Fly away home

 

Once again I’m staring at a calendar, watching my final days on the Olympic Peninsula flash past me. As excited as I am to return to my main research work and life in California, this place excels at being hard to leave. I’ve never called Washington home, but these mountains, and particularly the project on the Elwha, capture my heart.

My focus on this project is the vegetation, but as wonderful as it is to see valley turning green and the trees shooting skyward, I’ve been even more amazed by the transformation of the river itself. Now that the dams are completely removed and the silt has washed down to the delta, the Elwha has come alive. Each section of fieldwork I wrap up is a bittersweet victory, as I prepare to leave this shining, shifting river, which after almost a hundred years of constraint, is finally flowing free.

 

Photo: Mt Shasta, taken on the trip up here. I am in fact not flying home, but driving for fourteen hours, past some very pleasant scenery.

The forest is my office

To an ecologist, summer means fieldwork. It’s a time to get off our computers and get on the road, migrating to wherever our research calls us. Between early morning starts and hours of outside work, long summer days get used to their fullest. This year, my summer is split between setting up a new experiment in a section of the Sierras that burned in a wildfire last year, and re-sampling my plots in Olympic National Park, Washington.

It’s wonderful being back in the Olympics. The project I’m working on here, a restoration of the Elwha river after the removal of two dams, continues to amaze me every day. The determination required by legislators, engineers, and ecologists to turn a legal decision into a reality is astonishing and motivating. In both reservoirs, plants are seeding in, growing tall in hospitable soils of the valley walls and fighting for survival in the harsher sediment on the valley floor. Take a look at how much things have changed!

The northern section of former Lake Aldwell, 2013
Aldwell reservoir, July 2013
Aldwell reservoir, July 2015
Aldwell reservoir, July 2015
Mills reservoir, July 2013
Mills reservoir, July 2013
Mills reservoir, July 2015
Mills reservoir, July 2015

Everything is bigger and greener, and yet some things don’t change: I’m still climbing around on old conifer logs, finding amazing wildlife from insects to eagles, and generally reveling in the opportunity to spend every day outdoors and call it work.