Redwood Spring

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, California, mid-May. The trail climbs from dense secondary redwood forest, to wet mixed conifer forest (redwood, Douglas fir, and hemlock), to sun-dappled oak trees, and finally sunny chaparral. The understory flowers also shift, from shade-tolerant violets and irises, to sun-loving lupines. The loop trail then returns along the creek back to redwood forest.

Chitwan Courtyard

One of my favorite things about my time in Kenya was the wildlife and birds I saw from my porch. Chitwan National Park in Nepal is similarly rich in diversity. We were fortunate to see tame elephants and wild rhinos (more pictures of both to come) on our short trip there. But we also had a lot of fun birdwatching at the resort, and seeing all the animals in the trees and vines around our tent. Some of my favorites were the fantail bird and the eyelashes on the hornbill.

Yosemite in snow

I’ve been lucky enough to visit Yosemite many times, and especially often since I moved back to California a couple years ago. Despite two previous January trips; however, I had yet to see the valley in the snow. A recent visit during this winter’s storms finally solved that, and it was incredible to see the Merced River in full flow, and the ice and snow on the valley floor and mountain tops.

The snow had spent a couple days melting and re-freezing, creating stunning ice crystals on branches, rocks, and blades of grass. We were treated to two colorful sunsets and a gorgeous early morning rainbow in Upper Yosemite Fall. It was amazing to see mist forming and disappearing throughout the day as the snow warmed and cooled with the passage of the sun.

Reykjavik, Iceland: Midnight Sun

We were fortunate enough to be in Iceland over the summer solstice, where the sun is visible above the horizon even at midnight. On the night we spent taking pictures from evening until the wee hours of the morning, we were graced with “golden hour” light that lasted for hours and hours, shifting between warm glows and cool dusk as the clouds shifted and fog rolled in. These sunset photos are in fact taken near midnight, and the photo of the lake around 2am.

Wild River

I spent two summers working in Olympic National Park, monitoring how plant communities returned along the Elwha river after the removal of two large dams and draining of the reservoirs. Summers in Washington are bright green, full of big leaves and new growth. This spring I had the opportunity to re-visit those areas, many of which have been drastically changed by winter storms.

As the river settles into new channels, it regularly shifts and floods, and the buildup of silt from the dams continues to move downstream, often in intense and even destructive ways. My visit to the Elwha revealed the destruction a wild river can create, with torn up logs and wrecked campgrounds. One of the reservoirs is not currently accessible, as the river has taken out portions of the road to it, and the other has been carved up significantly, with large chunks of fertile, silty soil washed downstream and the rocky bed underneath exposed.

At the same time, the river continues to be full of life, with new plants growing every day. Older willows and cottonwoods that germinated when the dams were first broken down have matured enough to start reproducing, contributing to the next generation of trees. Animals are making use of the space, with flocks of swallows moving through the open evening, eagles nesting in the tops of trees, and all sorts of amphibians moving in and out of the water.

The last two summers, the story of the reservoirs has been one of abundant growth and forward progress. This spring revealed a more complex path taken by nature, as destruction becomes part of the very process of restoration. We can only imagine what the river will do in the decades to come.

Mushroom hunting

We visited Henry Cowell state park on a gray, drizzly day, and laughingly said that it would be a perfect day for hunting mushrooms. Looking down at the leaf litter and logs turned into a very fruitful hunt indeed, with some absolutely stunning finds. From enormous to tiny and in all sorts of colors and textures, the fungus truly put on a show for us.

(As always, click on any thumbnail for a full slideshow)

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.