Swan Creek Hiking & Salmon Spawning

One of my favorite phone calls of 2014 was one from my nephew, Andrew. I was just getting down from the mountains and had a message on my phone, “Hi, Aunty Beth. I was wondering if you could come over so we can go hiking.” I called him back and reminded him that I live in Colorado which is far away so I couldn’t come over today. He was very understanding and matter of factly said, “Okay, then we’ll go hiking next time you’re here, right?”

Andrew and I almost had conflicting travel schedules and only overlapped in Tacoma for one day so I was sure to follow up on my promise and get him outside. Andrew’s hiking requirements go as follows: “We get in the Jeep, drive to the woods, and hike.” (I found this out when I tried to convince four year old Drew that a walk in the neighborhood counted as a hike… he was not impressed.) Luckily for me, my mom lives near an awesome green space: Swan Creek Park.

Beth and Andrew

I’ve taken Andrew hiking here several times now and he loves it. Its big enough and the woods are dense enough that it really feels like hiking even if you are a 5 minute drive from downtown Tacoma. This time, when we got out of the car, there were signs announcing that the annual salmon run was happening. I was skeptical about there being much to see until we made it to the creek—the smell of dead fish was unmistakable.

Andrew inspecting dead salmon

Andrew was totally fascinated with the dead fish (“Aunty Beth, all of their eyes are gone!!”) and almost as excited with the few live fish still working their way upstream. I mentally changed gears: I was pretty sure we weren’t going to actually go hiking that day but instead would spend the whole time watching the fish and learning about them.

Watching salmon swim upriver

Much to my surprise, after wandering back and forth in the same area of the creek, Andrew was still interested in going for a hike. As a matter of fact, after hearing that he’d already walked a mile according to the GPS on my phone, he declared he was going to hike five miles.

Andrew

The trail was just muddy enough to be exciting but the sun was shining—an absolutely perfect day to be out in nature.

Trees

image

I’m so excited that he’s getting older. Even after learning about the salmon, he was still excited to learn about ferns and how they can help soothe stinging nettles.

Andrew.

We learned that this is in fact a plant, not an animal, and that it is called lichen:

Andrew and lichen

We saw big stumps that showed evidence of springboard logging and talked about that. We even learned the importance of silly selfies:

Beth and Andrew

We didn’t make it five miles but to my surprise, we did three miles—no crying, no whining, and all fun.

Andrew

Andrew even had so much fun that he was sure to tell his brother Junior that next time he just has to come hiking with Aunty Beth.

Andrew

Desert Solitare, Ed Abbey, and Learning to Love The Desert

When I met F almost four years ago, he was sitting in a coffee shop in Corvallis reading Desert Solitaire. While I liked to read about the outdoors and traveling, I’d never had the good fortune to discover the writings of Ed Abbey. I’m sure this was in no small part thanks to the fact the closest I’d ever come to the “desert” was the area just east of the Columbia River in Washington (mostly the Vantage area).

I hadn’t ever really delved into the ways that being in the desert could complement and enhance the being in the mountains. F left his beat up copy of ol’ Cactus Ed’s book with me when he decamped for Mexico just after meeting me. I devoured it. I loved it. But, as sometimes is the problem when I plow through a book I love, I didn’t savor it.

Last fall, when we were in the early stages of planning our Moab wedding, I promised myself that I would reread it over the winter. Winter pretty much came and went and I didn’t. This spring, however, I decided I’d pay a few dollars to download it on my Kindle and one evening at the cabin, I dipped back into it. I’d read parts aloud to F and really settle in to the landscape that I always itch to go back and visit.

(If you haven’t ever read Abbey, Desert Solitaireis the place to start. After that, you have to give his fiction a try with The Monkey Wrench Gang and its sequel, Hayduke Lives! I recently read Beyond the Wall: Essays from the Outsideand enjoyed it very much. Some people sort of frown on Abbey’s attempts at poetry that are collected and published in Earth Apples but really enjoyed the collection. Confessions of a Barbarianwill also give you some pretty good insight into Abbey’s tongue in cheek way of viewing the world. I’ve also read Brave Cowboy and Fire on the Mountainbut I generally don’t enjoy his fiction as much as the essays.)

One of the things I love so much about good travel literature (like Travels With Charlie, Blue Highways, or the like) is that they can transport you to a place. Before I traveled through the south I was able to absorb William Least Heat Moon’s description of his travels there. The desert, and specifically, the red rock desert of Utah, was a little different. While I loved Desert Solitare on the first read, I wasn’t able to fully process and absorb Abbey’s words. I was completely unequipped to understand and feel for the landscape as he was describing it.

While you’re reading this, I’m down playing in the beautiful red rock canyons of Utah with my soon-to-be-husband. (SATURDAY people…that’s like TOMORROW.) If you’ve been there, you’ll read this and think, “September in Moab? AWESOME.” If you haven’t you might be a little more “Meh.” But in any case, this afternoon, I’m sending some of my favorite Abbey quotes your way…try to feel the desert however you can.