can’t see the trees for the forest

I’ve spent my share of time in nature. I grew up on a small farm on the east side of Lake Washington, well before screens and devices were safer and more convenient methods of occupying children than sending them out-of-doors. I built forts in the woods with my brothers, rode horseback on the nearby trails with my aunt, and climbed my favorite trees at the end of day, alone.

In my teens, weekend hikes with my family off the Mountain Loop Highway in the North Cascades turned to trail runs with my high school cross country team. I even spent one too short summer during college (during my first run at college) working and hiking in Yellowstone National Park. In the years since then, I’ve gotten outside when I can – a handful of hikes and nature walks in my home county of Kitsap, many beach visits to the Washington Pacific coast…

All of these years, I’ve been missing something! A visit to Harper Estuary early in May coalesced my thinking. It was lovely afternoon, a slight breeze coming off the the water but still comfortably warm, probably 70 degrees. My goal was to explore more of the surrounding area, beyond the culvert, and begin to take an inventory of plant species. At first I was overwhelmed by the vegetation, by the mass of green life confronting me and surrounding the shores of the estuary – nothing more than a forest!

But I’d never looked at nature before with semi-trained eyes. I’d never had the benefit of adult motivation juxtaposed with several quarters of environmental coursework. Slowly, I started to identify a few now-familiar species, then to count them and sketch their approximate location and distribution. A lovely hedge of Nootka roses (Rosa nutkana), and the occasional bright yellow (and invasive, opportunistic, but still so cheery) Scotch broom (Cytisus scoparius), grew alongside many Bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinium) and very tall Horsetails (Equisetum arvense) on the south side of Olympiad Drive. Across the road, fruiting Indian Plum trees (Oemleria cerasiformis) oversaw the estuary on their left, and a freshwater marsh full of last season’s Cattails (Typha latifolia) on their right.

Each plant, identified, categorized, counted and mapped in my mind  added to my understanding of this special place. All the more special, because of my greater depth of understanding.

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