Change of Mind, Change of Heart (part one)

When our home was for sale last fall, one evening we found a note taped to our door: “I have questions about your house,” with a name and phone number. Thinking it a potential sale, I called her the next morning. It turned out she only had one question: How did we get the house built? When I told her that whoever owned the property in 1997 had applied for a zoning variance, back before the City was incorporated and before the politicologists rose to power, she was audibly disheartened.

She had bought a property, she told me, in 2004. A quadruple lot of lakefront, 180 feet of shoreline on a wide two-plus acres. It was near the peak of the market and she had paid a mint–the price she told me was staggering: 1.4 million dollars for a two-room cabin. She wanted to build her dream home, and on the advice of her builder and architect tore the cabin down immediately in order to begin feasibility studies and architectural planning.

The DPD inspectors, the same who directed the Mitigation Plan on my own property, were difficult right away. They demanded a 200 foot setback from the lake, to comply with current Critical Area ordinance, and pointed out the soggy ground near the street. They called it a wetland and directed that any home must be 200 feet from that also; but with the dimensions of the lot, there was no way to be 200 feet from BOTH the lake and the soggy ground. This impasse over wetland vs. street runoff had been going on eight years.

The woman on the phone was notably angry and really wanted to talk, especially after I echoed her frustrations with the City’s

A new day dawns over A Thistle in My Sensitive Area

A new day dawns over A Thistle in My Sensitive Area

political ecologists. She hired each of the firms that perform the City’s Peer Review, and each came back with ‘Runoff from the street.’ This was in conflict with the City’s Best Available Science, and the private wetland studies were rejected. Using the ‘Reasonable Use’ mediation available in the Critical Area ordinance, she met with the City over several years in an effort to gain an exception or allowance; she even offered to build, as developers of large tracts in Sammamish are allowed, a man-made substitute wetland elsewhere. The City refused to change its position. With her resources exhausted and discussions breaking down, the chief politicologist told her: ‘if you so much as put a picnic table out or pitch a tent, make sure it’s gone by sundown. The new version of Critical Area Ordinance goes into effect next week.’ My phone friend got her builder on the phone right then and told him: ‘the ordinance changes next week. I want 80% of the lot cleared before then.’ In a fit of anger she clear-cut her lot, just to spite the City (though she was able to sell the timber). Even though the lot is unbuildable and unsellable, she cannot get a property tax assessment below $300,000 for ‘recreational value,’ despite the prohibition of so much as a picnic table or a tent. Her muddy, clear-cut lot is less than a mile down the street, and standing from the road you get a sweeping view of the lake, and the two 5,000-plus square foot homes looming on either side of the field of mud.

The first change of mind was to mentally move back in, then take a shower to wash that crap house off of me

The first change of mind was to mentally move back in, then take a shower to wash that crap house off of me

Her story burned in my ear as I stood on the sagging roof of the house we wanted to buy: it looked like the walls bowed out each time I stepped and I wondered if the structure would hold the weight of a new roof. Inside, the floor was oddly bouncy, and the crawl space confirmed it; the house was built of virtually nothing, and the foundation was almost nonexistent. To fix it would be to start from scratch, and since it was 100 feet from the lake and 100 feet from the road, I knew no permit would be issued. We rescinded our offer, and were glad to have avoided a parallel scenario to my neighbor on the phone.

At the same time, we had a few people interested in our own home, but who were made shy by the disclosures we had made about Sensitive Area title restriction, Mitigation Plans, City ordinances. Giving the ordinance a close read, really for the first time (there was no searchable database of municipal ordinances when we bought the home, just two years prior), I realized that the Critical Area ordinance only applies to the “original applicant for development;” Mitigation doesn’t ‘run with the land,’ it only applied to ME. The Critical Area Designation, which comes in the form of a title restriction, DOES run with the land. But when we pulled a copy of the title, it wasn’t there. I filled out the form and gave it to the City, but the restriction was not on our property title.

I called the bank where the $5,000 Survival Bond for the Mitigation Plantings is being held. I signed and had it notarized; had the City ever signed and notarized their portion? They had not. At that moment I realized: I have voluntarily dedicated these funds. This was a single-party action.

I went through my construction documents. Plans, contracts, inspections, receipts, a sheaf of paper several hundred pages

My Sensitive Area...much less sensitive than previously believed.

My Sensitive Area…much less sensitive than previously believed.

thick. I found it, the thing I’d been looking for. In my hand was the original application for the building permit: signed by my builder, in the name of my builder’s company, dated ONE DAY before I bought the property, feasibility, architectural plans, and permits…from my builder. The Critical Areas Ordinance, the Mitigation Plan, the Survival Bond: all these things apply specifically, statutorily, to the Original Applicant for Development…and that isn’t ME. I have been looking over my shoulder, gardening in fear and frustration for two years, imagining inspectors behind trees, and only tilting at windmills. The idea took my breath away. Maybe my Sensitive Area just toughened up a bit.

Posted in 'green, or Green?', DIY, Landscaping, Native Plants, Property Restrictions | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

SUPER DUPER Sucker Shredder

In late October I loosed my barbaric yawp at the universe, declaring in emphatic song of myself that I would not take it anymore! Then I spent most of November and a good part of December collecting and shredding leaves from my Bigleaf maples, proving in actual fact that I WOULD take it, just a little bit more. Stupid universe.

However! As niftily foreshadowed in November, I did upgrade my leaf collection tool. There was not overmuch wrong with the one I had; but it did require a loooong extension cord, had a tendency to clog more and more frequently as the season progressed (wet leaves are harder to suck than dry), and the collection

OOOH! Ear things...I should get those.

OOOH! Ear things…I should get those.

bag had rotted through. These are problems of climate and leaf, however, and not an indictment of the tool or its late-night infomercial host.

But I needed something…more. It shoudn’t be a corded device, and it should probably be of commercial grade. Leaf sucker-shreddering tool research, which involved reading reviews on websites that sell such things, went something like this: ‘I used to have a Stihl, and I’m sorry I bought this,’ or “I tried using this twice, returned it and bought the Stihl.’ In fact, over half the user reviews I read used Stihl’s version of the leaf sucker shredder as the Always Superior Comparison. Soooo…I decided I needed the Stihl.

A secondary feature of the Stihl which I really appreciate is that the manufacturer only sells their tools through a network of authorized dealers, each about 25 miles apart from one another (there just happened to be one very close to my home). This philosophy holds strong appeal for the capitalist/libertarian in me, for having been an ‘Authorized Dealer’ of a number of things in my working life only to find there were dozens of other authorized dealers in the same freaking zip code, I endorse these small business owners’ ability to sell (and service) something, and do it profitably. Plus, you can go to your local tool shop, hang out and hyuck it up with cool guys who know how to do stuff. The ability to walk into the yard equipment store with your daughter and say, “I’m looking for a children’s chainsaw, preferably in pink!” and get a good guffaw is important.

So here’s the deets: The Stihl ShredderVac has over 40% more suction than my Worx TriVac. Boom. ‘Nuf said. This means that in late November or early December when my giant leaves are sodden or even frozen, the tool still pulled them in (also, two frogs and a panic-stricken little mousie–unavoidable collateral damage). Beyond the super suction, the Stihl has a STEEL impeller blade with a secondary, serrated blade in front of it: giant wet leaves are chopped into little teensy bits, even the looong woody stems Bigleaf Maple leaves that so hopelessly and frustratingly clogged the TriVac. Each time after using the Stihl for a couple hours I opened the impeller housing to clean it: NOTHING. There is no cord to ‘manage’ or get tangled in salal or my feet, and that–plus the extra suction–meant that I could vastly increase the area in which I collected leaves. Pulled them out of the underbrush, pulled them off the wet and/or frozen ground. The collection bag is twice as large as the TriVac’s, and instead of the moisture-hating lightweight canvas of the electric tool, is made of a Sunbrella-type poly material that actually drains any trapped moisture out, and is far less likely to decay. The tool isn’t as light as the TriVac, but is very well balanced; and between the shoulder strap and the two handles, I think easier to use (the TriVac only has one handle, which limits the angle at which it can be held and leads to fatigue in the wrist, hand, and forearm. Remember, I do this for hours and hours at a stretch).

The tool takes a custom fuel mix, but Stihl makes this remarkably easy by selling the blending agent in little travel-sized bottles: a gallon of gasoline in the can, add a bottle of mix, shake, done. The tank on the tool holds about a pint of mix, and it runs about 2 hours per tank. One-pull start, one-finger throttle, I friz-nackin’ love this thing, and it was on sale when I bought it. OK, it was still not inexpensive, not by a long stretch: I bought the tool a couple weeks before my birthday, and my wife told me I had to count it as my birthday present…and birthday dinner out with my family…and a Tuesday night and a Friday night bottle of wine. But WHATEVER. I will be spending about 40-50 hours each Autumn collecting leaves for as long as I live in this house. It’s worth it.

There is a permanent solution to the annual leaf problem, and it was sitting there at the Stihl shop: the forester’s

Oh, Calvin! You have such a big tool!

Oh, Calvin! You have such a big tool!

chainsaw with the 59 inch bar. This is the kind of tool you see in those pickup truck commercials, the kind where the stubble-y and ruggedly handsome guy shows up at the jobsite with only one (very large and impressive) tool in the bed of his
Guys! Guys! I'm here with my big tool!

Guys! Guys! I’m here with my big tool!

gargantuan and extremely shiny truck. He lifts the tool from the truckbed with one sleeveless and oddly shiny arm, uses it once, and replaces the massive tool in the truck before driving off the jobsite. All the while, the chubby and hardhatted schlubs left behind regard him with a reverent awe, while somehow ignoring the fact that Handsome Guy only works about forty-five seconds a day. I too could have a chainsaw like this, for only about two thousand dollars; the notion occurs to me, however, that after cutting the dozen or so offending trees that while I’d never have to collect leaves again, I would then be stuck with a slightly used and WILDLY expensive chainsaw, minus the salt-and-pepper stubble and the super shiny arm. Still, I will admit to offering a long and smoldering stare at the chainsaw. The chainsaw returned my glance.

Posted in DIY, Landscaping, Native Plants, Outdoor Living | Tagged , , , , , , | 9 Comments

The Man Behind the Tree

A book about David Douglas (he of the semi-eponymous fir), with an illustration of an oak leaf, as seen on my Pacific Madrone (Arbutus menzies) dining table. SO tree-y!

A book about David Douglas (he of the semi-eponymous fir), with an illustration of an oak leaf, as seen on my Pacific Madrone (Arbutus menzies) dining table. SO tree-y!

While walking through Costco on our usual toilet paper/paper towel/tub o’ mixed nuts/AA battery shopping binge, I came upon a very attractive book mixed in with the Tom Clancys and the 153 or so shades of gray generally available there. A full-color drawing of a Garry Oak leaf and acorn graced the cover: David Douglas, A Naturalist at Work, by Jack Nisbet.

I found the book to be quite engrossing, and it more than adequately filled the quiet hours during the eye of the holiday hurricane. Intended as the monographical companion to an exhibit at a Spokane museum, the idea that the author might retrace the steps of the naturalist extends the intention of the work beyond biography alone; and as the book opens, we find the author swinging high in the whip-thin leader of a Grand fir, attempting to harvest a ripe seedcone.

David Douglas was a fascinating figure. Of quite modest background, he was an adept and lifelong learner who first made contact with and then gained the respect of some of the more notable scientific thinkers of his time. To learn the overlapping cirles of early 19th-century scientific influence fleshed out my knowledge of history quite a great deal, and having seen hookerii, menzies, nuttalli, and scoulerii on my nursery plant tags, I enjoyed very much discovering how plants went from my ‘backyard’ to Scotland and England, and then made it back to my local nursery and from there into my literal backyard.

More than a plant collector, Douglas was also a visionary who offered assessment and opinion as to possible commercial purpose for the plants he described, drew, preserved, seed-harvested, and packed for shipment back to Great Britain. Employed for a botannical task, he expanded his mission to identification and harvesting of regional fauna and collected samples of the native culture, folkways, and handcrafts, and later taught himself the surveyor’s arts and participated in the mapping of the earth’s magnetism. Assisted and protected by the British military and the Crown-chartered Hudson’s Bay Company, Douglas developed congenial and collaborative relationships with the indigenous peoples of his travels. He also had a most adventursome palate, sampling virtually everything he encountered. Farina (what we call Cream of Wheat) must have been a popular staple of the day, for very little of what he tried tasted like chicken, but most of it apparently tasted like farina.

The volume is sumptuously illustrated with contemporary photographs plus full color plates of Douglas’ and others’ sketches, drawings, and journal pages. Save for one drawing captioned as a “Flathead village” but identified on nose-to-page examination of the sketcher’s notes as ‘Blackfeet Village,’ I found all the plates in lovely and ample support of the text; the Flatheads and the Blackfeet, bitter enemies during that time, likely would not have appreciated the conflation.

David Douglas was known to have been at his weakest in polite social and/or academic society, and so exists in his own (laboriously completed) writings as a less-than fully rendered character. He seems to have been bit shy, and therefore spoke and wrote relatively little of himself in an age where adventurers, explorers, and even scientists were analogous to the Twitter-driven celebri-sensations of our own time. I found the between-the-lines Douglas to be grand, even cinematic: I have no trouble imagining the David Douglas movie, perhaps a nearly-silent Werner Herzog study or a bombastic Master and

Coming soon to a theater near you: David Douglas, the movie?

Coming soon to a theater near you: David Douglas, the movie?

Commander-style epic. I wanted to know more, and I wanted more narrative history. Sadly, I think the best of the author’s travels ended at the top of the Grand fir.

With over a thousand acres of Pacific Northwest forest behind my backyard, there is much that David Douglas saw that I myself see every day. Having purchased a lovely raincloak from his native friends, fashioned of the soft and water repellent furs of what the tribes knew as Sew-el-el, Douglas became focused on trapping the elusive and curious little creatures for identification and for potential promotion to the fur industry. Failing in his efforts to trap them, he purchased and sent back to Scotland several specimens, to be named and classified by Sir John Richardson as the genetic singularity Aplodontia rufia…my nemesis, the Mountain Beaver. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out how something can go from an ‘elusive curiosity’ to a pestilential nuisance which causes tens of millions of dollars in annual damage to the forestry industry as well as being a living prophylaxis against my own restoration plantings: the animal’s job in mature climax forest is to control competing and sometimes allelopathic undergrowth such as bracken fern and ensure forest succession, whereas today it can feast, unimpeded, upon Christmas tree farms, logging replants, and my own and many others’ back yards. How they couldn’t be trapped, well, I’ll grant Douglas a lack of Hertz Rent-a-Centers where Havahart traps can be had for ten bucks a week, but I find them pretty easy to catch. I guess he didn’t have Red Delicious apples for bait, either. I can only regret that the Hudson’s Bay Company, having proved efficient at pushing the North American Beaver and the Pacific Sea Otter to the brink of extinction, didn’t find commercial value in the pelt of the Mountain Beaver. That’d be pretty sweet.

You, sir, have got your ivy into my forest!

You, sir, have got your ivy into my forest!

The region in which David Douglas ranged was already by his day well populated with traders, trappers, military outposts, young settlements, and the earliest homestead arrivals. Douglas made special notes and collections of the plants which followed and established with these invaders: the first lists of invasive and potentially noxious weed species. Ironic, in a way, that among the earliest plant samples he sent back to Britain for their great potential as ornamental and food crop now find themselves spreading rampant in the moors of England and the heaths of Scotland, as Gaultheria
Well, you, sir, have got your sala into my moor! And also my blowsy cottage garden!

Well, you, sir, have got your sala into my moor! And also my blowsy cottage garden!

shallon
has proved a little too adaptable to its new Old World home. Doubly ironic that the public efforts at eradication of Salal so closely mimic the IVY OUT! programs of my area, as volunteers mass to pull English Ivy from park and forest land. Wherever you live in the world, if it is in a ‘stick-built’ home it is likely framed with the tree we call the tree Douglas Fir in common nomenclature. The plant has been carried throughout the globe and finds itself adaptable to most temperate climates and elevations. The scientific name is given as Pseudotsuga menzies, after the great Scottish naturalist Archibald Menzies, who first described it 35 years or so prior to Douglas’ journeys. The tree itself has not proved invasive, though its value has led to the displacement of native timber species wherever it is grown, a notion Douglas himself foresaw. But like Douglas himself, not all exotic visitors are invasive, and not all invasives are exotic (I’m looking at you, Mountain Beaver).

Posted in Native Plants, Outdoor Living, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

A Requiem for Mr. Diggy

Mr. Diggy as he appeared in his youth.

Mr. Diggy as he appeared in his youth.

Way back when I bought my Practice Home, twenty years ago, I went to my local highfalutin’ nurseries and asked the experts: what are some plants that can tolerate full sun, full shade, lots of water, but also drought conditions? The lists cross-referenced to Viburnum davidii and junipers. So then I went to my local big box store and bought about 20 of each, which I planted in alternate all around my bachelor cottage, evenly spaced four feet apart. Then I went about my business of half-assedly learning about home improvement while trying not to spill the cocktail I held in the hand NOT holding a tool.

I couldn’t help but notice, though, that while ‘gardening’ and ‘shovel’ would SEEM to be compatible, they are in fact NOT. Even though I was trying pretty hard to not garden, I still had occasion to pry up a root or a stone and then SNAP would go the wood handle on my shovel. This issue worsened at my second home, where at first I kind of wanted to garden, and eventually, like anyone who identifies as a ‘gardener,’ became obsessed with plants and landscaping and raingear. I went through four or five shovels a year for about five years. I tried a shovel with an ‘unbreakable’ fiberglass handle, but the springlike bendiness of the handle made it worthless for doing anything but digging in the loamiest of soils (and who has those, anyway). It was then I saw Mr. Diggy for the first time, and it was love at first sight.

With the tang and blade welded directly onto the all-steel, one-piece handle, Mr. Diggy is as much prybar as he is a shovel, and has been my nearly constant gardening companion and helpmeet for the last twelve years. We have hacked out tree roots, excavated boulders, dug a few thousand holes together; potentially a superior Mountain Beaver flattener, should the opportunity ever have presented itself, Mr. Diggy was the only thing between me and a very angry mother racoon last spring AND was to be

When the diggular force meets the immovable object.  Mr. Diggy stands defeated.

When the diggular force meets the immovable object. Mr. Diggy stands defeated.

the last line of defense after running out of post-zombie-apocalypse ammunition. Mr. Diggy was, quite simply, the finest tool I have ever owned…and of course, I repaid him by abusing him horribly.

If there is anything good about owning 50,000 square feet of glacially-scoured and compacted forest soil, it is that it is lousy with rocks…and I mean that in a good way. Dig a (very difficult) hole, excavate a free rock. While I sadly do not have one of the semi-truck-sized erratics like my neighbors do down the street, I’ve got pebbles, cobbles, and boulders from about a foot in diameter up to one-, one-and-a-half-, and two-man-sized boulders in spades. They are the “gift with purchase” that came with my property, and make handsome landscape features when brought to daylight with the help of my uber-shovel.

About a year ago I came upon one such boulder in the woods; rocks sometime reveal themselves through the shifting forest duff, and the lightly-mossed tip of the stone poked up like an iceberg from the sea. I began to dig, and realized this rock was a bit larger than most I excavated and carried around my clearing. I dug off and on over the months, and could see a pleasingly irregular shape forming. I could not tell the degree to which the clay had formed vacuum on the base of the rock. Placing my boon companion under the boulder’s edge, I leaned heavily on the fulcrum of the handle. The crack might have been the breaking of my tool lover’s heart as the metal of the blade snapped. Mr. Diggy was done for…at least as a shovel. I turned him

My daughter and I try to puzzle out this gift...I guessed iPod.  Wrong.

My daughter and I try to puzzle out this gift…I guessed iPod. Wrong.

around and jammed the handle underneath the rock, and finished freeing the large stone from the gluey clay. And there the rock sat, too large to lift, and no way to pry it from the depression in the soil.

Happily, I received a replacement shovel as a Christmas gift from my wife and daughter, who understand very well that the best gift you can give a guy is something that he already has and likes (only in a different color, if it’s clothing). My new Mr. Diggy and I owed it to the old Mr. Diggy to Get That Rock; and so armed with my new shovel, a handtruck with very large wheels, and several bungee cords, I went to the woods to be both stronger and smarter than a rock too big for me to lift.

I estimate the weight of the stone at 350 to 400 pounds. I could not in any way lift it off of the ground, and could not even flip it over the ‘long way.’ First, I used the new Mr. Diggy to lever the stone from the hole (because even though this wrecked my old shovel, I was working on the assumption that lifetime metal fatigue had just as much to do with Mr. Diggy’s ruination as the stone itself. I have no idea how many years I took off the life of the new shovel, but in the near term I was right). I then used my super brainiac problem solving skills: I was able, with the kind of effort that makes you able to HEAR your own connective tissues straining, to get the stone upright on its ‘side.’ Then I placed the handtruck on its side next to the boulder, and secured the boulder to the handtruck using six heavy bungee cords. Then, deploying all the qualities I have in common with a trained gorilla, I pushed the boulder with my foot and gravity caused it to flip on top of the hand truck as it fell. All that remained was to drag the boulder on the handtruck through the woods to my clearing, about 125 feet, and upright the stone into its new spot. This only took me about four and a half hours,

And the great stone shall henceforth be named "Shovelkill"

And the great stone shall henceforth be named “Shovelkill”

during which time my daughter became bored and went inside, leaving me to yell ‘SHANE! Come back, Sha-a-a-ane!’ for myself. Then I took a nap.

While the handtruck, bungee cords, and my ability to both reason and expend stupid amounts of brute strength were important parts of this operation, I could not have done it without the shovel. I would say, get you one, but in fact this shovel is not for everyone. First, it weighs about four times as much as a wood-handled shovel. Second,the rolled-steel handle, slightly ovoid in shape, is quite a bit larger in diameter than its wooden counterpart. These two things in concert mean that the user can potentially burn quite a bit of strength and energy just using the tool; this is not a problem for me, for though my hands are puffy and strange, they are not overly large–but I can crack a walnut with my bare hand, and so gripping something big and heavyish isn’t a problem over a long landscaping day. Also, at thirtyish bucks plus shipping, this shovel is two or three times more expensive than the one hanging on the wall at the orange apron store (though one every twelve years is waaaaay cheaper than 4 or 5 every year). Obviously, if you can buy it in a store you save the shipping, but I can’t remember where I got the first one 12 years ago, and have never seen one in a store since; but they are plentiful on the intertubes and can be purchased manufacturer direct or from Amazon. At that price you also get a lifetime warranty, though I won’t be making a claim–without even reading the terms, I am positive I violated them repeatedly with the first one, and at least once already with this one. If necessary, I’ll just buy another ten years or so from now. Mr. Diggy is gone…LONG LIVE MR. DIGGY!

Posted in DIY, Landscaping, Moss Gardening | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

The Second Life Contest

A second look at the "raw material." The branches are all off, and now it is a Christmas pole.

A second look at the “raw material.” The branches are all off, and now it is a Christmas pole.

The tree is down! I have never in my life had a Christmas tree stay up and decorated for so long–not when I was a kid, not when I was a bachelor, certainly not since I’ve been married. Christmas, and all its decoration, is OVER either the first weekend after New Year’s, or when it starts to look tawdry and feel crowded. Whichever comes first.

It hasn’t been laziness on our part, or “lack of time.” I am not lazy by a long stretch, and when confronted with time pressure I tend to stay up later and get up earlier than my normal 5 am to midnight ‘day.’ Really, no one wanted the tree down. Despite its rather significant size, it was kind of like having a beloved housepet. It has just been there, and belonged there.

But I promised-ish back when I put it up that I would honor the tree’s long and struggle-y life by making certain that the tree gains what George Nakashima called its ‘Second Life.’ I will make the tree into other, useful, and hopefully beautiful things so that it may live on (although the tree’s existence as Holiday Decor/Housepet was the actual second life, technically speaking). So the tree is de-limbed and is now the biggest thing in my Someday Box, and it awaits the maker’s hand. The contest will be simple: in the comment section below, give me your ideas for what could be made out of the tree. My FAVORITE idea for what could be made out of the tree wins something made out of the tree. Here are the rules:

1) Coasters, napkin rings, and candleholders are “reserved.” I have already thought of them.
2) The winning idea will be my FAVORITE. I am the only judge.
3) The winning idea must be something that COULD be made out of the tree. I am also the judge of “could.”
4) If your idea wins, your idea may not be in fact produced. Actual fabrication will be dictated by what I want to do and what I can do (in terms of both skill and schedule). I may love your idea for turning the tree into 253,417 Abies lasiocarpa toothpicks which can then be made into a 1:25 scale model of the Tour d’Eiffel, but I won’t be making it–and you won’t be getting it in the mail, either. Hence the reserve of coasters, napkin rings, and candleholders.
5) The owner of the winning idea will be notified through this site, and I will send the prize at my expense.
6) The winner will receive the prize when I get done with it. Obviously, I will need to know where to send it.
7) I cannot promise that you will LIKE your prize, only that I will try very hard to make it nice. If you receive coasters, hate them, and decide to burn them for kindling, that’s FOUR lives for the tree. Shel Silverstein couldn’t do any better than that.
8) Toothpick Eiffel Tower is now reserved also.

LIMITATIONS: Other than this has NO CASH VALUE, none that I can think of, though I guess I’ll have to be the judge of that, too. But this is open to everyone, friends, subscribers, first-time visitors, that guy by my bank who sometimes doesn’t wear pants. Facebook it, send it out to your Twitter Peeps. There is no limit to how many ideas you may offer (but if you have like 70 or so, probably best to put them all in as few comments as you can). I’ll leave the comment section open for as long as ideas are coming in regularly or until WordPress tells me to stop, whichever comes first. Ready…GO!

Posted in DIY, Native Plants | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

Yellow Lake

It was clear and cold on January 1. We decided to ring in the year with a walk around the lightly frozen lake.

It was clear and cold on January 1. We decided to ring in the year with a walk around the lightly frozen lake.

A clear sunny day in winter is a rarity here. It would have been a shame to waste it.

A clear sunny day in winter is a rarity here. It would have been a shame to waste it.

Sky, lake and forest come together in an Escher-like way.

Sky, lake and forest come together in an Escher-like way.

The path was wide and fairly level, and on the far shore of the lake this marsh formed a small fringe between ribbons of  forest.

The path was wide and fairly level, and on the far shore of the lake this marsh formed a small fringe between ribbons of forest.

The forest was standard: salal, douglas fir, sword fern.  Without my field guide, I didn't  recognize these bright fruits--drupes, I think--that had gone so long without being eaten.

The forest was standard: salal, douglas fir, sword fern. Without my field guide, I didn’t recognize these bright fruits–drupes, I think–that had gone so long without being eaten.

Posted in Family Activity, Native Plants, Outdoor Living | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

A Theme Emerges

0001The interior of my home feels like it is covered in a light film of00013 percussively distributed sputum. Is it phlegm-uary already? Most of our Christmas decorations are piled on the dining room table, save for the Christmas tree, left up at my daughter’s tearful insistence; amazingly, there has been no corresponding tearful insistence from my wife that I take it down, Because The Holidays Are Over.

0007But they are. A bored New Year’s Eve spent looking at a pneumatic Jenny McCarthy, she vociferously opposed to putting illness-preventing injections into children, yet with no compunction against injectng actual bacteria into her own head. Early to bed. A first in our married life: we didn’t make it to midnight, no fireworks save for the incredible expenditure of ordnance in forest, field, and cul-de-sac all around. The beach-head established by 1130 hours, the rest just to soften up the enemy til 0330 or so.0010

The New Year dawned, bright and clear and sunny and cold, and fresh from a good night’s rest, we took a walk around a small local lake. A place we’d never been. I wondered aloud, to a mildly interested audience of two, at the many Madrona trees that ringed the lake between path and shore. It’s unusual here–there are none at Beaver nor Pine Lakes, and none at my wetland margins. I don’t know about Lake Sammamish. Pacific Madrone is usually a coastal tree; finicky, hard to cultivate. Strange at this elevation, this lacunar setting.

0012A week in, and the New Year is no longer so new. It matches my desktop calendar at work: a coffee ring, notes, and already appointments and schedules I don’t want to keep. The visible echo of an unfortunate sneeze. This year, my calendar: already a little dog-eared, but still New. You’re supposed to make a Resolution, right? I’ve always hated that. You either start something or stop something: I’m going to exercise, I’m going to start huffing paint. This is the year I stop drowning cats. It’s no good. Once you start it, or stop it, there is a lot of year left. It’s unsustainable. Doesn’t work, can’t last. You realize in February: I hate the smell of paint.

Wait! It looks like the confinement fence might be missing from the rear of the home! More foreshadowing?

Wait! It looks like the confinement fence might be missing from the rear of the home! More foreshadowing?

Hmm...are those the bright coral stems of Cornus 'Midwinter Fire' poking through the frost-blanketed moss? Foreshadowing...

Hmm…are those the bright coral stems of Cornus ‘Midwinter Fire’ poking through the frost-blanketed moss? Foreshadowing…

Years ago, I set a tone for the year, an idea. Something I could be, or live. One year, it was The Return to Barbarism. Another, I Don’t Give a Sh*T. 1997, the elegantly simple year of What? These were very fine years, wire to wire. I haven’t done that in a while. You work, you have a family. It’s difficult to be barbaric. I found, as 2012 waned, that things looked different to me, there were shifts in life’s fabric…or how I was looking at it. Or how I WANTED to look at it. Through December, I could feel it, like a low-frequency vibration or a scent so imperceptible it only stirs sense memory and not the nose. Something so simple, so perfect. Sunlight on morning dew. 2012 is over. 2013…The Year I Changed My Mind.

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