August 30, 2006

Buck Creek Pass

The weekend before last, I went on a hike with three other Mountaineers to Buck Creek Pass. It’s located in the central Cascades, just east of Glacier Peak, which looks like this: Glacier Peak, WA
It was a great backpack, with a great group.

The first day was more driving than hiking, so we started in the heat of a hot day on the hot side of the mountains. That and the late start meant that we didn’t get to the pass the first day, but found a very nice little camping spot on a small tributary of Buck Creek. There’s a much bigger camp about ten minutes past our site. Besides the heat, the key first impression of this valley is that many of the trees are suffering from some sort of disease, which results in their branch tips are dead or dying. Higher in the valley, around 5000’, this seemed to abate.

The next day, with an earlier start, we made the pass a little after noon. The trail is very good, with a very steady grade. My old Holden quadrangle (data from 1944, minor corrections in 1968) has the trail following the creek all the way to the pass, but the real (probably new) location is much better, considering the steep terrain and serious slides. Buck Creek Pass is a broad sweep of mixed tree groves and meadow, ranging between 5600 and 5800’, settled between Helmet Butte and liberty Cap. It sits on the Cascade Crest, with volcanic Glacier Peak directly across the Suiattle River valley.

That afternoon, a trio of backpackers rested in our camp’s vicinity. Carl, Gretchen, and Andrew were about half-way through a three week section hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, having started at Stevens Pass, bound for the Canadian border. This was the last section of the Trail, the end of a fourteen year project to hike the entire way. They were looking forward to the laundry at Stehekin the next evening.

Flower Dome is an easy side trip from Buck Creek Pass. It lies just east of the pass and is wrapped with lush, flowering meadows. While walking through one to get a look back at the Pass, I flushed a grouse (which startled the heck out of me, as usual). The top is almost all open meadow and has great views. A few days later a hiker asked if you could camp on Flower Dome and I realized then that you could. There’s lots of room, as long as you carry your water over from Buck Creek Pass. On the way back, I surprised a marmot munching on the meadow plants.

The third day we spent hiking the good trail south, along the crest, almost to High Pass, which offers a route into the Napeequa River drainage. This is a great route. The trail switchbacks up the north side of Liberty Cap, before sliding around the west side, where it traverses through more beautiful meadows around the Cap to a pass to its south. Another meadowy traverse around the next bump on the ridge and then passing onto the east side of the ridge, along steep, rocky slopes, to a third pass. From there, we entered the rock and snow basin between our ridge and High Pass. There’s a beautiful, greenish-blue lake in that basin, which is the source of Triad Creek. One snowfield was a little too firm and a little too steep for the group to be able to get to High Pass, so we settled (if you could call it that) for expansive views to Glacier Peak, massive Clark Mtn., the Entiat range, and assorted other peaks in every direction you could look. On the return, there was fresh smoke arising behind Mt. Fernow, Seven Fingered Jack, and Mt. Maude, just one more fire to add to those still burning in the wilderness to the northeast.

Each afternoon in the pass, we witnessed a major landslide on Glacier Peak, filling Chocolate Creek with a cloud of dust, which then traveled down the valley into the larger Suiattle valley. We returned the next day, hiking out, stopping for dinner in Sultan, and worked the I-5 traffic to home, tired, but satisfied.

August 27, 2006

Good News About the Nisqually River

I’ve been absent here for almost two weeks because of the press of events, but also because I’ve spent every available computer hour with any sort of mental energy on applying for a different job. I’ve finished that now, so we’ll see how that works out. In the meantime, I’ll catch up.

About ten days ago, I attended a session of the summer lecture series at the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). The series is an annual, summer event sponsored by the Nisqually NWR Friends group. The session was entitled “Recovering Salmon, Restoring the Nisqually Watershed and it was presented by Jeanette Dorner, the Nisqually Tribe’s Salmon Recovery Program Manager.” It was my favorite of the year, not the least because of the energy and passion of the presenter, but because of the good news she brought. Good news is rare in the salmon recovery, environmental restoration and protection world, at least from what I can see.

It turns out that the Nisqually River is better off than the other rivers that flow into Puget Sound. Its estuary is relatively intact (thanks to the Nisqually NWR and the effort during the 70’s to prevent the estuary from being converted to a “super port” for the shipment of logs overseas. The two dams on the river probably do not constrict the salmon bearing length of the river (a now-submerged, impassable waterfall previously served as the end of salmon habitat). There are no big cities parked along its length, as is the fate of the Puyallup and the Snohomish. Most of the land along the banks of the river is in some sort of protected status, either because it’s in the NWR or because of the type of ownership. Much of the course of the river and its tributaries is still undisturbed and useful for salmon and other wildlife. Its waters are visited by several of the species of salmon native to the area, perhaps all of them that historically used the river. And, most important, the river’s banks are home to a committed steward of the river, the Nisqually Indian Tribe.

Ms. Dorner talked about several of the restoration projects that the Tribe has undertaken in recent years and also talked about plans for more, as funding becomes available. The Mashel River is the largest tributary of the Nisqually and has been channelized through some portions of its length, which greatly reduces its value to fish, because it reduces hiding places, spawning areas, and increases flow speed. She described the construction of log jams – engineered log jams! – that help restore resting and hiding places for fish, as well as spawning habitat, by sorting gravel and creating deeper pools. The project led to a dramatic increase in fish usage and survival in the year after it was installed.

Ohop Creek is a significant tributary of the Nisqually that was straightened during the 30’s, which deepens the channel and speeds the flow of water. The Tribe and its partners have gathered over a dozen landowners into an agreement to restore the creek to its previous meandering course. This project has been in planning for some time and will begin construction next summer.

A project that anyone can see just by driving through the Nisqually delta on I-5, southbound is best. Most of the delta was diked many years ago to keep the tide out and create farm land. The 100 acres on the east side of the river, outside the NWR, is now being worked on to remove the dikes and provide a fresh water connection to the wetland between the freeway lanes. This will allow most of that land to return to a salt marsh supporting the estuary habitat. A pilot project of a few acres a few years ago was very successful, with fish following the first tide onto the new wet land and birds using it that first evening.

All in all, a very satisfying evening in a world that sometimes gives me the feeling of waking up in a hand basket, wondering where I’m going.

Cross-posted at Olyblog.

August 15, 2006

The Big Here 03: Trace the Water You Drink From Rainfall to Your Tap

This continues a series of ruminations, discussion on method, and answers to Kevin Kelly’s The Big Here, a query and challenge to know the space we live in, in its shape and relationships.

3) Trace the water you drink from rainfall to your tap.

This one’s easy, because of how well the water utility of the town I live in, Olympia, Washington, reports to its customers. Each year, the city sends out a report which describes the sources of the city’s water, the results of water quality tests, and other information. To quote from the 2006 edition (PDF):

Our drinking water comes from aquifers. An aquifer is an underground deposit of sand and gravel where groundwater is stored. Aquifers are replenished by rainfall that seeps down through the soil.

From September through May, the water I use is piped from McAllister Springs, at the eastern edge of the built-up area, all the way across Lacey to the west side of Olympia, where it runs out of my tap. The brochure is a little vague on where my water comes from during the summer, but the best guess is that the McAllister Springs water is augmented by water from the nearby Allison Springs and Kaiser wells. There are a couple of storage tanks just north of my house, which is likely how the pressure is delivered to my pipes.

August 13, 2006

Meta: Remote Blogging (Return)

I meant to revise this entry, but decided to leave it there and just complete my thoughts here. In adding the links to that earlier entry, I see that it illustrates some of the defects of “real time” posting – most of the post was spent setting up the point, too little time to develop my thoughts, and no chance for revision within the limited time available on the public equipment. So, here’s my attempt to be more thoughtful.

The first issue is the practical one of how to actually draft the entry. In Ashland, I attempted to use public Internet access, but it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. I know that there were more public machines a few years ago than I found last weekend. More and more, “internet cafĂ©” is coming to mean “wireless.” There are obvious benefits for a business to shift from providing computers to providing wireless access (less equipment expense, lower support costs, fewer security issues, and less space required). What that’s meant for Ashland is, besides the public library (which has quite a few free, public terminals), there are three public machines that I could find. Two are in a couple of coffee shops and are available for free and the third is in a copy shop, available for a minimal fee. None of these places were open on Sunday and demand was high for them all (although I didn’t try to copy shop this time). It may be that the days of relying on public machines for anything more than a quick e-mail or blog entry during business hours are over.

A personal laptop, then, fits the new world of wireless. There are a couple of other readily-apparent advantages: it’s available for writing whenever you are and you can take notes, draft, revise, and store for when you can upload to the ‘net. It really helps with the immediacy. It also has all of the tools that you are used to. (That was one of the obstacles with the two Macs in the coffee shops. Not complaining about Macs, I’m just very much less familiar with them.) It’s unlikely that I’d ever take a laptop on a hike, but it could work on a boat trip (as long as I had good protection for it). Drawbacks? More to carry, more airport trouble, one could spend too much time on the computer and not enough observing where one is, and the expense, of course.

For this trip, a laptop would have been nice, as I didn’t actually meet my objective of blogging what we were doing or seeing. It was just too hard to get the writing done in the limited times I had on the machines. A laptop back at the room could have met the need for drafting in closer-to-real-time and also allowed for a chance to review the entry before I post.

Italy in October? I dunno…

A good entry written on the day that something happens has a freshness that the more thought-over posting a few days later doesn’t. And there’s no freshness comparison at all with the entry written a week after returning from the trip. Each has its strengths: immediacy, perspective, and mature consideration, respectively. The real problem with me, though, is that I tend to wait too long for that mature consideration and other things arise to interfere and normal life returns and then I’ve got nothing. Or, at least, nothing that seems very important, anymore. Better to have something, perhaps, even if it reads like the superficial drivel of the sunburned and novelty-sated tourist.

I dunno…

August 10, 2006

Theater in Ashland, Oregon

My wife and I made our annual journey to the small town of Ashland, in southern Oregon, for a weekend of theater, good food, and relaxation. It works every time. The pattern is to drive down (about 400 miles straight down I-5) on a Thursday, see two plays a day on Friday through Sunday, and then drive back home on Monday. Every now and then we through in a visit to friends along the way or a Rogue River float trip or something, but that’s the basic plan.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival has been operating there in Ashland for over 70 years. Their season runs from February to October and includes eleven plays in that time. The organization has three theaters: a large indoor theater, a small, flexible, indoor theater, and an outdoor, Elizabethan-style (well, except for the comfortable seats on the floor) stage. The company is permanent and quite stable, so you can see some of the same actors from year to year, which is quite a treat. I haven’t seen a bad performance in ten years.

On Friday afternoon, we saw the history, King John, which was played on a simple, but effective stage, so our focus was on the characters, nearly all of whom were embedded in an environment of greed, ambition, deceit, and violence. It was a marvelously cynical world, in which the echoes of our own time were too apparent. (There was a line bemoaning the poor intelligence that allowed the French army to land on English soil without warning that brought a hiss of recognition from the audience. Nothing but Shakespeare's words.)

At dinner after the show, there was a discussion at the next table about who was the “moral center” of the play. I'm not sure what their idea of what that concept means, but I couldn't see any of their candidates as the “moral center.” Every character was motivated by some ambition for power or money or both. The Bastard was willing to abandon anyone or anything for gain and served as a constant voice for violence. Toward the end he even began to horrify the other, equally venal characters. The only human-seeming character (other than the pawn, Arthur), was the simpler man, Hubert, who struggled to keep his head and his heart above the fray, as others sought to use him for their purposes.

Friday evening’s play was The Merry Wives of Windsor, staged on a very tarted-up Elizabethan stage with extravagantly bizarre costumes. This company knows how to pull the comedy out of the Bard's words, no doubt about it. There was slapstick, shameless mugging, and hilarious malapropisms. Quite a romp.

Saturday’s plays were a couple of my favorites: The Importance of Being Earnest in the Angus Bowmer Theater and Cyrano De Bergerac in the Elizabethan Theater. The company puts so much into their comedies. I don’t think I’ve enjoyed comedy more anywhere else. As expected, they did a wonderful job with the Earnest.

I was a little disappointed with the Cyrano. I’ve loved the play since I read it in school and I was very much looking forward to a fine, robust performance on the Elizabethan stage. Unfortunately, the understudy was in the title role and, while we’ve seen this actor do marvelous things in other performances and he knew his lines, he wasn’t able to bring the necessary panache to the role. Neither in physical presence nor in his voice was he the dominant figure that the role requires.

On Sunday afternoon, we saw a very interesting David Edgar play, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. As I watched it, I realized that, although I knew the outlines of the story (who doesn’t), I didn’t know how it ended. I don’t think I’ve read the original. Anyway, the play is an adaptation of the original, and the several other adaptations made along the way, and it is a psychologically complex and insightful work. The set was a marvel of complexity made simple and the actor playing the lead did a terrific job with the dual role: a shrinking, diffident, troubled Jekyll and a brutal, aggressive – trouble – Hyde.

The closing play was Two Gentlemen of Verona, in the Elizabethan Theater. The play involves the conflicts and opportunities that arise from leaving the place in which one has grown up and formed one’s values and going to another place, where those values are put to the test. In this presentation, they set “Verona” in a conservative, collective kind of community modeled something after the Amish and the like, while the other place is rich, hedonistic, and looked something like the Hamptons (not that I’ve ever been there). It was an interesting way to make the environments in which the conflicts occur clear.

This performance was interesting in another way, which was a first for us in Ashland. As we were eating dinner before the performance, I looked out the window and noticed that the street trees were swaying vigorously and wondered if that meant rain. Sure enough, within a couple of seconds, someone walked by under an umbrella. It was raining and the theater was wet when we arrived, being open to the sky. The heavy rain had quit by then, but showers still threatened, so we bought a couple of plastic ponchos, which the concessionaires were selling like, well, umbrellas. If one likes, in the event of rain, one may get a refund, as long as one asks for it early enough. I saw only one couple leave. It really didn’t rain enough to worry about, once the play began.

I’m ready to go again next year, already. There’s an interesting line-up, including Checkov’s The Cherry Orchard, On the Razzle by Tom Stoppard (a favorite of mine), August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean, and Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

August 4, 2006

Meta: Remote Blogging

I'm writing this from the public library in Ashland, Oregon, where my wife and I have made our annual pilgrimage to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. We'll have our usual grueling theatrical two-a-days, interspersed with good meals and other lounging-about-type activities.

I've not blogged from the road before. A lot of the trips we make are not well suited to taking the time to do this. Either that or there is no possibility at all, such as when I'm off the grid (thankfully) on a hike or on a small boat. This trip offers more chances, though the clock is ticking on my 30 minutes here in the library. (So, I'm going to focus on the text and will come back later for an update and some prettying-up. Accomplished 8/13/06.)

I find it hard to write well about a trip after it is over. You can see some evidence of this from the abortive attempt to write about our January British Virgin Islands trip. Still, there is some advantage to writing after the event, for the perspective that reflection brings. Unfortunately, the energy the trip brings wanes once I've been plunged back into the workaday routine. So, we'll see what immediacy brings.

We drove straight down I-5 for almost 400 miles without mishap yesterday. Made it on one tank of gas, too, thanks to Prius. It's warm, even hot, with temperatures in the low 90's predicted for the weekend. There's a bit of a breeze and the air is dry, so it's not oppressive. We wandered around town a little this morning, making dinner plans and talking about what we want to do over the next few days. This activity is my plan for the morning and early afternoon. Then, we'll have a matinee of King John in the New Theater.

Thirty minutes is up...