Unpredictable Spring

17 05 2016

IMG_6505As I share about the Pacific Northwest’s timely resources and places, I also simply recognize the gift of experiencing seasons. We’re deep into spring and transitioning from the rainy season to summer’s dry heat. This means that we enjoy hot, sunny days immediately followed by cool, damp ones and vice versa. When marine clouds drift in from the west, we know to protect certain outside items and perhaps, change course. These initial raindrops generate complaints from my outdoorsy children followed by my usual response of, “Free watering for the yard!” I’m still waiting for a positive reception to my statement.

The Willamette Valley, situated between the Cascades and the Coast Range, currently experiences these climate fluctuations every few days, making it challenging to plan outdoor activities. Recently, our forecast of showers became steady rain instead and forced us to switch plans. I bribed my tween and two teens with treats if they ran errands with their dad and me. While we were parked, cozy, and together in our car as rain pelted our sunroof, I looked up and snapped this photo. At that moment, I appreciated the beauty of the droplets and the dark clouds as their backdrop, because without this storm, we’d have scattered for the day. I enjoyed the happy chatter of my family despite the day’s turn of events. I relished this snapshot in time of having them under my wings still, because they’re going to leave the nest soon, one at a time.

Even mundane days deserve the recognition that they’re life’s memory-makers and bonders. I hope we all take mental snapshots of our lives throughout each season and appreciate that sometimes the smallest moments become the biggest.

 

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Fossils Found at Beverly Beach State Park

26 06 2015

IMG_9946Beverly Beach State Park inhabits the north end of Newport, Oregon on the iconic Highway 101. Pacific Northwesterners flock to Beverly Beach for its ideal camping and day-use facilities, to catch a glimpse of the Yaquina Head Lighthouse, and to regale on its picturesque beach. Two paths extending from the parking lot and nearest campground lead visitors under the highway bridge, over smooth cobblestone-like rocks, and onto an expanse of white sand dotted with piles of driftwood.

IMG_9949As if Beverly Beach State Park isn’t a find in itself, it conceals treasures unique to this Pacific Coast location. Poke around the driftwood and discover debris from Japan’s 2011 Tsunami tangled amid the ocean’s offerings. Please be respectful and mindful of the posted regulations regarding tsunami debris. Most beachcombers literally step over the most fascinating additions to collections: Fossils. Embedded among those rocks disrupting a clear path to the water’s edge lie thousands of ancient fossils etched into or forming stony figures. Even the most amateur paleontologists cannot miss these numerous fossils if they slow down and observe on the way to their coastal destination.

 IMG_9948  IMG_9954  IMG_9956  IMG_9940

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Why Hang a Bat Box

30 10 2014

batboxMost people do not share my love of bats. I don’t think they’re creepy; I think they’re adorable. These flying mammals have cool wings with two thin skin layers stretched over an arm, a thumb, and four very long fingers. Bats don’t flap these wings to fly but pull themselves through the air. They also use their wings to hold objects and even crawl across the ground. That’s pretty comical. I marvel at their knack for hanging out upside down. It comforts me when they fly about my neighborhood at night, knowing they are gobbling up bugs that might otherwise land on me. Bats consume hundreds of insects every hour.

I grew up near a hill in Oregon that hosted a bat cave not far from my property. I’m no expert, but my guess is they were known as The Little Brown Bat (Myotis Lucifugus) recently renamed Little Brown Myotis. On extra hot summer nights when I took a late dip in our pool, I swam as bats swooped down for sips during their hunts. I welcomed their nocturnal company. Late one evening in Odorheiu Secuiesc, Romania in Transylvania, I fell ill and walked alone across town to my room. I passed a large tree near the center of town where thousands of bats congregated. Their flights to and from the tree formed a black cloud in the night sky, and their loud communication broke the silence of a sleeping town. I paused and appreciated this unforgettable experience.

Bats are sociable creatures as most live in groups for as long as 20 years. They include over a thousand different species ranging in size from about a peanut to a wingspan comparative to an average man. Most bats communicate through echolocation, making noise and waiting for the echo. That’s how they detect the distance of an object and determine their safety margin for flight. Speaking of flight, bats are the only mammals able to fly continually, because Flying Squirrels actually only jump long distances.

Bats thrive all over the world except in extreme deserts and polar regions, so your chance of having bat neighbors (not batty neighbors—well, we all have those or might be one!) is extremely high. Bats don’t just live in caves. Bats like dying trees and abandoned buildings, or at least ones that have tight, dark spaces with little activity. PIMG_4488roviding a bat box in an ideal location attracts bats and puts them to work for you. Most bats eat insects, but some prefer fruit, fish, small mammals, and reptiles. Ok, I admit, three species of vampire bats live on blood alone. Their teeth, however, are so small and sharp that they pierce preys’ skin undetected. That’s impressive, in a way. If you want a hunter hard at work while you sleep, post a bat box on your property.

The celebration of Halloween spotlights bats on décor, paper products, toys, candy bowls and food items. Bats are frightening symbols meant to be scary, but I don’t buy it. I know I’m out on a limb on this one—and that’s okay with me.

 

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You Say Hazelnut, I Say Filbert

13 10 2013

IMG_7747Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I always had a variety of nuts available. No, I’m not talking about people, but Pacific Northwesterners are known for being a bit quirky—thanks to the show Portlandia and the local slogan “Keep Portland Weird.” I didn’t go through any extreme phases to find my identity, if you don’t count my 13th year when I went by Kym instead of Kim until my friend’s dad teased me incessantly by pronouncing it as “Kime.” I loved it though, and the memory still makes me smile. Anyway, back to nuts. A bowl of hazelnuts in the shell and a nutcracker stayed near the TV in my family room for years as a snack for anyone to partake. Actually, Pacific Northwest natives refer to these tree nuts as filberts. They are called cobnuts in Great Britain and are grown in Kent. 

The hazelnut’s popularity as a chic flavoring expanded the worldwide demand for this nut from the hazel tree. Did you know that was the tree’s name? I just learned that. I’ve been calling it a filbert tree for four decades! Pralines, tortes, and chocolate top the list of sweet confections that incorporate hazelnuts to gratify people globally. My pantry never lacks a chocolate hazelnut spread waiting to top bread, crackers, or fruit. I find this ironic, because when I first was introduced to chocolate hazelnut spread in Romania by my host family, I couldn’t read the label and assumed it was chocolate frosting being served for breakfast. To avoid a headache on those days, I ate plain toast. Duh, I could’ve used that morsel of protein! It wasn’t until parents of my children’s friends told me about chocolate hazelnut spread that it became a staple in my household. Better late than never.

Hazelnuts are grown commercially only in four geographical regions worldwide. These regions share commonalities of mild winters, moderate springs, cool summers, and late-frost autumns. Also, they all are within a few hundred miles of major bodies of water that regulate the climate. These regions include Turkey near the Black Sea, coastal Italy, coastal Spain, and the western valleys of the Pacific Northwest. Turkey produces about 70 percent of the world’s hazelnuts; Italy produces 20 percent; Spain produces seven percent; and the Pacific Northwest produces three percent. The Pacific Northwest grows the largest hazelnuts in the world and demand for them is exploding. Oregon and Washington in the United States of America are the only two states that produce hazelnuts commercially. Our northern neighbor of British Columbia, Canada, is the only other North American commercial producer.

photoAfter the hazelnut releases from its fibrous husk, the shell is smooth and nearly round. The nut inside (also called seed or meat) is edible and can be eaten raw, roasted, ground into a paste similar to almond butter, or pressed into oil for cooking. Harvest hazelnuts from late September to late October when trees drop their leaves and nuts to the ground. Farmers rarely shake them off the tree; instead, they harvest them with special equipment. The sweeper sweeps the nuts into rows. The harvester separates them from leaves and branches and picks them up. The nut cart holds the hazelnuts. The forklift loads the hazelnuts into carriers and stacks them in storage until the next step in the process.

Hazelnuts are a good source of fiber, protein, good carbohydrates, omega-3s, thiamine, copper, manganese, and vitamins B6 and E. They also have the highest folate content of any tree nut. As with any food, make sure it lines up with your personal dietary needs. I’ll share an easy method to try them roasted.

Roasted Hazelnuts

Spread whole, shelled nuts in a single layer on a baking sheet

Bake at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes

If you want thin skins removed, wrap warm roasted nuts in a towel

Allow them to sit for 5-10 minutes in the towel

Rub the towel all over them to remove the skins

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Mad About Crows

28 09 2013

IMG_7702The crow, raven, magpie, blackbird, or whatever you call this common worldwide bird, maintains a sordid reputation. What is your opinion of the crow and what circumstance formed it: A storyline, a superstition, an experience? Chances are that you disdain them, labeling them as scavengers, thieves, murderers, and generally noisy pests. You’re right; crows are all of that—but so much more.

Scientists categorize crows as one of the most intelligent animals on the planet, comparing them with chimpanzees, apes, and humans. Some species of crows snag the top spots on the avian IQ scale. Crows learn quickly, posses an envious memory, count and problem-solve. Extensive research concludes that crows construct and utilize their own tools to acquire food and other desired objects. They wield knives of stiff grass blades and edges of leaves. They grasp twigs to spear food in spaces where their beaks can’t reach. They fish with bait and dunk food in water to soften it for their babies. They use us as nutcrackers. Well, technically, the crows drop hard-shelled nuts onto streets and wait for our cars to drive over and crush them so they can swoop down and eat the nutmeat. Pretty clever!

IMG_1881It’s common to spot crows hunting in a variety of places such as open fields, suburban neighborhoods, and crowded parking lots. They’ll eat almost anything including worms, small animals, eggs, seeds, agriculture, and even garbage. Despite their nuisance, they can assist farmers by eating destructive insects and varmints.

Crows recognize individual human faces. If one determines a certain person is dangerous, it alerts other crows to memorize that particular face and either avoid or attack it. Crows also warn each other about unsafe locations. We are newly grasping the complexity of their vocalizations. We find they mimic and respond to other species’ languages, beyond their own distinctive calls.

Lore alleges that crows steal and cache shiny objects. Captive crows find man-made things to keep them occupied, which may or may not be metallic depending on what is provided, but wild crows only collect and store food. They turn to nature for their entertainment, playing with items such as sticks, acorn caps, and each other. Crows also enjoy sporty activities and competitions.

IMG_0064-3Lastly, crows generally mate for life unless a dire circumstance prevents that natural tendency. They keep their family together even when their young ones grow to full size. The next time you spot a crow, observe closely and notice that the mate is nearby. If they have some teens still hanging around, those won’t be too far away either.

The smaller Northwestern Crow resides only along
the Pacific Northwest Coast.

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Spring Magnified

28 04 2013

IMG_4665    IMG_4046 (2) 

Lilac                                                      Quince

I am not a gardener. I do not have a green thumb. I was given an African Violet over a year ago, and my main objective is keeping it alive just to see if I can coax at least one bloom from it someday. Any plant growing on my property has to be fairly self-reliant. Generally, I know how and when to prune and water, and how much sun or shade is needed. But, that’s about it. If something requires more of me, then it has to survive without that requirement. Maybe that’s why I appreciate the seasonal plants in my yard. I really do stop and smell the roses—or lilacs, or daphne, or whatever blossoms.

IMG_4662    IMG_4017   IMG_4693

Grape Hyacinth                  Daphne                              Azalea

I also enjoy observing them closely and noticing details that often get lost in the beauty of their bouquet. Magnification reveals the true shapes of individual petals and variation in color that often is overlooked by the distant eye. It’s like discovering an entirely new flower. Spring blooms are seasonal gifts after bare winters and months of gray skies. The Pacific Northwest finds itself in the midst of this season, with some blooms already faded and others not yet open. I want to share with you a few of the flowers that I currently get to enjoy. You might have these same varieties, and whether you do or not, I encourage you to step outside and have a closer peek at your own seasonal gifts.

IMG_4696   IMG_4060   IMG_4677

Heather                                     Daffodil                 Candy Tuft                                  

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Feather Treasure

21 04 2013

IMG_4642Feathers often are spotted lying on the ground in neighborhoods, parks, and deeper in nature. Seagull feathers cover ocean beaches. Duck and geese feathers dot riverbeds and lakeshores. Blue Jay feathers’ characteristic cobalt draws attention in common suburban communities. Feathers, like their avian hosts, come in a variety of sizes, shapes, textures, colors, patterns, and functions.

IMG_4647What are feathers, technically? They are outer epidermal growths, also called plumages, considered the most complex structural layer found in vertebrates. Feathers distinguish birds from other creatures and are necessary for flight, waterproofing, insulation from extreme temperatures, and lining nests. Varied colors and patterns help birds communicate, identify gender, and camouflage from predators. Growth and everyday use causes molting, shedding feathers to be replaced by new ones. The most commonly recognized type of feather is called a vane. A vane is the whole feather including the hollow shaft (quill), afterfeathers (downy lower barbs), barbs (hair-like branches), and the rachis (central shaft where barbs attach).

Wherever you wander outside this season, you’ll come upon feathers from different species. If you scoop one up to admire briefly, enjoying its beauty and appreciating its complexity, put it right back. Why? Most feathers in North America are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 and are illegal to possess, even if they are found discarded. The Act protects over 800 species, including nearly 60 legal game birds and most non-migratory birds. Not only is it illegal to keep feathers found in your own yard, but also it is unlawful to remove or possess nests and eggs—even if abandoned, non-functional, or inconveniently located. A few loopholes of the law exist for scientific, educational, control, religious and tribal purposes. If you’re like me, well, none of those IMG_4646loopholes will uphold you in court. My advice: Take your photo opportunity on the spot to document your discovery, and then walk away.

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