Episode 3 of Thinking on My Feet: Doc Bullis’s Virtual-Radio Trail Report (Early August)

This episode of Thinking on My Feet: Doc Bullis’s Virtual Radio Trail Report is brought to you by The Drought. Already famous for its results in California and the Southwest, The Drought has recently expanded operations to the Pacific Northwest, where it has successfully reduced the mountain snowpack by 78%.

Though I normally lump The Drought in with bad actors like Halliburton* and Monsanto*, today I thank The Drought both for its sponsorship of this episode and for its opening up a new-to-me trail. I’ve walked past it dozens of times in the past, but today I was able to see it for the first time, because the foliage normally concealing the entrance to this trail is withering.

*Not actual persons.

This trail is near the far end of my usual route. Since its beginning consists of about 50 feet of small granite stones, I named it the Rocky Start Trail. It passes through a grove of alders down to a small stream bed (currently dry), proceeds up the opposite bank through a mixed stretch of cedars and firs, and leads to a branch off the North-South Trail that I’d previously thought was a dead end. What this means, friends, is a loop trail! Now I can hike a two-hour-and-fifteen minute route shaped like a lollipop, or a tennis racquet, or a half note—no longer a one-way, out-and-back, linear, or snake-shaped route.

Speaking of snakes, let’s get to today’s Trail Report. I did indeed see a snake: garter, two feet long, frozen still, head held up half a foot off the ground, smack in the middle of the Middle Loop Trail. After recovering from my zero-at-the-bone moment,* I backed away, not wanting to scare the snake worse than the snake had scared me. It didn’t move, so I walked closer, very slowly, looking for a way around it to the side of the trail. The snake still did not move at all, apparently focused on something in the underbrush on the left side of the trail. I stepped slowly around it, then walked slowly down the trail beyond it, turning several times to look. It never moved. I can’t wait to check tomorrow to see if it’s still there!

*Not an actual Emily Dickinson sighting.  But here is one of my favorite Emily poems:

A narrow fellow in the grass
Occasionally rides;
You may have met him—did you not
His notice sudden is,
The grass divides as with a comb,
A spotted shaft is seen,
And then it closes at your feet,

And opens further on.
He likes a boggy acre,
A floor too cool for corn,
But when a boy and barefoot,
I more than once at noon
Have passed, I thought, a whip lash,
Unbraiding in the sun,
When stooping to secure it,
It wrinkled and was gone.

Several of nature’s people
I know, and they know me;
I feel for them a transport
Of cordiality.
But never met this fellow,
Attended or alone,
Without a tighter breathing,
And zero at the bone.

–Emily Dickinson, #1096

 

Berry Report: Snowberries by the birdseed trunk are plumping. Rowan berries are drooping. Salal berries and huckleberries shriveled to nonexistent. Blackberries plentiful—ripening and sweetening nicely. Let’s hope the rain forecasted for two days from now will actually arrive (don’t tell today’s sponsor I said that) to plump the juice cells so that the berries will ripen before they shrivel in the heat.

Noises Heard: The quiet ticking sounds of GREEN HEMLOCK AND FIR NEEDLES FALLING TO THE GROUND. It’s dry out here, people. Scary dry.

Please stay tuned for Episode 4, in which I’ll go looking for that snake again!

 

 

Episode 2 of Thinking on My Feet: Doc Bullis’s Virtual-Radio Trail Report (Mid-June)

Welcome to the second episode of Doc Bullis’s Virtual Radio* Trail Report. Today’s episode is brought to you by Mystery Rot™, a subsidiary of 2015, The Hottest Year on Record.

* Not an actual radio.

Friends, allow me to tell you a little bit about my walking habit. My town—Bellingham, Washington—has an incredible wealth of trails. Not all of the area is pedestrian-friendly, but trails, and systems of trails, are numerous. With only a few miles of pavement stomping necessary, it’s possible to string together a whole day’s calm by rambling through interurban forests, undeveloped woodlands, and neighborhood networks. Some trails are in designated parks; others have been established through long habits of use by dedicated walkers.

For the 23 years I’ve lived in western Washington, I’ve attempted to maintain basic health and mental equilibrium by hiking several days a week.  (Some days I ride my horse or binge on tortilla chips instead. The former works very well, the latter not quite so much.) Daily walking, especially when I can be on the trail for an hour or more, is a way to derail my anxious thoughts, which otherwise steam-engine through my brain—thoughts I amplify if I sit at the computer intending to write but instead read news websites and despair about the rapidly worsening condition of our planet. When I get up and go outside, get on a dirt trail and move my legs, some kind of kinesthetic therapy takes place. I burn off the stress hormones—adrenaline and cortisol—induced by all the bad news, and replace some of my despairing, spinning, anxious thoughts with serene thoughts, creative ideas, and images of natural beauty.

Sharpie on paper, June 2015

Sharpie on paper, June 2015

I’ve been meaning to write about this natural beauty for some time. I’ve been slowly learning to draw and paint, following a parallel urge to create visual versions of what I find in these coastal Cascade lowlands and foothills.

My impulses to draw and paint have taken on additional urgency from the distress my local nature is currently experiencing. We on the west coast of North America are experiencing The Hottest Year on Record. Last winter, our mountains got just 22% of normal snowfall. Since spring, El Nino conditions have meant that most of the rainstorms usually saturating our landscape have bypassed us. It’s possible that this dryness will be prolonged, as part of a new pattern of regional heat and drought that are part of a changing global climate. The Pacific Northwest is hot, folks, and our forests are hurting.

I know this with a deep dread that feels different from my usual anxious dread. For years, I’ve been able to alleviate anxiety by taking myself to the woods. Now, the woods are in distress, and they are are distressing me back.

What am I going to do? I’m going to keep walking the trails. I’m going to tell you what I experience. I’m going to bear witness, to bring you words about the peril and the beauty I see.

So what did I see this week? Let’s get to the Trail Report.

Noises Heard:

  • Swainson’s thrushes along North-South Trail. Love those fluting, upward-spiraling notes! Apparently, the males use these songs to warn other males away from their nesting territories.
  • The sound of leaves falling. Whaaaa? Seriously: it’s only June, and with this year’s warm, early spring, the trees have gone all in on leaf production. Even on still days, blackened alder leaves—rotted from early heat? Some kind of fungal infestation? —slowly drift to the ground. Meanwhile, more alder leaves, big-leaf maple leaves, and cottonwood leaves continue to flourish and proliferate on every available stem.
Not actual huckleberries.

Not actual huckleberries.

Berry Update: Salmonberries done; thimbleberries ripe and delicious. Salal berries forming from heather-like buds, which appear to be fewer this year. Tiny green huckleberries forming. Elderberries plentiful: abundant and striking red throughout the woods.

Wildlife Sighted: Downy woodpecker on fir trunk along Upper Loop Trail. Douglas squirrel at Five Cedars One Nurse Log.

Wilddeath Sighted: Dead mole on North-South Trail; dead mouse on Maple Cathedral Trail. Not sure what to make of these deaths: no indications of predators. Are these further victims of Mystery Rot?

Thanks for listening, and please stay tuned for next week’s episode, in which I’ll be having another episode!