the mountain in the mist
the mountain in the mist

Okay, it was only three days.

Well, you caught me. It was one afternoon, plus a day that was punctuated by the drive between two different places. The first morning we drove, the third day we spent in the foothills at Pack Forest and drove home in the afternoon. I drove to avoid being carsick. It worked out okay.

But it was three days without internet access, and a lot of walking around on crutches — which didn’t help because the hip slipped out early on the first day anyway. By the time I got home one leg was two inches shorter than the other.

Now, before you grump at me, I DID call and make the appointment for the MRI. They were supposed to have called me within THREE days of the referral (in August). Had I called sooner, I would already know what’s wrong. Supposedly. Oh well, scheduled now. Soon. Before my folks get home, in fact. We’ll see.

On to the main topic, the field trip for the class I am taking on Microbial Ecology.

We went to explore the mostly untrampled flora around Mt. Rainier. The primary focus, lecture-wise was pretty much on mycorrhizal fungi: how they work with trees and other plants to provide nutrients, and occasionally how they are parasitic or otherwise pathenogenic. However, we were also able to explore some bacterial biofilms, lichens (a symbiote between bacteria and algae), and a couple of “charismatic megafauna” in the form of a black bear and some deer at Paradise on Mt. Rainier. –my thanks to Jake who taught me the fancy term

What I didn’t like: being in pain nearly the whole time despite taking large doses of ibuprofen. Being slower than anyone, and unable to get to some of the more spectacular sights. For example, I was so tired from going downhill to reach the Ohanapecosh River to cross over to the Grove of the Patriarchs. Supposedly, they were only a short distance past the bridge (which was not solid… I made it across, but it was excruciatingly slow), but I was tired. At least it wasn’t rainy or very cold. And I admit it was pretty…

I didn’t like being away from my family and dog (I never like to leave them). I didn’t like feeling like even more of an outsider when I had to have my meals special-made to accomodate the serious food allergies I have developed. I didn’t like being alone in my cabin — all the other female students had friends they wanted to bunk with. It was nice, though, that I could leave the light on all night so when I woke (frequently) I could see that all was well. And no one cared that I took up the entire desk with my research, books, clothes and food stash.

What I did like: the kitchen staff were solicitous and helpful, looking for me when I came in to be sure I had something I could eat and something treat-like as well. They were very nice.

I liked the evenings in the Hall, talking to the other students, working on a crochet project, listening to music and conversations.

I liked learning more about the interactions between various forest denizens. We took mostly short trails (I think because of trying to keep things possible for me — I always had the option to shorten or not participate). On the first afternoon, we took the trail around the mineral springs at Longmire and a short (but rather steep) trail near the entrance of the National Park called “Twin Firs.” We also had a good intro to the area by a ranger whose name I unfortunately forget. The little gift shop in the parking lot there yielded a couple of “National Park Passports” that I bought for my boys as souvenirs… and it held a small but impressive museum of animals, people and artifacts. Including a cougar that had been stuffed. It was… big enough!

Day Two we drove to Paradise. Some students went to the area that overlooks the Nisqually Glacier, from which descends the Nisqually River — of great importance to the people of the South Sound. It was here that we saw the black bear, which was foraging right next to the parking lot for well over half an hour, completely unconcerned by the horde of people only a couple hundred feet below, taking pictures. Jake took a couple for me with my camera… here is the best of the bunch. I need a better camera. I walked the .3 mile trail to Myrtle Falls and back, and that was quite enough. There was a dusting of snow, which slowed me down as it made it a little slippery. But I got to meander slowly in my own time, looking at the plants, taking a few pics and admiring the view. Also spoke for a few minutes with a retired policeman (35 years on the force!) from Springfield, Massachusetts. I knew the Basketball Hall of Fame was there, but not the other piece of trivia he shared… email me if you are curious!

After a lunch break in the parking lot, we drove over the pass and ended up on the other side of the mountain (eastern washington) at the Grove of the Patriarchs. As mentioned above, I didn’t make it to see these beauties, but the other peoples’ descriptions of the Venerable Ones I can see them, stretching unconcerned by our petty problems into the sky… I will go again when my hip is fixed. On the trail, however, were any number of wonderful lichens and fungi. I learned that what we call a mushroom is only the fruiting body of a much larger organism that sends its rootlike mycelia (single form: mycelium) through whatever growing medium it chooses: soil, rotting plants, old wood. They often provide an essential service to plants, helping them absorb water and various nutrients, while receiving sugars and other products of photosynthesis.

Day Three we spent at Pack Forest (officially the Center for Sustainable Forestry at Pack Forest). It (and the Pack Forest in New York state) was developed as a research area of several hundred acres for the University of Washington’s College of Forest Resources from a grant by Charles Lathrop Pack; many of the buildings we used (cabins, meeting hall and kitchen/cafeteria) were built at his suggestion during the Great Depression by the CCC. The now thousands of acres host several “test” plots of many acres each. Many are in rotation as working forest to provide funds needed for the Center — it is self-supporting — but some are held as ecological reserves, to demonstrate mature forest, meadows, and “what went wrong here?” sites. We drove up after a very informative talk by the head forester (I think that is who it was, couldn’t hear his name) to the mature forest. FINALLY I got to see some old-growth trees. They were big, but not as big as some I have seen in other places. Still, it was easy to see the forest was mature — the types of undergrowth (all shade plants) and lack of open spaces except where one giant or another had fallen. I took the shorter trail with my friend Betty Kutter (also finally my science teacher) and got a pic of her next to one for scale…

Old growth tree and youthful Betty
Old growth tree and youthful Betty

And then the drive toward home with a stop at Silver Springs Organics (a local commerical composting facility, quite new). I was in my element! Really lame by this time, I still managed to haul out some paper and take a few notes and ask some questions. It is an elegant set up they have, and I was glad to learn how much they have taken into account to make the compost safe as well as how to keep leachate (run-off) from getting into local water supplies. Nothing “poisonous” in normal amounts and applications, but things that can nudge ecosystems out of balance — nitrogen and ammonia, for example. The smell of decomposing wood had a number of the students gagging, but it was better than manure smells… I had a lot of questions then, will write up my notes for my class tonight, and will email the General Manager with follow-up questions. I was in heaven. Did I mention that?

We got back to the college about 4:15, I turned in the van by 4:30, Tom and stidkid#2 picked me at 5 ’til 5. I was tired… but my day wasn’t over yet. We dropped the kid off at TaeKwonDo for warm-up, grabbed the other stidkid from the bookstore where he waits after debate club and made it back to the dojang in time to watch the entire 2-hour testing for belts… from white to presumably yellow. We’ll see what he gets when he arrives tonight for class. Yes, he broke a board.

Today, I spent in the lab, looking at my spread plates from last Friday (started for the research project) and working on the next step for the actual lab assignments. Gah. I wish the instructions had been a little easier to follow, but eventually — and with a LOT of help (thanks Katie, Sarah, Spencer and Steve) I think I accomplished what I need.

And now… sitting. Resting. Feet up, heating pad on, tea in hand.

It’s good to be home!

Note: to shorten this particular post, I only included two pics. Will add a gallery next…

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