Warm Day

Calypso bulbosa

Today felt like summer. People have been complaining about “June-uary”, and I recently saw a temperature map of the US which shows most of the country at above normal temperatures for this time of year. Except for the upper left hand corner, which has been below normal. Summer has arrived, although the Pacific Northwest season sometimes feels like something other than summer.

But today–the air was warm and soft, the woods scented with the flowery fragrance of vanilla leaf, and the occasional sharper green smell of emerging leaves. John carried the chainsaw across the snow patches along the upper part of the Cooper River trail. I was most grateful, as the saw has been my tool lately and I welcomed the opportunity to dig some drain dips and lop brush. We lunched on the rocky terrace above the river, then kept heading downstream.

Vine maple leaves are opening from their tightly pleated buds, the perfect solar collectors. “Brush” is a term woods people use to describe all manner of undergrowth. It brings to mind thickets and tangles and impenetrable vegetation. Vine maple may be our local epitome of brush. Cut one stem and three stems grow back. Cut it this year, and by next year it has grown two feet. To travel off trail through dense stands of it leads to bruised shins. It has its redeeming features–flaming yellow and scarlet in the fall, creating perches and homes for birds and other critters, and its wood makes the best sticks for toasting marshmallows over a campfire as well as sticks for water witching.

Where vine maple impinges on the trail, we cut and lopped and cast away. There is much more to do. It is a war that is never won, since the plants grow back. But for awhile, for a distance, the trail corridor is clear.

Most of my work pictures are snapped on the fly. I’ve taken to keeping the digital camera in my pocket, where I can easily pull it out. Today’s blog photo is of the fairy slipper orchid (Calypso bulbosa), a deep woods flower that I associate with big old cedars. Orchids are the flamboyant celebrities of the floral realm. These are about six inches high, and the intense pink glows on the forest floor. Needless to say, I just love them, and flopped down on my belly in the trail to get an eye-level view. Notice the fuzz below the lip, and the fine intricate reddish lines leading to the heart of the flower. And the graceful turnings of the upper petals…I snapped three photos, and got up to keep going.

It felt like summer. Hiking and working, with senses open to sights and scents and sounds. Feeling sweaty and thirsty, knowing more of that is to come in the next weeks. But mostly enjoying the moment, right now.

Ten days till the summer solstice and the longest daylight of the year.

A Grand Day Out

Today was the day to check the south end of Kachess Ridge Trail #1315. It’s usually one that opens early, at least up to the hanging valley where the snow stays till later in the summer. Jon and I headed out with a variety of tools. We took a gamble and left the chainsaw behind. It’s steep trail and neither of us wanted to pack it up the hill. I had a 5′ crosscut saw just in case. We got lucky and only had a couple small logs to cut before Jon found a 20″er up by the snowline.

Oh, what a day. Blue sky and sunshine and a consistent upslope wind. When it ruffles one’s clothing, it’s blowing at least 10 mph (according to the informal Davis scale). It was a little brisker in the tree tops, filling the air with the sound of air moving through Doug-fir branches.

I stopped to cut a limb out of the way and spotted this bug on a spiraea leaf. A lifetime spent in the woods, and there are still new things to discover! I’ve never seen anything like this before. After my long illness, I am still enthralled by the woods, and am delighted by all the little things. Time enough to be jaded and tired in August. For now it’s wondrous to hear the sound of snowmelt rushing down the canyon and the bright song of an unseen warbler, to scan the rocky slopes for mountain goats, to watch a wasp bury itself headfirst in a huckleberry blossom, sit on the ground to eat lunch, kick rocks and flick sticks off the trail, feel the heart and lungs working easily to carry me up the trail. (We can talk about the illegal ATV rider cutting out an illegal trail another time…)

Calypso orchids are always greeted with quiet joy–a highlight of spring for me. They never last long enough. That such a remarkable plant can pop out of the ground after a summer of drought and a winter of snow still amazes me. I didn’t stop to smell these, but a few years ago I learned that they have a delicate fragrance.

Yep, it’s the little things that make life feel so sweet. What little things are you finding?