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.
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.”
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).