Private Views of Public Lands: Who Do These People Think They Are? Oh. Heh. Us.

How do government workers stand it? All the democracy, I mean. All the dealing with people on whose behalf they are planning the roads or designing the curriculum…or, in this case, protecting the land.

This land. And this chocolate lily and this death camas.

The cover shot of this blog is part of the San Juan National Monument–which happens to be practically in my backyard. So I spend a lot of time out there–enough to feel a strong degree of ownership. “Yeah, yeah, public land…but they don’t know it and love it like I do.”

It’s not like the path is hard to find or anything.

Which is why it’s so hard, every year as Memorial Day approaches, watching the hordes of visitors begin to tromp my beloved paths. Or, often as not, tromp OFF them, into the meadows and over the fragile lichens, despite the signs asking them oh-so-politely not to…

Have you ever seen a sweeter, more polite sign from the feds? It even says Thank you!

despite the not-subtle blockages of routes…

C’mon, people…sticks mean no walkies!

and, oh yeah, this brand-new sign with the trails perfectly marked and the endangered wildflowers listed (the ones you’re tromping on now, you!!! Get back on the trail! (Easy, girl.)

Thanks, taxpayers! (You’re welcome.)

How do they DO it, those Bureau of Land Management folks who, charged with protecting this fragile landscape, hosted public meeting after public meeting with every possible stakeholder, striking the perfect compromise between use and misuse, the perfect language for every sign–including when NOT to place a sign at all? And then to see how many people deliberately breeze past your handiwork because they NEED to go climb that rock?

THIS rock…which has a perfectly good access if you’d just walk a little further up the trail!

I know, believe me. I’ve scoffed my share of laws–dog off leash for years (though I always leashed up if I saw another person), lichens crushed, flowers picked because I wanted to. But that was BEFORE someone asked me (politely) not to, and took the time to explain why.

Do we need to ask more politely? Explain more thoroughly? Or just resign ourselves to the fact that a certain percentage of people will always do exactly what they want no matter that–or even because–someone’s asking them not to?

I’m really bad at resignation. Guess there’s a reason I don’t work for the Bureau of Land Management. I have too much personal, private passion wrapped up in these lands…which aren’t private in the least.

Which is good. I happen to have neighbors who are equal parts wealthy, environmentally concerned, and generous. I walk and run on their paths as much as on the National Monument; they are contiguous, the same stunning stretch of coastline. And grateful as I am for their permission to drink in the private beauty, it feels weird to me that it IS private. That so few people have access…to wander off its trails, tromp its delicate meadows and lichens and…

Delicate lichens and red-leafed stonecrop that suddenly shows itself golden in the spring…

Oh dear. Here we go again. Guess I’ll just wrap it up this way: I love our democracy. I love the idea of public lands. And I appreciate the hell out of the folks who have to deal with the public ON the land, because…they sure are better at it than I am.

Rain, Rain…Please Come (But Not Like in Texas)

Just a quick post (as summer is suddenly upon me and my bakery job is gobbling larger chunks of my life) to say…here is a picture of the happiest plant on my island right now:

Yes, there ARE cacti in the coastal northwest! But they shouldn't be this happy this time of year.

Yes, there ARE cacti in the coastal northwest! But they shouldn’t be this happy this time of year.

Something’s wrong with this picture. We’re supposed to be soggy this time of year, wiping our muddy boots, wondering whether today’s moisture will be morning, evening, or some of each.

Moisture? I hardly remember what that is. We’re in drought. Nothing like California, nothing even as bad as the eastern part of our state, Washington. But enough to remind me that our state name, The Evergreen State, is in danger. And enough for me to beg those of you who enjoy complaining about rain to please, just keep quiet for a little while.

Unless you live in Texas. Then you’re allowed to complain.

Hang in there, people! Mother Nature is definitely in charge. All we can do is help each other.

Thistle Wars: A New Dope (Me)

It’s August, and the war is raging.

No, I’m not talking about the one in the Middle East. Or Syria. Or Ukraine. Or…*sigh*…Can we move on, please?

I’m talking about the War on Thistles. I think of this as my own private war, Woman vs. Nasty Prickly Invasive Plant. When I’m out removing thistles from the National Monument land adjacent to my house, however, I invariably meet dozens of folks who stop to share their own thistle-war stories. So I know I’m not alone.

First of all, let’s be clear. I’m not talking about native thistles, the kind that decorate your hiking trail up in the mountains:

pretty2

I’m talking about Cirsium Vulgare, better known as Bull Thistle. Don’t let me hear you calling THIS beast “pretty.”
pretty
It’s invasive. Deer, sheep and cows won’t eat it. It’s prickly as a porcupine. And it produces about a billion seeds per plant every August.

To remove it, you have to remove the WHOLE PLANT. Just cut off the flowers at the top? Hah–the plant will just sprout out more from the sides. So why not just cut the plant down and leave it to rot?

This is why:oldones
The damn thing just dries out and pops its seeds right on schedule, posthumously. Once those fluffy little bastards are loose, the plant has won.

Some people cut their thistles, cover them tightly with a tarp, and let them degrade for a year or two. But I can’t exactly do that on public land. So here’s my routine. I cut ’em with long-handled shears, make a small pile (picking them up with the shears), then use my boots to fold the stems and mash the pile into a kind of mat, like so:die
Then I use a towel to take hold of that thistle-mat (leather gloves alone aren’t enough), wrestle it into a garbage bag, and stamp on the bag. The stamping helps to compact ’em further, but it’s also a kind of war dance. bag
Did I mention this whole stupid endeavor is also a great workout?

Yes, I often tell folks who wander by and ask annoying earnest questions, yes it WOULD be better to uproot the whole plant instead of cutting it. But that would probably kill me instead of just exhausting me.

On a good day, I can cut, mash, and stuff for two hours. Then I have to drag the heavy yard-cart full of kill thistles back to my house and load it into our truck to take to the dump. So, yeah. Workout city.

But before I leave a site, I stop to enjoy the Before and After view:thistles1
thistles2
I’d like to think the dream of ridding my beautiful big “backyard” of bull thistles is not an impossible dream. Gotta admit, when I’m out there cutting, it’s hard not to feel more like Sisyphus than Hercules. Especially when a handful of thistledown floats past my nose, looking about as fluffy and innocuous as a baby duck with a machine gun. But I just sigh and remind myself that, hey, this year there were fewer to cut than last year!

At least I think there were.mine
Anyone else out there have your own personal battle with invasive anythings? Plants? Animals? Neighbors? Tell me all about it. I’d love the excuse to sit down for a while.

Sorry, Dolly Parton: Wildflowers DO Care Where They Grow…And That’s Cool

Dolly Parton’s lovely song notwithstanding, wildflowers can be very picky about their habitat. But when they find a home, oh wow, do they show their appreciation. This week I’m giving special thanks for that. Since my sweet dog left us last weekend, I’ve been going for walks without a dog for the first time in ten years, and the flowers act like comforting hugs.

The Mate and I are especially blessed to live not only on a beautiful island, but adjacent to a piece of land that has recently been declared part of a National Monument (thanks, President Obama!). We walk out into the meadow to be greeted by a riot of flowers.

buttercups

 

Sometimes it’s enough just to appreciate them in a blanket. But usually I’m drawn down to my knees to inspect their delicacy up close. These flowers deserve a better photographer than me, but in my mind’s eye they’re captured exactly as they should be.

camas

But it’s the picky ones that are my favorites. The Calypso Orchid only grows in patches of woods where it can find a particular fungus it likes. Spotting one, so perfect in its intricate fleshiness,  feels like a special gift.

orchid

Then there’s the chocolate lily. I don’t think I love it just for its name, but that doesn’t hurt. Nearly brown (although with the sun shining through their petals, they are actually a gorgeous burgundy), they camouflage themselves among the buttercups and field chickweed. Then you spot one. Oh. There’s another. Oh, my. Suddenly you realize you are looking at an entire sweep of these tiny creatures that look like something from a very expensive bouquet.

lily

I was thinking about writing about the question, “Why do I care so much about knowing the ‘names’ of these flowers?” Or, “What is it about IDing something in nature that makes me feel so good?” But I’m really not feeling that philosophical right now. I am content to feel comforted.

Thanks, flowers. I needed that.

Favorite flower experiences? What do wildflowers do for you? Please share your special ones.

 

 

 

 

Dare I Say It? Dogs Off-Leash?

I try to stay away from controversy.  Anyone who knows me knows I have my correct opinions and like to argue, but here in Wing’s World, I try to keep it sweetness & light.

But it’s summer. Tourists are flocking to my island. And since the chunk of federally-owned land adjacent to my house has been declared part of a National Monument, they seem to be flocking in, well…rather larger flocks.

With their dogs. Who may or may not be leashed.

See, here’s the thing. I hate leashing my dog, Juni. Off-season, when no one’s around, I used to set her free to romp with her buddies along the wind-swept shore.

Juni romping with her buddy Jess

Juni romping with her buddy Jess

"Oops, romped myself right off that trail! Meant to do that..."

“Oops, romped myself right off that trail! Meant to do that…”

Then I became a volunteer BLM Monitor. That’s Bureau of Land Management, a sub-agency of the Department of the Interior. As a Monitor, I get to do what I do every day anyway, only carrying a clipboard and noting things like birds, plants in bloom, numbers of people, and dogs on or off leash. Including me, and mine. And, oh yeah, if I see someone with an off-leash dog, I’m supposed to ask them to leash up.

Out of sheer embarrassment at the hypocrisy of the situation, I began leashing Juni, even when there was no one around. It did feel better not to have her crushing all the pretty flowers in the spring.

"Look OUT! Here comes another DOG!"

“Look OUT! Here comes another DOG!”

It's called Common Camas. But it's really not all that common.

It’s called Common Camas. But it’s really not all that common.

Later, at a BLM monitors picnic, I learned about the sparrows who nested near the trails, and got reminded about some of the endangered plants that could easily get trampled.

The extremely rare Spotted Coralroot Orchid

The extremely rare Spotted Coralroot Orchid

So okay. I want to be a good role model. I got religion on leashing my dog…in this space, at least. But I’m still torn. Dogs have SO MUCH FUN off-leash! And when I meet friends with free-romping pooches who just shake me off when I give ’em my BLM spiel, I have a hard time feeling too upset with them.

So…here goes the controversy. Does LEASH YOUR DOG really mean what it says, or does it mean “We really wish you would keep your dog under control, and if you can do this without a leash, that’s cool”? What’s been your dog off-leash experience? Any horror stories you need to tell?

I got my clipboard handy. Fire away.

"OK...can you let me off the leash NOW?"

“OK…tourists are gone. Can you let me off the leash NOW?”