Naturally a Disaster

Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I have had a lot of opportunity to experience the world around me. My childhood home had a view of Mt. Baker (on a clear day), and sunny summer days in the Skagit Valley treated me to views of the Olympics Mountains, or marine scenery in the San Juan Islands.

To me, it was never a surprise that I fell in love with rocks, volcanoes, and earthquakes. Apparently, this was a surprise to those close to me because I “am afraid of getting wet/dirty” and “have cried after seeing bugs near me” or “have the coordination and body awareness of a newborn deer.”

Maybe so.

Over the summer, I had an opportunity to be a mentor at a geology camp at Mt. St. Helens. It was a chance to motivate middle-school aged girls to pursue their interest in science, as well as a free week-long trip to areas of the mountain I had never been to before. We did a six-mile hike on the Pumice Plain in 90-degree heat. I slept in a tent for the first time. It was the week that jump started my caffeine dependency.

Visual evidence of the author alive and in nature

In high school English, we talked about Romantic literature, and how it often includes an ‘awe of nature.’ I had never truly understood this until I got to look up at the Milky Way at night, then have my breakfast in the blast zone of an active volcano (the pancakes were tasty, too). One day, we hiked on the flank of the mountain, where the landscape is completely unrecognizable from its pre-1980 appearance. We splashed around in a creek that came from an expanding glacier, and got to see first-hand the life that had been reborn from the death and destruction of the last major eruption. (Side Note: One of my favorite intersections of art and science comes from Disney’s Fantasia 2000. The finale is Stravinsky’s The Firebird, with a gorgeous artistic interpretation of life before and after 1980 on Mt. St. Helens.)

Since that trip, I have gained a new appreciation, and lens to view the natural world with. Treating nature as something dynamic and powerful, instead of a constant in the background of civilization doesn’t feel like it should be a revolutionary idea, but it is.

As a Skagit County native, my summers were full of trips to the pebble beaches of the Puget Sound, drives along the Chuckanuts, and swimming in the nastiest lakes known to man. Over the past few months, I have been looking back at these interactions with the natural world that I’ve always taken at face value, and trying to understand the natural history of an area I know like the back of my hand on a much broader scale than “where can my friends and I hang out?”

Long story short- I am excited for this class because it will push me out of my comfort zone, and hopefully the information I learn will follow me for future field work trips and geology-themed vacations.

Weekly Road Trips to Squak Mountain

Friends are fantastic. Especially when they take 8:30 AM classes with you, and have a car. Cat Hannahs and I decided that since we had a car and time, we’d try to get a little further out of Seattle, across the lake to Issaquah suburbia. We managed to not find the main entrance to the state park, but we did find the trailhead to the Bullitt Fireplace Trail.

After a short and slightly cold walk on the trail, Cat and I found sites that were off the path (easier said than done, because of a steep hillside to our right) and within shouting distance of each other, and we settled down to make our observations.

Up-close site photo

Further-out view of site

April 1st, 2018, 11:38 AM
Squak Mtn. State Park – Bullitt Fireplace Trail
Classic WA Weather, so sprinkling and about 50 degrees

Observations in ~1 sq. meter
– People have probably walked in this area because there are some gaps in plant life, but is a non-maintained area with a lot of leaves and pinecones as ground cover
– Lots of ferns
– A couple types of mosses
– Interesting terrain- Small but steep hill that is about my height right next to the flatter space I am standing on
-Surrounded by trees, but not leafy enough to protect from chilly wind
– Higher and older trees provide some rain cover
– Can still hear some city noise (thanks, fire trucks)

Observations in ~50 sq. meters
– Part of the Issaquah Alps
– Site is near a steep hillside with great views of mossy trees and a wider scope of the forest floor
– Mix of older and newer trees (a few feet in diameter to a few inches)
– Bird noises!
– Knocked over trees that are covered in moss
– Living plants right next to dead ones, some ferns looked half-alive and half-dead
– Some young trees that may or may not have survived the winter (we’ll see!)
– We had gusts of wind then short bursts of rain, which gave the site this fantastic, earthy smell
– Not a lot of animal life. I tried to dig around for some insects, but I wasn’t coming up with much (aforementioned problems with bugs and dirt may have been a subconscious effect)