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.
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.
- 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.
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!