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Keeping an Eye on Nature in NCW

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October 2010, Nature of Place, NCW Greenways
by Nancy Warner

“It takes a thousand voices to tell a single story,” as one Native American saying goes. This also describes the approach we take in the Initiative for Rural Innovation & Stewardship (IRIS) as we gather many stories to help us better understand the nature of North Central Washington.

Like individual pieces of a larger puzzle, each of the stories that people share about their connections with nature contribute to the collective picture of how this place works. And the more we know about the plants, animals and natural systems that support us, the more apt we are to thrive.

Some of this knowledge of place is passed on in journal entries about events such as the first sagebrush buttercup to bloom each spring or the first freeze in the fall. These notes help keep us in touch with the seasonal joys of living in this place and inform our plans for farming and gardening each year.

When we combine our collective notes with the memories and photos of longtime residents, we’re better able to understand how longer-term processes have shaped our forests, farmlands, rivers and shrub-steppe and to see future possibilities. It becomes a richer story -— a story of wonder and change that bridges generations and invites others to participate in its telling.

George Honey of Entiat is one of the many people whose memories are helping us learn about how the landscapes and communities of this region have changed. Born in the Methow Valley in 1933, George worked in farming and logging before starting his career with the Forest Service.

He recalls how in the 1940s the Forest Service would gather a crew and then walk all night to go fight a fire. “I remember one time I was taking a crew way up War Creek. We had a fire going between Lake Chelan and the Twisp River. And we hiked about 15 miles to get in there.” Every other guy carried a flashlight,” he explained. “You’d see all these eyes shining along the trail — I’m sure cougar, deer and I don’t know what all. You had to be careful and you had to have somebody lead the way who knew the country.”

It was water, rather than fire, that got some of the wildlife moving up in the country where Homer Wolfe was born in 1916 — a fruit ranch between Wilbur and the Columbia River. He remembers how the water backed up after Grand Coulee Dam was built and the deer were able to swim across the river from the north. “We had deer coming across and establishing themselves in the canyon areas and up on the edge of the wheat fields,” he recalls. “And my brother would shoot a deer every year.”

George and Homer both grew up in times when the success of the family’s farm and garden depended, in large part, on their knowledge of the place. “Your parents would teach you things, and that knowledge was passed on to your siblings,” George explained. One example of such knowledge was how to avoid planting the garden too early, before the ground was warm enough. In the Methow, he learned to wait until “the snow got off of Mount McClure” to plant any seeds.

Homer’s family raised about 50 chickens a year — enough for a roast each Sunday.
He describes the interaction between two native species of birds that enabled more of his family’s chickens to survive. “In that country there was a bird called a kingbird, and they would build a nest up on the edge of the windmill. And they had a particular yearn to chase (Cooper’s) hawks if they ever showed up. And whenever they started their squawking the chickens knew what they were talking about because the mother hen would call all the chicks together and the kingbird would dive down on the hawk until that hawk was crazy.”

What observation about nature have you made that can help others be successful?

Join others across North Central Washington as we create a naturalist’s journal of our region. Post your observations about the weather, including temperature, moisture levels and significant storm events, along with those about specific plants and animals you see near your home or area.

Start a journal and track: date/time, location, observer, weather notes, and your observations. Share your observations with the community by posting them here as comments. Submit entries on your own or team up with a friend or family member. Together our observations will chronicle trends and changes and provide a legacy for future generations to build on.

Post your observations by adding to the comments in the link below.

Keeping an Eye on Nature — George Honey

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George Honey talks about hiking into fires.

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George Honey – Hiking Into Fires (MP3)

George Honey talks about learning.

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George Honey – Learning (MP3)

George Honey talks about seasonal cues.

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George Honey – Seasonal Cues (MP3)

Keeping an Eye on Nature — Homer Wolfe

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Homer Wolfe talks about hunting.

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Homer Wolfe Hunting (MP3)

Homer Wolfe talks about chickens and Kingbird hawks.

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Homer Wolfe – Chickens and Kingbirds (MP3)

IRIS