Big Wind, Many Raindrops

Got up in the dark to brew tea and sit quietly before going to work…the wind blew across the opening of the metal chimney, and rain clattered. When light came, I stepped out and heard the wind in the trees. The sound took me straight back to childhood. My parents bought an old farmhouse in the country, and my brother, sister and I slept upstairs. My memory is of angled ceilings and dormers, casement windows and corners. Our beds were tucked under the roof. Although it seemed further, the Pacific Ocean was about fifty miles to the west. Winter storms brought high winds and rain crashing in from the coast. That old house shook and rocked as the wind rushed around all the angles of the house. Rain battered the roof. And we slept, tucked under quilts made by grandmothers, with favorite stuffed animals beside us. I would wake in the dark to hear the voices of the Douglas-fir trees grow louder as the wind blew harder. The air animated them like nothing else.

I never learned to be afraid of the wind or trees. Alert, but not afraid. These things are alive and in motion, and I can only get hurt if I am in the wrong place at the right time. There’s nothing malicious about the wind. So I go out, to hear it and feel it (and come back in if it’s too harsh). The wind travels more miles from the ocean where I live now, and speeds up as it pushes through gaps in the mountains.

Inches of rain have fallen since last week’s return from the backcountry. Ventured out today to discover fresh snow on familiar peaks. After a long dry spell, the creeks rise. A big change and adjustments are needed: soup in the thermos for lunch, rain gear, extra layers, waterproofing on the boots.

I’m grateful for a sturdy roof, quilts, and a hot supper.

Pacific Crest

The snow rangers had plans today, and the weather blew them apart. Instead of attending a long distance cross country ski race, we found ourselves contending with strong winds, blowing snow, wind chill. The ski event was cancelled, which was a good call on the part of the cooperating ski area and event organizers. The avalanche danger was considerable to high on all slopes in the central Cascades.

Instead there was snowmobiling to place some signs and patrol several routes. Our riding took us to Meadow Pass, right on the divide between east and west. The wind was charging over the mountains, whisking the snow into powdery drifts. The words “into the teeth of the storm” kept running through my mind. That’s what the wind feels like as it chews through the layers of clothing and nibbles on any exposed skin. Wind-driven ice crystals sting and bite like millions of snowy little piranhas.

I stopped where the Pacific Crest Trail crosses the road. Many times I have hiked down out of the clearcut with a chainsaw and into the old growth hemlocks. Sometimes this road is the end of the hike, or the beginning. That’s summertime, and trail work. This is winter. This is what that place looks like with seven feet of snow. In any season, these old trees have presence and character. I am sure that if I listened carefully enough I could hear their slow stories of wind and other phenomena.

Riding down, loading the snow machines, heading back to town. As soon as I walk into the house, I start filling the clawfoot tub with hot water. A long soak warms my bones and relaxes muscles. Then I can face making a savory warm meal and doing the rest of the evening chores.

Air in motion thumps the house tonight, and I hear the rattle of ice pellets on the chimney. The bells on the eaves jangle and ding. My cheeks burn with the memory of cold.

Another Hike

There are two ways to get to Yakima from the north. You can take Interstate 82, which engineers designed to go over three big ridges. Or you can take the Yakima Canyon route, on a two lane highway that follows the curves of the river. Don’t take this road if you’re in a hurry.

As I meandered my way back to Cle Elum this afternoon, it occurred to me that there’s no way to capture the place in a single photo. There’s too much to take in–the scale of the hills with the layers of basalt, the green of May and wildflowers at their peak, a raft of white pelicans on the river, the fresh leaves on the cottonwoods reflecting the sun, the call of a redwinged blackbird coming through the open window. I feel spoiled by the variety available in my home landscape. Mountains, forest, desert, rivers are all compressed into a narrow band between the top of the Cascades and the edge of the Columbia Basin.

I stopped for a walk at Umptanum Canyon, which flows into the Yakima. It was a warm day, and clouds of insects were rising above the water. Fly fishermen in their waders stood as still as herons, intently focused on the riffles. I crossed the suspension bridge and railroad tracks, and headed up a side trail looking for flowers.

Antelope bitterbrush

Bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata) and sagebrush (Artemesia tridentata) are the dominant shrubs, both lush with moisture from the spring rains. The fuzzy silvery leaves help the plants conserve water during the dry heat of summer.

Arrowleaf balsamroot

Arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorrhiza sagitatta) is one of the many yellow daisy-like flowers found in the shrub steppe. Sometimes the slopes turn golden with them all blooming at once.


According to my wildflower book, there are at least twelve lupines that can occur in eastern Washington. I don’t know which one this is, but it goes well with the sagebrush, balsamroots and showy phlox.

Looking up the Umptanum, which I’ve hiked alone and with companions numerous times over the last 20 years. Today I was stepping carefully, because it was warm enough for rattlesnakes to be active. And ticks–I’ve been feeling crawly for a couple days. But all I saw were butterflies and birds. From the shade of a basalt cliff came the buzzy chirping of a canyon wren, warming up for the clear descending notes that would come in the evening. And of course ravens, somewhere across the canyon.

As I headed back across the river toward the truck, it seemed to me that a person who listens carefully can hear the difference between the wind blowing through the Great Basin wild rye and sagebrush, and the wind blowing through Douglas-firs.

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?


When I got up this morning, I saw white things flying past the window. Snow or cherry petals?

It was snow. The wind has been the dominant weather feature lately, blasting, roaring, and bringing all sorts of precipitation. It comes from the northwest, blowing a storm from the Gulf of Alaska which dropped new snow on the Cascade crest. I drove to Yakima today and had a wonderful view of billowing cumulus clouds with violet-gray bottoms against the soft green hills. Veils of rain and hail swept down, and the truck was buffeted by the downdrafts. The world is filled with air, moving like liquid over the mountains in currents and eddies and swirls. The wind is a river running high in the spring.

Up the Ridge

The main thing is to draw and not think too much about the end result. This is an uninspired drawing of a ballhead waterleaf (Hydrophyllum capitatum). I laid on my belly on the ground to get a good look at it, and cranked my head and arm around to see and draw. My hand didn’t have full mobility across the page, and some of the lines were shaky. These are low growers, so you need to get right down to appreciate the purplish-blue spherical flowers with the stamens protruding out. Also the leaves have elegant shapes and simple veins. I noticed particularly the way the leaf lobes attached to the stem. When you just look, you can be pretty amazed.

Wind roaring through the pine tops this afternoon, and sun illuminating the yellow lilies, the new green leaves, the drab dried grass and weeds. I hiked uphill, farther than I have in weeks. It was fine. The heart behaved itself, and I wanted to keep going.