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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)

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)

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.

IRIS