Monday, June 28, 2021

Doing okay with the heat

At the coffee shop

I took this picture yesterday, Sunday morning, at the coffee shop (well, actually the sidewalk outside the shop) as we enjoyed our iced coffees with two friends I haven't seen in awhile: Robert and his son Leo). You see the familiar face of John, Robert in the green cap with his phone, and Leo in his orange mask, and Gene on the right. Gene left this morning for a week or so in Alaska. It's not so hot there, he says, but we did pretty well with the heat yesterday.

It was early and quite pleasant. We still can't hang out inside the shop, but it was so nice out on the sidewalk that nobody minded one bit. We enjoyed being together and getting caught up with all the exciting (and not so exciting) stuff going on with us. As the day wore on, though, it did begin to get a little uncomfortable. I didn't go anywhere after I got home, missing even a short walk. By the time I checked the temperature, it was way too hot to venture out. By mid-afternoon it was 97°F outdoors, and our apartment got all the way to 89° before we went to bed. With fans going and no covers at all, I was surprised that I slept pretty well in spite of it all. Cool showers, cold dinners, and not moving much made it bearable. Although the low temperature last night was much higher than usual, it was nice to open all the windows and let the cool night air take over, once we got out of bed.

Pretty purple potato flowers

As I've mentioned before, this is the first year I've grown potatoes in my garden. I was so surprised to see how the bushy plant grew so large, and produced these flowers. I also learned that they will form little green tomato-looking things, but they are poisonous! I'll be interested to see what the potato tubers look like, once it's time to harvest them. Gardening continues to be an education. I haven't been out there since I took that picture day before yesterday, because, well, it's so hot! Today I'll go out there to water. 

Today is supposed to be the last day of these awful temperatures, but it isn't even July yet, and it might just be one of those years when we are forced to endure all this sunshine and heat. Or maybe this will dissipate and we'll have a more normal Pacific Northwest summer. We'll see.


Thursday, June 24, 2021

Excelsior Pass 2021

Sign at trailhead

It was such a surprise this morning when we showed up at the Senior Center to carpool to Excelsior Pass. Last week we had eighteen people who wanted to hike up through the snow to the Goat Mountain overlook. Today, there were only five of us: me, Melanie, Al, Mike, and Tom. We thought maybe somebody might meet us at the Glacier Ranger Station, which often happens, but Al said nobody had contacted him, and when we got there: nope, just us today.

Our trail

We speculated that perhaps part of the reason is the upcoming heat wave, although it was quite pleasant when we started our hike today. It's supposed to start tomorrow and set all kinds of records for high temperatures, reaching 20 to 30 degrees higher than normal. But that didn't affect us today. This hike to Excelsior Pass is 4.5 miles one way, with an elevation gain of 3,600 feet. We didn't expect to make the entire distance, since we suspected we'd be stopped by snow. And that's what happened.

Rushing water

My pictures aren't really very good today, since the full bright sunshine and the shadows made for some difficult contrasts. Trust me, there was lots of water running down the side here, and Melanie walked down to take a better look. We continued our journey upwards on the beautiful trail.

Al taking a rest

It's not the best picture of Al, but he shows what a lovely place we enjoyed today, as we kept on going.

Finally ran into the snow

We found our first snow patches at about 4,300 feet of elevation (we started at 1,800 feet). After slogging through a bit of it without our spikes, we finally discussed whether or not to put on the foot gear and trudge upwards a bit longer.

Our lunch spot

We did just that, but after a short time, we knew we'd probably not make it. Although we got within less than a mile from the pass, we were tired and hungry and decided to stop and replenish our energy supply. That's Tom, Mike, and Al settling in.

Melanie in the forest

I captured this picture of Mel getting ready to enjoy her own lunch. We had traveled a good distance in the snow and decided it was not worth trying to make it to the pass. Walking in snow, even with microspikes, is much more difficult than just plain old hiking. So we decided to head back down. We covered over seven miles by the time we got back, with almost 3,000 feet of elevation gain and loss.

Mike and Tom carrying my pack

My knee began to complain and buckle as we started back down the steep trail, and in the interest in getting back at a reasonable time, Tom suggested that I allow him and Mike to carry my pack, relieving the strain on my knees. I reluctantly agreed, but as soon as it was off my back, I was able to navigate the downhills much, much easier. I am in deep gratitude to those two for offering to help me in this way.

What it has also taught me is that my days of doing these very hard hikes are behind me. Although now that I am home and rested, I realize that I could have done it without their help, it was very touch-and-go. Why not just admit that I don't have to do these any more? It's hard, but I'm coming around.

And with that, I am home and feeling pretty darn good, with my post written, safe and sound, without injuries, and gearing up to make sure we get through these next few days safely. I am grateful, as well as looking forward to finding a way to make it through triple-digit temperatures!


Monday, June 21, 2021

First full day of summer

Morning coffee

As you can see, we are still continuing to enjoy our morning coffee on the sidewalk outside Avellino's. One of these days soon they will be letting us back in, but it couldn't have been more pleasant this morning. That's Gene in the massive beard, John on the right, and our friend Tim who is just back from Italy and still jet-lagged. I was sitting in the chair with the backpack. I've learned I need to put it in front like that so I don't walk away without it.

To me, it seems a little on the warm side, as it's almost 80°F right now, but compared to other parts of the country, I feel happy to be as comfortable as we are. We rarely get past the high eighties, and that usually doesn't happen until August. Who knows what this year will bring us? I see it's incredibly warm in southern California and Nevada right now, and when I look at those temperatures I know I'd be hiding out somewhere air-conditioned. We have so few residences that have it, but stores, malls, and movie theaters do. I have not felt ready to go back to the theater, even though they are beginning to partially reopen. We are on the way back to normal, but it will be awhile yet.

I just ordered myself a Kindle Paperwhite to replace my old worn-out Kindle Fire that I have been using to read books on. I didn't see any reason for color, since it's the only thing I use the device for. My brother has been using a Paperwhite for years, and he gave away his Oasis, preferring the old Paperwhite, so that's what I ordered.

And I also just watched the season finale of The Handmaid's Tale, which if I hadn't been watching from the beginning, I think I would have stopped it by now. That link takes you to Wikipedia's information about it, and it calls the genre "tragedy, dystopia" and I have to agree. Nothing uplifting about it, but I'm hooked and am now released for another year or so before the next season drops. It feels like it's time to concentrate on happy things.

And what could be happier than  blue skies and white fluffy clouds? Hope you're staying cool, dear friends.


Thursday, June 17, 2021

Goat Mountain 2021

The first section of trail was easy

Today eighteen Senior Trailblazers decided to carpool up to Goat Mountain for an excursion in the High Country. Since we are limited to 12 in a group, we broke into faster and more moderately paced hikers and navigated the long drive to the trailhead. I was (of course) in the slower hikers, and by the time we arrived at the trailhead, the faster hikers were just setting out.


The trailhead is already at 2,500 feet, and we climbed uphill for about three miles to the viewpoint at 5,200 feet. This is a LOT of elevation gain in a short distance, but the beginning of the trail was simply delightful, with lots of trillium to enjoy, and plenty of waterfalls across the trail. 

First snow

We didn't see any snow until we got around the 4,000-foot level, but then there were patches that began to cross the trail. We managed to navigate the distance without mishap, until we got to the "meadow" where the snow was constant.

The beginning of the meadow

We donned our microspikes and started the long slog across the snow, constantly climbing upward. There were many times when the intense sun and steep climb made me wonder what the heck I was thinking! It was hard, and at times I thought about turning back. But I didn't.

Half of our crew at the top

That is the beautiful Mt. Shuksan behind some of our hikers today. It was impossible to shepherd this entire group into a picture, so I contented myself with this motley crew. I was quite spent by this time and only wanted to find a place on a rock that was not covered with snow, so I could eat my lunch. 

The spectacular view

After I rested, I took in the incredible view and then gathered my strength for when we would have to go back down the way we had come. We lingered for awhile so the faster group could take off and left us some time to bask in the beauty.

Mt. Baker

I felt quite rested and happy to be in this place, but I knew we had to get back down, and some of us were on the tired side (I'm speaking for myself here). Fortunately for us, we had great footgear to help us descend.

Mel's gear in front, Tom's behind

The difference these things make is impressive. Especially so on the uphill part, because by the time we began our descent, the snow was soft and caused some of us to slip and slide. My knees took quite a beating, but I think they'll be fine by tomorrow.

Back down to the trillium

I was very happy to finally get to take my spikes off and walk on the trail, with solid ground underfoot. We went somewhere around seven miles round trip, up and down around 2,700 feet. I'm tired, and it's close to my bedtime, so I'll sign off here and take a few moments to water the garden.


Monday, June 14, 2021

June flowers and garden news

Front porch flowers today

 I was taken by surprise this morning when I walked to the bus. Yesterday's rain was supposed to be finished, with just a slight chance of showers. I foolishly believed the forecast and made all the wrong choices about what to wear. Just in case of a little rain, I wore my raincoat but instead of waterproof shoes, I wore my sneakers. Bad choices all around: it was misting when I walked out the door, but before two minutes had passed, I was in a light rain. Then it wasn't so light, and by the time I had walked the fifteen minutes to the bus stop, I was soaked. My shoes even squished.

Our flowers and gardens love all this rain, which should be completely gone before the end of the week, but for now it's kind of pretty and the mild temperatures make me want to be outdoors. If I go out again today, I'll dress properly. But first a quick foray into the garden, since the rain has stopped.

My garden spot, with massive potato greens

I tried to get a picture of the entire plot, but I couldn't show you one end without giving you the big story of my potatoes, which have become wild and unruly, and way too close together for proper "hilling" technique. So, I'll just let them go and see what I end up with when it's time for harvesting. My kale, lettuce, nasturtiums, beets and zucchini (not shown) are also going great guns. I've harvested the Russian kale and am amazed at how quickly it grows back (right in front of the potatoes in this picture).

Sort of orchid-like

Walking out the gate, I saw this delightful flower and was pleased to see it looking so pretty with the heavy raindrops pulling it down. I don't know what it is, do you? And while I was out looking at the garden, it began to rain again. Darn! Just when I thought the skies were clearing, giving me a chance to get in today's steps.

We might actually make it to 66°F today, about the temperature we hit yesterday. When I read about the heat in much of the rest of the country, I feel real gratitude for the mild temperatures and high humidity we have here. The flowers, wildlife, and all the rest of the June abundance loves it. 

I sat down to read a new book yesterday, and by the time I had read the first hundred pages, I realized I had read it before. And not that long ago, either, since it was written in 2015. Since I remember so little about it, I'll enjoy the second read, probably even more than the first one. I went ahead and re-read the last chapter, and the entire book came back to me. Now I'll enjoy a slow immersion into the rest of it, as I currently learned that the ending is a satisfying one. Do you ever forget a book like that? I never did when I was young, but now... 


Thursday, June 10, 2021

Maple Grove 2021

Kirk, Cathy, Melanie (and me)

 Today is the first day that the Senior Trailblazers gathered in the (still closed) Senior Center parking lot to carpool to a hike in the wilderness together. There were thirteen of us, and most of the group decided to make the journey up the Mt. Baker Highway to tackle the first attempt of the season on Church Mountain. But some of us weren't too keen on it, since rain was in the forecast, and there is still plenty of snow on the trail to the meadow.

So, four of us went "rogue" and headed off to Maple Grove instead. This is a long drive south to Baker Lake, but it's also one of the prettiest hikes around. Kirk just didn't want to walk on snow while hiking in possible rain, and the other three of us were very happy to hop in Mel's car and drive off to see what awaited us.

Maidenhair ferns

This lovely hike along Baker Lake is so beautiful, and has some easy challenges, but no snow, and lots of incredibly lush scenery. It's like being in a fairyland. One of my favorite ferns, the maidenhair, is abundant all along the four-mile trail. I could not resist a few pictures.

Me beside a magnificent old tree

I was simply amazed at the sheer size of this old tree, and I stood next to it so you can appreciate how gigantic it is. I'll bet it's hundreds of years old, and I'm glad it was spared from being cut down for its wood. Now it can be appreciated for years to come by many admirers.

Moss-covered trees next to lush greenery

As we walked along the trail, we enjoyed so many ferns, flowers, and plant life that it was truly magical. Although the place changes from season to season, it also has a sameness that brings joy to my heart. 

Baker Lake and hidden mountains

And then we were at the lake, which in past years has shown us wonderful views of Mt. Baker and Shuksan, but not today. Just low clouds and peeks of a view now and then. It was time for lunch, so we sat down at a picnic table in a light rain, just the four of us, before heading back the way we had come.

Turquoise lake below us

At one point we were some distance above the lake and could see its pretty color through the trees. I had hoped to capture the loveliness, but this is all I could manage. It's a very weak attempt, but perhaps you can use your imagination to embellish it a bit.


There were lots of bunchberries, pretty little white flowers that are in the dogwood family. It is also called creeping dogwood or dwarf dogwood, and you can find all about it on that link. In any event, we finally made it back to the car and drove back to Bellingham, replete with eight miles of hiking (and even a little elevation), plenty of good conversation, and looking forward to another fine season of hiking!


Monday, June 7, 2021

Pacific Northwest invasive species

English ivy taking over

On my walk back home from the coffee shop in the mornings, I pass by this bench and pretty green area, which is now covered with English ivy (Hedera helix). Although it's pretty, it is invasive. See how it's climbing up the bench? And the entire ground cover is now ivy. This is one of several areas of ivy I see on my walks. It reminds me of kudzu, which I am familiar with from seeing it take over huge swaths of trees in southern states. (That article tells of how the kudzu invasive species, Japanese arrowroot, came into the country.) 

But for now, I'll concentrate on English ivy and how it got here. This article on invasive species tells the tale.

English ivy is an aggressive invader that threatens all vegetation levels of forested and open areas, growing along the ground as well as into the forest canopy. Vines climbing up tree trunks spread out and envelop branches and twigs, blocking sunlight from reaching the host tree’s foliage, thereby impeding photosynthesis. An infested tree will exhibit decline for several to many years before it dies.

So, even though it's pretty, and came here as early as the 1700s, it's not native, and it's something we should cultivate. My friend Peggy long ago showed it to me in the forest and we pulled some out while we were walking. I also learned that it can cause skin irritation in sensitive individuals, but if ingested it's pretty awful. (Don't worry, I won't try it!)

Another invasive species around here is the Himalayan blackberry. I remember when we first moved here and I discovered the sweet, heavy fruit on these plants, I was enchanted. Then I found out that it is not quite the innocent fruit it appears to be. 

Contrary to its common name, Himalayan blackberry (HBB) is a native of Western Europe. HBB was probably first introduced to North America in 1885 as a cultivated crop. By 1945 it had naturalized along the West Coast. HBB occurs on both acidic and alkaline soils, mainly in areas with an average annual rainfall greater than 76 cm (29 inches) at altitudes up to 1800 meters (6000 feet). 

This information comes from a PDF document entitled, "Controlling Himalayan Blackberry," and I learned that it too is very difficult to eradicate. We certainly have enough rainfall around here to entice it to grow. Learning all this doesn't mean I'll stop gathering and eating these blackberries when hiking, but I now have a healthy respect for their ability to take over other species. If only they weren't so delicious!


Thursday, June 3, 2021

Official start-of-summer party

Al (on right) with his group of hikers

Today the Senior Trailblazers met at the Lake Padden parking lot to have our annual beginning-of-summer gathering. Last year we didn't even have this luxury because of the pandemic, but this year we decided to meet, with everyone fully vaccinated, and have our usual hike before lunch. Instead of a potluck, everybody brought their own food, and a few people did bring enough to share. 

For the hike itself, we broke up into two groups, one fast and the other slower (Al's group, which I was part of), with a beautiful day and the light wind making us pretty comfy, after two rather warm days.

Al giving us some options for distance

The trails behind Lake Padden cover at least six miles, if we went over all of them, but we wanted to get back before 11:00am, so that we could have some time before eating to learn about the nifty portable kayaks that several of our hikers purchased this year. 

Chris setting up her foldable kayak

These amazing kayaks are lightweight and easy to use. Chris has the smaller size (being short and not needing a full-size one), which weighs around twenty pounds and took about ten minutes to get ready for use.

Haven wants to be first!

Once Chris got it assembled, we carried it down to the water and put it in. Sue has one, too, which is full size, and it was already down at the water's edge. These are called Oru Kayaks and they seem just right for people who want something easy to transport and fun to use.

Setting out for a paddle in the lake

Everyone who wanted to take a spin in a kayak had a chance to, and we all agreed that it's a wonderful and very safe feeling way to enjoy a nice paddle around the lake. Once we were done, we gathered under the rented pavilion to eat together and then have a short meeting about the summer season to come.

A senior social event, for sure

We had a wonderful turnout, with the three different hiking groups as well as seniors who joined us in previous years, those who hiked with us once upon a time but have turned to other pursuits. It was great to see old faces that I hadn't seen for years. After a really fine gathering, we headed home with plans for an exciting season ahead. With everyone fully vaccinated, we will begin to carpool for our long trips to the wilderness. Happy days are here again!