The When, Where and How of Hummingbirds

My friend and I were visiting on my porch—socially distanced, it needs to be said—enjoying a quiet conversation, but every once in a while she couldn’t help but scrunch up her shoulders in an involuntary response. It wasn’t our conversation but the loud whirring buzz of a hummingbird zooming in to take a sip from the feeder hanging inches behind her head. Like a mini attack helicopter! Sometimes he (flashing his iridescent male plumage) didn’t stop for a drink but just wanted to be certain no one else was getting any of his feeder-food. Honestly, we weren’t even thinking of imbibing anything!

But there was contention, hence the drama. At least two other hummers made attempts to approach the feeder. The “owner” would swoop in and in a burst of bravado would chase the others away. That’s just my interpretation of the action; at least one other bird–a rival–looked exactly like the proprietor. But one was a bit smaller. Was it a youngster who didn’t know the rules? Could it have been the offspring of the male in charge? Hummingbirds are very territorial, so do they actively chase away their own young?

In the mid 1940s Margaret wrote and had distributed a collection of pamphlets she called “Washington Nature Notes,” one of which featured the Rufous Hummingbird. In it she describes the love life of this fiery species, noting that, …once the loved one has succumbed [to the ardent display tactics used to woo a mate] and the honeymoon is over, our gay Lothario is off and away with a troop of other carefree males. All summer long they flit from flower to flower without a thought of domestic duties.

In other words, the male bird wouldn’t know his own offspring at all, so it is strictly a territorial battle and has nothing to do with careful parents getting young to find their own territories, except by happenstance.

That was one muse I had that evaporated upon a little reading but I had other questions to explore. I was glad to learn that hummers don’t rely only on nectar from flowers and the sweetened liquid our feeders supply, but also get a lot of nourishment from eating tiny insects. And a couple of times I’ve witnessed a hummer take a nip from my suet feeder. It seemed to do that out of curiosity having witnessed, perhaps, so many other birds flocking to the feeder. A taste was all it wanted; it didn’t come back for seconds, although watching it give it a try was a surprise.  Has anyone else seen this?

In Margaret’s pamphlet she states that, “in March or April, when the Indian currant hangs out its rosy blossoms, the Rufous Hummingbird arrives from the south…the male…is the first scout to reach here. Like a winged coal of fire, he whizzes around the bushes of Indian current and flowering quince, then mounts up and up and zips from blossom to blossom of the plums and cherries.”  She wrote those words almost eighty years ago, when it was the case that hummingbirds reliably migrated to Mexico every fall and were a harbinger of spring when the first flowers bloomed. How the world has changed!

A flowering currant bush in my garden, from last spring. The bright pink blossoms attract hummingbirds and insects, fairly shouting that spring is here!

Now, it is not uncommon to see hummingbirds stick around our feeders and gardens through the winter. It causes anxiety and wonder among those who normally would bring in their feeders during the cold months but who now feel responsible for the life and death of these birds who seem to have shrugged off the long journey and look to us to sustain them. There is all manner of advice about bringing feeders in overnight and returning them unfrozen in the morning, of warming feeders in microwaves or pans of steeping hot water, of owning multiple feeders so frozen ones can be easily swapped for fresh ones. And then there are gizmos you can purchase that keep the liquid warm outdoors without all the in-and-out. It all still feels fraught.

It brings home the ravages of climate change and our responsibility to do everything in our power to address it and deal with it now. Climate change is here now: it is changing ocean currents, wind patterns, our seasons—and our seasonal harbingers, like migrating birds. Are the Indian plum trees also blooming earlier to keep pace? If not, then feeders need to Mind the Gap in a new application of that cautionary plea.

Margaret didn’t have that extra burden. She saw her mission as getting more people, especially children, to delight in hummingbirds—and all that Nature presents—so that they would become enthusiastic conservationists out of love and their own experience of the wonders of the world. We still have that welling of love and wonder, now over layered with anxiety and even dread, but putting the love of nature first might strengthen us to deal with the latter. One bird at a time, one feeder kept fresh at a time. It’s getting cold outside, and late in the day.

A lucky photo taken last year in wintertime, capturing the moment when a hummingbird came to my feeder

A Mind-Journey: Renewal

This morning as the sky lightened, there was no brightness, no evident sun, not even a fiery red one like the day before. Instead, there is an opaque featureless gray of fog, possibly—probably—laden with smoke and particulates from fires still consuming the west like hungry monsters. So I was charmed…distracted…pulled into reverie when I  opened an email inviting me to revisit Newagen Seaside Inn, near Boothbay, Maine. We had once stayed there in late July, 2018. A lifetime ago!

The come-hither photo of perfect pumpkin-orange and golden Fall leaves, mostly still clinging to trees lining both sides of a path you’d give anything to be exploring, but just enough decorously scattered on the ground to add some crunch, drew me into the scene. I could almost smell the trees and catch a salty breeze coming off the nearby bay. This is a very special place!

I loved the wind-tossed trees that clung to the rocky outcroppings. No postcard prettiness but rugged beauty that spoke to me of strength and survival.

The Inn and its surroundings are, of course, Maine-perfect and a dream vacation destination but the reason we had made a stop there was for me a pilgrimage to pay my respect for someone I have long studied and held in awe: Rachel Carson. She used to stay at the Inn when she was working on her Sea books, examining the tidal pools, finding the threads of life that linked every minute form to the cosmos of the whole biotic community. She loved the area so much she eventually settled in a small cottage just a few minutes away from these rocky beaches.

Some of the relics saved from her stays at the Inn proudly displayed for guests to ponder.

The hotel is proud of its association with the life and work of Rachel Carson and eager to relate stories of her time there.  Even more powerfully, you can follow a sign-posted path to a favorite beach on hotel property where her ashes were scattered at her request when she died in 1964. As the small waves washed in and out and pooled between the granite rocks, endlessly obeying the waxing and waning of the moon, I gazed at the crevices, the bits of shaggy seaweed, the flecks among the gravel and tiny shell pieces, as if to see her essence still there, mingled with all the ongoing life she loved and wrote about. Her words floated in my mind, now carved on a marker, captured in bronze from the page where they first appeared…

Rachel Carson, Writer, Ecologist, Champion of the Natural World, 1907-1964,
“But most of all I shall remember the Monarchs”
Here at last returned to the sea–“to Oceanus, the ocean river, like the ever-flowing stream of time, the beginning and the end”

I had read her excellent biography by Linda Lear and all her Sea books before our journey there, so my mind was super-charged with her story and with her own evocative descriptions of shore and tidal life, on out to the very depths of the oceans just then being explored in its darkest reaches for the first time. But all these words spun in the breeze and floated like so much flotsam, efflorescent, out to sea. What remained was her solid love of place, her will to share it with us all, and her granite resolve to save it for its own sake. The air coming off the water was so fresh and tangy. I left with a new resolve to dig into my own place, to put down roots, and find my own words. But I’ll always remember finding Rachel at Newagen.

September 22nd

The sun sends out its welcome beams of light and warmth, warmer than I expected, as I set out for a morning walk. It is very quiet, no dog walkers, the traffic light, everything holding stillness for this while. Except for the birds who are hidden in leafy surrounds, chirping, making plans, exchanging observations on the day and the new season. Do they know it is the first day of Autumn?

The days are perceptively shorter. We rise in the dark now and dark descends too soon after dinner, it seems. But today, after the early morning clouds melted away, a golden light makes the sky appear an even brighter blue, a huge blue bowl that does not hover and limit sight, but stretches to infinity and makes all things feel possible. What a relief after days and days of heavy smoke-choked sky and lowering clouds with no silver lining.

Birds are gathering on the tops of trees, fluttering and circling, settling, then calling and unsettling again. They are restless, testing their wings, and uncertain. Is it time? Not yet, not quite. How will they know the moment when their flying will take on purpose and the migration begin?

I keep walking, scanning the ground for colored leaves, acorns still clinging to their caps, and if I look in the right places, chestnut conkers, gorgeous deep-brown, shiny orbs shaped perfectly to hold in my hand and rub with my palms. I plan to fill small bowls with them to create my Autumn tableau of treasures. But I am too early; they are not ready for collecting, not yet ripe and freed from their spiky cases. Only a few trees have begun to turn from green to gold and red and brown. Still, I do glean some leaves, a beginning. It’s just the first day, I must be patient though I long for a change. The turning of the season, a closing and an opening.

Ah, but some creatures are well aware of the passage of time. The garden spiders are busy, their webs more elaborate and visible. They are now fully grown and mature, ready to mate and produce eggs that they will bundle into a silken sac that will protect the tiny spiderlings until next spring’s warmth. Then the cycle will begin anew with the tiny spiders growing, shedding their exoskeletons for new roomer ones, busy with life, until we again see them as mature beings, urgent with the need to keep the generations coming. Be kind to their webs, let them fulfill their destiny.

Let Autumn come and be welcome.

Weight Lifting, Weight Shifting

Everything feels hushed, stagnant, hunkered down, the sky dull with smoke and ash; collapsed in upon itself, sorrowing and rejecting even the blurry red sun that burns a hole through the murk but warms nothing. We’ve been reading the terrible news stories about the fires obliterating whole towns and blackening landscapes to the south and east of us here. The heavy smoke covering our skies tell us of worse things happening not so far away. Our hearts ache with worry and fear for those in danger.

But wait, what’s that soft dappling sound this morning? Rain! A wash of life-saving water to clear the air, refresh the dusty trees and spread a little hope. It didn’t last very long but maybe it will start up again and really get down to work. It was like a small candle of possibility that help is on its way. 

The bird bath captured the ripples from the first drops.

I have been thinking about the time in my younger years when several people I knew took up Tarot card reading, not with a belief exactly in the esoteric realm but perhaps because it was a way of posing questions to oneself. Where am I going? (Tarot involves a lot of questing and journeying, literally and metaphorically.) What is important? Who or what can help me on my quest? It was all very romantic and poetic. But what I was remembering now was the cards, laid out in a pattern that told one’s fortune, were of two kinds: High Arcana and Low Arcana. The lower set were said to indicate directions and decisions that were within your own range of power to influence and choose, but the higher cards—especially if you had a preponderance of them in your reading—indicated that what was happening in your life was not within your control. Forces beyond your grasp or understanding were determining your path or limiting your actions. You were in the grip of Fate!

Life has felt like that of late! We are in the grip of a worldwide pandemic; we are living in a society that feels like it is careening off any recognizable path; and now we here in the West are literally on fire. Those all feel like High Arcana cards.

The named cards of the High Arcana can be joyous or doom laden, but the main thrust of having them turn up in your reading is that they represent forces beyond your human control. They rule you and indicate your fate.
Some of Low Arcana cards indicate strife, deep sorrow, and other states of being we would rather not experience, but we are said to have more agency with readings like this and can take heed to avoid disaster.

Again, wait! While it is true that this troika of woes is overwhelming, we can choose how we feel about it all and we can do something—maybe just small acts, or maybe more effective ones if we join with others—but still, choosing our response and finding inspiration or just tenacity to keep going, keep practicing acts of kindness and good sense, promoting justice and a path to healthful living for everyone, caring for the Earth and each other, it is in our grasp.

Cards featuring “cups” are thought to relate to our emotions. We can respond to life in any number of ways.
What shall we choose?

The rain did not fall for more than a brief respite, but it was refreshing. It was a start. The Earth welcomed it and it raised my spirits too.

Come on Over!

Everybody noticed it. The cleaner skies, the quiet, the lull in traffic. The pause, some called it, as we all hunkered down, stayed sheltered, and waited with held breath to see what “safety” might look like. It was the surprise silver lining in a very strained and anxious time—not over yet, not by months—but as humans and their machinery retreated, wild animals began to creep and then saunter into the vacated spaces. They must have been there all along, waiting along the margins, hidden by our noise and busyness.

There are images online about wild goats with impressive headgear taking over Welsh towns, of wild boars trotted uninhibitedly through streets and rooting in gardens, wild buffalo, foxes and coyotes, elephants, monkeys, penguins turning up where you don’t expect to see them, and even a sea lion pressing its nose against a shop window in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It was heartening to many that even in these dark and dreary times Nature could rebound and startle us with hope and thoughts of regeneration. Whether at our behest or happenstance and opportunistic, wild animals were asserting their right to spaces we humans had assumed were ours alone.

We are not alone—and never have been. It’s good to be reminded. And good to coexist not just with other humans, as crucial as that is, but with all beings: animals, birds, trees, moss, insects. Inconvenient or not. Everybody welcome? It’s a goal, a thought.

Who lives here? Somebody is making this their home. They are welcome too.

Well before the pandemic tamed the traffic, deer have inhabited my neighborhood. Our streets dead-end into the high banks of the Deschutes River estuary, now captured by Capitol Lake, but still wooded and crisscrossed by narrow trails made by many creatures. The deer come up and wander the streets and gardens, favoring roses and other tender and tasty bits laid out like a smorgasbord for their pleasure. Coyotes, raccoons, and sometimes foxes slip through alleyways and live largely unobserved but unmistakably present. Birds are abundant and living their complicated lives, season by season. All woven together rubbing shoulders, so to speak, or playing out the ancient rituals of prey and predator.

Deer are very much at home here, walking down the street in broad daylight, people outside, no cares at all.

We replanted much of our space here with native plants and leave tangles of vegetation for cover, put up birdfeeders, and keep the birdbath fresh. Our Welcome mat for wildlife is out! We humbly revel in signs that our way station has found some notice among the locals.

Sometimes the deer eat things we thought we had planted for ourselves. We stand corrected!
This is the first year the deer have sampled our hydrangea. But luckily they don’t seem to have relished the taste.
Deer love chard, apparently. Luckily it grows back and we’ve been able to enjoy it too.

I would like to here praise my favorite New York Times contributing writer, Margaret Renkl, who recently posted this essay and said everything better that I was attempting to communicate. She is an inspiration! I wish she lived nearby.

Carving a Life: Gwen Frostic

One of the great pleasures of getting to know Margaret and her work is to discover, here and there all over the country, other women—kindred spirits—who also were turning to Nature for inspiration and frankly, aspiration. Many made their living from their knowledge of natural history, whether by teaching it to others, through writing, through their art, or by designing gardens and by other means. Though often the money earned was needed for daily life expenses—certainly Margaret was dependent on her own earnings to live—one gets the impression that love of Nature was preserved inviolate and kept a private delight that sustained them no matter their circumstances. Margaret and women everywhere went out into fields and woods, to riversides and ocean beaches, tide-pools, and mountain meadows, to feed a hunger, a curiosity and a need quenched nowhere else but in wild places. Though often unknown to each other, they formed a kind of tribe we can recognize when we come across their life stories.

Good friends introduced me to one such woman whose story is unusual to say the least, but who carved an independent life for herself along a path strewn with wild flowers, birds and woodland creatures familiar to the sisterhood. Gwen Frostic was born in 1906 in Sandusky, Michigan and lived her whole life in that state and now is so associated with the Wolverine State that she was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in 1986, and even has an official day honoring her on May 23. The School of Art at Western Michigan University is named for her, as is a Woodland Shade Garden in Grand Rapids. She was granted several honorary degrees in recognition of her long career of artistic work. But beyond Michigan she deserves to be better known.

Gwen was reputedly a crusty personality but her art, for which she was renowned, is delicate and intimate. She especially drew inspiration from her native flora and birdlife for her linocut images, which graced her trademark stationary items, calendars, prints and other items. Studying her designs feels like a walk in the woods, a trip to the river where flowers might spangle the tangle of ferns or a bird alight on a branch just ahead. You imagine her eye taking in the sight, memorizing it and reducing it to its essence and then reproducing it so that it is reanimated, alive again and sealed in the moment. Her work is fresh, full of delight and appreciation of form and the suggestion of movement. Looking at it, you want to go for a walk and see what you too might find.

As a young child, Gwen suffered an undiagnosed severe illness, which left her with the marks akin to cerebral palsy: damaged hands, a limp, and other impediments which would have discouraged many another person who didn’t have her steely strength. She never let her physical state slow her down or prevent her from learning to use her hands to form exquisite art in her own unmistakable style. She ran her own business, created her own studio, and fashioned her own life. She took chances and made a great success out of her own hard work and genius. Her studio out in the woods beyond the tourist town of Frankfort on Lake Michigan was a magnet for anyone who knew her art.

Although she died in 1986, her artwork is still available for those seeking it out. The calendar I have that showcases her images is helping me count the days in this difficult year. Some day, when the possibility of travel opens again, I plan to visit her part of the world and explore her landscape and marvel at the wild flowers, trees and birds that inspired her and that she brought to the attention of so many who saw Nature revealed through the work of her hands and attentive eyes. Her life story is an inspiration. Her art is a timeless delight!

To learn more about Gwen, see:

And especially see her still thriving business website at

Finding Their Voices

And they are loud! Quarrelsome and bossy. Or thin, thread-like conversations and twitterings. Or searching and pleading for a parent to drop a little something their way for a snack. Sometimes there is no sound at all, just a quick skirmish and peck. It’s the season of juvenile birds.

The baby sparrow is, of course, the one with its beak wide open.
This photo was taken a few weeks ago of a scrub jay family. The parent bird is about to oblige one youngster while the other one waits its turn. Yes, there was squawking!

They show up at feeders, a little disheveled, fluffy, undecided as to color, squawking for parental “input” but eventually discovering how to feed themselves. The youngsters of some species are almost the same size as their overworked parents but still sit tightly with beaks open, waiting for lunch. They try out new wings, quivering and tentatively flapping, sometimes rising a little and then resettling, and sometimes seemingly discovering the joys of flight in a bound. I haven’t been able to work out a pattern for maturation: Do larger birds take longer to mature, while small birds live quicker lives, from egg to sky in mere days? The bush-tits that crowded my suet feeder were fluffy one day and then too soon indistinguishable from the adults. But the teen-aged scrub jays are still careening around practicing their swoops and high-shouldered swaggers.

It wasn’t too long before the young jays realized they could feed themselves. Here this one is already taking on the colors of an adult bird.

There is a lot of action around the feeders. As an experiment I put a rimmed dish on the fence near the water dish for birds that were less adept at perching on the vertical hanging feeder. I filled it with a suet block and sometimes cracked seed mix to see what was preferred. The jays make a show of possession but the smaller birds—not to mention the resident squirrel—show up and take their fill. It’s a parade of birds, a show of personality and tactics. Some come alone, quickly and with some stealth, while others come in flocks or pairs. It’s Grand Central for bird watching!

This is a juvenile towhee. It comes alone and disappears quickly if any other birds approach. Its indistinct coloring and extreme shyness made it very difficult to identify but its thick beak and robin-size did afford some clues. Still, I would like to thank my good friend Kathleen for her definitive reply to my query.

My favorite ones to observe are the young flickers. For such large birds with such powerful serious-looking beaks, they are shy and nervous feeders. I have at least two of them visiting. They avoid the jays for the most part but occasionally can be seen waiting under cover of the bushes to take their turn when the more aggressive jays take off. They creep out, talking quietly and eat large chunks of suet, carefully wiping their beaks between gobbles. Their coloring and markings are so beautiful but I am as drawn to their expressive eyes that seem to communicate both their fear and wonder simultaneously.

At first the young flickers were modestly colored and easily faded into the bushes….
But soon enough the beautiful speckled plumage grew in.

But there are two juveniles who never come to the suet feeder but who are even more thrilling: tiny hummingbirds! I am indebted to my astute neighbor who noticed them one day sitting on a wire strung to my house. Too tiny to see clearly and almost lost in the background of a leafy tree, still they caught her eye as “different.” Sure enough, as we watched, they were clearly testing their wings. Fluttering, rising off the wire, and then clinging to it. And then trying again, exercising tiny muscles, gaining confidence. I saw them several times now that I knew where to look. Every day they seem to alight but leave with more ease and determination; I can no longer tell them from their parents by their behavior.

I could never catch the tiny hummers trying out their wings on my camera. But here is one looking around and posing just for the moment.

In these standstill times when one day is too much like every other day of isolation and waiting, watching young birds appear, grow and explore, and merge into the flow of life is a real gift. Who knows what our own lifespan will bring us or how much time we have to experience what comes our way. Meanwhile, the birds are putting on a show and growing right before our eyes.

Using our bare hands (and a sharp pair of clippers)

Although my camera is never to hand when a hummingbird approaches the fuchsia bush for a sip, I keep still and watch the precise maneuvering it employs to probe each tiny blossom, an acrobatic hovering that must be worth it, though how many drops of nectar can such tiny flowers contain? My garden is a tangle of plantings with just such moments in mind, and especially in these stay-at-home months, my main source of nature-nourishment. Any bird activity keeps me watching and wondering who will show up next. But I realized with a sense of woe that I have seen very few butterflies this year.

I’m lucky to live in a neighborhood that’s fairly environmentally conscious but this lack is likely a widespread phenomenon. I’ve been dipping into a very enlightening gardening book by Douglas Tallamy, Bringing Nature Home, with the instructive sub-title, “How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants,” for insight on what to plant next in my tiny refuge. According to Tallamy, the key to biodiversity is native planting. Plants that belong naturally in your area support healthy insect life, the foundation for a wealth of birdlife and so much more. He describes a host of popular plants introduced by “well-meaning horticulturists looking for exciting new species to sell in the garden trade” that have made many a backyard a desert for wildlife and which have, in too many cases, escaped the manicured confines and now threaten to overwhelm whole areas because—of course—they have no indigenous enemies to keep them in check. Think about the infamous kudzu and Japanese knotweed; think about English ivy!

Ivy can start small, just a couple of leaves and a bit of root….

Not the postcard ivy-covered cottage of a Jane Austen movie, but the nightmare version rampaging through out local parks. The kind strangling even Douglas-firs and entangling and smothering every native berry-producing bush and species of undergrowth that is the glory of Northwest forests. I recently spent a morning learning more about English ivy with a good friend who dedicates time every week to addressing this scourge in a very hands-on way. We went to Watershed Park—one of the places dear to Margaret McKenny who led the effort to keep that area in its natural state—to see the state of nature there today. When walking on the trails there is so much to enjoy that the dark green menace might not be that obvious, but let your eyes stray further and you’ll see trees with thick ropes of ivy snaking up the trunks and dark green patches of the trefoil leaves that blanket areas that should be more variegated.

My friend led me off to an area where I had never ventured before, to show me the extent of the problem and what can be done about it. Ivy was everywhere. It latched onto trees and blanketed the ground, swelling over fallen logs and invading every nook and cranny. Its tendrils and root systems reached high and low. Clearing breathing spaces for native plants and saving trees before the ivy kills them by rampant-growth weight alone or by vacuuming up all the nutrients and sunshine needed for survival is both an art and a science. Understanding how ivy roots, grows and spreads is key to unraveling it from any area. Ivy wants to reach for the sun; if you can thwart its spread and leaps upward, you can start to cut it back. First save the trees—for the sake of the trees—but also understanding that trees are the ladders to light. And a tall tree loaded with ivy that is brought down by wind catching in the clogged branches is a highway of several hundred feet laid down in a new direction for that ivy to spread.

A tree virtually cleared of ivy!

You can attack the problem at the root. And what roots! Arm-thick muscular-looking growths emerge from the ground and press against the base of trees, sending up shoots that reach into the crown. Fortunately you don’t need to climb the tree, just cut that root and break the link, stripping the tree of the vine to about chest-height. Try not to damage the tree as you pull the ivy away from the bark. The rootless vine will whither and die. For good measure dig up as much of the root mass as possible.

Marvel at the thickness of this ivy root! This is what you –and the tree–are up against. This is a very determined and implacable plant.

And gather up the snipped vine and either remove it for disposal or stash it in such a way that keeps from re-rooting until it can be retrieved for removal. (Note: It should not be composted as that can merely reintroduce it if it is not thoroughly destroyed.) An area several feet around the tree should be cleared as well.

Ivy bundled for removal, kept from touching the ground so it can’t re-root as soon as you turn your back.
Ivy tangled around a fallen log and heading off to claim new areas.

Ivy on the ground can likewise be cleared in ever-expanding circles, checked periodically so no new starts can repopulate the areas.  It takes diligence and devotion. Ivy is an implacable foe. But standing in a clearing free of its menace is exhilarating! Seeing a tree thriving anew thanks to your work is like removing a dark gloom from your heart. Encouraging the small growth of native plants that in turn will support all manner of wildlife and birds is a miracle born of your persistence. How often can our efforts be so graphic and measurable? Removing ivy takes force, a force driven for all that we hold dear. It’s a start to bringing back birds and butterflies and a brighter future. My friend toiling away in this patch of forest is a quiet hero whose legacy is as tall as a Douglas-fir and as wide as the world. I can’t thank him enough!

If you are interested in clearing ivy and other invasive species from our local parks in Olympia, get in touch with the Park Stewardship program here:  Children and teens can help too.

Or wherever you live, look for a similar program.

Another group working to free areas from this invasion and restore natural eco-systems is the Olympia Coalition for Ecosystems Preservation. Find opportunities to get involved here:

When shopping for plants in local nurseries ask them to consider not selling invasive species like English ivy, and of course, don’t buy any for your garden either! For lists of what other plants to avoid, see here:  

The Passing of an Iconic Neighbor

A good friend let me know that a beloved senior citizen in her neighborhood was nearing the end of her life. She urged me to visit her so that I might catch a glimpse of her mature stature and significance, even though she had already lost great pieces from her aging body. I am writing here about a Katalpa tree, estimated to be as much as one hundred years old.

When it was planted on East Bay Drive circa 1920, the main thoroughfare that leads out of town here in Olympia, was nothing like its paved orderliness of today, nor was the neighborhood a tidy collection of homes overlooking the bay. Cars were coming into their own but some horse-drawn conveyances were still employed, though the competition was clearly trending toward the motor-car. Perhaps the tree was planted in celebration of the end of the Great War, a popular expression of remembrance and looking forward to a new world.

Originally, Katalpas (also spelled with a “c”) were found primarily in Midwestern forests but settlers may have brought them here as reminders of former homes; now they are a popular nursery tree. They are a rapidly growing ornamental tree that soon produces a sizable canopy of giant heart-shaped leaves. As the tree grows, it twists its trunk and some branches, creating a dramatic and distinctive shape. After several years of growth it begins to put forth showy and fragrant white blossoms that remind some observers of irises or trumpets every spring. Hummingbirds are drawn to the blooms like magnets. As the season progresses, these flowers develop into long bean-like seed pods. There is always something of interest happening with these trees!

If you are lucky enough to have one in your garden or neighborhood it is bound to capture your attention and affection.  But like all living beings, these trees cannot grace our views forever. It will be sorely missed, its majestic spread has seen so much history and it has touched so many lives. My friend was surprised but heartened that so many passers-by have left notes of condolence and respect for the grand lady of the neighborhood. Trees can be such a presence in our lives, their place in the canopy not to be taken for granted. I’m glad I was able to visit her before it was too late to take note of this important being.

Appoint Yourself a Keeper of Trees

 A while ago I discovered a British organization, The Tree Council, that is devoted to the love of trees, with the intention of that love leading to actions working to protect trees. And these are not trees in the abstract but actual individual beloved trees in neighborhoods and local walking areas.
One of their programs encourages followers to “visit remarkable trees.” Remarkable being in the eye of the beholder:
“Every tree is beautiful – but sometimes a particular tree captures our attention. Perhaps it’s the way it sits in the landscape; perhaps it is the tallest or most advanced in years of that species you have seen. Perhaps it simply gladdens your morning walk. If you have a favourite local tree, list it on our map of remarkable trees so others can seek it out and enjoy it.”
 A map with designated trees accompanies the invitation.See:
 The Council also promotes the possibility of becoming a tree warden to help care for local trees, as well as outings to find and marvel at trees nearby and throughout the country.  What an amazing tour that would make for a visitor (when we are allowed to travel again.) I remember the awe I felt standing under a great spreading tree on the grounds of a grand estate that had hosted the first Queen Elizabeth in her day. Deer grazed off at a distance. The air was still; time was at a standstill, just for a moment. The tree seemed to transcend all human effort; it was witness to great events of dynasty and history—and the small daily life of twittering birds and the hum of insects. Hard to say which mattered more. Our own neighborhood trees, whether great and noble, or just planted yesterday, can give us moments of insight and appreciation of time and its passage in their own ways. Trees, of course, give us so much more.
Avenue of large mixed trees leading up to Margaret’s house
What would it take to develop such a program of tree wardens here? The City of Olympia has an Urban Forestry department, as do most cities, but this would be a way volunteers could perhaps play a role in caring for trees and acting as ambassadors for trees. We all have our favorites! And we feel terrible loss when we lose one that we feel closely connected to but have no role in its well-being or ultimate fate. I just begin here with musing but this sort of idea might be something that catches fire when we come back together to rebuild our society.
A glorious native dogwood announcing itself amidst mature Douglas-firs
Meanwhile, get to know the trees in your neighborhood. They are remarkable! They sustain us in these difficult times.
The cherry trees and dogwoods that line so many of our streets put on a spectacular show this year! They lifted everyone’s spirits who walked in their dappled pink light.
Many of the Big-leaf maples that used to grace our streets have been removed over the years. They tended to upend sidewalks and drop dangerously large limbs. But we still have some magnificent Japanese style maples that fill our gardens and streets with color through the seasons. My life is certainly the richer for living in proximity to this awe-inspiring maple. Birds and squirrels abound in the small world it creates.