On Friday mornings, Kingston and I often join Holly and Lauren from Wild Whatcom, along with a gaggle of small nature explorers for walks along various trails in our town. It is always enjoyable, even on the rainiest of days.
Being Bellinghamsters, we're used to gearing up in our waterproof pants, tall boots and raincoats. A friend once advised me that to make it in a place where it rains about nine months out of the year, you can't let a little moisture stop you from living your life. So we get out. Every day. Besides, there is always so much to see and discover all around us, especially on these walks. We don't want to miss any of it, including the time to chat and play with friends.
Kingston and I always learn just enough so that we can go home and discuss it for a few days. This past week, we talked a lot about the salamander eggs the kids found. We imitated the call of the male red winged blackbird all throughout the house. We even made up a story about our new favorite bird. In it, his name was Red.
During last week's walk, Holly pointed out the pronged, lobster-like ends of the red dogwood branches, the female hooded merganser and her "permanent bad hair day" (Holly's exact words). This week, Lauren helped us identify a steller's jay and explained that it is a corvid, which means it is related to ravens, rooks, magpies and other intelligent and curious birds. So interesting!
It is amazing and grounding to see changes from week to week, especially lately, as Spring emerges and flora and fauna awaken. This beautiful natural world is steps away and easily accessible through the many trails and greenways that wind their way through town. We are very fortunate.
I can't help but think about the word "grounding" because that's what being in the natural world is about for me. It holds me to a place, helps me send roots down. Makes me feel that this is exactly where I belong. To see the plants and trees change throughout the seasons and to have the birds return with their song in Spring heightens my awareness of this world that I live in. I wish everyone could have this.
If you live in a big, busy city, why don't you come along on a walk with us now? We're going to meander along the Railroad Trail across Lake Whatcom, about a mile from our house.
Come. It'll be fun. Ready?
We start at Scudder Pond, near the corner of Alabama and Electric. The pond is currently filled with last year's cattails. The male red winged blackbirds like to sit on the tops and call to each other, "Ca-ca-ca-CAHH-ah!" The females are brown and stay lower down in the reeds, looking for nesting materials.
At the edge of the pond, Nicole finds two different jelly clumps (sorry, I don't know the actual scientific names!) of frog eggs. These are a dark green, rather than the black spots we saw in last week's clumps which were definitely filled with salamander eggs. Both frogs and salamanders like to attach their eggs to twigs or reeds, something sturdy to hold onto. All the little fingers and a few grown up ones in our group can't help poking at today's jelly clump, which is cold and feels pretty sturdy. Our fingers don't leave any dents, which surprises me.
With all the rain and moisture we get, this is a mossy place. Moss and lichen are everywhere. Sometimes as we walk, I like to go up to the trees and just pet them. So soft. There are many, many different kinds of moss. Lauren has told me about step moss, which is super interesting. Yes, it grows in a step type of pattern. Based on the number of "steps," you can tell how long the moss has been growing in a particular spot.
Catkins are everywhere and we step on lots, from all kinds of trees including alder, black cottonwood and big leaf maples. They grow downward from the tree branches and dangle there. Holly makes a crack about which human body part they resemble. It makes sense then that in many plants and trees, catkins are male. They contain yellow, powdery pollen which is released and dispersed by the wind.
Here's a cottonwood catkin. Many of us on today's walk are absolutely taken by the vibrant color and the interesting way it grows out in a curve. Nicole tells me that the buds of the cottonwood can be used to make a Balm of Gilead salve, among other things. Apparently, the sticky resin inside the buds (which I have been cursing every Spring and Summer, for falling onto my deck) is anti-bacterial and can be used for various medicinal purposes. Who knew. She gives me the basic recipe as we keep walking. No longer will I curse the cottonwood bud even as I am scraping dried resin off my patio table!
Then, everyone's favorite moment is upon us. Some yelling ensues, little voices shouting out, "Log snack! Log snack!"
We find a log to sit on, open up our backpacks, and pull out snacks to share. Today, I've brought some Chocolate Granola Bars.
"Sometimes you've gotta have chocolate," I tell Kara, opening the container and plopping it down.
"Uh, like all the time?" She responds. She opens up paper bags filled with pretzels and popcorn. Lauren offers some almonds while Abbey hands out cups of trail mix. Nicole cuts up oranges. Of course, Kingston eats almost all of someone's box of duck-shaped cheese crackers.
Pretty soon, here's about all that's left.
Thanks for walking with us today! Hope you had fun. See you next time, and don't forget to bring some snacks for sharing! A shout out to Holly and Lauren. Thanks for making our backyard truly come alive for us.
Chocolate Granola Bars
Adapted from the New York Times.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the pan
2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup flaxseed meal
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
3 1/2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons brown rice syrup (or substitute honey)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped dark chocolate or chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 300° F and grease an 8x8 inch baking pan. Set aside.
In a skillet, melt butter then add oats. Cook over medium heat for 8-10 minutes until oats smell toasty and are slightly golden. Remove from heat.
In a large bowl combine oats, flax, cinnamon, and salt. In separate small bowl combine honey, brown sugar, brown rice syrup, and vanilla. Pour over oats mixture and stir to combine thoroughly. If it is still very warm, wait a few minutes to allow to cool more. Add chocolate, stir to combine. Place mixture in prepared pan. Use a spatula or the bottom of a measuring cup to press mixture down very well.
Bake for 17-18 minutes. Make sure to not bake longer otherwise bars will be hard, not chewy.
Cool completely before flipping out of pan onto a cutting board. Cut into 15 pieces. These will keep in a sealed container for about a week.