North Head Lighthouse, Cape Disappointment Washington, at the mouth of the Columbia River
We left off in Part 1 at Celilo Falls and The Dalles Dam, the last dam before the river meets the ocean. This remaining portion of the river’s journey is also spectacular although the landscape takes on a different character. After leaving the Canadian Rockies, the terrain along the river has been relatively barren, semi-arid plateau with the river cutting deep canyons through ancient basalt flows. The vegetation is largely shrubs and grasses with some pine where it approaches the mountains.
Leaving The Dalles, the arid brown landscape of the Columbia Plateau gives way to greens of a more marine climate as it heads toward the ocean. This change is exemplified by the lushness and pastoral beauty of the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area.
The Columbia River, near Wenatchee WA, about mid way between its origins in British Columbia and its mouth at the Pacific Ocean.
I grew up along this river in the Tri-City area and have had occasion to travel along much if its1,200 mile course from British Columbia to its mouth where it joins the Pacific Ocean. The Columbia River and its adjacent territory has a long and storied geologic and human history. More recently it was in large part instrumental in the settlement of the west and particularly the Pacific Northwest. The river was the last leg of Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery Expedition which ultimately contributed to the opening up of the Washington and Oregon territory for settlement.
I’ll present the river in a two part series as it got kind of lengthy. This first part covers the river from its origins in Canada to The Dalles and Celilo Falls Oregon. The second part will cover its last 180 or so miles as it approaches and then meets the Pacific Ocean.
This Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) has something pink like a salmon in its talon
Along the salmon spawning creeks and rivers of the west coast, winter is spawning time for salmon and gorging time for eagles. And it is great for us as well to watch them play out their age old sustenance routines in their natural habitat.
These two snowy white birds have recently returned to our area after summering and breeding in Alaska (Trumpeter Swan) and the arctic tundra (Snowy Owl). One does not have to be an avid birder to celebrate their annual arrival as both are real showboats with their white feathers and their relatively large size. The snowy Owl is the largest by weight of the NA owls and has a 50” wingspan while the Trumpeter Swan is our largest native waterfowl, stretching up to six feet and weighing up to 26 lbs.
North Cascades Mountain Goat (Oreamnos america) grazing on huckleberries and grasses on a warm October afternoon. What a beautiful specimen, well muscled with thick lustrous white fur and appearing very well fed.
Yellow and Pink Monkey Flower, Mount Baker – Snoqualmie National forest
Wild Flowers are usually aflame in mid August around the Mt. Baker – Snoqualmie National Forest, and so they were to the extent to which we could reach them. After a snowy winter and a near record snow pack, the snow had not yet melted from one of my favorite mountain trails.
Although we, in Bellingham WA, were not within the total eclipse range, we were close enough to get some feel for this exciting celestial event. Being just 20 miles from the Canadian border and about 300 miles north of the band of totality we were able to experience 90% of the eclipse.
In our part of the Salish Sea, late June is the beginning of harbor seal birthing (pupping) season that runs through August. On July 2nd, I was fortunate to observe one of these births on the shore of Bellingham Bay. On an early Sunday morning walk, I saw this harbor seal (Phoca vitulina) swimming erratically in tight circles and occasionally coming up to the rocks on shore, then back to the water. I was concerned that it was ill and disoriented. I could not have been more wrong. Mamma seal knew exactly what she was doing.
Hoag’s Pond, – a place of reflection adjacent to the 100 acre Woods.
*With apologies to A. A. Milne and Christopher Robin.
June, 2017, Bellingham WA, Pacific Northwest
This is a short story with a bunch of photos about our 100 Acre Wood that, like Milne’s is loaded with critters scurrying about and singing.
This wood is an urban forest in Bellingham, WA that was saved by a 2010 bank crash from becoming a housing development. The wood is now a rusticity community park but almost wasn’t. As with most areas in close proximity to an urban center, it was a primal forest until about 150 years ago when it was logged for its ancient Douglas fir and Western Red Cedar. The undergrowth of salal, ferns, numerous flowering plants and various berry vines covered huge deposits of 50 million year old Chuckanut Sandstone. After logging, portions of this area became a gravel pit that has since closed and is recovering from those ugly scars to its landscape. It now boasts a curtain of huge Douglas Fir and Western Red Cedar, Black Cottonwood, Alder, Big Leaf and Vine Maple and more.
The wood is laced with hiking and biking trails and is home to numerous critters including chipmunks, squirrels, deer, frogs, turtles, possum, raccoon, and birds of all kinds. My kids rode their bikes there through middle school and beyond and today they walk their dogs and their Dad there.
Ironically, none of this would be here today if it were not for the 2010 housing and banking crash. In a way this urban forest owes its existence to the Bush administration’s reckless policy on the banking industry.
Developers first proposed to build 1,464 homes in the area. That deal fell through to every one’s relief. Later another developer showed up wanting to build only 739 “units.” This was 2008. By the time financing was secured and plans drawn, (despite huge community organizing against it) it was 2010. The financing bank, Horizon was among the first banks in the US to go under with the housing and banking crisis. The bank failed and the development failed, giving the community and the city time to pass a levy to purchase the property at a fire-sale price. And thus the 100 acre wood was secured for the community and for posterity.
Map of the Salish Sea & Surrounding Basin, Western Washington University, 2009. The southern part of the Salish Sea is Puget Sound while the northern part is The Strait of Georgia in British Columbia. There are no clear dividing lines except for political borders.
In Part 1, I made the case that eelgrass (Zostera marina) and other sea grasses are critical to local estuaries and near shore areas as well as to the health of the planet in terms of all of the myriad of ecological functions they serve. I also noted that they are among the world’s most threatened ecosystems. In part 2, I review the current status of eelgrasses, the numerous threats to their viability, and many conservation and restoration efforts currently underway both locally and worldwide. Most emphasis is on eelgrasses in Puget Sound and the Pacific northwest but most of what applies here is applicable elsewhere.