Thursday, September 19, 2013

New Book:  Two Hands and a Shovel

"Their work made Deception Pass the iconic gem that hosts two million visitors a year -- two million individuals appreciating the opportunity created and developed by the men of the CCC, one stone, one log, and one shovel full at a time."  -Jack Hartt

Of the things I enjoy, three of them are history, vintage photos and Deception Pass State Park.  How fortunate to find a newly published book that satisfies all three delights.  And satisfy it does.  At over 300 pages, with more than 400 illustrations, this is a major accomplishment by the authors Jack Hartt and Sam Wotipka.  This is more than a picture book.  It presents a brief history of the Washington State Park system and the establishment of the Civilian Conservation Corps.  Most importantly, the photos introduce us to the men of the CCC's as they were building Deception Pass State Park in the 1930's.

I have had the privilege of meeting the authors Jack Hartt, Park Manager and Sam Wotipka who was a Park Interpretive Intern through the Americorps program.  They were our hosts for the First Day Hike at Deception Pass this past New Year's Day.

"He had a little smile on his face after being issued clothing and walking down the 'shot line.'  But that night, lying in a strange bed, in a rugged cabin shared with dozens of strangers, and thousands of miles from home and mom, this boy of seventeen or eighteen may have shed a few tears."  -Page 272
As the book's title reveals, the men of the CCC's and their work at Deception Pass are the primary subjects.  Using little more than bare hands, this 4,134 acre park was carved out of solid rock and timber and wilderness.  The amazing collection of photos reveals how this was done.  The book is a moving and respectful tribute to these men, their labors and their legacy.

Remember, this was a stimulus program that provided jobs during the Great Depression.  The workers were paid $30 a month plus meals, housing, clothing and healthcare.  They were required to send most of their salary home to family.  Up to 300,000 men worked in conservation projects across the US at any one time.  The products of their labors are their gifts to us.

"Wherever you go in Deception Pass, you will see the evidence of the CCC.  Their structures were built to fit the environment, to look like they belong here.  Most of what they built was created from locally available materials:  wood and stone.  Marvel at the quality of their construction:  from the precise angles in joining logs in buildings, to the various patterns incorporated into stonework, to the detailed design in a door handle or window frame."  -Page 6
The first time I visited the park as an adult, I recall being both amazed and proud of how beautiful the structures were.  These buildings are not typical government fare, modest, cookie-cutter and utilitarian.  These are splendid structures built by skilled craftsmen.  The rustic "parkitecture" style was drawn from the Arts and Crafts movement of the early 20th Century.  While most of the CCC's were unskilled workers, they were trained and guided by skilled tradesmen from local communities.  Although not CCC enrollees, these tradesmen were paid by the program and that helped sustain their families during the Depression.

What was originally a bath house for swimmers is now the CCC Interpretive Center at Bowman Bay (left photo above).  It seems the bay is too cold for swimming, so the bath house didn't get much use.  Repurposing it to honor the CCC's turned it into one of the focal points of the park.  Then, upgrading this small museum was another of Sam Wotipka's projects.  The visitor will get a good sense of camp life and the flavor of the period.  A video takes you back to the time and place during construction of the park.  If you find it open, don't pass it up.

The buildings have lasted eighty years, a testament to their quality.  But nothing lasts forever, and even these structures require some ongoing maintenance (right photo).  This kitchen shelter at Bowman Bay is being restored with funding from the Deception Pass Park Foundation.  When finished, it will be historically accurate to the CCC period.  It will continue to serve park visitors for several more decades.

"Planners even considered the safety and circulation of visitors through the south side of the park by building an underpass beneath Highway 20 so that each visitor who entered the park at the main entrance could visit every part of the park without having to face the traffic of the highway.  Most drivers today do not even know this exists, yet thousands of cars drive over it every day."  -Page 218, Page 99
Built by the CCC's, this archway which crosses under Highway 20 serves as a portal to the Discovery Trail, one of the access points for exploring the Goose Rock area.  This has become one of my favorite places in the park.  A tweet from Sam Wotipka via @WAStatePks put me on a course through this gateway to find the wild rhododendrons of Deception Pass.  After years of searching, finally seeing these rare and beautiful shrubs in bloom satisfied one of my long term quests.

The commemorative sign in the photo honors John Tursi, to whom the book is dedicated.  He was one of the CCC workers who built the archway.  Since those times, he has lived in Anacortes and has been a dedicated supporter of the park.  "John's Grove," a forest garden is located just beyond the underpass.

The network of trails we use to explore the park is another legacy of the CCC's.  Next time you 're on the Bowman-Rosario or the North Beach Trail, take note of the terrain around you.  Appreciate the labor that was required to cut these pathways along solid rock cliffs and to build bridges over steep ravines.  Imagine constructing a stone wall along the edge of a precipice.  Now suppose that was your assignment for the day.

"Another effort from President Roosevelt to get the economy jump started was a program called the Works Progress Administration, ...committed to building the nation's infrastructure of highways, dams and other critical components.  Funding was found through this program to finally help build a bridge connecting Whidbey and Fidalgo Islands, giving direct vehicle access to Whidbey Island for the first time."  -Page 5
While the WPA built the bridge, it was the men of the Civilian Conservation Corps that helped build the highway approaches to the bridge.  I have read that the Deception Pass Bridge is one of the most photographed structures in the State of Washington.  For me, it is one of the special treats when visiting the park.  It is a beautiful thing to behold and thrill to drive or walk across.

Two Hands and a Shovel is available at Amazon.  The procedes from sale of the book go directly to the Deception Pass Park Foundation.  The mission of the Foundation is protecting the park and educating park visitors.  Their work includes preserving the beautiful, skillfully crafted structures given to us by the CCC's.  I am excited about one of their future projects, a new Interpretive Center at Rosario Beach.

It has been such a pleasure browsing through these vintage photos, reading the captions and relating them to my own experiences.  Finding familiar spots as they looked eighty years ago has allowed me to explore the park in a new way.  I have been fascinated by all the trivia and details about the creation of the park.  This is not a book to read once, then put away on the shelf.  It's a book to return to over and over, always to discover something new, just like the park itself.  I recommend the book highly and encourage its purchase.  You will not be disappointed.

Cover photo used by permission

Monday, September 16, 2013

Madrona Bearing Fruit


This past spring, one of my Madronas bloomed profusely.  This was a rare event for my trees and a bit exciting to see.  Now the tree is loaded with clusters of berry-like fruits.  At the moment, they are yellow to green in color and the size of large peas.  Eventually, they will swell further and turn bright red.  This is the source of the tree's nickname, "Strawberry Tree."  The fruits should last into December, provided the birds don't get them first.  It will be interesting to watch how this progresses.


Madronas also go by the name Madrone, and in Canada they are called Arbutus.  They are members of the Heath family (Ericaceae) and related to rhododendrons, Kinnikinnick and Salal.  This is only the second time I have seen blossoms on my own trees, and the first time any of them have borne fruit.

They are almost impossible to transplant.  Feel lucky if one springs up naturally in your garden.  The secret to growing Madronas is to do pretty much nothing.  By all means, don't water or fertilize them.  If you have one come up in your garden, just leave it alone.  Madronas have an intimate relationship with fungi around their roots.  These mycorrhizae help take care of their needs.  If you do something that damages the fungi, the tree will die.

I have done some pruning on mine and they seem to tolerate that.  When small, the trunks and branches can be carefully shaped and bent as with bonsai.  As the trees grow, however, the wood becomes as rigid as steel.


The Pacific Madrona (Arbutus menziesii) is my favorite tree.  They grow naturally in sculptured forms as if pruned for a Japanese garden.  They are beautiful evergreen specimen trees that look good year around.  They also look good in the understory of large conifers.

Madronas become hubs of wildlife activity.  Several insect species are attracted to the trees' resources.  This brings the birds who feed on the insects.  Mine always seem to be full of Spotted Towhees and Chestnut-backed Chickadees.  Now the fruits will become another wildlife attractant.

Seeing one of my trees bearing fruit is like getting dessert.  In all my years, I have never seen Madrona fruits, so this is exciting.  I can't wait to see how they turn out.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Pacific Wax Myrtle


Wildlife and native plant gardeners are always on the lookout for plants to add to the home habitat.  In the Pacific Northwest, the California or Pacific Wax Myrtle (Myrica californica) appears to be a nice choice.  The evergreen shrub grows in a narrow band along the Pacific coast from spots on Vancouver Island to the Long Beach, California area.  In Washington this includes the coastal strip between the Quinault Reservation and the Columbia River.

Two summers ago, I planted one as an experiment.  Pacific Wax Myrtle appears to be highly adaptable regarding sun exposure and soil conditions.  Mine is growing in glacial hardpan with a lot of clay and must tolerate summer drought.  It gets full sun until late afternoon and appears to enjoy its seaside location.  In its third summer, the shrub is almost 8 feet/2.4 meters tall.  The height and evergreen foliage make a neat and attractive screen planting as well as a beautiful specimen plant.


In the wildlife garden, those purple fruits are its primary appeal.  This is the first season mine has borne fruit, but last year's stems are absolutely loaded.  Apparently, the flowers don't amount to much.  For the life of me, I did not even notice it was blooming.  But now in late summer, the fruits are spectacular.  I will have to watch it more closely next summer to catch the blooms.

I have been searching for plants that will attract Cedar Waxwings and the Pacific Wax Myrtle is apparently one that fills the bill.  Now that I know they will do well in my yard, I plan to add some more.  Then it will just be a matter of waiting for the birds to find them.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Labor Day at the Beach, Part 2


Similk Bay is the northern end of Skagit Bay in Puget Sound.  Some of it is lined with beach-front homes, but there are sections of shoreline which are still wild and pristine.  Beachcombers can expect to find unusual plants and a rich habitat.

On Labor day, I spent the morning hiking into Similk Bay.  The previous post brought us here.  Now we will turn around and return home.


There were dozens of Glaucous-winged Gulls working the shoreline during my visit.  This one was taking a rest on a barnacle-covered rock.


Liftoff!  The human got too close, so the Gull decided to skedaddle.


On the way back, I spotted my new friend again, still in the same location.  The injured juvenile Gull from the last post was checking a bit if Eel Grass for tidbits to eat.  I might try and return in a week or so to see if he is still around.


Someone in the neighborhood has been clam digging and left this pile of shells.  These are Horse Clam shells (Tresus capax), also called Fat Gapers.  These are big clams, 6-8 inches (15-20 cm) wide.  They are not highly favored by aficionados, but they do make good chowder.


Something I did not expect to run into was this American Robin (Turdus migratorius).  I also featured this bird with the unusual habitat in a post over at Wild Fidalgo.  This is a bird of gardens, parks and open woodlands and not typically seen at the beach.


Despite my surprise, he seemed very much at home foraging around the driftwood along the shoreline.


He proved to me that he knew what he is doing when he caught this bug in the rotted core of a driftwood stump.  The stains on his beak reveal that he had also gotten into those ripe Himalayan Blackberries we saw in the last post.


Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) are year-around residents on Puget Sound beaches.  I saw a lot of them during this hike.  Can you see three in the photo?  They are very hard to spot on the beach until they start vocalizing.  They are also hard to photograph because they always seem to be moving.  I wish I could have composed this photo a little better.


Back on my own beach, these ripe, wild Common Snowberries (Synphoricarpos albus) are growing on the bank.  They also come up in other parts of the yard where I just let them have their way.  This is a very nice native shrub for the Northwest wildlife garden.  This time of the year, those pure white berries sparkle in the green foliage.


Nootka Rose (Rosa nutkana) also grows on my bank and is one of the best shrubs for stabilizing slopes.  It is also an unsurpassed native plant for attracting wildlife. They are setting those brilliant red hips right now.


During the hike home, the morning overcast cleared and the sun came out giving us a very beautiful Labor Day holiday.  I took the opportunity to make this photo of my weather station anemometer mast.  I want to use it as a station photo at Weather Underground.

Exploring the beaches around Fidalgo Island is one of my favorite pastimes.  I was very pleased with the results of my Labor Day hike.  Even a leisurely stroll on our rocky beaches is a good workout also.  Every step is on unstable ground with the rocks rolling underfoot.  All of the stabilizer muscles in the feet, hips and torso come into play.  I could feel the effects that evening.  It was a perfect holiday.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Labor Day at the Beach, Part 1


I stayed home for the Labor Day holiday.  With a good low tide, however, I spent the morning hiking the beach into Similk Bay.  There are always interesting things to find in the intertidal zone.  These tracks in the sand, for instance, were quite large and probably mark the route of a Great Blue Heron.  Come along and enjoy this photo gallery of the things that I found.


The shells of Varnish Clams (Nuttalia obscurata) littering the beach have an interesting story.  They are recent immigrants from Asia.  It is believed they entered the waters of the Salish Sea when Asian transport ships dumped ballast water near Vancouver, B.C. in the 1990's.  They now inhabit the North Sound, Strait of Georgia, Strait of Juan de Fuca and west coast of Vancouver Island.  The empty shells are always broken, thought to be due to predation by by Dungeness Crabs.


Speaking of Dungeness Crabs, we have those too.  This is the empty shell of a baby that lost it's life somehow.


This is a typical Puget Sound beach, with some areas sandy and others rocky.  The rocky shores of north Puget Sound provide amazingly diverse ecosystems.  Where there are rocks, there will probably be things using them as anchors.  Here, barnacles and Rockweed (Fucus distichus) are abundant.


Flip the rocks over and you will likely encounter the pugnacious Purple Shore Crab (Hemigrapsus nudus).  These are tiny crabs with big egos.  They will gladly take you on if you mess with them.  They are not always purple.  Shades of red and green are common and some even have white carapaces.


This juvenile gull took me by surprise.  Normally they don't let you get near them, but this one was approaching me.  I could see he was injured when he walked right up to me.  I wondered if he was seeking my help.  Would they do that?


Could he have been pecked at by the other gulls like domestic chickens do?  There were several around, but they seemed to be leaving him alone.  The juveniles are hard to distinguish, but the adults around at the time were Glaucous-winged Gulls (Larus glaucescens).


I felt bad for the little guy.  He did not seem to be in distress, but his behavior was obviously abnormal.  I always want to help in these situations, but of course, what can you do?


Just before I moved on, he got himself a drink of fresh water at the weep hole of a bulkhead.  I'll take that as a hopeful sign.


This is one of the adult Glaucous-winged Gulls that was nearby.  The seasonal gray-brown winter mottling on the head and neck is just beginning to appear.


This is not a photo that will win any prizes, but there are a couple of interesting things in it.  I believe the large, white flowers are Kneeling Angelica (Angelica genuflexa).  It is another member of the Carrot Family with a big taproot, and it is a cousin to the Cow Parsnip.

Now look in the center of the photo (right-click to view full size).   The blue-green leafless stems with light bands are Equisetum hyemale or Scouring Rush.  This is a member of the ancient and primitive Horsetail family.  In the fossil record, their ancestors date to the Carboniferous Period between 300 and 360 million years ago.

The site is at the base of a high clay bank, right at the high tide line along the western shore of Similk Bay.  Water constantly seeps out of the bank providing the wet conditions that both plants like.


Nearby, and all along the shoreline, the Himalayan Blackberry (Rubus discolor, R. armeniaca) also finds conditions it likes.  Actually, I am not sure there are conditions it doesn't like.  This is a terribly invasive shrub that was unfortunately introduced by Luther Burbank.  Where it gets a foothold, it can rapidly overwhelm everything in its path.  Here it is growing in almost total shade in the same wet conditions as the two plants above.  In my yard, it will thrive in arid glacial till in full sun.


Similk Bay is a where somebody's boat came to die.  Because of the winds, currents and storms, things tend to collect here.  There is a huge driftwood pile in the northwest corner.  Years ago, someone on South Fidalgo tried to build a bulkhead out of old tires.  That idea was a failure and now they have all come home to the beach in Similk Bay.

Next in Part 2, the hike back home.