Thursday, December 31, 2009

Swimming upstream

Life is hard. We all struggle along the way. But a trip to a small local stream in Seaside, OR put it all into perspective for me. Within this stream were numerous salmon making their way upstream to lay their eggs.

Salmon are unique in that they are born as small eggs in a stream bed and spend the first few years of their lives in these streams. These are FRESHWATER streams. Their bodies then begin an amazing transformation as they slowly adapt to survive in salty water and then venture out to into the Pacific Ocean to live out their adult lives. As the salmon reaches maturity it journeys back to the same stream in which it was born to lay it's eggs. How they find their way back from the immensity of the Pacific Ocean is a small feat in itself. The salmon then generally dies within a week of spawning, fertilizing the stream and creating a nutrient-rich environment for the new infant salmon that are about to hatch.

At the stream we visited I was told that salmon used to be so plentiful that a person could "walk across the stream on the backs of the salmon". Farmers used to easily gather the fish and lay them in their crop fields as fertilizer. Now, in this stream there are only a handful of salmon. Life is hard. Especially when your a fish and must conquer dammed rivers, fishing nets, pollutants, introduced diseases, and more just to complete your basic life cycle.

Two salmon in this picture....
The waterfall within the stream....

What becomes of the salmon after they spawn....

And Zach teaching Ada all about this amazing fish...

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Cuyahoga Valley National Park

The week before Thanksgiving we traveled to Ohio to visit Zach's parents. While in Ohio we visited the Virginia Kendell area of Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Talk about memories...this was the place I came to frequently while working on my undergrad work at Kent State University.

I had started at Kent as an English major but I had no desire to teach or write and so my college path was starting to feel like a wasted effort. But after spending many days exploring the ledges at the Virginia Kendell I decided to spend my life working outside and helping to preserve the natural environment. I then switched my degree to a BS in Conservation of Natural Resources. Nearly 12 years later, I have a Master's degree in Environmental Biology and have worked for the National Park Service for 9 years. I don't say this to boast of my "accomplishments", but rather to honor the place that inspired me towards this direction.
Here's Ada enjoying the rocks and ledges of the park.

And playing hide-and-seek (her new favorite game) behind a tree.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Little piggies in the woods

The autumn rains have officially started, and with them comes the emergence of mushrooms! This past week we have been very busy searching for those tasty edibles. The best find of the season is the "King Bolete" or "Porcini" as the Italians call it. Porcini is an Italian word that translates to "little piglet" and as the name suggests, these mushrooms are robust and tasty! Although they are a common mushroom in the forest they are difficult to find because of the tough competition by other mushroom hunters. The porcini season is only 3 weeks long and people take it very seriously out here. Just the other day there was an arrest at the state park near our house when a man pulled a knife on another man because he had walked into his mushroom territory. Crazy. My mushroom spot is nearly a 2 mile hike through the forest, with Ada on my back and George at my side for protection.

Here is a porcini popping out of the moss covered ground...

And another. They look like little loaves of bread in the forest.

You can see how big these mushrooms can get by using Ada for scale. And these are actually small compared to what they can become...

This here is a lobster mushroom. Not quite as yummy as a porcini, but worth a taste...

And for those of you worried that I may somehow poison myself....please relax. Zach and I are both taking a mushroom identification class at the local college so we know what we're doing!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Paddle and Pull

In early October we volunteered to help eradicate the nasty invasive exotic plant, Enchanters Nightshade. It just a few short years this plant has infested the tiny islands found in the Lewis and Clark River.

Most of the islands are covered completely with the Enchanter's Nightshade.

Zach was the hardest worker in our boat. All the plants had to be pulled and carried back to the shore for disposal.

What a difference a climate can make!

My garden back in Pennsylvania consisted of tomatoes. Lots of tomatoes. At one point we had over 50 plants, all heirloom varieties....Brandywine, Pruden's Purple, German Green, Sun Golds, and so many more. To me, a vegetable garden is centered around the tomatoes. So when we arrived to the cool, rainy northwest coast I was horrified to hear that tomatoes just don't like it here. But I was desperate to try, so I planted 4 tomatoes in pots and babied them all summer. At one point my neighbor noticed I was growing tomatoes and she said, "how sad." And she was right. The climate got the best of me. By the end of September I had plants covered with mold and a few tiny green tomatoes. Out of frustration, Zach and I yanked the plants from the pots and threw them over the bank. How liberating it was to GIVE UP ON THE IMPOSSIBLE!! And focus on plants that CAN be grown here in the cool temps and rain. I've grown the best lettuce of my life! Take a photo tour of our little garden....

Raised beds are the way to go here. With all the rain it keeps the roots from flooding and your soil in place.

Purple globe topped turnips....

Broccoli getting close to picking....

And this beautiful red leaf lettuce takes my breath away. One leaf is big enough to cover a slice of bread...

Here's my little helper bringing me brooms to use in the garden. Hmmm...maybe the lettuce needs swept?

Chinese cabbage...yummy cooked and raw in salads...

Lots of radishes. Ada like to pick them and feed them to the chicken (yes, only 1 chicken left...sad story for another time).

And here's Ada being my carrot taste-tester. She loved the tiny carrots (these were the ones I was thinning out) plucked from the ground. Now I'm nervous she will raid my garden when I'm not looking!

Also planted are beets, kale, parsley, cilantro, Swiss chard, arugula, and garlic and onions that will mature over the winter. My Dad would have been proud!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Sewing for Ada

Have you ever tried to find children's clothing that doesn't have some stupid logo, brand name, or picture of Barbi or a warped image of a princess? It's virtually impossible! I tend to think that if those companies want my child (or me) to be a advertisement billboard than I should be getting paid to display their logo. Lately I've been oiling up the sewing machine and making Ada's clothes. While we still buy most of her items (I'm not THAT domestic, Alicia!), it's nice to throw in a few home-sewn items. I think they're cute and original!

Here is a picture of an all wool brown jumper I recently made. The clay buttons are handmade by a potter we knew in Gettysburg.

And this green dress was made from one of my old button dress shirts. I found a great (and easy) pattern for doing this! And yes, those are red glitter shoes that Ada is especially fond of.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Make your own kitchen cleaner!

Perhaps this is a silly post, but I am totally in love with the new kitchen cleaner I have made. We normally use the spray kitchen cleaner made by Seventh Generation because it's non-toxic and more environmentally friendly than others. But after carefully reading the ingredient list on the bottle and some Internet sleuthing, I have found a recipe that works and now I'm cleaning all the time! It uses hydrogen peroxide as the base which is effective at killing common kitchen bacteria, such as salmonella, and removing stains. Plus I don't have to worry about toxic chemicals and synthetic fragrances. Here's the recipe for any of you adventurous folks out there:

Fill a spray bottle with:
  • 16 oz hydrogen peroxide
  • 4 oz water
  • A few drops of Dr Bronners soap (optional)
  • 8-10 drops of essential oil of your choice (I used lemongrass but lavender would be nice)

Spray on counters, sinks, and tables and wipe off. Also, try to store the mixture in a dark cabinet as light can break down the properties of the hydrogen peroxide.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A journey to old growth

This past weekend we headed to Wilappa NWR to visit a 300-acre patch of forest, in the center of a small island, that had never been cut. Amazingly, this small forest had been left untouched by the axes and saws that greedily timbered nearly all of this country's forests. The cedar trees here are estimated to be over 900 years old. That means that these trees were alive during the Crusades, the existence of the Anasazi Indians, and the decline of the Mayans. I'll stop writing now since I don't think words can accurately capture the primeval beauty of this forest, and pictures probably can't either...but I'll do my best.

Since the forest is located on an island we had to paddle our canoe to get there. This was Ada's first boat ride (well, technically second since we did a "test run" in our backyard pond earlier in the week). Once you reach the island it's a 2.5 mile hike in.

Some bigger trees...

A dwarf amongst the giants...

Some trees on the perimeter had been cut. This is one of the stumps that we came across (Zach's on top for scale) . I can't imagine what type of person could put a saw blade into a tree this old and big.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Our legacy is our STUFF

Moving the contents of one's house across the country is an eye-opening experience. How in the world did we end up with so many posessions?!?! As Zach and I watched the movers unload box after box (over 400 boxes and items in all) of our treasured junk into our new home (the house busting at the seams) the environmental impact of our actions began to sink in. 

The cardboard boxes, wrapping paper, tape, gasoline to drive the semi truck 3,000 miles across the country....not to mention the natural resources depleted and pollution generated to produce all these items that we have collected and purchased over the years. We are responsible for all this stuff and must cart it with us wherever we go, like a cancerous tumor. Is this all really necessary? (well, Ada and Ike did have fun running around the boxes in the garage!)

But seriously, why does a family of 3 need enough dinnerware to serve 36 people? Or enough clothing to dress a marching band? Or kink-knacks, figurines, trinkets, and other useless items that require dusting? Why are we always shopping, buying, and collecting more stuff everyday? Are we addicted? Does all this stuff really make us happy? I must admit that today I am emberassed to be an American. As much as I love this country and our freedom it's obvious that we are all in a vicious cycle of consumerism that cannot sustain itself. When I leave this world I do not want my legacy to be the stuff I acquired or for our daughter to inherit all our "treasured" junk to sort through as a final parting gift. I want out! I'm tired of owning, managing, cleaning, guarding, replacing and moving STUFF! I want more time to simply enjoy life and take time to smell the flowers as Ada demonstrates below.  If you have read my rantings this far then you must view this spectacular video about Americans and stuff at The video is 20 mins long but offers a brilliant perspective on this subject. Please watch and stop the cycle!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Box Turtles and Serpentine Barrens

Last week I flew back to Pennsylvania for the designation ceremony of the Nottingham Serpentine Barrens as a National Natural Landmark. The serpentine barrens are a globally rare ecosystem that supports many rare and endemic species. The picture below shows the grassland areas intermixed with pitch pine forests.

During my visit I had the opportunity to extend my stay a few days and work on my beloved turtle project at Gettysburg. Despite the pouring rain during my field work and the lack of my skilled turtle dog, I was able to locate turtles. 

Without my dog I had to depend on luck and my ability to track turtles by following the trails they leave in the Japanese stiltgrass (finally, a use for that nasty exotic!). The cool thing about following the turtle trails is that you can see what a turtle has been up to as they meander around. Sometimes the trails lead to berry bushes, carion, or a "form" where the turtle may have spent the night. I even followed a trail once that led to a scenic vista at a cliff edge. Was the turtle just looking at the scenery? Or did he get confused and turn around before he fell off the cliff? I like to believe the former.

The highlight of the field work was finding box turtle #4. She was one of the first turtles I found back in 2006 and she was relocated (along with many others) to the temporary holding pen while a portion of the forest was being clear cut. It was interesting that I found her back in the original location where I found her over 3 years ago only now her forest has been converted into a meadow. It gave me hope that she was able to survive the transition. Of course, she is not the only turtle that I've found safely returned "home". Of the nearly 200 turtles that I've marked I have recapture data for nearly a quarter of these. Now, if Ada would just take longer naps I could attempt to publish my findings one day!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A weekend as a tourist...

Exploring the tidal pools of the Oregon coast is a great way to spend an afternoon. Here is a colorful photo of sea stars and sea anemones we spotted on a recent visit to "Hug Point" located just south of Cannon Beach. When the tide is low these creatures are exposed and vulnerable to clumsy humans that step on them or pull them from their homes.  In fact, one must tiptoe through these areas because everything is can actually hear the barnacles making soft clacking noises, almost like a bowl if Rice Krispies.

Last weekend I had a good friend come to visit and we hiked the 6 mile "Fort to Sea Trail" which begins at Fort Clatsop and traces the route that Lewis and Clark traveled to the Pacific. Along the way we spotted a bald eagle fly overhead carrying nesting material and land in this tree. 

Heather and I along the Fort to Sea Trail....

A random shot of Zach, Ada, and I at Ecola State Park. Ada had a blast running up and down the trail saying hello to random strangers. She has a very extroverted personality. 

And you can't consider yourself an Oregonian unless you've had your photo taken at Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach. The Haystack is the 3rd largest monolith in the country and is home to all kinds of birds, including puffins, and has some splendid tidal pools, too. (Thanks for the photo, Heather!)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


We finally gave in and realized that life is not complete unless we have chickens. So, the other day we became the proud parents of four baby chicks- Buff Orpingtons and Black Australorps . Ada is always asking to see the "birds". Here's what they look like now:

And what they will become:

Monday, May 18, 2009

What we've been up to lately...

Ada seems to really enjoy car rides. This is the view I normally get when I turn around to look at her. She loves to pull her shoes and socks off while riding in the car...

And here she is posing at Cape Disappointment State Park, WA. We went for a Mother's Day hike through the wetlands.

A rare photo opportunity with mom (usually I'm behind the camera!)

The carousel in Seaside, Oregon. Ada was in her glory because she rode a bunny!

And here's a shot of the Young's River Falls. Apparently the waterfall is famous and was in a ton of movies....