Saturday, December 19, 2015

Elegant Ornaments

Merry Christmas!
 Here at the Warm Beach Senior Community, our neighbors are truly young at heart. They fill their days with volunteering, service projects, and hobbies. 

    Lou Bosell, a former teacher, lives across the driveway from us. She welcomed me and some of our nearest neighbors to a Christmas tea in the cozy home she shared with her husband David until his death in 2005. Lou’s a busy woman. In her spare time she engages in fine needlework, an elegant pastime that is rare in these days of instant gratification.

    She has decorated her home for Christmas with sparkling white crocheted ornaments she’s made over a period of thirty years. Here’s her tree, covered with mostly three-dimensional art works, every one of them different, almost every one handmade.

  Lou’s siblings were twelve, eight, and seven when she was born, so she basically grew up in an adult community. Her mother was a skilled needlewoman. When at the age of seven, Lou lay abed with mumps, her mother helped her stave off boredom by handing her a three-piece dresser set and showing her how to embroider the design. Lou’s walls today are decorated with her intricate counted-cross-stitch pictures. At Christmas she hangs the mantle with cross-stitched stockings for each member of the family.

    At the age of seven or eight, she learned to sew by designing and sewing clothing for her dolls. Later she made clothing for her two sons. She began crocheting after she married.

    Her first crocheted ornaments were one-dimensional snowflakes, but then she saw a pattern book for balls and decided to try those. She usually uses size ten crochet thread and a number seven hook. She crochets the piece, then soaks it in fabric stiffener. While the ornament is still wet, Lou inserts a balloon inside and blows it up to the appropriate size. When the ball dries, she removes the balloon. Lou expanded on the original idea by hanging another lightweight ornament inside.
An ornament with a church inside

  She has a collection of balls with musical instruments inside. Her favorite holds a brass map of Nebraska, the state where Lou was born and raised. Another honors Seattle, with landmarks including the former Kingdome. She thinks it will be a special keepsake someday.

    Lou has two grandsons. She is making each his own collection of ornaments. One boy’s ornaments are crocheted; the other’s are counted cross-stitch.

    When Christmas is over, Lou wraps each ornament in tissue and stores it in a box with dividers. Family and friends will have to wait another long year to see her  beautifully crafted pieces again.
Lou made the treetop angel and the bells.

Lou's favorite, with Nebraska inside

Some snowflakes are backed with sheer fabric.

Caught in mid-twirl. Look closely to see the Space Needle and Kingdome.
Lou's handmade tree skirt.
A good place for mistletoe

A masterpiece of a centerpiece

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Lessons from a Hill of Ants

On these cold, rainy November days, the ants that were so much a part of our summer landscape are tucked away snugly in their nests. They worked hard gathering food for the winter, as King Solomon mentions in his collection of proverbs, and now they are enjoying the fruits of their labors.

In my recent post A Day on Orcas Island, I mentioned observing some wood ants. They reminded me of an incident from years ago when I was newly widowed and lived in a small RV with Sharon Dog, my red Irish setter. Part of my daily routine included taking Sharon to some nearby field or patch of woods where she could race away her abundant energy.

Near our RV park lay a tract of woodland earmarked for future development. Walking in those woods one fall day, Sharon and I came upon a hill of ants busy preparing for the winter ahead. The entire surface of the three-to-four-foot tall hill shimmered with millions of ants working together, each shiny black with a red-brown head and thorax. Along invisible trails from the woods, streams of ants carried fir needles or bits of twig to add to their hill. Some carried pieces of leaves overhead like little umbrellas or dragged insects larger than themselves to use as food. (I found out later they leave scent trails to help them find their way home.) Other ants scurried back along the same trails into the woods. 

 The entire hill seemed to be made of ants piled one on top of the other, but I didn't risk digging into it to find out if that was true. Though small, those ants looked unafraid of anything. Instead, I went to the Internet.

It looks like chaos, but every ant has a job to do.
Tiny Architects
 I found that wood ants often build their nests atop rotting stumps, which are easy to tunnel into. The nests, complex and wonderful constructions, are built to house hundreds of thousands of individuals. The core of each mound is covered with a deep layer of organic materials: evergreen needles, bits of twigs, dried grass, leaves, and pieces of moss and lichen. Somehow the ants know to lay the thatch in a way that intercepts the sun's rays at right angles. The thatch becomes a "solar panel," raising the temperature of the nest above that of the ambient air. This not only keeps the workers warm and active on cool days, but it also provides a warm, even temperature for the babies developing inside the nest. The thatch is also a waterproof "roof," with each needle and twig laid precisely to direct water off of and away from the nest.

Tending the Young

The center of the nest is deep underground, where workers have excavated a chamber. There, day in and day out, the queen ant goes about her business of laying eggs. The workers, all female, tend to the thousands of eggs and larva, moving them through the tunnels and chambers toward the surface or deeper into the nest to keep them at the right temperature for optimal development. They even bring them to the surface for a dose of sunshine if it is warm enough.

The Ants' Diet

Workers do more than build the nest and tend the queen and her brood. They bring in food. Ninety per cent of their diet comes from honeydew excreted by aphids. Aphids feed on plant juices, which are high in sugar. They excrete the excess sugar. Ants "milk" the aphids, collecting the honeydew in their abdomens, then return to the nest to regurgitate honeydew for the queen and other workers.
The developing larvae need protein in order to grow, so wood ants also feed on other insects such as caterpillars and beetles and even other ant species, and bring such prey in to feed the babies.

Cleanup and Security
Not only does feeding on other insects provide nutrition for the ant colony, but it helps cut down on the number of harmful insects in the environment. The ants keep the nest clean by carrying away dead workers and other debris. The workers also act as soldiers, defending the nest from predatory insects and other dangers. One type, Formica rufa, can spray formic acid at enemies up to several feet away.

 Most of our Northwest Washington nests are not this large.
After learning about all that marvelous organization and society, I wondered what would happen to the ant hill that Sharon Dog and I had seen on our walk. When we returned to the tract of former woodland that spring, we saw that the ant colony had been scraped off the surface of the earth, along with every bush, tree, and other living thing, right down to the bare gray mud. The acres were now builder-ready. The bulldozer that had shoveled away the nest left its tread marks in the dried mud. In the wasteland, we saw a half-buried piece of rotten log. From beneath it, a stream of black-and-red ants poured onto the surface. They clambered over the log, as if wondering what had happened to their nest. A trickle of ants headed across the dried mud toward a still-standing section of trees a hundred yards away. As I watched, the trickle became a steady stream.

It was not an easy journey for the ants. Crossing each lug mark left by the bulldozer meant clambering down a steep wall of mud, across the bottom, and up another steep wall...over and over again. But their path was as direct as if they followed a line laid out, and I followed along beside them. I noticed that many were carrying eggs or larvae, and some were carrying other ants. When they neared the trees, I saw that their destination was an ant hill under construction. Lines of ants fanned out in all directions from the new nest, bringing back building materials. But some of the new arrivals being carried by fellow workers evidently hadn't accepted the necessity of the move. As soon as they were released, each grabbed one of the other ants and head back toward the ruined nest!

I don't know how long it took for all the ants to be persuaded that the old nest must be vacated, but the next time Sharon and I stopped by, the new nest at the edge of the woods was much larger. And no more ants lingered at the ruins of the old.

The King James Version of Proverbs 6:6 says, “Go to the ant, thou sluggard!” The Living Bible says, “Take a lesson from the ants, you lazy fellow. Learn from their ways and be wise.”

Don’t we all wish we could be as persistent and hardworking as those wood ants?

The big nests of the wood ants are built on the floor of the woodlands. The withered foliage, twigs and pine needles are heaped by weaving them collectively to make  a hill  that is about one meter high from the ground.  There are many thousands of compartments and tunnels that are concealed quite a distance under the ground inside the ant mound. The nests are similar to a town with facilities such as food stores, accommodation facilities, linkages and also burial grounds for the ants that die. The biggest and oldest nests accommodate as many as 100,000 ants. Generally the life of the colonies extends for several years, the ants live underneath the ground in winter and emerge to the surface during the spring. - See more at:
The big nests of the wood ants are built on the floor of the woodlands. The withered foliage, twigs and pine needles are heaped by weaving them collectively to make  a hill  that is about one meter high from the ground.  There are many thousands of compartments and tunnels that are concealed quite a distance under the ground inside the ant mound. The nests are similar to a town with facilities such as food stores, accommodation facilities, linkages and also burial grounds for the ants that die. The biggest and oldest nests accommodate as many as 100,000 ants. Generally the life of the colonies extends for several years, the ants live underneath the ground in winter and emerge to the surface during the spring. - See more at:

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Making Our Own Halloween Fun

I first posted this story on Sunbreaks in 2012. It's from my book A Logger's Daughter: Growing Up in Washington's Woods. I hope it brings back some of your own Halloween memories, or perhaps you can use it to tell today's children how some grandparents celebrated the day.

    With four younger siblings, I sometimes had to postpone normal childish trick-or-treating at Halloween...because the others were too little.

    But sometimes friend and neighbor Marcella took me with her on big-kid adventures, such as my first trick-or-treat expedition the October I turned six. Robe Valley neighbors Norman Blythe and his brother Bob went also, along with Betty and Margaret Otto, all of them twelve to fourteen years old. The five older kids stopped to pick me up at my house at dusk. I walked with them to where the then unpaved Mountain Loop Highway intersected with the narrow lane that had been the first road into the valley. We followed the overgrown lane until we came to the collapsed ruins of an old cabin with a rusted-out car body in front of it. The boys told scary ghost stories about the place, but Marcella squeezed my hand to let me know they were making it up. They tied strings at knee level between trees on opposite sides of the lane to snag anybody else that might come that way.

   By the time we got back to the main road, the stars were out. I trotted along with the big kids as they sang “Red Sails in the Sunset” and other popular songs of the day. I didn’t know those songs, but I did know “The Bear Went over the Mountain.” As soon as they stopped to catch their breaths, I belted out my song at the top of my lungs. They laughed, but Marcella joined me and then the rest did, too.

    We asked for treats at the neighbors’ homes, and they gave us home-made cookies or apples and asked for a "trick" in return. I think we sang one of our songs for them. I especially remember visiting Green Gables, a new store then, whose proprietor sold gas and a few groceries. He opened the door to our knock and, thrill of thrills, gave us each a candy bar from his glass-fronted case.

    We also stopped at the shack where a man we called Eaglebeak McQuarry lived. I clung tightly to Marcella’s hand because I was afraid of the lanky-haired man with sallow skin and grimy clothes. He looked dark and dull all over except for the scary glint in his black eyes. To my relief the shack seemed deserted. We found later that he and his silent Indian wife had moved away without telling anybody. The boys soaped the windows but stopped when we heard the whine of a dog coming from inside. We backed away and ran down the dark highway. Soon we neared my home. The older ones dropped me off with my loot.

    I couldn’t keep a secret. I told my parents what had happened at the shack. The next morning my father released the abandoned dog.

    For me, the chills of that night almost equaled the thrills. It remains my most memorable Halloween!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

A Day on Orcas Island

If this autumn is like others here in the Pacific Northwest, we may still have some balmy Indian summer days in the offing. Time for an excursion into the unique and beautiful geography of Washington state. How about a drive to Anacortes and then a ferry trip  to one of the San Juan Islands? You don't even have to wait for a sunny day to have an adventure. Our Arizona kids loved our recent drizzly ride to Orcas Island, especially when the sun peeked through to give us some spectacular views.

You can call or look up the Washington State ferry system online to find out about ferry schedules. We arrived about an hour ahead of time to assure our place in line and to enjoy the scenery while waiting for our boat to come in. Lenora and Steve disappeared over the edge of the parking lot to explore the beach below.

Salmon on their way to spawn once crowded Washington's streams so that early pioneers said they could almost cross on the backs of the fish.  This harbor once hosted one of the fifteen salmon canneries that lined the local waterfront. Only the pilings remain today.

A retreating rain shower over one of the islands.

Stopping for passengers at Shaw Island before crossing the narrow channel to the Orcas Village ferry dock on West Sound,

Lunchtime at Cascade Lake. Fishing, swimming, boat rentals, camping, and hiking are popular attractions in Moran State Park.

Mt. Constitution, the highest point in the San Juans at 2, 407 feet elevation, is the centerpiece of Moran State Park. We missed the views from the summit because the twisting road was closed half way up, perhaps because of a recent windstorm. But the trail to Little Summit was right there at the turn-around, so we wandered up the hill. Lenora and Steve came upon this miniature deer and her fawn. The little deer are everywhere. We were told they are small because they are confined to the island; hence inbreeding has caused succeeding generations to become smaller and smaller.

These two young bucks are about as big as medium-sized goats, and with their albino pigmentation that's what we first thought they were. Albinism is another common genetic characteristic among the San Juan deer.

A view from the Little Summit trail
 Geologists tell us that the San Juans are much older than the mainland. They are actually part of a small chunk of a continent which no longer exists. It collided with the mainland millions of years ago. As the oceanic plate which carries them crushes against and under the continental plate, the islands are being slowly refolded upward. During the ice ages, the islands were covered with more than five thousand vertical feet of ice, which further carved and shaped the beautiful views.

Little Summit, a short walk from the road, halfway up Mt. Constitution
Ships and islands on a cloudy day.

When the day is cloudy, take closeups!
The fun of a trip is often in the details. We noticed a number of brown hillocks alongside the road, two or three feet tall and somewhat bigger than that at the base. We inspected one closely. The surface was moving! Each hillock is the home of thousands of red-headed, black bodied wood ants, many of them laboriously hauling twigs and evergreen needles bigger than they are to add to the mass of the anthill. Below the surface, the queen  lays eggs, nurse workers tend to her and the baby ants, and housekeeping ants haul dead comrades and other debris out of the nest. Watching carefully, we saw ants marching like soldiers along invisible trails into the woods, some carrying household debris. Others were returning with bits of leaves and other building materials.

Although our day on Orcas Island was partly cloudy, we didn't experience the steady rain that was happening on the mainland. That's because the San Juans lie within the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains. That makes them part of Washington's "banana belt", giving them only about half of the annual rainfall of Seattle.

We drove from one end of the horseshoe-shaped island to the other, ending at tiny Olga, with its popular restaurant-art gallery and its picturesque post office, and never ran out of lovely vistas.

While waiting for the ferry back at Orcas Village, we enjoyed coffee drinks at the 1904 Orcas Hotel and explored a couple of souvenier shops. Next time we'll stay overnight so we can enjoy more of this charming place.

This little boat seemed sad to see us leave.
It's back to the desert for Lenora and Steve.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Taking a Day Trip in Our Own Back Yard--the Mountain Loop Highway

Growing up in the logging community of Verlot, Washington, I loved our occasional family drives around the Mountain Loop Highway. Then, as now, the road connected the North Cascades towns of Granite Falls and Darrington. We lived on the south end near Granite Falls, so the area was almost in our own back yard. Now Hank and I live near the mouth of the Stillaguamish River, near Stanwood. 
When we drive the Mountain Loop, we drive the opposite direction, through Arlington to Darrington, on the north end of the mountain section of the loop. It's still a peaceful, lovely, and sometimes rough route through rainforest, rugged peaks and valleys, and along the Sauk and South Fork Stillaguamish Rivers.

The country is full of history. As you peer through overhanging branches, up forested slopes, you can feel the shadowy presence of Native American hunters on the trail of elk or mountain goats. In the 1890s, the mining boom at Monte Cristo broke the silence of the forest as wagoners hauled heavy machinery and freight along a puncheon road following the Sauk. That first route was soon replaced by the Monte Cristo railroad, built to carry the ore to the smelter in Everett. Trains ran through our valley along the Stillaguamish to Barlow Pass and four miles beyond, ending among the spectacular peaks that surround the townsite of Monte Cristo.

By the early 1900s, the railroad's frequent washouts made it economically unfeasible to continue large-scale mining. The work at Monte Cristo slowed to a halt.  Then tourists discovered the area. Train excursions continued for a while, then what had originally been a wagon road through our valley of the South Fork Stillaguamish was pushed through to Monte Cristo. In 1936, a dirt road connecting Barlow Pass with Darrington was begun. In 1941, the Mountain Loop Highway was completed. The whole area became a destination for outdoor recreationists, with hiking trails and campgrounds all along the way.

Snow still closes the route in the winters, and in recent years several bad storms have caused enough damage to keep the road closed in summer too. It's open now, except for the private four-mile section that leads from Barlow Pass to the old mining town site.

 Work is presently going on to remove arsenic-laden tailings from around the old mine tunnels, so Monte Cristo town site is closed to visitors. In order for trucks to reach the area, a road along the route of the old Sauk wagon road was reopened. Many who love Monte Cristo for its recreational values hope that the public will someday be allowed to use this road.

We recently drove our California daughter and her friend around the part of the Loop that begins in Arlington. We stopped to reflect at the temporary monument to 43 men, women, and children who lost their lives in March, 2014, during the horrific landslide near Oso.

When Hazel Hill broke away, it unleashed tons of mud and debris on the Steelhead Drive community and temporarily dammed the North Fork Stillaguamish. A more permanent memorial is planned someday.

Forty-three cedars stand watch over the site.
Outside Darrington, we also took time to circle through Squire Creek Park, one of the loveliest and least-used parks along the route. Quiet campsites and picnic spots are tucked among large evergreens. The park has a shelter, restrooms, and a grassy area next to the sparkling stream. In the fall, salmon swim past on their way to their birthplaces, where they'll spawn and then die.
A peaceful scene at Squire Creek.
After a satisfying lunch in Darrington at the recently reopened Bradley's Diner, we turned south for the first nine miles of the connecting road. They're paved, and alongside creeks tumble down to join the Sauk. We glimpsed rocky peaks through the trees. Just beyond the White Chuck Mountain overlook with its unobstructed view of the mountain—bottom to top—the paving ended. For the next 13 miles, everything looked about the same as it did when I was a child, except the road was a little wider. It's still one lane with turnouts, it can still be washboardy and potholed, and people still pull out into cleared spots in the forest to camp.

I think fall is the best time to make the trip. September's bright blue skies and crisp temperatures redden the vine maples. Yellow aspen leaves sift through the evergreens. Rivers run clear and shallow. We were surprised to find salmon spawning in the high reaches of the Sauk. They were battered from their long trip up the Skagit River and the rock-filled Sauk, but they were determined to complete their purpose.
This salmon was exhausted but determined to make it over the foot high channel to where the female waited, circling above the redd she'd scooped out to receive her eggs.

Counting spawned-out salmon on the bank of the Sauk River

Daughter Kari and her dad. The tree has grown on and around a big chunk of granite that an ice-age glacier probably bulldozed from one of the surrounding mountains.

As we neared the spot where the Sauk hurries down from its beginnings near Monte Cristo, we noticed a gash in the forest.  This was the rough road, closed to the public, that has been built along the route of the old Sauk wagon road. Trucks loaded with mine tailings dump the arsenic-tainted debris into a depository that will be be capped with clean material.

Of all the many places of interest along the Mountain Loop west of Barlow Pass, we had time to stop only at Big Four Mountain before making the hour-and-a-half trek back to our starting place in Stanwood. Snohomish County's most popular short hiking trail, to the ice caves at the base of the mountain, starts here. It is still closed after a cave collapsed this summer, causing the death of one and injury of others who had ignored warning signs. But we still  enjoyed the view of the mist-shrouded mountain and of the Stellar's jay that came to beg for a cookie. Our California visitors were in awe of the wild scenery along the way. They agreed. Driving the Mountain Loop Highway makes a perfect day trip.

Kari beside the chimney base, all that remains of the elegant Big Four Lodge that once stood at the foot of Big Four Mountain.

Coffee and lemon bars at Big Four.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Summer Windstorm

This year, we took granddaughter Annie to lunch in LaConner to celebrate her August 28 birthday. The weather was warm, with clouds flying overhead and bursts of wind flinging leaves across the road, but nothing  unusual for a late summer day.

Then the wind picked up. We sat at our table in the Calico Cupboard, watching passing tourists laughing and trying to keep their streaming hair out of their eyes. On the way back to Mt. Vernon, the wind buffeted the car. It yanked leaves and branches from the trees. They pelted us as we pushed through the debris. We dropped Annie at her home and left her dragging fallen branches out of her driveway. A few blocks later traffic stopped. A workman told us a tree was down, blocking the bridge that led into town. So back we went the way we'd come. We dodged many trees that had fallen, mostly deciduous maples, cottonwoods, and alders which still held their heavy canopies of leaves.

I wasn't quick enough to catch any of the larger branches we saw falling.
A windbreak doing its job for a Skagit Valley farm

With each gust, the air darkened with flying leaves.

A broken table seemed to be our only damage from the wind.   

After our power was restored the next morning, we noticed that my favorite tree in the yard, a native American cranberry bush tree with multiple slender trunks, had spread out all around, with branches nearly touching the ground. Then we saw that the wind yanking on its heavy canopy had lifted the roots and weakened their support for the trunks. Hank cut the leaning parts off, in hopes that what's left will stay upright.

The American cranberry bush tree in bloom, several years ago.

We were fortunate.  Throughout the Salish Sea region and further south and north, wind speeds equalled some of the stronger storms Western Washington typically receives in the late fall and winter. Gusts in the Seattle-Tacoma area reached 40-50 mph, while gusts to 60-70 mph were common in the North Sound and along the coast.

Because of the four-month drought we'd experienced, leaving trees stressed and weakened, and because trees were still fully leafed out, many that ordinarily could have weathered the storm went down, snapping utility poles and taking out power to many thousands of people. Some were without electricity for nearly a week. A number of homes were damaged by falling trees, and two deaths were reported.

For those who didn't suffer losses, our unusual summer storm brought concerns, and also excitement such as Annie's parents experienced. While we celebrated her birthday, they had taken the train to Vancouver, hoping to visit world-famous Stanley Park. Falling trees closed the park, and when they attempted to return the next day, Amtrak, with no electricity, had to stop frequently so crewman could man the switches by hand.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Gardening by Accident

Cantaloupe in Western Washington? Purely accidental.
Time for blog posting seemed as fleeting this summer as the sun breaks for which my blog is named, and I apologize. I do have an excuse: we're moving. Part of the reason has to do with the burgeoning growth in our yard and garden. We can't keep up with it any longer.

I've written before about our funny garden, with peas and potatoes and all sorts of growing things sprouting from every available cranny in our tiny back yard. This summer of our final garden we've found great entertainment in watching what our plants were up to.

The cantaloupe vine above sprouted next to the dahlia patch alongside the driveway. Perhaps the seed was in the compost we added, or maybe a crow dropped a stolen piece of fruit there. At first we thought we might have cucumbers, but as the fruits grew round and hard and baseball-sized, we realized a visitor from warmer climates had found our hot summer to its liking. The cantaloup on the right is nearly ripe, though it should be more the size of the rocks edging the drive.

The three photos below are a species of solanaceae, belong to the nightshade family. These have pretty lavender-blue blossoms which last only a day and then form papery, green and purple lanterns that hold the next  year's seeds. (I didn't realize when I planted some in pots last year that I would find solanaceae this year in the oddest places.

When I pulled some spent petunias from this pot, I found these miniature solanaceaes,  each complete with a tiny dried lantern.
This plant, a more normal size, came up under the blueberry bush.

This one, still growing, came up just as the sweet peas finished. Compare the size of the leaves above the hat to those in the previous picture.

What do you do when you can't use all the zucchini? Let it grow!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

How to Have a Reunion

We have a welcome table where people sign in, get the schedule, and ask questions. Vicki made gift bags too.
We call it the Rawlins reunion because we  share a common set of Rawlins ancestors. We meet every other summer. Those of us in the oldest generation were children at the first Rawlins reunions. Now our children and their children are grown, and some of us are great-grandparents. Here are the three Rawlins sisters, Patty, Lois, and me.

Sister-in-law Mary & brother Bill Rawlins signing someone's T-shirt.

2nd generation cousins, Rob and Delbert

Talking and listening...equally important

Megan painted faces for the younger ones.

Allen from Alberta & Neva from Illinois look after Zipper from Port Angeles

Gracie the Puppy

Cousins-in-law Hank and Bill Wislen

Be sure to get a group picture.

Make time for family history.

Food...always a big part of the get-together.

Name tags help when younger clan members don't know everyone.

Rest if you get tired.

Catching up with cousins

More catching up.

Always important to meet the newest family members!
Heather and Don pause for a photo.

An old-fashioned hymn sing before everyone scattered to their far-flung homes.