Back in that Idaho paradise Just as spring began to show up on the Olympic peninsula, I left for the second winter of Idaho, aka April. The drive east across Washington was at a meandering speed, taking time to see all the historical roadside stops and scenic overviews. Why do we make false deadlines? I know I’m not the only person to rush past all the wonder trying to get to some place I’ve decided was going to be great. I slowed down at one spot and did some post holing to enjoy truly gorgeous views and saw several other vehicles pause, take a peek and then go one. Much of the coolness in the world can’t be experienced from the car, I’m here to tell you.Look at this waterfall with all the ice alongside!
And Mt Rainier- who do you think wears the regal white coat better?
I looked into lodging but ended up choosing a campsite in the forest. I had a truckbed full of stuff and I know one can’t leave all that out in a city and the weather was SO lovely and millions of stars. Monty loves a campfire story, as long as it isn’t a scary one
Here are a few photos from the drive to Idaho. I’m heading back into Hell’s Canyon now to find that wild asparagus from last year!
For a few glorious days I got to see what warmth and natural Vitamin D was like. It was as if the Olympic Peninsula weather had a nasty breakup from Winter and went out on a rebound date with Spring. There were a few days of well-above-freezing nights and afternoons that hit 70 degrees; truly such a lovely dalliance. Alas the OP realized that maybe it wasn’t done with Winter just yet and rainy-day 50 degrees returned to try and make things work.
Dazzled by the sunshine and digging out T-shirts, shorts, and, oh yes, a razor (I had sort of let No-Shave-November drag on a bit), I was again smitten by this northwest paradise. While walking in the sunshine I was remembering a hike I took late last summer. I’ll let this be a bit of photojournalism.
How does an Idahoan get anything done? There’s so many delightful distractions from the To Do list during the summer. I am a firm believer that one should strive to have accomplishments each day AND that one should absolutely not miss out on the amazingness of the world while in the pursuit of checking off that To Do list. Maybe you should have two lists, a To Do list where you get to feel productive and a Tah Dah! list where you allow time for the miracle of the world to unfold before you.
I had some lucky inside info from the don on a location of a fig tree. Figs in Idaho? This place never ceases to surprise me. I was able to find the tree and so much more! I surmise this spot must have been a former homestead along the river and a tiny orchard was planted. First I saw the fig tree, its leaves are unmistakable, even if you have never seen a fig tree before in your life, even if the only exposure to a fig leaf might be the pictures of Adam and Eve with a leafy bathing suit, you will instinctively know a fig leaf when you see it.
Wasps also like figs.
As you might remember if you read the Ponderosa Pinecone picking blog story, the wasps here have well earned their reputation for being aggressive. I was disbelieving of this reputation at first because the wasps in my yard in Houston were so mellow that we never had a negative encounter, even if I accidentally bumped them or soaked them with the water hose. The wasps out here in the harsh and wild West are just plain mean and will sting you just for breathing. Luckily these wasps on the figs are virtually drunk with the sugar and can hardly stay on the fig they are eating. Yes, those boogers eat figs. They poke holes in the figs and nibble until in a sugar coma. Look here.
So this is probably a good time to mention that whole “figs aren’t vegetarian because they have dead wasps in them” thing. I am not an expert on fig varieties but as far as I can tell, this is just a common fig that doesn’t need another tree or wasps to pollinate (lucky for it because I don’t know how many miles to the next fig tree it might be!) And these wasps are not the fig wasp I saw pictures of on Google. You can tell by the head shape, these are just normal mean wasps that will sting you as soon as look at you- except for one thing… they are apparently happy drunks
Since they are so satiated with sugar, the wasps hardly even notice me or Monty and so we were able to safely pick all the figs we desired.
The grasshoppers also were hanging around the fig tree. The grasshoppers eat with more gusto than the wasps. I identify more closely with them in the eating style department.
Near the fig tree was a tree with a fruit hanging on it that I hadn’t noticed before. I grabbed a fruit off the tree and opened it up because for some reason I had an inkling it might be interesting and low and behold…
Although doesn’t the walnut fruit look kind of like a small apple? But it pulls away cleanly and leaves the giant nut we love to eat.
By now my collection bag was getting heavy. I do make a point to only take no more than 10 per cent of the food on a wild tree so the animals who can’t go grocery shopping have plenty to eat. Even so, my bag was getting full with the figs and walnuts when I spied a tree with little orange baubles dangling from it.
Drawn to it, I stepped under the tree and plucked one of the salmon-colored beauties. Admiring it for a moment, I ripped it open like a hawk on a starling and checked the seed. I wasn’t sure at first if it was a plum or perhaps an apricot. Once I saw the seed, I tasted the flesh. It was bright and tart and I still couldn’t be 100% sure if it was plum or apricot. Or could this be a rogue plum-apricot hybrid? It was textured like a plum but tiny and orange and tart like an apricot. But the seed lended itself more towards plum. I might have taken a bit more than the 20% on this tree. Plums are famous for having the whole tree ripen at the same time and you have about 36 hours to harvest them or they fall off and rot. Okay, maybe a bit more than 36 hours but it’s not far off the mark. Ask any plum grower. And these guys WANTED to come with me. They were literally falling off the tree and hitting me on the head and shoulders trying to leap into my bag. And they were so soft and squishy and at the peak of ripeness this very moment. It was heavenly and the wasps hadn’t discovered them or maybe they just didn’t have the sugar the figs did so I was all alone picking, or perhaps the better word would be ducking, the plums.
Now Monty, who was not as impressed as I with the extraordinary bounty of the river valley, was getting rather thirsty. However, being the protective fella he is when we are out walking alone, he wouldn’t leave me to go down the 50 feet to the river and get a drink so we walked down together. It was so lovely on the river with the cool fall wind blowing gently balancing the sunshine. I could have stayed there all day.
The wonders never cease! Right near where I parked my car was a group of pear trees and, as luck would have it, there was plenty of fruit on them that was within my reach.
Coming up from the river I came across a blackberry bush. Around here the berries are ripe about July to August and this is in late September so these were well past ripeness and were actually dried on the bush. I picked a few and they were delicious! Kind of like Nature’s fruit leather and I didn’t mind all the seeds in the least, it was sort of like chia seeds. I was entranced by the yumminess, enough to brave all the tiny thorns that are so stabby so I grabbed about a half cup of the dried berries. I probably ate as much or more while collecting.
And if all that wasn’t enough, then, in a cool spot on the walk back I spied a blackberry bush that had berries just beginning to ripen! Honestly, this is the most amazing spot, just when you think you have a handle on it, another surprise rounds the corner.
Here are a couple of photos of the bounty from this Eden.
This one includes some items from the don’s garden. It’s a great time to be a vegetarian!
Gosh, all that remembering has made me hungry!
My days now will be divided between Idaho and Washington. Both of them are coastlines, if you look far enough back in the geologic record. I am quite lucky to have such extraordinary beauty surrounding me and these current cold and gray days are just a time to remember the bounty of summer.
“The grandeur and originality of the views presented on every side beggar both the pencil and the pen. Nothing we had ever gazed upon in any other region could for a moment compare in wild majesty and impressive sternness with the series of scenes which here at every turn astonished our senses and filled us with awe and delight.” Benjamin L. E. Bonneville, an early explorer of Hell’s Canyon, wrote about the place I was getting ready to spend two weeks camping and hiking.
The area has seen much since white men entered its waters, from its early days of exploitation for copper and gold ore to inciting national division in the 1950s and again in the 1970s on damming the river to present-time recreational pursuits. For many years Hell’s Canyon was hailed as the deepest canyon but that is now contested. Regardless of the numbers, I was about to walk into a place of no outside contact. Not that this is a new experience as I have been solo hiking sections of the Continental Divide Trail for a number of years, but this time was different. I was heading into the area with three mules, three dogs, my friend I call the don and his brother. Would Hell’s Canyon live up to its name and reputation? What hellish fate might await, i wondered?
Obviously I have lived to tell the tale. And share some photos…
Monty had never been around mules so it was with some slight trepidation that he was introduced to them. He did live through the two weeks but only through the grace of God who looks out for little white dogs.He was disbelieving these creatures were not just big dogs thus he continued to try and befriend them by getting too close to their feet. He would also try to insert himself in the mule train between two mules if I was riding a mule so I ended up in the saddle about 100 yards and then walking the remaining 18 miles into camp the first day. Monty did finally learn, mostly anyway, not to get underneath the mules and would walk very close to the back of the last mule. Thankfully the mules were very patient with this city boy who was just learning the ropes when it came to mule packing. Monty and I had that in common on this trip. One mule was particularly patient with me as I learned to halter and saddle and lead the mules and even let me braid his tail.
Hells Canyon will extract its pound of flesh, no doubt ’bout that. Just so you know, there are TWO different manifestations of poison ivy in these parts. There is the normal, vine-trailing-on-the-ground type found in moist areas like near creeks and under trees. Then there is another type that does not resemble a vine or a bush. This nasty and tricksy mo-fo is a stick about three feet tall with lovely white to cream dried-looking berries on it. At least that is how it looks in early spring, maybe in June it gets leaves or hairyness or something but in April it is just a lovely berry-topped stick with delicate red undertones hanging out with all the other grasses that looks like it is begging to be in a floral arrangement.
DO NOT BE FOOLED BY IT
Another tip, if you are traveling with animals or some companion that goes tromping pell-mell through the grasses, DO NOT LET THAT BEING INTO YOUR SLEEPING BAG, even if it is a skinny puppy shivering in the cold night. That shivering puppy will run through the tricksy poison ivy sticks ALL DAY LONG and then, in the wee hours of the darkness, will bring all that urushiol into your bag and onto your skin. Just imagine what the results of hours and hours of laying in the poison oil will do to your skin as she cuddles up so sweetly to you. All the weight you have lost from so much lovely exercise will not be evident due to the horrible sores and swelling from the blisters and your new trail name will be Scritchers.
This concludes my public service announcement.
Now for the good part, and if you heed my advice above, you can skip the icky and go straight to the good part. People tried to settle the canyon years ago and planted gardens. Most of the people and settlements did not last but some of their food-stuff is still there. If you go in early spring (as for this area, not the early spring of Houston) you will be fed well from the coffers of the canyon. the don knew of several spots where yummies were growing and shared them with me. Sadly I did not get photos of the morel mushrooms the don gathered and then cooked in butter on the wood stove (yes, for real. this is my life now) but i promise they were exquisite. The same day as the mushroom gathering, he showed me where asparagus would grow. Only a few stalks were showing then but when I went back a week later, JACKPOT!
I gathered a quart ziplock bag and nibbled on quite a few stalks as I gathered and only took about 20% of what was showing. There is also an area where watercress grows and we enjoyed fresh greens pretty much every day of the trip.
Can you imagine a two-week camping trip with fresh asparagus and watercress and mushrooms? and all cooked over campfire or woodstove. Hard to believe yet I offer photographic proof.
Monty was his usual majestic self and struck a pose on every rock formation he saw. Truly, I do not pose him and rarely do I even try to arrange a photo. Mostly he gets his vogue on and waits until I finally realize I should take a picture. He even photo bombs and, as usual, his version is much more interesting than my own. Do you think Ansel Adams might come back as a photogenic master in a dog body?
I’ll put more photos at the end of this post. At the time every single view was breathtaking and so I have tons of pictures of Monty posing with some dramatic view.
As you may know, I am a former city girl who has decided to try a completely different lifestyle. I am learning so much every day! For example, do you know where the antlers for those awesome chandeliers in hunting-themed lodges come from? Out here it is a hobby to collect the ginormous antlers that are shed naturally every spring by the elk. the don and his brother engage in antler hunting and I began a little hunting myself. I was better at finding asparagus.
I am working on a post showing life on the farm and this urban girl getting some rural skills. While that has been delayed a bit (by the very chores on which the post depends), I am going to share a poem written many, many years ago.
When I was packing my house to put in storage for my move to the Olympic Peninsula I came across a binder of poems written when I was in my late teens and early 20s. How fun it was to go through those writings and visit that young person through eyes who have seen the other side. If you know me personally you will not be surprised that there is a bit of the dramatic in my writing, just believe me when I tell you that I have actually mellowed since then!
poem written in 1990
rain softly tapping
a peaceful tempo gentling my mood
i watch raindrop rivulets race down the window pane
and bet as to which will win
the pastel gray of the sky is a perfect reflection of my mood
soft, quiet, relaxed
my thoughts wander- daydreaming
today is meant for snuggling
for enjoying the closeness of each other
and sipping hot cocoa to ward off the chill in the air
unplug the phone and turn on the tv
to hell with news, find the cartoons
today is for light-heartedness and gaity
a time to recharge
we will be serious tomorrow