Connecting with Nature

Keeping an Eye on Nature in NCW

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.

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8 Responses to “Keeping an Eye on Nature in NCW”

  1. Julie Ashmore says:

    Wax currant (Ribes cereum Douglas) plants in the Okanogan Highlands are braving the snow and starting to leaf out!

  2. Debbie Lhamon says:

    We have had Anna’s Hummingbirds here in Wenatchee all winter! We set up a heat light over a feeder and enjoy frequent visits. We often see one perched in one of three spots in the garden. We have lived here for 12 years and this is the first time we have had winter hummers.
    Yesterday I saw a varied thrush for the first time (on this side of the mountains)eating Mt Ash berries.

  3. Julie Ashmore says:

    On December 21st, 2010, on Nine Mile Ranch outside of Oroville, WA, in the Okanogan Highlands, a curious creature emerged. My daughter Madeline and I were making a snowman when we noticed the tiny black insects, larger than a flea, but related and similar-looking. After posting photos on facebook, it was confirmed to be Boreus sp., a snow scorpion fly, family Boreidae. They were everywhere on the first day, plentiful the next day, and then dwindling steadily. Now (Jan 2, 2011), I don’t see any.

    To get around, they jump, but usually only once, and then struggle in the snow. Apparently the adults are active only in the winter. I can post close-up pictures if/when that becomes possible on this site. ;) Has anyone else seen these snow scorpion flies on the snow this winter?

  4. Nancy Warner says:

    December 24, 2010 2:00 Saw 16 great blue herons perched in the big cottonwood trees at the confluence of the Wenatchee and Columbia rivers – Confluence State Park. The weather was quiet – no wind – with temperatures about 35 degrees. Something spooked the herons – possibly a rough-legged hawk – and most flew off squawking or croaking as they went. About half of them returned to the tree a short time later even though the hawk was still perched there. Then they got spooked again – perhaps by the immature bald eagle – and flew off to the shrubby area near the river where they landed and simply disappeared into the shadows.

  5. It turns out that yarrow gets white at least twice a year — once in the spring, when it blooms, and again after it has dried in place and the first snow falls. It is looking quite wintery in the Okanogan Highlands today.

    On a strange year like this one, yarrow might get white three times. Just last week, a number of plants displayed a late fall second bloom of the year, from invasives such as knapweed, mullen and St. John’s Wort, to native plants like yarrow. Purples and yellows dotted the dried grass landscape, but now the hills are white. Most perennials showed new growth right up to this first snow. It has been a year of unusual weather phenomena, and it seems like this trend may continue through the winter…

  6. Julie Ashmore says:

    Certain nooks of the Okanogan Highlands are ablaze with autumn colors. Stands of aspen near Sitzmark have developed the most delectable peachy orange color — a real treat for the eyes.

    Below are some observations from the end of August… and to date the Lindley’s Aster are STILL blooming! We’ll enter some more current observations soon.

    8/29: Snow in the mountains around Mt. Chopaka!

    Week of 8/29: The nighthawks are gone, as are the robins

    8/31: Lindley’s aster (Aster ciliolatus) is blooming… it’s amazing to see so late in the season, when all the other wildflowers are done (as apparently it is known to do). The leaves have sharp, toothed edges at the base, and a lot of blooms can be found together (composite heads); also several rows of overlapping bracts.

    8/31: Collected lupine seeds from a plant we had marked during this year’s bloom — the flowers were white! A lot of the seed pods had already popped and dropped their seed.

    8/31: Madeline and I collected seed from a brown-eyed Susan (Gaillardia aristata).

  7. Clara and Jaela Field says:

    Wenatchee is so beautiful in the fall! On our walks to and from school, we have started noticing the leaves, which without chlorophyll to make them green, are showing their true colors of yellow, orange, red, and even purple! The past 2 years, it was this week in which we saw the first frost of the season on the roof when we woke up. With the warm (80 degree) weather last week, I don’t know if it will get cool enough for frost this week. Whatever we observe, we try to jot it down, to keep track of what nature is up to and to remember for next year!

  8. Kristi Roberts says:

    This past Saturday – October 3, 2010 – several friends and I hiked along the Wenatchee River just west of Leavenworth. The fall colors were brilliant. But we were all absolutely astonished when we came to an overlook and could look down on salmon spawning in the river. At least 500 massive salmon held us captive for the better part of an hour – several threw themselves out of the water and made giant ripples. It was amazing!

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