wearing a wind cap
Tahoma stands tall, regal
glaciers, cold and crowned
crowned by Angie Quantrell
photo by Angie Quantrell
Mt. Rainier, WA state
Photo by Angie Quantrell
Little Naches, HWY 410, Washington
Believe it or not, this was taken on February 19, 2022. No snow, ice, or signs of winter. But winter it is. This rock faces the late sun, so all evidence of the season has melted to rest at the base, along with showers of fallen rocks. It’s not a safe place to stay for long-snap the picture and move along down the road!
Taken before the next winter storm hits with a predicted 12-24 inches of new snow.
Can you tell I am ready for flowers, green, and hiking in the mountains? This will come, after the snow melts, the fog dissipates, the mud dries, and the earth springs forth with life.
Photo by Angie Quantrell
Cascade Mountains, Washington
Last month we took advantage of a sunny fall day and drove the 4×4 pickup to the top of a ridge just south of Cle Elum, Washington.
Peoh Point is a rocky outcropping overlooking Cle Elum and Roslyn, both of which are nestled near I-90 in Washington state. The drive to Cle Elum along the freeway is fast. But the fast ends once you get off the paved road.
The drive to the parking area of Peoh Point is definitely for high clearance vehicles. We did not need 4×4 at all, but the potholes and rocks would have caused trouble for my car.
We found the Peoh Point hike through the Washington Trails Association site: http://wta.org . You can visit to read my report for our day of hiking here: https://www.wta.org/go-hiking/trip-reports/trip_report-2020-10-17-0055288474
Despite the slow ascent and very bumpy road, it was a beautifully crisp fall day with leaves full of color and drifting to the ground. Everything was damp due to recent rain, but snow was absent.
The “trail” begins about 10 miles up the unpaved road. Once you find the 5-way intersection of dirt roads, that is the place to park if you want a longer “hike” (or walk). Look closely, as I couldn’t count 5 roads so we missed this place. There is a sign which tells you to go left. We did. And parked just down the road.
The Peoh Point trail is really a cell tower access road, so the hiking was easy. Other than fallen branches, rocks, potholes, and puddles, it was a pretty relaxing hike. I’m glad we parked where we did though, to get a decent walk in. You can continue on the road to Peoh Point and get very close, about one mile, from the point. We wanted a longer walk.
The point. Wow. We had views! The cell tower is ON the point, but there is plenty of space to wander around and look at the views. We could see (and hear) the traffic of I-90 and even a train. We used binoculars to find landmarks in Cle Elum and Roslyn. We could see Ronald, the lake, and more. We could tell eastbound traffic was backed up on the freeway. It was fun to play “bird” and see from a bird’s viewpoint.
BEWARE: Peoh Point is a cliff! Steep drop-offs are all along the north side of the cliff. There is a fence around the cell tower, but even with that fence, it would be easy for a pet or child to wander through. Most of the area does not have a fence, so take care around the edges.
Fun fact: At the 5-way intersection, there was a sign pointing to a different dirt road, one that said Ellensburg, 23 miles (or so). We want to go back some day and take that back road home. We just didn’t have enough time for 23 more miles of potholes. 🙂
This hike is gorgeous. Plenty of evergreens, deciduous trees, wildflowers, chipmunks, and birds. We mostly had the place to ourselves, other than one other couple and a few passing motorcycles and vehicles. We did not see any facilities.
We have a Sunflower Forest.
Not intentionally, but as happenstance. Last year, I planted sunflowers. This year, the birds planted sunflowers (leftovers from their grazing and dropping last year). I love my Sunflower Forest. It really does resemble a forest with all its many layers, shadows, heights, and wildlife.
Just this morning, I was again (and again) gazing out the window to enjoy the peeping antics of goldfinch families. They flit, flirt, fight, and feed throughout the Sunflower Forest. Swarms of bees, many varieties, wasps, and other flying hungry insects buzz and float around the Forest, a veritable cloud of life shifting back and forth. I don’t need a fish tank for gazing and relaxing. I can sit on the deck and watch visitors enjoy the Forest. Relaxation and entertainment all wrapped into one ball of delight.
It’s interesting how our brains work, those miracles of human technology. Thoughts and ideas zip and zing along brain pathways so fast I often find myself wondering How did I get to that thought from this?
Take ecosystems. As I watched the Sunflower Forest with rapt enjoyment, I realized it was an ecosystem in its own right. Our Forest is approximately 25-foot-square, give or take a straggler standing tall along the edges. The top height is at least 15-feet, well as tall as the RV, which rests high atop tires and tire stops. That’s plenty of ecosystem space for the myriad of wildlife I see every day.
The Undergrowth (Forest Floor):
I’m so excited about this level of the Sunflower Forest. Baby oak trees have sprouted from last year’s planting of numerous (I mean NUMEROUS) acorns I brought back from my cousin’s house. I love science activities and free exploration and invited my grands to play at will. They did. Played and planted. Baby oaks have been discovered in very surprising places!
Other nature on display in the undergrowth layer: weeds (of course), ants, spiders, worms, earwigs, beetles, frogs, millipedes, roly polys, mystery bugs, snails, grasshoppers, and cats. Our cats LOVE hiding in the Sunflower Forest.
In the Sunflower Forest, the understory is crammed full of bamboo-like stalks, mottled leaves, dappled light, and fluttering life. I imagine myself small, wandering amidst the trunks of sunflower trees, climbing too high for my own good. Tall weeds populate this layer, plentiful, but not enough to trouble sunflower trees. Anything that creeps, climbs, and flies traverses the Sunflower Forest understory.
The majority of my sunflower trees litter this layer with bright blossoms, wilted petals, and plump seeds. This is where the action is! Goldfinches love the canopy of bright yellow, fragrant and fruitful. Before the seeds were ready, nearly as soon as the first few yellow faces opened to the sun, goldfinches made forays into the canopy, checking to see if food was available. They didn’t stay long, since seeds were not even pollinated yet. But now? Layers of unopened buds, fully exposed golden orbs, droopy petals, green seeds, and ready-to-go seed buffets lure our state bird (Washington, goldfinch) by the droves. I love the families, fledglings peeping loudly and shuffling their feathers, waiting for mama or daddy to bring the seeds to them. Parents, proud and busy, race to pop seeds into open mouths. Several males pop in, notice each other, and fight for feeding rights. Never fear, my little finches, plenty for all.
Also seen in the canopy layer: red-winged blackbirds, sparrows, finches, butterflies, spiders, yellow jackets, and multiple varieties of bees and flies.
The Emergent Layer:
I hadn’t thought much about this layer, the very tip top of the forest and everything above. Until this morning, still observing the finches, I noticed the shadow of a fledgling hawk pass across the top of the Sunflower Forest. Aha! Besides the very tallest of sunflower trees and nearby ornamental corn, our emergent forest layer is filled with other wildlife. The hawks (two parents and the tween), crows, starlings, magpies, and geese regularly putz back and forth above our heads. The only ones we all keep sharp eyes on are the hawks, of course. Hunters they are, and Junior is especially attached to our pasture, nearby power lines, and a few strategic trees. I can only guess how many friends have met their end as he learns to fly, land, and hunt.
So there you have it. The Sunflower Forest and its ecosystem. I’m sure your garden, yard, or field has yet more exciting nature (flora and fauna) inhabiting the different layers. Take a look. Grab that cup of tea or coffee and sit for a bit. Who do you see in the different sections of your ecosystem?