More Plant Adventures along the Columbia River

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Just about this time last week I was having a bit of a personal meltdown so I dashed out to the Columbia River Gorge to grab a burger and a piece of marionberry pie for dinner. The plan worked.

To say that the spontaneous retreat refreshed me is an understatement.

It recharged me and then some!

The whole escape made me feel significantly better and it gave me some much needed emotional energy.

There is still simply too much reorganization going on in my life. It is all finally coming to a close though and it is such a relief.

That evening I watched the sunset knowing I would be returning to the refuge of the Columbia River basin in just a few more days.

Here I am now, at the end of that trip. I’m writing this entry just before I return home to Portland.

The gas fireplace is lit after a long rainstorm and I can see nothing but green as I look out toward the river.

I’m sitting once again in my Dad’s fishing “cabin” near the Washington Coast just north of Astoria, OR.

The blog has been here before, but I do love to post new posts from here.

(Oh, and please forgive the plastic flowers. Mom has not yet been here to plant the annual marigolds.)

Lady Fern, Athyrium filix-femina. 

No matter how Italian the place appears, and despite the house’s awkwardness in the landscape, nature still intrudes upon the slumber here. Luckily, my parents think ferns growing randomly here and there don’t need eradication. I appreciate that attitude and I suppose I share it too.

A river runs behind the house.

Dad struggles with this painful-looking giant exclamation point in the landscape. Having given the tree to him, I’m not a big fan of this sad Italian cypress. Oh how I wish it could just be put it out of its misery! So many other native plants could joyfully take its place. Don’t you agree?

Piggyback Plant, (Tolmiea mensiesii).

Yesterday—for the first time in years—I wandered around the property in search of plant life.

Deep in my heart of hearts I aimed at trying to find the uncommon (or hard-to-find) terrestrial orchid Goodyera oblongifolia. No dice.

Deer Fern, (Blechnum spicant).

Though I did not find one, I found a lot of other plants.

Even so, I’ve decided that in the future I’ll continue to seek them out in the area. Something tells me that it’ll be fun to tell people I’m orchid hunting.

For the most part I just saw a lot of the usual while being cawed at by crows who didn’t recognize me. Nature can be so unpleasant sometimes.

Big Leaf Maple canopy, (Acer macrophyllum).

I enjoyed the pre-historic feel yesterday.

Sure there are neighbors around here, but I definitely didn’t see any of them.

Salmonberry, (Rubus spectabilis).
Too bad the skunk cabbage (Lysichiton americanus) wasn’t in bloom. There is honestly nothing quite like the smell of it in springtime.

I eventually meandered into the swampy area and it was here were my paper bag full of plants exploded at my feet while I was wading in the stream.

At least the local herd of elk didn’t come through and run me over.

(They travel through our property on a regular basis and when we used to camp here before the house was built they would come through while we were sleeping. It was terrifying to hear the thud of their hooves upon the ground and the branches crashing as they thundered down the hill above, through the canyon, and onward toward the river. Splashing salmon spawning nearby was a whole other experience as well. There is nothing quite like having wildlife just outside your door.)

After many years of playing in the woods of the PNW as a girl you’d think I would have known better. Paper bags do NOT like to be dragged along through tall wet grass during long walks.

After calmly extricating my little boots from the mud I emerged into the meadow on the other side of the house.

Sword ferns (Polystichum munitum) and White Inside-out Flowers (Vancouveria hexandra).

I left my messy bag and chose to go up above the stream to the upper portion of the property. By now I’d been futzing with nature for a few hours but I couldn’t get enough. I was in a very happy place.

Cow Parsnip, (Heracleum maximum).
Oxalis oregana growing through the thick carpet of moss.

I made it back down to the house in time for dinner. I was covered in debris from my expedition, but overall, I felt ready to face the world.

Oh groan.

Time to finish packing.

I wonder what happened in my garden while I was gone.

To be continued…

Silver Falls State Park: Returning to the Wilderness

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Yesterday, for the first time in over a decade, I returned to the Oregon woods by going for an 8-mile hike in Silver Falls State Park. It was my first significant long-distance hike in a long time and it went so well that I’m excited to think I’ll be able to delve deeper into more remote areas of my region as time goes on and my health and strength continue to improve. I very much want to re-enter the wilderness areas that so captivated and inspired me as a young girl to become the free spirit I am today.

North Falls, part of the Trail of Ten Falls.
When I became seriously ill, the first thing I reached for was plant-life. Gardening was for me my way out of an excruciatingly painful situation that destroyed me. Once I finally had accepted that I’d lost my fight and had to live with what was chronically (daily) occurring inside of my own body I had to let go of many things I held near and dear to my heart. In just a single plant I saw the freedom of the wilderness I was raised to believe in as both an Oregonian and descendant of many pioneers. Gardening then continued to help me as I rebuilt and grew back to who I am today.
So, yesterday I drove far away from my garden (the place that has been my safety zone for so long), and I went back to feel the source that bound me together during the most difficult period of my life. As my senses took it all in, that sensation of being calm and at home took over. I walked right in the front door and didn’t look back until I was finished and it was time to return to Portland.
(Following are some of the 10 waterfalls from the Trail of Ten Falls and some native plants too.)

South Falls.
Lower South Falls.
Vine Maple (Acer circinatum).
Western Maidenhair Fern, (Adiantum aleuticum).
Vine maples in the woods in autumn.
Piggy-back Plant, (Tolmiea menziesii).
Lower North Falls.
Double Falls.
Middle North Falls.
(Not one of the named falls. Just a bonus.)
North Falls.
North Falls with native Licorice Ferns (Polypodium glycyrrhiza).
Rattlesnake Plantain—a native orchid of the PNW, (Goodyera oblongifolia).

Plant Hunting Along the Beaches of the Southern Oregon Coast

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Lovely rustic yurt courtesy of the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, Harris Beach State Park, near Brookings, Oregon. (These begin at $39 per night.)

Waking up in my yurt to the sound of the rain tap tap tapping was not an ideal way to spend my spring break, but I am an Oregonian so I was more than prepared to deal with it. With my old sleeping bag from back when I used to backpack up mountainsides, and a Pendleton blanket with a big salmon on it that my dad had given me, I had slept very well the night before and I was ready to head out for an expedition of my own. My plan was to drive at whatever pace I felt like to my next destination, and to have fun and to relax while doing so. I had no idea which native plants I would see because I’d promised myself not to plan this all out in advance. I was just going to look at whatever I could find and make note of it. I also took along not only my handy digital camera, but a Holga and a funky Japanese camera too. With some special film inside, those other cameras should turn out some great images, but of course, I have to wait for those to be developed. I can wait.

Our large trees can become very dangerous during the winter months especially when the waves are unpredictable.

The last time I drove through Brookings it was Thanksgiving 2009 and my husband and I were driving to Gold Beach for the night. As we flew into town I saw a sign for an Azalea Park and that was news to me! I thought I knew about all of the plant parks so I vowed to return. Over a year later, there I was last week, after having visited the harbor for some coffee for the road.

The ancient native azaleas in this thirty-three acre park have been here since Lewis and Clark visited—what was to later become the state of Oregon—back during the winter of 1805-1806. (Sure the Lewis and Clark Expedition was nowhere near these shrubs, but that’s a long time for a shrub to live so it should be noted I guess.)

No one really noticed or cared much for this stand of plants until 1937 when inspired folks cleared the old pastures, removing the overgrown vines, and later petitioned to have the native shrubs designated as a State Park. From 1939-1993 their wish was granted, but then in 1993, ownership and maintenance of the park reverted to the City of Brookings. Since then, it has been revitalized, with many new additions, and it is currently looking absolutely wonderful.

The group of volunteers that has stepped in to care for the park has done so because there are five varieties of endangered native Azaleas here. They knew what a treasure this is, and thanks to them, we still have these plants to enjoy.

I was only a bit sad that the plants are not labeled at all, but it may be done in an effort to keep people like me from snipping at them. I am unable to find information about the actual plants online, and I would love to know more about all of them, and genetically what makes them special, but as for as I can tell, the only native azalea is the Western Azalea (Rhododendron occidentale) so these must all be different natural varieties of the same plant. Curiouser and curiouser… Yes, now I see it all clearly. The link really helped.

The next stop was the Pistol River and its wayside. I had to stop there because it had been the name of my yurt the night before. Not only did I have the whole vista to myself that morning but, lucky me, I found some random plants sitting here and there not far from the car. I also found a bit of history.

When I read this Oregon History sign I thought again of genealogical history but this time it was my husband’s and not mine. At the time this skirmish occurred, during March of 1856, my husband’s French Canadian ancestors had already been busy in the West for quite some time and had already made history themselves. Ten years beforehand, a relative of my husband’s was also attacked and killed in Southern Oregon, but it was while he was camped on Klamath Lake in the interior with an expedition party. One month later that same group was back in California taking part in the Bear Flag Revolt in a very strange moment in the history of California.

Basil LaJeunesse was killed while the group slept beside the lake one night. It was an Indian attack and he received a hatchet to the head on May 9th, of 1846. Asleep beside him was his dear friend and expedition companion, Kit Carson. Yes, it was that Kit Carson.

Working with John Frémont, the American military officer and explorer, they’d both been hired to travel to California along with a group of fifty-three other men by the President of the US. It was officially an exploration party, but in reality, they were being hired to spy on the Mexican government in California. The Mexican officials figured it out and they were asked to leave. That’s how they ended up just over the border in Oregon Territory. That night Frémont had forgotten to post a guard because he was waiting to receive word from the President as to how to proceed with California since at that time, they’d expected a fight with Mexico. The fight never occurred.

Back home in Wyoming, Basil’s older brother married a Shoshone woman from Southern Oregon and he opened up a trading post named in his brother’s memory. Fort Seminoe (after his brother’s Catholic baptismal name) operated from 1852-1855. The Oregon Trail went right past their front door as did the Mormon and California Trails. (Four of my great-great-great grandparents walked right past Charles and his wife on their way from Kentucky to Oregon and if they’d only known someday I would marry one of their descendants I cannot imagine what they would have thought.) Eventually, as tensions with the Natives Americans grew, Charles was forced to hand the fort to the Sioux in 1855 and during the same Indian War era, he left to work as a tracker, and was killed somewhere on the Yellowstone River. His body was never found but each year tourists and fly fishermen flock there like geese. It is still hard for me to blend these two different histories of a place together since they honestly slammed together rather quickly during the last few generations but I am working on it. The fact that my father has made a life for himself as a well-known fly fisherman has only served to convolute this whole funny reality even more.

I own a copy of the journal Frémont wrote during that fateful expedition and it has great plant descriptions throughout. It is kind of a nice read to be honest, but it is still shocking to have learned all of this about my husband’s past and to tie him to historic characters mentioned in books is still strange.

Due to adoption, none of this information was known until recently. All I can say is that it is hard to change how you see your place in the world when you are in your 30s. One day you know your story, then the next, well, you’re simply forced into becoming a different person. Going through this experience with him has been fascinating but it is slow going.

I return to plants again, and though the tangent may seem a bit off, I hope you enjoyed it. More bits and pieces will appear from time to time.

Coastal Strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis).
I don’t know what this is either but it was hanging in up high above the ocean so I figured I should include it too.
This must be some kind of Manzanita.
I have no idea what this is, but I am sure that one of my friends will let me know.
I’m not sure how long it was before I stopped again, but I did not too far down the road. The ocean was amazing that day and I was beginning to get more and more excited about all of the plantlife I was finding all over the place. In so many ways, I was really happy that day. After a long winter, and a lot of medical issues, that day was just the right thing.
I have no idea what this was, or if it was even native, but it was there.

This is some kind of Lupine with a grass.
Sea Pink (Armeria maritima).
Just off the highway and all to myself.

When I landed in Gold Beach, I pulled over to take these pictures for those of you who have not yet seen what we have here in Oregon for our tsunami public education signage. I like the signs a lot and am happy that public safety efforts have started in our state, but we are far from ready. When the earthquake hit Japan just a few weeks ago many of us already understood that meant to take cover and to use caution but we were certainly not ready for anything.

Luckily we were not wiped out, but we will eventually begin finding the debris from Japan on our coastline. It is expected to arrive in 3 years but it may only take 1 year.

I am fairly confident that the mess will arrive here just as the many fishing floats have for years and years. Beachcombers have always cherished the blown glass objets d’art but something really different is heading our way now.

Just down the road at the beach I discovered this nice little piece of ingenuity. When I was a girl, I used to make shelters like this with my friends and their families. At camp, we also learned how to make ones with tree boughs for a roof. Transported to any garden setting, this would be really wonderful, especially in a stumpery.
A wind shelter, Gold Beach, Oregon.

This is why I was really there though. Like many others, I drive to this part of our coast for the rocks—the beautiful rocks that I handpick for my garden.

Agate hunting, Gold Beach, Oregon.

After loading up the reuseable grocery bags I jumped back into the car and headed north. Again, I randomly selected several waysides and parks and was delighted by all of the additional plants I was able to spot that day.

Oregon Myrtle or California Bay (Umbellularia californica).
I am not completely sure of the mix here, but there are at least three native plants I can spot I just cannot recall all of their names right now.
Ok. It was a grave wayside. Again, the Native Americans are blamed as having massacred but I have such a hard time with that since we were taking all of their land and resources away from them. Still a very touchy subject for many Americans and when you see things like this you really have to stop and wonder. I am sorry they lost their lives, but I am glad that this park was set aside for us to sit and think about this dark part of our history.
Not sure of ID, but it is really pretty.
Yellow Prairie Violet (Viola praemorsa).
Rattlesnake Plantain or Rattlesnake Orchid (Goodyera oblongifolia).
Red Flowering Currant (Ribes sanguineum).
Stuff that looks like Kraft Macaroni and Cheese but it is actually something slimy growing on the tree.
Skunk Cabbage (Lysichiton americanus).
Sweet Coltsfoot (Petasites frigidus).
Non-native Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum).
Unknown Oxalis.
Rock collecting opportunities.
This is the only native Sedum spathulifolium ‘Cape Blanco’ that I ran across and it was on a suicide mission in the sand so I liberated it to higher ground. This is a really slow-growing sedum at my house for some reason but I have no idea how one kind can grow so quickly and another slowly.
Unknown coastal pine.
Evergreen Huckleberry. I HIGHLY recommend these bushes for their berries.  (Vaccinium ovatum).
Not sure if this is Usnea lichen but it looks like it. This is not moss. If we have 20 words for rain in the NW, we have at least 200 names for different kinds of creepy things that grow on trees.
It’s another Oregon Myrtle though I prefer Headache Tree because it is so strongly scented. (Umbellularia californica).
Salal (Gaultheria shallon).
Red Flowering Currant (Ribes sanguineum).
Ocean of non-native Gorse (Ulex europaeus).
Stand of native Pacific Coast Iris on a hill facing the Pacific Ocean (Iris douglasiana).
Not sure exactly exactly what this is.
Cannot remember the name but this one is familiar.
Female Coast Silk Tassel shrub (Garrya elliptica). The male catkins are much showier and longer and often show up in photos. I tried to find some, but all that was available were the female catkins which were still clinging to ripe seeds from last year. Impressive and fruitful.
I have no idea what this fern-like thing was that I found growing in a flooded meadow. Any hints botanical buddies??

Bearberry of Twinberry Honeysuckle (Lonicera involucrata var. ledebourii). These are pretty plentiful all along the way but nevertheless I kept finding myself wanting to take picture after picture of their little blooms.

Some of the last flower pictures I snapped were of these two lovelies. I am pretty sure the are Clarkia, but I really cannot figure out which one they are. Maybe someone just tossed seeds out the window to see if they would grow down at the coast in a pretty harsh environment where a river meets the ocean. They looked native to me though.

As I rolled into Coos Bay I was greeted by the sight below. Part of me could not help but think of the movie The Goonies and my thoughts went up Highway 101 to Astoria. What a great day I had and right now I really wish I was back on the road.