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23 February, 2009

Punawai o Cypress

Now and then, being called out of a sickbed to get up at 3:33 AM for a 3 hour drive for a boat commute to monitor cowboys on heavy machinery (then hitting reverse until arriving home at 8:30 at night) turns out to be a good thing.

Besides the general fact that island time tends to be good time, this trip carried the reward of a visit to the Secret Harbor Spring. Nearly a century ago, what now looks like a concrete abutment was the holding tank for a spring that was used not only by the Cypress locals, but Fidalgo Islanders and a bottled water company. A dock and pipe extended from the pool, dispensing cool fresh water year round; even during winters when the saltwater bay froze over, the constant pour melted a small spot where the ducks would congregate.

This is what remains. The tank no longer holding water, dock long gone, Fidalgo fish cannery tender Cypress having last pulled up for a refill generations ago. But the water still flows. Staff of the school who most recently lived at Secret Harbor say it flows best during the dry summer months, which would make this an especially great treasure, for the islands more than anywhere else defy the myth of the perpetually wet northwest. The pilot estimated a 15 gallon per minute flow on this February day (after a week with no rain).

Any source of fresh water is a gift, but one which can be accessed by a canoe or boat, pouring cool clean water straight from the mountain seems worthy of the special reverence I learned in Hawai`i for special springs, punawai. I've be fortunate enough to drink from some of these places, and although my job is to document historic and cultural places such as this, my pleasure will be to help malama this place, and maybe one day be rewarded with a drink.

22 February, 2009

Garden Planning -- Wild Side

So here I sit in an epic location for gardening: mild clime, soft soil, avid growers all around,...
Last year, buried by a mountain of debt and duty, waylaid by a Spring that had even the local-born complaining about cool and wet conditions, and facing a yard untended for years, I counted myself industrious just to plant a strip by the road (herbs and flowers and beans., oh my), prune existing rhododendrons, clear out some brush in the black, and exercise some unnatural selection on the front yard.

Over the winter, I moved a bunch of arborvitae from their harbors snug against the house to the back corner where they'd block us from the neighboring deck. Blahblahblah.

In the meantime, I've done fieldwork all over the state, witnessing some incredible wildflowers along the way. Here and there, I've had the opportunity to collect some seeds. In a couple of places, I salvaged some plants that would've fallen.

Pictured here are a few of the native treasures that will live in an Olympian suburb. From top to bottom: lupine (pretty, and of course fun to say in Monty Python accent), Prince's Pine (forgot the Latin for the moment, but another fine looking plant, and I cannot resist evergreen groundcovers), and what I think is buckwheat.

20 February, 2009

South is Downhill!

Inveterate empiricist that I is, I would make no such claim without proof. After paying attention during three round trips from Olympia to Anacortes, Washington (about 140 miles each way), in a vehicle that tracked the average MPG, the data are clear. Heading north, the mileage is 42.X, while heading south, the mileage is 48.X. (Well, not exactly. The 42.X is the OLY-->ANA avgerage, and 48.X is actually cumulative mileage fro the OLY-->ANA-->OLY round-trip, meaning that the North-south mileage must be more like 54.X MPG. I'm just understating the effect to avoid accusations of sensationalism that a 25% claim would draw.)

You may argue causality, and I must admit that the old "north is up, south is down, and down takes less energy" hypothesis gleaned from my first exposure to cartesian maps seems ridiculously simple-minded. Correlation is not causality.

Further data for the consideration of skeptics:
North trips occurred during somewhat lighter traffic (Alt. Hypothesis: Heavy traffic increases vehicle efficiency?!)
South trips involved the greater urgency of homeward than workward travel (Alt hypothesis" Stepping on the gas increase vehicle efficiency?!)
Prius lies (Alt Hypothesis: Green-inspired data are self-defeating, much like Democrats)

Futher contextual info:
At least two of the three trips occurred during windless conditions.
Olympia point more than 200 feet above mean seal level.
Anacortes point less than 15 feet above sea level.
Driver sensed more downhill headed south than north, but that ain't possible is it?

19 February, 2009

My Favorite Lake (So Far)

A couple of times now, work has taken me to Merrill Lake, southeast of Mount Saint Helens, close enough that the stream banks leading down to it show layer after layer of ash. No view of the volcano from the shores I have walked, but no need.

The hills surrounding Lake Merrill create a world apart. One little road leads in, and no motorboats are allowed. Anyone ignoring that rule will find themselves sucked into the lava tube at the bottom, then spit out into the headwaters of the Kalama River. The place has become more peaceful than it used to be--part of what brought me there was the search for a cluster of vacation cabins that were there more than 50 years ago. All that was left were a couple of insulators (they had electricity back here?) and glass melted when the ruins were burned.
Merrill Lake was Sasquatch-free as well when I was there, or at least I didn't see any. Just trees and breeze.

I did see this guy, however. Because of course my job was not to stroll around and idyllicize, but to monitor the destruction of one toilet and installation of another. In the photo, they've just smashed the vault of the old crapper. (Electricity, sure, but sewer line? No way.) The guy at the right is picking up concrete frags and tossing them in the hole (future archaeologists take note, this is a scheiss-haus disposal pit, not the ritual murder of one structure by the makers of another--or maybe it is). In any case, the guy gets done with that, and then grabs his can o' snuff and dips out a big lip-full. It was Copenhagen, so he wouldn't have tasted the fecal contam, anyway.

12 February, 2009

More Birds

Protection Island, in the Straight of San Juan de Fuca.
Septemb er 2008.

Geese coming around Diamond Point. Protection Island in background.

Gulls at the Protection Island Wildlife Refuge. Olympic Mountains in background.

Mmm. Guano.

Those cormorants again.

Piling Up the Work

So yeah, I mentioned the pilings, which I love to hate. A few years ago, the gov decided that removing pilings would be a priority for her, since they leach creosote into Puget Sound, the Straight of Juan de Fuca, the Pacific, the Columbia, and the rivers and lakes that make this such a water wunderland.
Removing pilings with docks on top and boats tied up ain't so popular, so the government's preferred prey are the wasted wharves, decaying docks, punky piers, and derelict dolphins. Historic preservation law being what it is (which is, anything 50 years old or more is "historic"), I get to review these to learn whether they are significant, and if so, what the state intends to do about it. So I swoop around in GIS space, investigate archives, and surf the infonet.
But it ain't all desk jockeying. People being what they are (which is large bipeds fond of seafood and navigable channels, as long as they are not too far from fresh water), piers tend to pop up in the same places where the First People landed canoes. So I consult the tide auguries and take to the mudflats to look to see whether the piles were driven though ancient sites. This being work, I don't dig clams, or even grab crabs (like at the Dungeness Wharf above.) Mostly, I find junk that people toss off docks and boats, but now and then there is the thrill of fire-cracked rock.
Then, there are the trips out to watch other people work, in case artifacts turn up stuck to the pilings. Also to look around again in case there's something on the shore. Or maybe it's just the fun of watching giant cranes on barges. Grrr.
If anyone tells you it's just to avoid the office, the spend time on the placid Puget, they're mean and don't understand the rigors of nautical archaeology, which include frigid wet wind, diesel stench, and hostile birds. Not just the gulls, which can poop twice their own weight every day, but also the cormorants, those reptilian devils whose penchant for perching on pilings and gulping young salmon all day is maybe a more urgent reason than creosote to get rid of pilings. If you don't believe me, ask any fisheries biologist familiar with the emperiled Columbia salmon runs and the concomitant cormorant population explosion.

Not all of the birds are vicious, at least not to humans. Like this osprey, feasting on something. (OK, maybe also a salmon, but ospreys lack the dinosauric creepiness of cormorants.) Lots of eagles, too. A few months ago I watched one dive into a flock of floaters (gulls) and fly away with one in it's talons. Cool show, and not taking any food off the tribal table.

05 February, 2009

Wanna Buy a Boat?

In between finding lost Conquistador gold and ancient villages, my job brings me the occasional less glamorous assignment. Like reviewing piling removal projects. Ohh, the pilings.

And considering whether derelict vessels are historically significant, and if so, what might the state do to preserve them, or at least learn from them before they become scrap. Washington sets aside some money each year to retrieve sinking or otherwise moribund boats before they (further) befoul our waters. As the guy who has to deal with everything at least 50 years old in state-owned waters, I get to look into the boats' histories, evaluate their significance, and so on through the fascinating process of aquatic cultural resource management. You will thank me for stopping this explanation now.

Less than a year ago, I had never done this. Now I am an "expert," a word meaning "one who was not clever enough to foist off esoteric and onerous responsibilities. In this time, I have learned the following:

  • The final years of a boat's life typically involve ownership by dreamers without the resources to make dreams happen.
  • These dreamers eventually sacrifice their clothing a piece at a time, believing that they can stop leaks by jamming shirts into cracks.
  • Boats become storage units before they sink; if only the state would not fund derelict vessel removal, maritime archaeologists of the future would have rich collections of material culture.
  • Except for portholes and anything brass, which are stripped when the owner isn't looking. Or needs cash.
  • WWII is vaunted as an era of great historical import. I can choose from many officially recognized historical contexts in which to interpret vessels. I would like to add to these "Birth of subsidized over-production," because rather than engaging in battles and heroic sea-lifts, about everything I've seen thus far sat around waiting for the war to end.