Oh, Canada by Janine Donoho

Wine country

Wine country

Graceful carved art

Graceful carved art

Because I really can see British Columbia, Canada, from my uplands home in Washington state, sometimes I yield to the lure and drive along the glorious Okanagan River valley that takes me to Penticton. It’s noteworthy to mention that the Okanogan River, a tributary of the Columbia River, shifts to ‘Okanagan‘ in neighboring Canada, although the river’s not nearly as polite as its humans. Also, the national anthem alluded to in this blog’s title is actually ‘O, Canada‘.

Dogs of Penticton

Dogs of Penticton

My last trip to Penticton, British Columbia, can be shared via photo gallery. So if you crave a trip to a more civil society than our current political season serves up, here’s a virtual journey. Please enjoy!

Penticton view

Penticton view

Torii leading to garden room

Torii leading to garden room

Japanese garden pond

Japanese garden pond

Perfect lunch

Perfect lunch of wild salmon & salad

Dark chocolate ginger - yum!

Dark chocolate ginger – yum!

Ikeda Japanese Garden

Ikeda Japanese Garden

Paddle-wheeler as museum

Paddle-wheeler as museum

Choices We Make before the Fire by Janine Donoho

Harbinger from Canada

Harbinger from Canada

As the western part of the United States enters into desiccated autumn, we’re told that the official fire season has begun. In fact, fire season now begins nearly as soon as our shrunken snowpack melts. Once the native and invasive species of plants dries, we’re vulnerable to lightning strikes. Yet lightning causes only 10-20% of our wildfires. The other 80-90%? Human caused.

Slide Mountain near Washoe Valley

Slide Mountain near Washoe Valley

In the high Sierra Nevada Mountain range, where I spent my formative years, snowpack has declined for decades—more precipitously as we blow past the latest tipping points. That means wildfires in winter and early spring—the new normal. This aspect of climate change affects the western side of our continent from Alaska to Bolivia, excluding only the more tropical regions. For Okanogan County in Washington State, our wildfires began in late May this year with smoke plumes as harbingers.

Wildland wildfire in Nevada

Wildland wildfire in Nevada

Over a decade ago when we first moved here, Intrepid Guy, who grew up in Spokane, Washington, and I committed to fire proofing our home and property. We wanted no soft-bodied firefighter to stand between an inferno and our house. Our house perches where sagebrush steppe meets Ponderosa pine communities, landscapes that normally thrive with periodic fires. However, lowering water tables, beetle infestations, and fire suppression have reduced these communities’ resistance to wildfire damage. Here are the choices we made:

  • Fire-resistant fiber-cement siding (Hardy Board);
  • Metal roofing;
  • Lava rock mulch out 10 feet plus from the foundation;
  • Rock based circular driveway;
  • Islands of native and drought-resistant plantings with rock mulch and drip system hydration;
  • Native grasses and brush cut back at least 40 feet;
  • Lower branches of our Ponderosas and Douglas fir removed;
  • Predominantly metal structures versus wooden within 50 feet of the house; and,
  • Buried 1,750 gallon tank, topped off and better than spitting on a fire.
Firewise living

Firewise living

When the first wildfire threatened our home on July 4th seven years ago, it started within a quarter mile—bordering the steep slope leading to our home. Not good. Fire devours landscape uphill in its quest for oxygen.

Exemplary Department of Natural Resources (DNR) crews along with local volunteer departments aided by water and fire-retardant air drops limited this human caused wildfire to nine acres of non-fireproofed landscape. Trees crowned, wildlife fled or died, and I baked muffins, although not well, while brewing iced tea for the crews. The DNR incident manager designated our home as a safe house for sheltering firefighters. When we were told to evacuate, we did. We pay hefty fire insurance fees, keep important papers in a safe deposit box, and again, don’t choose to have a person stand between us and fire.

Flames through the trees

Flames through the trees

With this season’s injuries and deaths of Forest Service firefighters, the loss of 7 million acres—and counting—in the western United States, we all need to assess our part in these disasters. Beyond addressing human caused climate change, what else can we do to minimize the destructive force of wildfire?

When the fire bear comes over the mountain

When the fire bear comes over the mountain

When wildfire eats toward us, we take what’s most important: the living critters we’re responsible for and each other. The house and landscape? That’s just stuff.

What matters

What matters most

Wildfires & Smoke—A Study in Still Life by Janine Donoho

Washington State wildfires continue to devour our landscape with devastating effects to wildlife and human residents. We evacuated during level 3—returned to level 1 and severe smoke. Consider us relatively unscathed.

Those who valiantly fight these fires battle exhaustion and extreme hazardous conditions, even as three Forest Service people lost their lives and others are injured. Weeping as I write this.

Pictures speak the language best. Here’s the situation.

Wildfire map 8-21-2015 with 100 square miles burned since then.

Wildfire map 8-21-2015 with 100 square miles burned since then.

Wildfire at night

Wildfire at night

Smoke from space 8-23-1015

Smoke from space 8-23-1015

Valiant firefighters

Valiant firefighters

What a sunny day looks like today.

What a sunny day looks like

Trying not to inhale

Trying not to inhale

Our way out

Our way out

Subdued landscape

Subdued landscape

Acrid air

Acrid air & low visibility

Bunny grazing on groundcover in our driveway

Bunny grazing on groundcover in our driveway

When we can see Lake Osoyoos--2 days ago

When we can see Lake Osoyoos, it’s a lake of fire—2 days ago

Fawn with smoke in background

Fawn with smoke as backdrop.

Another flare up across the Canadian border--2 days ago.

Another flare up across the Canadian border—2 days ago

Too close for comfort on Hwy 97 near Tonasket.

Too close for comfort on Hwy 97 near Tonasket.

Rainbows in moderate smoke

Rainbows in moderate smoke—yesterday morning.

Grouse Eggs & Kestrels and Seedlings & Soil (as sung to ‘My Favorite Things’) by Janine Donoho

Arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagitatta)

Arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagitatta)

In this remote conservation area of Washington State, vernal equinox triggers messy chasms brimming with snowmelt. Summer’s alkaline dust transforms into muck capable of entombing my 4-wheel drive eco-diesel up to its wheel wells. Days collect into weeks of treacherous roads.

Glimpsing spring in the melt

Glimpses of spring in the melt

I wait to plant seeds until after mid-May, since hard frosts shrivel tender cotyledons. After years of starting seedlings indoors, I reverted to direct sowing into compost enriched soils. The hardening process for young plants is fickle, and planting seeds works just as well. To stave off  my untimely itch? I turn to my daily writing habit and coax my Earth Elemental into bloom.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Still the promise of spring causes me to excavate lighter clothing and bury the thick layers of winter. I begin to wake earlier with a curious lift to my spirits. Fragrant springtime starts me along this path.

When wild grasses poke through the drying crust of alkaline silt in this high desert, I move into the bliss zone. Yes, these are the same grasses that require vigorous slashing to maintain defensible space around our home as fire season roars into being. Yet at this stage, the verdant color and lush bouquet—well, it makes me ridiculously happy. I breathe more deeply.

Okanogan Highland Grouse - MaleSpring is also when the dusky blue grouse male begins to court his harem, drumming ‘oot, oot, oot’ from his air sacs while he struts his stuff. Not long afterward, his hens lay buff colored eggs beneath Ponderosa pines and sagebrush. Incubation takes almost a month before hatching in late May.

This is the sweet time, when my drip system is optional and yellow jackets aren’t dive-bombing me in the gardens. Native arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagitatta) splashes the steppes with festive yellows as raptors freewheel along Young Kestrelthermals. My particular favorite, the kestrel, sets up housekeeping in our nesting box. By late summer, the fledglings scream their fear and excitement as they take their first flight from one branch to another, then one pine to the next before departing to establish their own territories.

But today, it’s a scent and the promise of lush Mediterranean gardens while the quality of light fills me with hopefulness. Daylight hours have stretched from winter solstice’s threadbare eight to nearly twelve. By summer solstice we’ll enjoy sixteen hours of light. For now, I wander forests and sagebrush steppes, cherishing eggs tucked into grouse nests.Dusky Blue Grouse eggs

Soundings, Water Elemental

LaunchFebruary 27th, 2015
The big day is here.

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