Connecting with Nature

Nature of North Central Washington

Early Connections with Nature – Susan Ballinger

Susan Ballinger talks about weekends at the cabin.

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Susan Ballinger – Montana Summers (MP3)

Susan Ballinger talks about her grandma and the lake.

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Susan Ballinger Grandma and Lake (MP3)

Susan Ballinger talks about being outside.

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Susan Ballinger Outside Happy (MP3)

Then & Now – Connecting Traditions

Judy De La Vergne’s dad used a “hands-on” approach when teaching her to fish. “He would say different things about how to use the pole. You either learned to tie your fly on or you didn’t get to fish. We still go fishing and my kids go fishing with him.”

An avid kayaker, Eddie Velazquez says his early experiences in nature made him really independent and unafraid to try new things. Today he shares his outdoor interests with his family. “I never stop hearing, ‘Hey Dad, can we go out on a hike?’ And I say, ‘Sure!’”

Still happiest when she is outside, Susan Ballinger enjoys many outdoor activities with her family. “I think all the worries of life disappear when you’re outside and take time to listen to the birds and to hike. It’s renewing especially when you share it with other people.”

Skip Johnson continues to be inspired by the Columbia River. A leader of the Complete the Loop Coalition he says, “I just had to be part of the effort to allow others to enjoy the river once the Loop Trail opportunity arose. Having the Loop out there today means other people can have the opportunity to enjoy the river as I did when I was a kid.”

Chipmunks, Fire and Forests Spring to Life

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

Look at the ancient, burned-out stump of a cedar and imagine what the land was like 100 years ago. Watch a chipmunk stuff its cheeks with things dug from under a log and picture how this small creature survives the deep snows of winter. Drink in the smell of the warming earth and imagine mushrooms — a taste of spring — sizzling in a pan on your stove.

It was musings such as these that led me to seek out those who could help me get a better sense of the Little Wenatchee and White River area that I fell in love with while camping last summer. I wanted to take what I could see and imagine about this diverse part of Chelan County and hold it up against the observations and knowledge of those with more background and experience in the place. Fortunately, longtime White River Valley resident Paul Gray and U.S. Forest Service research biologist John Lehmkuhl agreed to share their insights.

Born in 1941 and raised in the White River Valley, Paul Gray has learned about the land through direct observation and stories passed down through his family. He remembers quieter times when the grass grew between two wheel tracks in front of his family’s house on White River Road.

Settlement patterns and logging have affected the landscape we see in the Little Wenatchee and White River valleys today. In the White River, Paul says, “there were a lot of people who lived up there between 1900 and 1915 — probably 15 to 20 families.” These early homesteaders cleared and sold the cedar trees for lumber. “After that,” he adds, “someone was a little careless with fire and that pretty much ended the logging by 1915.”

By the late 1930s to early 1940s, the war effort increased the market for lumber. The wetlands at the mouth of Nason Creek were filled and a road was built to support the logging business, Paul says. “That was in the Little Wenatchee because it had the best prime timber. They didn’t start again on the White River until the early ’50s.”

It was during this time that Paul became a “valley watcher” old enough to be aware of the cycle of change he was witnessing. “Fire is an integral part of the whole thing,” he says. “You’ve got willow brush in the bottom and a certain amount of vine maple which resprouts after fires.” Cottonwood and quaking aspen come along later, he notes, followed by white fir, Douglas fir and cedars.

John Lehmkuhl looks at the cycles of change that characterize our forests from another angle — that of a wildlife biologist with the Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest research station in Wenatchee. He studies the role that small mammals, including chipmunks, play in the forest ecosystem. “They are a pretty important little animal in the forests around here,” he says. They time their emergence from burrows each spring to coincide with that of the mushrooms and truffles they feed upon. The chipmunks eat the truffles, underground fruits of fungus that are beneficial to trees, but they don’t digest the spores. The spores are disseminated throughout the forest in the chipmunks’ feces, explains John.

John describes how chipmunks and their ability to spread fungal spores contributes to the restoration of the forest. “Mycologists (mushroom specialists), have found that trees that have these fungi are much more productive and grow faster and survive drought conditions better. So if you think about climate change and drier conditions of the summer time you can see how these guys contribute to forest productivity,” he says.

“There are two kinds of chipmunks living in the forests around here,” John explains, “depending upon the density of the forest canopy. There’s the yellow pine chipmunk that lives in the more open forests with ponderosa pine and the slightly larger Townsend’s chipmunk that’s found in the denser forests more like those on the west side of the Cascades.”

Years of fire prevention have increased the proportion of closed-canopy forests in North Central Washington, creating more habitat for Townsend’s chipmunks than probably existed in the past, says John.

“And when we go in there with forest restoration projects where we’re thinning and burning and basically opening up the canopy, we’re reducing the habitat for the Townsend’s chipmunk and increasing it for yellow pine chipmunk,” he says. “I think as we do these treatments, we’re seeing the Townsend’s chipmunk being pushed back toward the crest to where they originally were 100 years ago or more in the closed-canopy forest.”

Connecting With Nature is a program of the Initiative for Rural Innovation & Stewardship (IRIS) that engages the community in telling the story of the diversity of life that makes our region unique. Nancy Warner is the IRIS coordinator.

A Little of the Upper Wenatchee – Chipmunks

John Lehmkuhl talks about chipmunks and red squirrels.

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Chipmunks and Red Squirrels (MP3)

John Lehmkuhl talks about chipmunks and mushrooms.

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Chipmunks and Mushrooms (MP3)

John Lehmkuhl talks about trap happy chipmunks.

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Trap Happy Chipmunks (MP3)

John Lehmkuhl talks about thinking like a chipmunk.

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Thinking Like a Chipmunk (MP3)

A Little of the Upper Wenatchee – Forest and Fire

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Paul Gray talks about fire, sheep and meadows.

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Fire-Sheep-Meadows (MP3)

Paul Gray talks about early settlers in the White River area.

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White River Early Settlers (MP3)

Share Your Story

Dear Neighbor,

This website is dedicated to stories of people in North Central Washington (people like you) connecting with nature. As we live, all of us collect stories that shape us and help us to enjoy the place we call home. For many, North Central Washington is special in no small part due to the many opportunities we have to get outside, either to explore or because our work takes us there. What are your experiences? Memories? Hopes?

Do you have an encounter with nature you can share on this website?

Connecting with Nature in North Central Washington

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

Ten years ago when I moved to North Central Washington, I brought with me a love of nature along with a keen interest in learning more about the people and geography of this place.

As a biologist and lifelong resident of the West, I was familiar with many of the plants, animals and natural communities I found here. Big sagebrush, red squirrels and dippers, for example, are old friends from other shrub steppe, coniferous forest and freshwater habitats where I’ve lived. Their presence, along with introductions to many people in the community, helped to quickly orient me to this place.

What I could not easily see, and wanted to discover, was the underlying story of this place — the collective knowledge people have about how past land uses, seasonal changes, climate and vegetation patterns, and events including fires and floods have shaped the nature of what we see today.


As an individual, I needed to have a sense of this story to feel connected to this place. And as a member of the larger community, I needed to understand what is possible in this unique region so I could work with others to maintain and restore that potential for the future.

For the past year, I’ve used this Greenways column to highlight some of the seasonal changes, patterns and encounters with nature that longtime NCW residents have witnessed and shared.

I’ve specifically sought out people who have lived in one place for many years and have been able to observe the cycles and spectacles of nature on a regular basis through their work, interests or hobbies. I’ve asked them about trends they’ve seen in the weather, changes in vegetation and wildlife distribution and magic moments where an encounter with nature stunned, surprised and inspired them.

The collective knowledge, perspectives and memories of these farmers, loggers and other long-timers provide important background needed for building a shared understanding of this place along with many reminders of what a joy it is to live here.

In the year ahead, I’ll continue to interview longtime residents about their memories and experiences in nature. Some of what I learn will be reflected in this column. I’ll also be bringing the perspectives of scientists, artists and those who spend time recreating in the lands of our region into the story.

I expect we’ll all learn more about the region as we discover common experiences, as well as those that are unique, strengthening the connections among our community as we go.

I hope you’ll join in creating this story of place by contributing your observations and memories at here. For more information, please contact me at nwarner@applecapital.net. To learn more about Diana Sanford and her art, visit dianasanford.com.

Memories of Fall in North Central Washington

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Longtimers share memories of autumns past

October 2009, NCW Green Ways

By Nancy Warner

It’s clearly marked on the calendar — autumn equinox, Sept. 22 — but somehow the shorter days and colder nights always come as something of a surprise. But as we harvest the last of our summer gardens, bite into fresh crisp apples and soak up the golden glow of larches lighting up the hillsides, we begin to get in sync with the season.

Winter and change are coming. If we pay attention, we’ll learn something.

Longtime logcutter Ray Hendrickson has been paying attention to the lands and waters in the Upper Wenatchee Valley for 83 years, hunting, fishing and exploring the backcountry with his wife Gretchen. It was his father, an avid outdoorsman from Minnesota, who taught Ray much of what he knows about wildlife.

“When I was little, why he’d take me on his shoulders and walk up the Icicle to fish. And that was before the road was up there,” Ray says. “He taught me a lot about how to follow the game trails and stuff like that, you know.”

Targeting rock outcrops, drainages and the sparser brush beneath big trees, Ray made his way to the high lakes of the Icicle Creek watershed, where he caught cutthroats, rainbows and eastern brook trout. Down in the valley, he remembers seeing otters, beavers and occasionally a fisher — bigger than the more common pine marten — feeding on salmon along the edges of the creek.
Icicle Creek, Nancy Warner photo

His memories of Icicle Creek include how it changed following construction of the fish hatchery in the late 1930s. “Icicle Creek was clear and there was no moss [algae] on the rocks,” he recalls, “until they put that fish hatchery in.” According to Ray, that algae gave the creek a “rotten” odor by late summer and early fall as the creek levels dropped in response to irrigators diverting water from the creek for their hay crops and orchards.

Born in Leavenworth in 1930, longtime dairy farmer Pat Stoudt and her family used the waters of Icicle Creek for irrigation. Now retired and an avid weather watcher, Pat has seen some unusual rainfall patterns within her part of the Icicle Valley. This year would have been one of the rare times on her family’s place, she says, when they might have gotten a fourth cutting on their hay crop.

“We received the rain in August at the right time. It’s been warm and dry. Lots of morning dew the last week or so,” she says. “This year probably would have been a perfect year for a fourth cutting.”

According to Pat, the “fourth-cutting years” were followed by severe winters, particularly 1956, 1957 and 1958. In addition to weather patterns, she remembers how she and her family used other cues to gauge the severity of the coming winter.

“Gophers and field mice become much more aggressive,” she observes, noting that, “you can trap and the next day they have a new hole beside it. …”

“Another good indicator,” she adds, “is the mountain ash trees. If those berries begin turning early, that means we?re going to have a doozy.”
Bear Scat

A skilled hunter, Ray tracks the season based on the movements of mule deer and bears through the valley and backcountry. “The deer start to get a darker coat on ‘em,” Ray says, “and bears start to eat berries.”

To tell when a bear is getting ready to hibernate, he advises, keep an eye on the berries of the mountain ash trees. “They eat them, and it cleans them out …,” he says. “Generally, in the high country, you see them moving over the ridges. They’re going to a place to hibernate.”

To hear more memories of summer in North Central Washington, view additional photographs and learn more about how you can share your observations of seasonal change, visit the IRIS Web site at www.irisncw.org , “Connecting With Nature.”

Nancy Warner is coordinator for the Initiative for Rural Innovation & Stewardship (IRIS).

Fall Hay Cutting and Signs of Winter

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Pat Stoudt

Pat Stoudt talks about hay cutting.

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Fourth Hay Cutting (MP3)

Pat Stoudt discusses signs of winter.

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Signs of Winter (MP3)

Hunting, Hibernating Bears and Other Fall Memories

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Ray and Gretchen Hendrickson Fall 2009Gretchen and Ray HendricksonGrandpa Tom and Ray, VanBrocklin Dairy, 1930

Ray Hendrickson remembers one particular hunting trip.

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Retreiver and Otters (MP3)

Ray Hendrickson talks about hibernating bears.

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Hibernating Bears (MP3)

Ray Hendrickson on ghost trees.

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Ghost Trees (MP3)

Ray Hendrickson discusses the Icicle fish hatchery.

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Icicle Hatchery (MP3)

IRIS