Thursday, May 29, 2008

A Tale of Two Waterfalls

Again, with the slacking of the blog! I have pretty pictures and movies, and I fear this will be a long post. We've been camping, and it was fun.

Two weekends ago, May 16-18, we went over to central Oregon for the weekend. Shaun was taking the Biology Club rafting on the Deschutes River, and Emma and I tagged along. Since Emma doesn't swim well yet, we opted to go birding while they rafted. New habitat! Chance to see new critters! Yay!

Emma and I tootled off to the White River Falls State Park, and had a picnic lunch under a shady tree at the top of the falls.

After we ate, we walked the trail downstream along the river. The falls drop 90 feet, and let me tell you, the area below the falls where the spray was caught by the breeze was a welcome relief from the 100 degree heat. Lovely.

There was a colony of several hundred cliff swallows nesting below the falls, and they were out in full force. Really amazing to see that many birds at once. I tried to take a movie, but it was into the sun and obviously this doesn't do it justice. Each zooming speck is a cliff swallow.

The trail continues through the canyon for at least a quarter mile, past the remains of an old powerplant. I don't think we walked the whole trail, but it was too hot.

We walked through sagebrush and willows and rocks and sand, and I kept an eye open for snakes. I have yet to see a rattlesnake, but it seemed like a snakey area to me. We did see a garter snake and a little lizard that were too fast to photograph.

These canyons of central Oregon have beautiful rock formations.

I didn't see any new birds, and frankly, I didn't care. All I wanted to do was find some shade. So we got back in the car and headed back toward the campground. Along the way, we stopped along the Deschutes, watched Shaun and the students go by in their raft, and finally found some cool.

Poor Cobalt was so hot that she splashed into the water, found a shallow spot, and stayed there half submerged for an hour. Emma had fun floating sticks, throwing pebbles, and keeping Cobalt wet. We were lucky that the river was so high, because it was over its banks onto the floodplain and made this nice shallow wading pool for us. The main channel of the river was way to fast and deep for us to consider wading. Our pool was cold, but refreshing.

Plus, there was a flock of 15-20 butterflies next to me on the bank that were quite willing to be photographed.

Greenish Blues (Plebejus saepiolus). New species! Yay!

~~~~~end Part One, cue clever segue that I can't think of right now~~~~~

Last weekend, May 23-26, we went up to Walla Walla, Washington for Shaun to do the Onionman Triathlon. Onionman Triathlon...Walla Walla onions...get it? Hee hee! This was the longest triathlon Shaun's ever done, Olympic distance (1.5K swim, 40K bike, 10K run), and he finished in less than three hours, which was his goal. Way to go Shaun!

We brought the trailer and stayed three nights at the Lewis and Clark Trail State Park, which has a campground. It's nice and simple- just camping slots, a few water taps, and a bathroom. However, it's a beautiful little oasis in the surrounding dry land, tucked in along the Touchet River. Tons of birds, and we hadn't been there an hour yet when I saw a new life bird, a Dusky Flycatcher, about six feet from the camper. It was a lovely restful weekend, though it rained hard on Saturday night and it drizzled Sunday morning for the start of the the race. No big deal, and it cooled things off nicely.

Saturday morning, Emma and I got up early-ish and went for a walk around the campground. We saw lots of yellow warblers, western tanagers, robins, California quail, song sparrows, and chickadees, but the most exciting sight was a pair of adult Great Horned Owls and two fledglings.

These are the fledglings, 25 feet up a tree, heavily zoomed and cropped. They still had some down, but their grownup feathers were about half in. Little fuzz-butts, so cute!

After Shaun's race, and after we had decided to stay another night (there was some doubt because of the rain), we headed up to the Palouse River Falls State Park for the afternoon. There was supposedly a waterfall to see, and it wasn't too far of a drive.


It was stunning. There are really no words to adequately describe this enormous waterfall out in the middle of the dry, dry, dry shrub-steppe hills.

Again, I tried to take a movie to show the incredibleness of this waterfall, but my little camera just doesn't take great video. The power of the falling water was amazing, with the spray in clouds up to about 100 feet.

The falls drop 200 feet into a nearly perfectly cylindrical basin, then the river meanders away through a 400 foot deep canyon.

There's a paved and fenced path that extends along the edge of the cliff, from the falls to an overlook downstream. I got to see another new life bird, the White-throated Swift here. Fast, elegant, streamlined, and beautiful.

There is also a rougher, unfenced trail that goes to the only marginally less spectacular upper falls.

We walked this trail as well, maintaining a death grip on Emma. Apparently, I am afraid of heights. Having my precious four-year-old separated from the edge of a 400-foot plummet of doom by a mere two feet of dry grassy soil does not agree with my mommy-instincts. I think this is a good thing.

By the time we had worked back around to the beginning/end of the path, though, and since no one had gone over, it was worth it. The sun had lowered enough to give that wonderful saturated late afternoon glow, and as we passed beside the waterfall we saw this.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Today I have actual knitting to show! Can you believe it??!! This is all (mostly) for a commission I received from a former coworker, whose best friend is due to have a baby in the next couple weeks.

First, a hat and sock set, made with 45% cotton/40% wool/15% nylon yarn, held double (gauge=6 stitches per inch).

One strand of yarn was plain white, and the other was Sockotta color 6655, which is a truly hideous colorway. Aqua, tan, beige, and yellowish green, in a striping and faux-fairisle pattern. Ick. The request for this set was yellow and green, though, and a quick trip through a pale yellow dyebath salvaged the yarn nicely, plus holding the ugly yarn with the plain white broke up the color pattern well. The aqua turned into a nice teal green.

Next up is another hat, the prototype for the second hat and sock set.

This is Knitpicks Bare DK merino, hand dyed by me (gauge=5.5 stitches per inch). Actually, it's the leftovers from Emma's hat and my hat. The two types of rainbow yarn did not have exactly the same colors in them- my yarn had the red more burgundy and the yellow more orange, and the color sections were also longer. Combining the two yarns by alternating yarns each row, however, looks great. This hat will be going into my shop tomorrow. Hey, it's coming up on winter in the southern hemisphere, right?

Since the pattern came out OK, I dyed up the yarn for the second hat and socks set, and knit merrily away after adjusting the number of stitches for a slightly smaller gauge.

The yarn is Knitpicks Bare 75% Superwash Merino/25% Nylon sock yarn, dyed by me of course. I also held the yarn double for this set (gauge= 6 stitches per inch). The interesting thing is that I knit from both ends of the ball, making no effort to match up the colors, and it still made a cool spiraled stripe around the body of the hat. It just happened that blue mostly matched up to blue and yellow mostly matched up to yellow in the double-stranded yarn. Since the colors weren't exactly matched, it gave a nice heathered effect instead of stark, discrete color changes.

I knit the entire rainbow set yesterday, and the yellow set Sunday and Monday. Baby stuff goes so fast! (The cotton yarn slowed me down a little, and made my hands hurt, so that set took two days.)

Emma has requested socks from the leftovers of this yarn, so it'll be interesting to see what it looks like knit as a single strand.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

I've been getting behind again, so I'm going to back up to last Friday, when Emma and I went for a wonderful walk at Morgan Lake, up on top of the hill above La Grande. It was beautiful, full of blooming wildflowers. All pictures are clickable, as usual.

There's a trail that goes around the eastern side of the lake, starting out through some rocky upland meadows:

where we saw zillions of Yellow Bells (Fritillaria pudica), which start off a bright yellow and gracefully age to a beautiful orange,

as well as Grass Widows (Sisyrinchium sp.).

and Nuttall's violet (Viola nuttallii) (possibly).

The path continues through a wet meadow with lots more Grass Widows, as well as Wallowa Paintbrush (Castilleja chrysantha),

Dwarf Waterleaf (Hydrophyllum capitatum),

and the occasional Sagebrush Bluebell and Jeffrey's Shooting Star, but those pictures came out blurry (though I did post pictures of them last year).

This is one of the wettest areas on the trail, with a boardwalk over the squish, and the rocky area behind Emma is thick with flowers.

After the wet meadow, the trail continues through a stand of pines

where the ground was again carpeted with flowers, this time mostly Yellow Glacier Lily (Erythronium grandiflorum).

We also found a very fancy beetle, that looked like it had been painted with a fine-tip brush and lacquered. Its head is to the right.

My prize for the day was this:

Sugarbowls (Clematis hirsutissisima), a lovely little beauty. The outside is dusty lavender and hairy, and the inside (seen on the turned up tips of the petals) is that perfect, deep, clear, rich purple that makes my heart sing. Gorgeous.

On our way back down the road, we saw that the Arrow-leaved Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) is just starting to bloom.

I stopped halfway down the hill to take a shot of the Grande Ronde Valley through the trees.

Such a pretty day.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Let's go on a walk, shall we? Emma and I went out to look at birds and flowers and butterflies, because it was such a lovely day.

First we went to one of my favorite bird routes, High Valley Road through Little Creek Canyon.

This is such a pretty place, with steep rocky sides and a rushing creek. The water is still quite high, and loud! We saw kingfishers, a dipper, and lots of sparrows and chickadees. The wildflowers are also starting to bloom.....

This is Duchman's breeches (Dicentra cucullaria), and is that not one of the most gorgeous flowers you've ever seen? It's in the same genus as bleeding hearts, a long-time garden favorite. Almost every shaded damp nook near the creek was carpeted with these, growing about six inches high. Definitely made my day.

The road winds along the creek, between the ponderosa pines and craggy rocks, with western serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia) showing it's white blooms everywhere the ground has some moisture and the sun hits.

We stopped at a wide spot where the creek goes under the road and spent a while checking out the roadside and creek banks.

There weren't too many flowers here, because the slopes were pretty dry, but this was the jackpot for butterflies. In about 15 feet of roadside, we saw four species, two of which cooperated for the camera.

This is a Western Pine Elfin (Callophrys eryphron), one of my favorite early spring butterflies. It was everywhere. I have never seen this many in one place. It was great. The underside of their hind wings has a gorgeous purply chestnut sheen.

And this is a Mylitta Crescent (Phyciodes mylitta), another early spring favorite.

In addition to these two, we saw several Stella Orangetips (Anthocharis stella) and a Spring Azure (Celestrina ladon). I like butterflying as much as I do birding (and dragonflying, and snailing, and salamandering, and mothing, and, and, and...).

The road leaves the canyon and heads up onto a hilly sagebrush steppe. This is the view looking back toward the canyon and to the hills beyond. This area is at the southern end of the Grande Ronde Valley, so the Wallowa Mountains are to your left, the Blue Mountains are to your right, and the Elkhorn Range is straight ahead in the very far distance (very hard to see in this picture).

On the hilly, rocky uplands there are several farms and ranches. Most of the land is fenced for livestock range, there is a small amount of tilled acreage, and there is also some forested paper company land. The roadsides are pretty right now with a Phlox species.

It comes in several colors, ranging from light lavender to bright fuchsia. I like how the flowers turn blue after they fade.

After we finished High Valley Road, we spent a short time at Ladd Marsh looking at birds. I'm volunteering this weekend for the Bird-a-Thon, as part of International Migratory Bird Day, and I wanted to scope out my station, where I will be an "expert birder" from 6 am to noon on Saturday.

We saw 34 species, including a Great Egret, which is an occasional visitor here.

This is looking west across the Grande Ronde Valley. The tallest hump on that mountain is Mt. Emily, and La Grande is nestled along the base of the mountain.

We also saw Black-necked Stilts, always a thrill:

And a LOT of Wilson's Phalaropes, probably 75-100, all spinning around to feed. It's really hilarious watching them do this- they create a whirlpool to stir up little insects and such, then pick them out with rapid stabs into the whirlpool.

It was a fun day.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

OK, this is belated. During my blogging paralysis of a couple weeks ago, I had this whole spiel planned out about Earth Day and environmentalism and people not thinking. But the days ticked by and I still hadn't written the post, and it seemed like the moment had passed.

It's still bugging me though, so bear with me.

Item One: Laundry.

I am the only person on my street that hangs wash on a clothesline. On the weekends and sometimes in the evenings, I can smell that dryer smell, all linty and warm, like a fog from the houses around me. My left-hand neighbor looks at me like I'm nutso when I hang out clothes.

I am not completely anti-dryer. However, in the 15 years since college, I have only used a dryer on a regular basis for about 4 years, when we were in Friday Harbor. There, I had a dryer and used it almost exclusively. The first place we lived was completely shaded by huge firs and never got any sun. It was so damp and cold in the winter that a dryer was pretty much a necessity. After we moved to the new house, though, when it was warm and sunny in the spring, summer, and fall, I used a drying rack on the deck.

Here in La Grande, the winters are also cold and dark. I can understand using a dryer in the winter. I don't have one, so I use a drying rack over the central air vent. It works just fine and the clothes dry overnight. If there is a rare precious winter day that is clear and breezy, I can get a load or two dried on the line if I hang them out by 10:00 or so. I do single loads more often, rather than multiple loads once a week. No big deal to me, but I realize that most people don't want to have a drying rack set up in their living room all winter.

But in the spring and summer and fall? Here we are, living in a rural town, the air isn't smoggy, and it's sunny and dry and breezy from mid-April to October. A load of clothes, even heavy clothes like jeans and towels, will dry in 30-40 minutes here in the height of summer. That is the same amount of time a dryer takes! It's free and uses no electricity or gas. Fabrics smell amazing after drying outside, and sheets get whiter from bleaching in the sun. There is nothing like snuggling into a bed made up with crisp, white, line dried sheets.

I guess my point is to use a dryer if you have to, otherwise use a clothesline.

Item Two: Yard Maintenance.

I mowed my lawn yesterday, along with many of my neighbors. I used my trusty reel mower, my Mother's Day present to myself in 2005. I must preface this by saying that a perfectly green lawn, perfectly manicured, is not my #1 priority in life. I like dandelions. I went out after lunch, ran the mower around once, left the clipping where they fell, used the string trimmer briefly around the edges, and moved on with my day.

In contrast, one of my neighbors spent most of the afternoon on his lawn. He mowed, catching the clippings and carefully bagging them for the trash. Then lowered the blades on his mower and mowed again, perpendicular to the first mower tracks, again bagging all the clippings. This was not just because it is early in the season and the grass was overly long. He does this double mowing every time he mows, every weekend. Then he got out the string trimmer and did the edges. Then he got out the edger and dug in along the pavement of the driveway and curb. Then he proceeded to get out the fertilizer spreader and fertilize his scalped, clipping-less lawn. Then he set up the sprinklers and watered for two hours. Then he got out his weed sprayer backpack tank, and went around scrutinizing the grass for interlopers like dandelions and crabgrass. Then he was done.

I guess it's his hobby. Me, I prefer a lawn cut high so it retains moisture, and leave the clippings so they return their nutrients to the soil. I don't fertilize or water, and by midsummer my lawn has gone dormant. Yes, it's somewhat brown, but I don't have to mow as often and my water bill is lower. It greens up again in the fall. I also feel very happy as I push my quietly whirring mower around the yard, not adding to the grass-cutting drone of the neighborhood (except for my five minutes with the string trimmer). If I had a larger yard, perhaps I would dream of a riding mower, but my feeling is that any yard small enough to mow with a walk-behind gas mower is fine with a reel mower.

We both happened to be out mowing (well, I was mowing, he was doing everything described above) a couple weeks ago, on the day after Earth Day. He waved and hollered over to me "Happy Earth Day!" I smiled and nodded back. And kept pushing my little mower.

And that's all I have to say about that.