Connecting with Nature


Posts Tagged ‘squirrel’

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 To learn more about Diana Sanford and her art, visit

Photos of North Central Washington


See photos of gray squirrels and more, as mentioned in Nancy Warner’s recent Wenatchee World article Memories of Winter in North Central Washington, at photographer Rod Gilbert’s website:

A sampling:

Squirrel 1 Squirrel 2

Memories of Winter in North Central Washington

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Memories of Winter in North Central Washington

January, 2009 Nature of Place, NCW Green Ways

By Nancy Warner 

Spend at least one year in a place, people will tell you, to get to know the land and the rhythm of the seasons, before you build a house or plant your garden. Go through a winter here and then you’ll know more about what to expect and what’s possible. You’ll be seasoned to the place.

cabin photoWhile there are some patterns that mark the winter season in North Central Washington each year — predictably short days, long nights, and a brief thaw sometime in February — the temperatures, timing and amount of precipitation each season brings have always been tough to call. Oldtimers sometimes used the height of pocket gopher mounds to gauge the severity of the winter ? low mounds signaling shallow burrows and mild temperatures to come. 

Cashmere pioneer and longtime weather watcher Kate Bailey was often successful using temperature and moisture conditions of the 12 days following Christmas to predict weather patterns for the rest of the year. But speaking from her experience, Fern Kelly, longtime orchard owner and resident of Monitor says, “As far as the weather goes it seems to me that from one year to another you couldn’t predict it. So we just took it one day at a time.”  

Some of those days proved to be more memorable than others. Fern recalls stories from her grandfather about the winter of 1889 when the snow was so deep that the cattle which people depended upon starved to death.  “It was after that winter that some of the fellas decided that it might be better to go into fruit trees.”  1916 was another deep-snow winter that stands out in the collective memory of the region. But it was 1968, Fern points out, when it got down to twenty below for two weeks, that all of the old common delicious apple trees in their orchard died. “The next spring you could hear saws going all over the area,” she remembered, as orchardists cut down hundreds of trees killed by the big freeze. 

Squirrel, Rod GilbertMalcolm Keithley grew up in Stehekin where he often followed postmaster Harry Buckner on his rounds to check the weather station. “I remember Harry talking about the winter of 1948, which most people remember as the floods of ’48. I was always really intrigued with the beautiful gray squirrels that were around Stehekin and he said there used to be a huge population of gray squirrels in the Stehekin Valley but most of them died out during that severe winter of 1948.” 

Malcolm and his friend Billy Sullivan learned a lot about wildlife from the trappers who ran lines for beaver and martens in the backcountry around the Stehekin Valley each winter. They also made plenty of their own discoveries as they poked around the mud flats exposed at the mouth of the Stehekin River. Great blue herons, bald eagles, merganser ducks or “hell divers,” frequented the lake and the finger-like channels that changed with the ebb and flow of the snowmelt. Lingcod Hunters, Malcolm KeithlyAnd while they were able to see a variety of fish in the shallows, it was the big fish of the deep, the landlocked burbot (lingcod) of Lake Chelan – that captured their imagination.  “I think the most memorable thing was when Billy and I would put setlines out for lingcod,” he said. “It would go down about 200 feet, baited with squawfish or whatever we could find. And you’d set it out during the day and come back the next day and reel up the setline and you?d have several lingcod hanging off of it.”  

Daisy Weaver was another person who wintered at Stehekin. Malcolm remembers her talking about how she would go out on the beach near her cabin at Weaver Point and pick up lingcod following severe winter storms. “She said the biggest one she ever saw wash up on shore was over five feet long. They look like eels because they’re so long and skinny.” 

Nancy Warner is program director for Nature of Place, a program of the Initiative for Rural Innovation & Stewardship (IRIS).