May 25, 2006

Walking Outside

In an earlier post, I described some of the experience of walking to work and back. The first thing that I described was dealing with the weather, because that’s first thing that people ask about, but I wanted to make a larger point. It’s not just the weather, but the exposure to the outside, especially compared to driving in a car, that makes the walk different from the drive.

We’re so used to being protected by our cars when we travel that I think there’s a distinct feeling of exposure when we’re out of our cars. The weather – especially the rain and wind – is the most obvious and most easily talked about aspect of being outside. But there’s more. For one thing, people see you out on the sidewalks – anonymity is more assured if you’re in your car. I occasionally have people tell me that they’ve seen me walking to or from work. For another, there are more potential interactions with strangers, someone who falls into stride with you or whom you meet when you stop at a crosswalk. There’s a greater potential of coming face to face with a stranger on foot, even when there are very few people out, than there is in a car in heavy traffic. I think that some people would consider that a problem or a danger.

Ultimately, that exposure is part of what I like about the walk. I think it’s part of what I like about hiking, too, that it gets me out. I like the feeling of freedom that moving about the world on my own two feet brings me.

May 21, 2006

American Chestnut Trees Found

This is wonderful news:
ABC News: Rare American Chestnut Trees Discovered: A stand of American chestnut trees that somehow escaped a blight that killed off nearly all their kind in the early 1900s has been discovered along a hiking trail not far from President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Little White House at Warm Springs.
The woods that we have around here are totally different from those in which the chestnut lives and I've spent little time in those eastern forests. But I can imagine what it would do to the woods I love to have a key member disappear. It would be like losing all of the western hemlock from our woods.

May 20, 2006

Walking to Work

I walk to work as many days as I can. It’s about a three mile trip and takes me just under an hour. I’ve been doing this for about two years. As exercise, it replaces the jogging I did in the middle of the day. But, I also walk to reduce the number of miles I drive, for the social and environmental benefits that creates. Before I went to work on the West Side, I worked at the Capitol Campus. I lived almost to the crest of the Harrison hill, so that walk was shorter than the one I now have. I walked to work most of the time in those days. Walking to work, as an experience, is quite different from using a car.

The first thing that people mention when we talk about the walk is the weather. While I carry some gear to help with the weather, experiencing it is one of the things that I like about walking. Now, we don’t have very dangerous weather around here and it’s really severe only a few times a year, so, generally, the weather is a problem only if you think it is. I like it.

For me, the thing that most influences what the walk is like is the separation from the traffic. It won’t come as a revelation to anyone that our streets are built for cars, not people walking. And a lot of those streets don’t provide pedestrians enough separation from the cars for comfort. Separation can be vertical, like a curb, horizontal distance, or structures, like a barrier. My usual route to work provides a range of separations, from almost nothing (a narrow bike lane with no curb and a ten foot drop at the edge), to all three, as when I walk down a walkway through an empty strip mall.

The second factor that provides annoyance is, of course, the traffic – how many cars there are, how fast they’re going, and how much attentive the drivers are. Separation, of course, insulates one from traffic, so these factors diminish as separation increases. Still, there are times when there is no separation, most often when I have to cross the street. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how easy it’s been to cross the streets, including the busiest intersection in town. Except for some folks turning right, I’ve had very few troubles at intersections, which is a big improvement from when I jogged on these same streets. Traffic has an influence on the walk even when I’m not crossing it. Walking against traffic along Cooper Point in the afternoon is unpleasant. The sidewalk is not very wide, there’s no strip between the sidewalk and the curb, the traffic is heavy and it’s traveling at 35, most of the time. I generally avoid that route.

One of the advantages of walking is that you see your town differently, in more detail. And some parts of town are more interesting, more pleasant to walk through. None of the routes I have to work are unpleasant in the sense of being dirty or dangerous, but some are more interesting than others. The walk I used to do over the Fourth Ave. Bridge and through downtown was most interesting. Even though the traffic was bad and the separation worse, the bridge was a high point, because of the views out over the bay and the waves of migrating birds passing through spring and fall. The walk I now do doesn’t have the interest of the bridge and downtown, but it still has some features. The most important is that I have several routes to choose from. Some of them pass through alleys, which are mellow and interesting. The part of the walk that skirts the mall, above Yauger Park, offers a good vista of the Black Hills and any approaching weather.

And walking offers the best chance to see some birds and animals. The bridge, as I mentioned before, offered a regular series of migratory birds as they passed through. Last year, I saw a set of four raccoons working their way down by the mall toward Yauger Park. Earlier this year, I saw another crossing Cooper Point Rd. ahead of me. The alleys usually, if the weather’s good, offer the chance to see a few cats lounging in the sun. I regularly see rabbits near my work and around Percival Creek. A run-off retention pond by the Auto Mall supported a redwing blackbird for several years, though he seems to have moved on this year. There were a couple of killdeer hanging around that same pond, more recently. And, the skies sometimes offer a glimpse of a hawk or an eagle soaring overhead, if you only look up.

It’s a lot easier to look up if you’re not in your car. And it’s easier to stop and stare if you’re not in traffic.

Mt Zion

I went hiking this morning with a group of Mountaineers hike leaders, organized by Eric as a way to get to know each other better and share ideas about leading hikes. Considered against that criterion, I’d call it a success. As a hike, it was also good, but there were no views at the top.

The hike is in the Olympic National Forest, in the northeast corner, east of Quilcene, about 85 road miles from the Forest headquarters in Olympia. It’s a short hike of about 1.8 miles and 1300’ gain to the top of a small peak with views all around. Mt. Zion hosted a fire lookout until 1975. I could only believe our leader when he said that there are views of the northern Cascades, Mt. Baker, the Straits, and Vancouver Island from the top. Today, there was nothing but clouds. Still, the air was still and it wasn’t cold, so we lingered on top for over an hour.

The wild rhododendrons were blooming extravagantly along the road, between the Big Quilcene bridge and Quilcene. Higher, at the trailhead and along the trail, there were numerous rhodies, but they were not yet blooming. We saw a lot of trillium, some tiny, yellow violets, a few Calypso orchids, and red gooseberries blooming. One chipmunk patrolled the summit at lunchtime.

The best part of the day was to hike with some of the best hikers I know. Usually, of course, we’re off leading our own hikes. We don’t very often get a chance to hike together. I think this kind of trip will help to make the hiking program stronger.

May 16, 2006

Young Female Osprey M-48905 'Mirja'

This is a very cool site, showing the travels of a young osprey over several years of migrations between Finland and West Africa. It's updated regularly. Mirja is now hanging out around Lake Lagoda, north of St. Petersburg. Apparently, there's some fuss in Finland about how "their" osprey has been hanging out in Russia.
Finnish Museum of Natural History: On 2 July 2002 in Hauho, Ilmoila, in Hame, Tero Niskanen ringed three Osprey fledglings. The youngest, M-48905, was recaptured at the nest on 31 August, when she was observed to be a female weighing 1810 g, and she was named 'Mirja'. At this time, Mirja had already been fully fledged for over three weeks. She was fitted with a solar-powered transmitter weighing 30 g (manufactured by Microwave).
The Google map of the spring migration is particularly cool. It's amazing to me that the tracking device can "talk" to the researchers over thousands of miles and that it has lasted several years.

May 13, 2006

Wooden Boat Fair

Believe me, my young friend, there is NOTHING--absolute nothing--half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.
The Water Rat, Wind in the Willows
I spent a couple of hours on Percival Landing at the Wooden Boat Fair this afternoon. For several reasons, I don’t get down there very often, so I was glad to have the chance this weekend – and that the weather was as nice as it was. (It isn’t always nice at all, this time of year.)

I have to admit a weakness for small boats, though I’ve managed to avoid getting sucked into owning one very often. For a long time, I was able to mooch a boat fix off of friends and acquaintances, but that hasn’t worked well at all for a long time. It’s a big step, in terms of time commitment, to go from an occasional day-sail to being responsible for a boat.

Most of the boats on display at the Fair are medicine far too powerful for the paltry boat-weakness that I’m infected with. Still, they are often very beautiful and the people who keep them looking that way are candidates for a certain kind of sainthood in my book.

There were two highlights for me. The first is the Sand Man, which just gets to looking better and better. The last time I saw it was on blocks over at Swantown Marina, with its deckhouse sitting on the pavement. Now, it’s floating and looking pretty. They had the engine running while I was on it and it sounded very good: smooth, relaxed, and powerful. The Sand Man Foundation has done a wonderful job with this relic of an older Olympia.

The other is that the Grapeview Point Boat Works had an array of small, wooden boats in classic designs. There was a beautiful Caledonia yawl, a cute little peapod-type with a lug sail, and a Shellback dinghy. I was pleased that a local builder had brought some new work to show off, in amongst the classic Monks and Gearys.

Almost enough to get me on the water again. Here are a couple of other interesting little boats. The first is a little sailing dinghy. I hope I look as good at its age; it was built in 1937.

The second is the cutest tug I've ever seen. It's only 14 feet long.

May 11, 2006

Human Cargo

I recently read Caroline Moorehead’s book Human Cargo, A Journey Among Refugees. I still haven’t absorbed all that there is in the book, I think because she writes it as the journalist that she is. She just tells the stories. And, since these stories are about human beings, they don’t lend themselves to easy answers or quick solutions. She begins with a brisk history of the modern human rights movement, starting with the founding of the Red Cross in the nineteenth century, and traces its development through the crisis created by the tens of millions of displaced people in Europe after the Second World War to the present structures of asylum policies, refugee camps, and human smuggling.

The core of the book is a survey of the issues and situations suffered by refugees throughout the world. One describes a group of African asylum seekers, whose boat crashed on the coast of Sicily. At first, the local people, full of sympathy for the refugees, many of whom died in the crash, embraced them and helped them get settled and even found them a little work and support. Over time, though, the situation got more complex, for a whole set of reasons: the refugees’ ambiguous legal status, the limited opportunities for them in this poor section of Italy, the barrier of language difference, and post-traumatic stress.

Another describes the draconian measures taken in Australia to control the influx of refugees, many fleeing the wars Afghanistan and Iraq. These included turning ships away along the coast, even if they were in danger of sinking, locking people up in prisons under deplorable conditions, and arbitrary acceptance policies that, in practice, amount to psychological torture. She also describes the plight of asylum seekers who make it to Great Britain and then find themselves dispersed across the country, isolated from others who share their situation and almost totally without support.

The most harrowing chapters deal with the long-term refugee camps in Guinea and the Palestinian camps in Lebanon. Guinea, a neighbor to Ivory Coast and Liberia, has received waves of refugees from those countries over decades. The squalor and hopelessness and rock-bottom poverty of these camps is heart-breaking. Equally so, the plight of the Palestinians, dispossessed during the Naqba, or “disaster” of 1948, and repeatedly brutalized, attacked, moved, and discriminated against in the years since.

The last stories that she tells are some relief, though they are not without their poignancy and pain. With the removal of the Taliban from power in Afghanistan and the renewal of hope that the decades of civil war could end, the country experienced a dramatic influx of its citizens from refuges around the world, though mostly from Iran and Pakistan. The hope and energy that these returning refugees bring to the country, still suffering and struggling, offer some evidence that dispossession can be reversed. The final story is about a cohort of Dinka, from the Sudan, who have settled in north of Finland. They, obviously, have had struggles with adjustment, not the least with the cold and the long nights in winter. But the Finns have worked hard to support their new citizens, have made adjustments, and achieved some success. This offers some additional evidence that, if people can’t go home again, it is possible, with the right policies and resources and neighbors and attitude, for them to make a new life, in a new land.

It was nothing but an accident that this latest immigration fuss erupted while I was reading it. It was timely, however, as an antidote to the simplistic and inhumane terms of the discussion. By contrast, this account is a humane, layered, complex, and clear-eyed look at what happens to people when, for any number of reasons, they are unable to stay in their homes.

May 8, 2006

Big Hump on the Duckabush River

Saturday I got out on a hike for the first time in several months. I led a Mountaineers group of six up the Duckabush River over the top of Big Hump and part way down the other side before we turned around. It's one of my favorite trips, I think because the terrain and the woods are so varied.

We gathered the last of the group at Potlatch State Park, which makes a convenient mustering point along Hood Canal. Things were hopping there. The gate was still locked when we got there and there were cars lined up on the road waiting to get in. Within a few minutes of the gate opening, the place was teeming with fisherman. The bigger boat ramp parking lot a few hundred yards up the road was completely full. It wasn't until we passed through Hoodsport on the way back home that I saw the sign that announced the opening of shrimp season that day. It's not often that you see that much activity in Hoodsport.

It was cool and cloudy all day, but the rain hinted at in the forecast didn't appear. The clouds were low enough, however, that the ridgetops mostly didn't appear, either. Still, the charms of this trail aren't so much the views as the woods. It starts with a gradual climb up a few hundred feet to the wilderness boundary and the top of the Little Hump. From there, the trail drops down to the river's level and follows a mostly level course along the rushing river. This stretch shows a lot of evidence of logging long ago -- huge cables, road grades (for a time, the trail follows such a skid road), skid paths to the river, huge stumps. The trees have grown back enough to make a pleasant wood of well-spaced trees and lush undergrowth. The sword ferns were just unrolling their fiddleheads this weekend, revealing that wonderful, light green, the very color of spring.

After about three miles, the trail turns away from the river and begins a steep climb up the Big Hump. It's a good trail, well-graded and solid, but it does have several hundred feet to climb. About half-way, there's a nice view on a smooth rock down the river to Hood Canal, a glimpse of a waterfall across the valley, and hints of the cliffs that the river cuts through from the interior of the Olympics. Near the top, another outcrop offers views, but by this time the slope is slackening, so one's tempted to continue to the top.

Through the whole climb, there are a succession of forest types and ages. We're above the logging activity, but a fire had swept through here some time ago, leaving an interesting mix of ages. There are quite a few quite large Douglas firs, many with fire scars on their trunks. These are attended by a mix of much younger trees, apparently grown since the fire. In other places, there is a more varied mix of big and middle-sized trees, including large western hemlocks and red cedars. Near the top of the Hump, there's a thick stand of little trees, with almost no undergrowth.

We turned around about three-quarters of a mile after Big Hump, at a stream where we ate lunch. The trail continues back down to the river level and a nice campsite (though it is cold much of the year) and goes another ten or fifteen miles into the heart of the Olympics. Nothing but old growth the whole way.

May 3, 2006

Intercity Transit: The Verdict

Thumbs up! I rode to work again today and then downtown for a little after work socializing and then back up the hill to home; all without a hitch. Once I was past the anxiety of missing the bus, I found it less effort than driving (and certainly less than walking).

The system has improved a great deal since I last used it. The buses are new, clean, and comfortable. The routes make sense and integrate well. The drivers are courteous. Not only that, but Intercity Transit does a great deal more than just run buses – they are involved in just about everything transport-related in the county. They have the Dial-A-Lift, vanpools, connections to Pierce Transit, Mason Transit, Grays Harbor, and Sound Transit, and the new downtown shuttle, the Dash.

I walk to work almost half the time and have been driving, alone, the rest. I think I can replace about half of those drives with bus rides.

May 2, 2006

Intercity Transit: The Ride

Prompted by the April brochure, which I blogged a few days ago, I started thinking about actually using the bus. And, today, I did.

I caught the 48 on Cooper Pt Rd near 14th a little before 7:00. I was looking to catch the 44 at the mall and experienced the interesting sensation of watching the 44 leave just as my bus was pulling in. I had wondered if that wouldn't happen, since the schedule had them all leaving at the same time from the mall. Fortunately, the driver was able to call the 44's driver and have him wait.

Because the 44 rolls back over part of the 48's route, I can get off the 48 at Safeway and catch the 44 a few minutes later. I'll do that tomorrow and avoid the anxiety of the too-close connection.

The rest of the trip was uneventful, though interesting. I haven't been on SPSCC's campus in a few years and there are a couple of new buildings. The trip home worked well, too, with a more reasonable connection at the mall in this direction. Each way was about 30 minutes, in comparison to almost 60 minutes for the walk and clothing change at the end.

So, I'll use the bus again tomorrow, as I'm heading downtown for a bit after work and can take the bus home from there, too. Then, back to the walking, which is my default method of commute. For some, perhaps even many, of the other commutes to work, I can use the bus, rather than driving. Right now, I walk to work almost half of the time. If the other half is mostly bus-riding, then I'll be down to only one day a week of driving alone to work.