Pikes/Pines | The trash trees of Capitol Hill

A canopy of red alders in winter. (Image: Brendan McGarry)

A friend of mine calls alders “trash trees.” He is an arborist, and as a pragmatic person who maintenances trees to fit into the grid, alders aren’t “good” trees. They are fairly weak, short lived, are rot prone, and pop up unwanted. They are also native, and as a result host loads of other species, and possesses a subtle seasonal variability I find a beautiful part of our landscape.

These differences of opinion are well reflected in the blocked up properties of dense, urban Capitol Hill. Based on my observations, some people care dearly about managing every last inch of space, others are willing to let things go wild, and some seem entirely oblivious to the world outside their indoor spaces. (Landscaping is also a privileged act, not simply about “caring” or “not caring”). I wonder how the red alder, Alnus rubra, the common and unassuming tree, fits into our world on the Hill?

There are certainly plenty of alder trees growing around Capitol Hill. They are in the Arboretum, in St. Mark’s  Greenbelt, in Interlaken Park. However, few yards appear to purposefully invite red alders into their limited spaces. Why is this? Continue reading

Pikes/Pines | Sign of Capitol Hill summer: Dragonflies in ankle tattoos — and the air

Eight-spotted Skimmer

One of the things that signal summer to me are dragonflies. One day I look up and suddenly they’re there: jeweled, colorful insects, jetting through the air and changing direction on a dime to scoop up unsuspecting prey. Maybe this isn’t your idea of summer but I think dragonflies are worth your attention this season.

I’ve been feeling a little blue about the state of insects lately (to put it lightly). I am convinced that I belong to a generation with a shifting baseline, unknowingly living through a major decline in insects because I grew up without massive amounts of insects around (see the link above for why this matters). But despite this feeling of dread, I have to remind myself that while some humans have seriously destructive and potentially irreversible tendencies, many insects have been around a long, long time too.  Continue reading

Capitol Hill slept through an early morning Seattle earthquake

A 4.6 magnitude earthquake rumbled from near Monroe early Friday morning, shaking buildings to the southwest around Seattle while most of Capitol Hill slept through the ride.

There were no reports of significant damage or injuries from the 2:51 AM quake or smaller aftershocks that followed but it did rattle and roll enough for a few people to get out of bed — or, at least, roll over, grab their phones, and update social media.

USGS Community Internet Intensity Map

The US Geological Survey’s mapping of reports from around the area showed that the quake was felts as far away as Olympia.

KIRO reports the quake is the largest to hit the region since the 6.8 M 2001 Nisqually earthquake.

While Seattle is still largely unprepared for the “big one,” the city does know more about how much it would cost to retrofit its thousands of unreinforced masonry buildings. A new plan, meanwhile, will test a solar microgrid system at Capitol Hill’s Miller Community Center that is designed to give the facility greater resiliency in the event of natural disasters.

Nature Journaling Class: Drawing from Nature

2 Tuesdays and 2 Thursdays: July 30, August 1, 6 and 8, 2019, 6:30-9pm

This class is a nature journaling and observational drawing class. We will be going outside into the gardens at the Center for Urban Horticulture with our sketchbooks to practice recording observations in the field. We will then use our field observations to work on the drawings further, using graphite and watercolor. The focus of the class will be practicing nature journaling and using this information from the field to create a more completed observational drawing.

Pikes/Pines | Queer as nature — Capitol Hill roses are gender-fluid

Your Capitol Hill lawn is gender-fluid, too. Bobby Morris? That’s a different essay.

Pride month is here and I have something to tell you: Nature is queer. I don’t mean strange (though it is that too), but that the natural diversity of gender and sexuality in the Hill’s nature is part of its beauty. Culture can blind us, sometimes presenting facts that are actually fiction, particularly about the more than human world. Let’s bust that up a bit.

I write this as a white, straight, cisgendered man inexperienced in getting into the weeds on the subject of the LGBTQ world. Pride is easily co-opted as social capital, something I’d like to avoid. I am writing this not to co-opt but in an attempt to offer a few clumsy words to uplift some stories of natural diversity (and hopefully not inadvertently perpetuate violence or my privilege).

The complexities of gender and sexuality in nature (you may need to be reminded that this includes us), are fathomless. Despite being trained as an environmental educator, I am not a people expert; we will speak here about the more than human world, possibly as lessons for being human. The version of nature we are often given, of male and female organisms on an endless trail of sexual reproduction is a far cry from reality. Continue reading

Pikes/Pines | Stop giggling and consider the urban beaver on the shores of Lake Washington

Beavers have a way of getting under our skin. Some people despise them, others think they are panacea, and cute as a button to boot. Beliefs and feelings often intermingle inextricably with facts, which is why I believe beavers are amazing creatures, and a landowner with a flooded yard might have different thoughts. And yet, we’re all talking about the same creature.

Now you’re reading this, thinking to yourself: “There aren’t any beavers on Capitol Hill.” On top of it, certainly you are right. However, a quick trip down to the water nearby yields obvious signs of their presence, regardless of our actually seeing a beaver. Continue reading

Pikes/Pines | Bird sounds of the city on Capitol Hill

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Have you ever learned about something and suddenly start noticing it everywhere? For instance, I had never really paid much attention to how many late 90s Honda civics are still on the road until I was driving one. There’s a switch in our heads for recall. This is an ideal time of year to train that human ability for recognition towards bird songs.

I’ve talked about why birds sing in various articles on CHS, but to review: birds vocalize to communicate. That could be a drawn-out daily song to tell a neighbor this is that a territory has occupants. Or a raucous screech to tell everyone in the vicinity that there’s a cat roaming nearby. I find that by paying attention to bird song I see more birds, so much so that I’ll stop mid-stride when I hear a particular song or call.

If you are interested in trying to see birds, a helpful skill is being able to find them by their vocalizations first. An early job of mine was as a point counter, walking transects in Northern California, recording bird abundance. You’d think I would just walk around looking for birds, but mostly I was walking around listening. I liken learning bird calls to learning a language, though undoubtedly humans fall short of fluency. I had a step up by learning at an early age, but anyone can learn a few songs. You might already know the sound, even if you don’t know who is making it.

Below are a few birds I hear all over urban Puget Sound and that are common and readily found on the Hill. Continue reading

Pikes/Pines | A natural reason to not spring forward

Morning Commute

Happy daylight savings! You woke up this morning, all your devices are set an hour forward, you get on with your day. Seems pretty simple right? We get a bit more daylight out of the day and we move on with our lives. Not quite.

All vertebrates need to sleep. Physiologies differ between species, individuals, and is related to age or other endogenous factors — meaning we (as in vertebrates) all need different amounts of sleep depending on who we are. A famous example of a seemingly aberrant model is that of dolphins, who go on autopilot to sleep, turning off half their brains to rest but continue traveling to the surface to breath via their blowholes. We have it easy, we just have to not smother ourselves with our pillows.

We humans all need to get to sleep a good amount of successive hours and our bodies know this. If your body is functioning fairly well, it knows when it’s time to go to sleep. We have specific circadian rhythms, dictated mainly by the pineal gland, which sends out the message in the form of melatonin. When your eyes don’t see light for awhile, it’s bedtime. Melatonin, is neurohormone that initiates sleepiness. When daylight hits those eyelids, your body stops the melatonin rush, and you start to wake up.
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Pikes/Pines | Capitol Hill not the frostiest — but still pretty cool

St. Mark's Greenway hoar frost

I haven’t seen frost in quite a while. And yet, even if we don’t get much snow on the Hill, I know every winter I can count on some frost. Mundane? Well, you may or may not know that there are several kinds of frost, brought on by a variety of conditions. Frost is fascinating.

You mostly know when to expect it. After that clear, cold night, you wake up, ready to scrape the windows or watch your step as you walk down the block. In its simplest form frost is moisture in the air, gaseous water, that has settled into a liquid state, and frozen, on a surface. For this to happen, the air temperature needs to get below dew point, the temperature where gaseous water turns to liquid (why we get dew on our lawns overnight in cool temperatures). Frost mostly happens when the air is saturated with moisture.

When we do get cold, clear weather in our area, we see a lot of frost because we have moisture to spare. In a more dry place, even on the other side of the Cascades, frigid temps don’t always mean an accumulation of frost on the available substrates. Less moisture, less frost.   Continue reading

Pikes/Pines | Time to give thanks — and put out a healthy spread — at Capitol Hill bird feeders

American Robins are common in our yards, but almost never come to feeders. Habitat is what attracts them. (Image: Brendan McGarry)

When I was eight years old, few things were more exciting than birds. This excitement may feel eccentric to certain folks. However I’m not unique in this. In 2013, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported that at least 47 million people in the U.S. watch birds, in one form or another. Few of these people probably match the fervor of my 12-year-old-self seeing “life birds” — species I’d never seen before — but I bet many feed birds.

There are likely more people on Capitol Hill who feed birds than identify themselves as birdwatchers. Bird feeding is a $5 billion industry. Inevitably, people on the Hill feed birds. I have been feeding birds most of my adult life. Not only do I get to enjoy feathered friends with morning coffee, but it gives me a sense of who is in the neighborhood, helping me feel less disconnected from the world.

So, if we’re going to do it, let’s do it right.

Continue reading