Pikes/Pines | Wanna see something really scary? Meet the decomposers of Capitol Hill

A burying beetle species found on a deer carcass. (Image: Brendan McGarry)

Most folks have an aversion to dead, rotting, and decaying things. They smell bad, they have a weird texture, they’re just simply gross. Most of us, if we had it our way, wouldn’t deal with the slime that forms in the bottom of the garbage can. However, in a strange way, this is the stuff of life: in the unmaking of things that once lived, the new foundations of life are found.

We are on the verge of a holiday in which we celebrate our fascination with death. Halloween mostly focuses on the spiritual side this. I thought we could think about what happens to the corporeal after life.

Things certainly don’t just fall apart by themselves. We can’t just throw our yard waste in a pile and expect it to turn to compost immediately. A whole host of organisms, we’ll broadly call decomposers, break them down. On a simplistic level, a decomposer picks apart the larger pieces in the process of getting sustenance, leaving divisions in its wake.

There are fungi, bacteria, insects, and even vertebrates that aid in decomposition. If we get into it, only fungi and bacteria really break things down enough to be considered fully “decomposed,” broken into essential ingredients of life like nitrogen or carbon. The rest are just detritivores that aid the process. No matter the role, they’re all important. So let’s consider some possibly familiar, and less familiar, decomposers that live on the Hill. Continue reading

Pikes/Pines | The secret goldfish pond below Stevens Elementary

It’s a peaceful, mostly quiet existence. And friends seem to drop enough granola bar bits from above to augment whatever goldfish chow exists naturally in the storm drain of a Capitol Hill elementary school.

It’s not exactly clear when or how they arrived, but two fish continue to make the Stevens Elementary campus near 19th and Galer their home. Continue reading

Pikes/Pines | Northern Flickers, a surprising urban favorite around Capitol Hill

Northern Flicker wings, from the spread wing collections at the Burke Museum. (Image: Brendan McGarry)

Growing up a birder, one tends to become the focus of bird questions. Frequently, people describe birds to you, hoping you can identify them. This has never bothered me and it serves as an entry into getting people to think about birds a little more with a series of questions: Where was it? What was it doing? How large was it compared to a bird you know? How did you know it was a he (as in, why do we assign “he” to animals without typically knowing their sex)? Lots of bird species surface in these queries. However, there’s one that tends to garner more attention than most: The Northern FlickerColaptes auratus.

I think what frequently catches the attention of people who see a flicker, is the intense color of their underwings and undertail. A reddish-orange flash greets the person who stumbles across a flicker, or as they are also called in our area, Red-shafted Flickers (a Yellow-shafted form of the same species exists east of the Rockies and they used to be considered different species). Of all the feathers I find, a good percentage are from flickers, their orange shafts acting as beacons, more than their feathers being more commonly dropped than other birds. Also noticed by observers is their white rump, or the body speckled with black dots. For being a bird that displays as predominantly gray and brown from afar, they are beautiful birds. An urban favorite. Continue reading

Cemetery Lichens

Ghosts and Goblins in a cemetery for Hallowe’en?
Why not consider lichens as an alternative? Lichens are friendly and interesting organisms that love to grow on headstones and old trees. They are harmless to your plants and add aesthetic value to trees and shrubs. We can actually use them as indicators of air pollution!
Cemeteries can take on new meaning as a fun place to observe a symbiotic organism made up of fungus and algae. You will also learn about common lichens found in an urban environment and take home a user-friendly chart that lists lichens found in your neighborhood. Join Dr. Katherine Glew and the UW Botanic Gardens on Saturday, October 27 to get a head start on learning lichens from your local cemetery. You can enjoy Hallowe’en looking for lichens rather than scary witches and pumpkin heads.

CHS Pikes/Pines | Capitol Hill’s invasive plants you love to hate


When we live in human altered spaces and inhabit a cultural space dominated by binaries, it’s incredibly easy to create a false dichotomy about the natural world. This stems from a troubling belief that if we are in place like the Hill, are not a part of nature. And, if we travel out to say, an alpine meadow in the Cascades, we’re in nature. We think of unkempt greenspaces on the edges of our urban landscape as awful, non-native, invaded landscapes, and idealize the seemingly natural, wild, or “untrammeled” spaces beyond our fold.

Continue reading

Pikes/Pines | The great Capitol Hill eastern cottontail mystery of twenty eighteen

Has anyone else noticed the sudden appearance of rabbits on the Hill? Growing up in Seattle, I can’t recall many rabbits sightings. There were a few at Discovery Park, and there was the infamous colony in a rocky warren in Lower Woodland. Other sizable green spaces have rabbits as well, but it always seemed likely that the Hill and the rest of central Seattle wasn’t suitable. Turns out I was wrong.

Feral, domesticated rabbits are not unusual in cities overall. Often people assume they are easy pets, and disown them upon discovering otherwise. They hop about for awhile and I assume, are dispatched by cars or coyotes. But the bunnies we’re seeing aren’t domesticated, they’re eastern cottontail rabbits (Sylvilagus floridanus), and they’re suddenly everywhere. The real question is why? Continue reading

Twilight Tram Tour

Twilight is that time when people-activity in the Arboretum quiets down and we get to view this enchanting place in another light. Our open-air tram offers the ability to glide through the early evening hours in ease and explore the changes that start to occur as the sun goes down.

Dr. John Wott, Director Emeritus, will lead this journey through the many plants in the Arboretum’s world-class collection, while sharing the history of the park. Dr. Wott served as Arboretum Director from 1991 to 2004 and continues to serve as a passionate leader, teacher, and advocate for our programs and collections. With any luck, along the way on this special tour of the plant collections, you may have an opportunity to get acquainted with our resident nocturnal fauna, including bats, raccoons, and owls.

Birds: What Are They Up To Now? Class

What are birds getting up to during the summer? Our local birds are very busy with the “kids”, but they’re also getting ready for the big push south in the fall. Join master birder, author, and Seattle Audubon Conservation Chair Constance Sidles to find out exactly what our avian neighbors are doing this summer. Connie will show us what birds are up to, and share some delightful bird stories and facts.

CHS Pics | A new trailhead on Broadway

The start of a pleasant Saturday hike

Every hour or so Saturday and Sunday morning starting this weekend, hikers could set out from Broadway on their start of a climb up the most popular trail in the region.

The Trailhead Direct service Saturday celebrated its expansion to Capitol Hill Station with a bus breaking through a ceremonial banner and a collection of urban hikers ready for a day on the mountain. You can now take the bus from Capitol Hill to Mt. Si and Mt. Teneriffe on weekends through October, weather permitting. Continue reading

It’s harvest time for Capitol Hill and Central District ideas for urban gleaner City Fruit

With warmer days, those neighborhood blossoms will soon be neighborhood plums. But City Fruit, the urban fruit gleaning community dedicated to putting the bounty of Seattle’s edible forests to good use, is coming to the area later this month to harvest something else.

City Fruit reps are coming to a May 29th meeting at the Central District’s Douglass-Truth Library meeting space to and learn more how to get the word out about their programs, neighborhood trees ripe for the picking, and ideas on where its bounties could be best put to use in the area.

City Fruit: Harvest Advisory Forum – Central District and Capitol Hill

“Do you know of some public trees in the neighborhood that never are harvested? Want to be involved with a Harvest Hub? Let us know,” organizers write.

CHS wrote here about the many flowering trees found around Capitol Hill — many of them bearers of fruit. Happy harvesting.