. I’ve been outside enjoying our beautiful spring! The first half of May was record-breaking warm and dry, but the past week or so we have had some rain showers. The rain probably came at the perfect time for my gardening friends. For me it just means bringing rain gear when I go out for my daily run, hike, or walk.

The other day we took a trip out to Neah Bay, the last town at the northwest tip of the Olympic Peninsula. Just outside of town there is a trailhead that leads to Cape Flattery, which is the absolute northwest corner of the lower 48.

Do you ever look at maps and dream of going to the most remote places you can find? The year I lived in Scotland I wanted to go to John O’Groats at the far northern tip of the mainland, but I never quite had the guts to make the trip.

I first came to Washington state on a family vacation in the 1960s. We went to Rainier National Park. There was this other national park out there called Olympic, but my dad decided not to go there. As I recall, he told us, “it’s too remote — they only paved the road and put in electricity a few years ago.” I think the truth is that the road and electricity out to Neah Bay were 30+ years old at that time — still relatively new, but not brand new. In any case, my dad instilled this part of the world with a certain mystique for me. Funny how I felt so drawn to the Olympic Peninsula as an adult and ended up moving here… partly because it reminds me of Scotland… and partly because it’s at the northwest corner of the map.

But I digress.

The trail to Cape Flattery winds through a mossy, boggy forest. It’s wet enough that large sections of it are boardwalk — otherwise the trail would be ankle-deep mud for most of the year. The boardwalk makes the trail not merely usable but also very scenic.

The trail winds gently downhill for about a mile. It ends abruptly at the edge of a vertical cliff! Several small lookouts give different vantage points on the surf crashing against the rock walls far below.

In the next photo you can see that the sea has created caves that run far underneath the cliffs. When the surf is high, it’s possible to feel the cliffs shuddering as the big waves hit the rock with a BOOM! We didn’t feel that on this occasion, but the sight is still very impressive. Someday the rocks we were standing on will split away from the cliff and stand alone as sea stacks.

This is Tattoosh Island, just offshore (and no doubt formerly attached). There’s a small lighthouse which I believe is operated by the Coast Guard. We could hear steller sea lions barking on the island.

As you might imagine, we saw lots of birds, but they were impossible to photograph from far above. I was most excited to see pelagic cormorants, with their very distinctive white patch behind the wing. These aren’t your typical cormorants you see hanging around in harbors.

After walking back up the trail to the car, we continued southward down the Pacific coast a couple of miles to Hobuck Beach, which I understand is a popular surfing spot for those folks who are nutty enough to surf in 48 degree water. There was only one intrepid surfer out that day in the relatively flat (non-booming, if you’ll recall) surf.

Hobuck Beach is sandy (rare for these parts) and almost completely flat (also rare). On another day when I have more time I think I’ll return to run on this beach!

Cape Flattery and Hobuck Beach are about a two and a half hour drive from my town… far enough away that coming here is a day trip and always a bit of an adventure. Yet I have met several people who have come from across the country and even beyond to stand at the northwestern corner of the map. There is something irresistible about going to the end of the earth and coming back to tell the tale — isn’t there?

Maybe I should go to John O’Groats someday.

Is there a place on the corner or the farthest edge of a map that has always called to you?

Signs of spring… at last!

Winter here in the Pacific Northwest can feel like it will last forever. Although I’ve done well this year in staving off the seasonal blues by staying active whatever the weather, the long gray slog continued throughout March and most of April.

Then all of a sudden — BOOM! — spring started bursting out all over the place!

Trees that were bare suddenly turned day-glow green. The big-leaf maples produced their odd green flowers, followed quickly by miniature-but-rapidly-growing big leaves.

A deer walked right through my back yard!

Wildflowers began to bloom. Here’s a trillium just getting started, rising out of a carpet of moss.

We discovered a new (to us) trail. The trailhead is less than a mile from my house — we can walk to the trailhead! The trail follows a stream, meandering into the National Park and through low-elevation second-growth forest. Scenes like this beckon to us… wouldn’t you love to duck under the fallen log and up those steps that disappear around the corner? We’ll walk this trail frequently this summer, I think. It sure beats doing a lap of the neighborhood streets!

If we needed any more proof that summer is on its way, we got it the other day when a small (100-passenger) cruise ship pulled into City Pier for a two-day stay. This boutique cruise line has committed to doing a total of 13 Puget Sound cruises with port calls in our town in May, September, and October. The tourist season is upon us!

Today is May 1, and the sun will set at 8:27 PM. In another day or two I’ll notice the morning and afternoon sun coming through my north-facing windows. By the time we reach the solstice, sunset will be well after 9:00 PM and the last of the light will fade to the northwest at 10:00 PM.

This weekend the forecast calls — finally — for high temperatures over 70. Woohoo! Break out the shorts and tank tops, summer is actually coming!

Gray whale photos — Laguna San Ignacio

This morning I downloaded the photos from CFL’s camera and discovered to my delight that he had dozens of photos of me with the gray whales at Laguna San Ignacio. While I was squealing like a teenager (along with all the other women on our boat) he was calmly documenting the entire scene. How thoughtful (and lovable) is that?

So here you go — here are some of the best whale photos from the more than 500 trip photos that we have between us. Tomorrow (or soon, anyway) I’ll write about and post photos of the birds, the camp, the region, and some of the fun things that we did while in San Diego as well.

A mother and calf approach the boat…

Seventeen seconds later per the time stamp on the photos, THIS happens!

Here you can see mom just below the surface, lifting baby out of the water so we all get a better look!

Baby rolls on its side for a better look at us…

And stays on its side for another close approach.

It’s the next day, we’re with another mother/calf pair, and this one seems to be sticking its tongue out at us! (We also saw baleen, but we don’t have any photos of that remarkable “tooth” adaptation.)

Meanwhile the rest of our group, in the other boat, were seeing some nice fluke action…

On the third morning we were out on the water with a group of local children on a school field trip.  What lucky kids! Watching them play with this baby whale was almost as good as being with the whale ourselves.

Eventually the kids moved on and we got to take our turn with this exceptionally outgoing whale. Check out this eye shot!

I was shooting video that morning. The way I was squealing, I’m not sure I want to post those videos, but as you can see I got a shot of my hand touching the whale.

By this time several people had kissed the whale and it was my turn to give it a go. I had no idea I was so far out of the boat when this sequence was taken!

From all the upraised hands in this photo, I seem to have just completed that kiss… but alas, there is no photo of that split second. In any case, I’m glad someone finally got a hand on my life jacket!

By the end of that morning’s trip, we were all totally wrung out!

It was windy out there on the water. I had put gobs of sunblock on my head, which — combined with whale spray and sculpted by wind — produced a truly stunning hair style. But I can assure you, this is a smile of pure and total joy.

I’m so grateful to CFL for his wonderful photos. It brings a new perspective to the whole experience for me… one that I’m pleased and proud to share with you.

Yet these photos, awesome as they are, can only give you an idea of what it’s really like. Life changing? Absolutely! 

The friendly gray whales of Laguna San Ignacio

Don’t we all have those special events and experiences that we dream about, look forward to, plan for, and then count down the days until they arrive? When they finally do happen, they seem to be over too quickly. We might say that an experience was life-changing, and we might go back to everyday life vowing to be somehow different because of it. And then too soon, everyday life reasserts itself and things go back to the way they were. We might remember the experience with fondness, but it’s behind us now.

Three years ago I had a truly life-changing experience. It was a trip I’d wanted to make for years. It was the first and only vacation I ever took without my late husband. We’d had many great vacations together, but his idea of a fun vacation simply didn’t include activities like flying in a small plane and camping on a remote beach. At the time I couldn’t imagine that he’d be diagnosed with cancer four months later, but I was certainly grateful that he encouraged me to take the trip without him.

My solo vacation brought me the great privilege of traveling to Laguna San Ignacio in Baja California Sur, Mexico. This is one of the few calving grounds of the Eastern Pacific Gray Whale and the only one that is still essentially pristine. There I stayed for several days at a primitive camp and enjoyed whale watching up close and personal! Some of the calves and their mothers are “friendly” — they swim right up to small boats and seem to invite touching. This behavior began in the 1970s when, for unknown reasons, some of the mother/calf pairs began approaching local fishermen. Some of those fishermen, including my host, saw an opportunity in ecotourism.

Not all the whales are friendly, but those who are seem genuinely curious and engage with boats and passengers in a playful way. I briefly tapped a couple of calves during my time there. As great as the touching is, however, the truly life-changing moment occurs when a gray whale rolls on its side and LOOKS at you — making direct eye contact from mere feet away.

I came home from that trip deeply moved, profoundly grateful, and vowing to return again someday.

Fast forward almost three years. CFL and I were talking about adventure travel — exotic places we’d like to go and things we’d like to do. He mentioned Laguna San Ignacio.

I hadn’t forgotten my vow to return! I was instantly ready to do it again.

We went with the same company as I used last time. Baja Ecotours is based in San Diego and operates in partnership with a local entrepreneur and his extended family who operate Campo Cortez at the lagoon. We (along with about half of our tour group of eleven people) actually booked our tour through a Puget Sound area whale advocacy group called Orca Network.

We all gathered in San Diego on March 4. Early the next morning we boarded a charter bus to Ensenada. There we all squeezed into a very small plane for the two and a half hour flight to Laguna San Ignacio, about halfway down the Baja California Peninsula on the west side. We landed on a dirt runway and were met by our hosts with a cooler full of ice cold beer. We then boarded an ancient school bus for the nearly ten mile trip to Campo Cortez.

Laguna San Ignacio and the surrounding region are a national park, thanks to the efforts of environmentalists and local citizens to protect it against development. In 2010 these groups successfully stopped the Mitsubishi Corporation’s plan to build the world’s largest salt works at Laguna San Ignacio, thus saving the calving grounds. The Mexican government has authorized about a dozen primitive camps and allows whale watching in small (14-16 foot) boats within a small area near the mouth of the lagoon.

According to a census taken a couple of days before our arrival, there were nearly 400 whales in the lagoon (about twice as many as were present when I was last there three years ago). About 220 were mother/calf pairs and the remainder were adult stragglers who hadn’t yet begun their northbound migration to the Arctic (mothers and calves are always the last to leave).

During our three full days in camp we were treated to twice-daily whale watching trips. The time within the whale watching area is a closely-monitored 90 minutes each trip. 

The whales wasted no time getting acquainted! As soon as we entered the whale watching area and idled the boat engine, there were whales everywhere. Everyone in our group got to touch a baby whale on our first outing. By the end of the three days, I’d touched babies on four out of our six trips. Here’s CFL getting to know a baby whale.

Usually, the moms simply hang close by while “junior” plays. Sometimes a mother will lift a baby onto her back (as if to say “look at my beautiful baby!”) and then nudge it closer to the boat. But for two of the mothers, that wasn’t enough — they wanted to be touched too! I suspect that these particular whales had been friendly when they were babies, and they were just doing what they’d always done… there could be second or even third generation “friendlies” by now.

Patting the snout of an 18-foot baby gray whale is awesome enough — but when a 40-foot mother comes to gaze into your eyes and be petted, the intensity of the experience is simply beyond words. Sadly, I have no eye photos… those moments happen so quickly.

On the morning of our last day (trip 5 of 6) we met up with a baby whale that simply could not play with us enough! Think of an enthusiastic, slightly gangly, but exceedingly playful puppy. This guy (or gal) literally came to each of us on our boat one by one and lingered for extended patting, rubbing, and scratching. He stayed so close to the boat for such a long time that I and others actually KISSED him on the snout. Meanwhile mama repeatedly swam under the boat, bumping it gently and lifting us partly out of the water. It was a wet, slightly wild, and most unforgettable ride.

Among the adults at the lagoon, we saw too many spy hops to count, multiple breaches close by the boat, and a bit of flirtatious behavior. These whales were not interested in interacting with us, but our nearby presence did not prevent them at all from going about the business of being gray whales.

That’s one of the many things I love about this place. At first it almost seems that we are imposing on their lives… maybe crowding them with our boats… maybe getting in their way. Then I watch them gracefully swimming to us, around us, under us. They know we are there. They could avoid us but they come to us. They could knock our boat right out of the water, but they rub and bump it gently. Their eyes shine with curiosity, playfulness, and intelligence. They are as entranced with us as we are with them.

It is a meeting of minds and hearts.

Their trust of us — we members of the species that hunted them almost to extinction — is a great gift.

I have other stories to tell about this trip — the camp itself, the bird life, and (of course) some great beer tourism moments while in the San Diego area. I have lots more photos to share. But this is enough for today.

I hope I have given you a taste and whet your appetite for more. If you ever get the chance… believe me, you will not be disappointed. This is a genuinely life-changing experience.

What on earth have we been up to?

We’ve been home for several days and I’m still processing. I think it’s going to take several more days and several blog posts to sort it all out. For now I’ll just say that it involved international travel and intense wildlife encounters. Oh, and some world class craft beers as well!

And yes, the activity streak is still intact.

I’ll do my best to tell you all about it soon… It’s just that I have a few hundred photos to sort through and decide what to post here… So please stay tuned!

Amazing sights along the trail

Today I ran the last 7.5 miles I needed to comfortably meet my running goal of 600 miles for 2012. For the last run of the year, I chose to revisit my most-traveled section of the Olympic Discovery Trail — the part that runs along the waterfront toward downtown. This section has been fully or partially closed since mid-November for a cleanup and wastewater treatment project at a closed mill site. The part of the trail that directly skirts the mill has never been particularly attractive (they keep telling us it will be better once the cleanup project is finally done). But I was amazed at what it looked like today!

In case you’ve gotten the impression that I run in pristine wilderness all the time, let me assure you — not here, not now! The trail, which used to run in a broad horseshoe around the perimeter of the mill site, now cuts directly through the middle of the parking lot — it’s 4/10s of a mile shorter! Weaving through the heavy equipment inside a narrow chute, I couldn’t help but recall the times I’ve been paced by deer through this area. I don’t think the deer would find it to their liking right now! I can only hope that when the project is completed next spring sometime, it will again be a beautiful place where I’ll run again with deer.

Back out along the waterfront, however, it looked and felt more like the waterfront trail that I love. I heard eagles but couldn’t spot them today. Various species of grebes and other water birds were there in abundance — as were “flocks” of birders with their spotting scopes. I think the local Audubon Society may have been on a field trip to enjoy this section of the trail, which has been newly recognized as one of the prime birding areas in the state.

Yet even with all of this excitement, there was something even more amazing along the waterfront trail today: seaweed! The high tides of the past several days brought a colorful array of pink seaweed to both sides of the trail. Bear in mind that the trail is normally 6-10 feet above the water line. I saw scattered seaweed halfway up the bank on the inland side of the trail — a good 20 feet up and in from the normal waterfront. It must have been a crazy sight when those waves were crashing so high up over the trail.

In other areas the power of the tides to shape the land was even more evident. Here there must have been a tidal river heaving gravel across the trail (I suspect some of this debris has been swept to and piled at this spot by our intrepid trail maintenance crew).

In this photo you can see the grass all lying over on its side, flattened by the force of the waves.

Sights like these make it very clear that this piece of land is on loan to us from nature, and that the sea will take it back eventually. I greatly respect the power of water and I know I’m only a visitor here. Still, I’m very glad that I get to enjoy this place while I can!

I hope you had a chance to get outside and enjoy some of your favorite places on this last weekend of 2012. Happy New Year!