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Field Notes

Covering the natural wonders of the Pacific Northwest

June 21, 2013 at 1:00 PM

Head out this weekend to enjoy native plants, supermoon

What is it about a campfire that makes us slow down as we should more often, to notice the beauty around us? Including the native plants.

At our campsite in the Teanaway last weekend I found myself awake in the early dawn light, and instead of trying to go back to sleep, got up with the song of the Swainson’s thrush. I put on the coffee in the French press lit a campfire, and settled in with a book I had long been wanting to read: Theordore C. Frye’s Ferns of the Northwest, a slim, lovely, old volume too long on the bedside table and waiting for a read. Published in 1934 by the Metropolitan Press in Portland, Oregon, it is written with the  stately cadence of deep observation.

bracken book

The pages are yellowed, the illustrations black and white. And the descriptions of our native ferns delicious. The chapter on bracken fern, one of our Northwest standards, alone was worth getting up early for.

Shall we start with the latin name, Pteridium aquilinum var. pubescens. How lovely to realize, for the first time, its reference to the eagle feather like tips of the the leaf blades? I had never thought that the leaves of ferns are like feathers, but of course, they are.

Or perhaps, Frye writes, the reference to eagles refers to the downy fluff at the base of the stems as the buds unfurl from the ground?

Common especially west of the Cascades in Washington and Oregon, the bracken fern, also called brake, loves a damp climate and its growth is spledidly rank. As the long summer light crests on the solstice arriving this week, it is heading to its full splendor, hitting six feet in a good location.

Summer hikes bring us the glory of the native plants. Trillium is just now peaking on the Twin Lakes trail near Hyak, an easy, level  trail suitable for families and beginners and out of town guests on their first hike.

Trlllium in its snowy white finery graces the Twin Lakes trail last week. Photo by Lynda Mapes

Trlllium in its snowy white finery graces the Twin Lakes trail last week.
Photo by Lynda Mapes

Trillium’s common and genus name comes from the Latin trillium, meaning “in threes”  referring to the leaves, petals, sepals and stigmas. One of the first bloomers or the year, its other common name, wake-robin refers to its early spring bloom time, stretching at higher elevation to summer.

Found in moist areas and near streams, it is a lovely feature in our Cascade woodland walks. The other early season treat of course is yellow glacier lily, one of the first flowers to emerge as the snows draw back. Its delicate beauty belies its toughness, emerging at the edge of melting snow banks, before the snow is even entirely off the ground.

Yellow glacier lilies emerge before the snow is even off the ground.  Photo by Lynda Mapes

Yellow glacier lilies emerge before the snow is even off the ground.
Photo by Lynda Mapes

Glacier lilies are seen at the same time of year as the shooting star, and indeed I enjoyed drifts of them at the Table Mountain burn last weekend. If you have not been out to see the landscape since last summer’s fire, now is a good time to go. The lupine when I visited were just forming flower buds and should be in full glory within the next few weeks. The other flowers are already out, as are the tender new grasses refreshing the land in nature’s great do-over.

Table Mountain is reached by easy access on mostly paved roads until you are nearly at the summit. Pay attention to the warning signs as to the danger of falling trees, this place is still recovering from last summer’s burn. But it is so worth the trip. Don’t forget the binoculars, the mountain bluebirds are luminous … and then of course there are the stars at night. Almost as pretty as the shooting stars, blooming now in the mountain meadows.

Shooting stars live up to their name.  Lynda Mapes photo

Shooting stars live up to their name.
Lynda Mapes photo

Why not go this weekend? Enjoy the supermoon scheduled to glow all weekend long.

The full moon will shine its closest to Earth all year and, clouds willing should be a spectacular show.

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