Late Fall in the Valley …

Working on my computer, trying to complete paper work that I have neglected during our extended October summer ….   I keep looking up and out of my office window at the Willamette River and the rain and wind-blown leaves.   The dark overcast skies, brisk winds, and leaf colors seemed to have just  appeared.  I don’t remember any transition from the tee-shirt sunny days of working in my garden and hiking along forested trails to our late cool, fall rains and leaf raking.  Unlike some, I gravitate to our fall/winter weather.   I resemble my late golden retriever who used to settle comfortably by the fireplace, his nose pressed against the fire screen during the first fall rains and stayed there until the daffodils bloomed in early spring.  I love the summers in the mid-Willamette Valley with the rich blue skies, warm sun, beautiful gardens and hummingbirds, but I also need some time to sit and dream and that is what the fall and winter offers.  Becca and I prefer our late fall/winter walks to be along trails in broad meadows such as Bald Hill Farm or Fitton Green, in part because we like the contrast of colors that an overcast sky lends to the oaks and upland meadows, and in part because we like contemplating  open winter landscapes. 

An uparallelled view from Fitton Green to Marys Peak

Nate and Rachel (my son and his lady friend) arrived a few days before Thanksgiving as the Valley was beset by late fall storms.  During their week in Corvallis, they walked everywhere never forsaking rain coats and always placing muddy shoes near the heat vents when they returned.   Nate grew up in Corvallis so expecting to walk in the rain is second nature.   Every day, they hiked trails either on MacDonald Forest, Oak Creek, Bald Hill or Finley Refuge.  On Thanksgiving Day after eating lots of food at Chris and Sarah’s house, most of the dinner group donned raincoats and boots and walked through their backyard and onto the Bald Hill Farm trail.  We walked down the trail that crosses Mulkey Creek skirting mud puddles and a few fallen branches.  Chris and I paused to discuss how, before the land was farmed, the Creek probably pushed water onto a large wetland in an adjacent field.  He thought the marsh could be easily restored and while he talks, I briefly imagine the presence of red-winged blackbirds perching on cattails in the spring.  While continuing our walk, I thought about my friend, Eve and Rob, who love the Mulkey Ridge Trail.  Eve and Rob arrived in Corvallis from Miami via Prescott and Santa Barbara a few years ago.  They are avid and passionate naturalists.  If I happen to be in the downtown Beanery at 11:00 am, there is a 99% chance of sitting down with them and discussing their backyard that is being transformed into a native plant garden or hearing about one of their birding trips to Central or South America or Isaac’s Tai-Chi class at Starker Art’s Park.  There is a 99% chance during the summer and fall that you will find their ancient red Land Rover parked at the Saturday Farmer’s Market and that they will be carrying a recently purchased bag of beautiful edible mushrooms.  Their photos of life along Mulkey Ridge (such as the gorgeous Calypso orchid, the female Douglas squirrel perched on a branch and shredding a pine cone, the large beautiful erect pileated woodpecker next to its tree cavity, and the community of mushrooms, lichens and ferns on a rotting log) are stunning and sublime. 

Mossy trees along the Mulkey Creek Trail by photographers Eve and Rob Gill

Nate and Rachel are heading to the Coast a few days late because HWY 18 was closed by storm-blown trees.  They are going to hike the Cascade Head Trail from Knights Bridge Park, one of my favorite coastal walks.  Hiking through a steep conifer forest, you emerge onto spectacular headland coastal meadows that are being restored by the Nature Conversancy, in part to protect and enhance a community of rare Oregon silverspot butterflies and their primary host plant, the blue violet.  At the top of the headlands, if you are lucky and the fog is not obscuring the view, you are rewarded with an incomparable birds-eye view of the Salmon River estuary, the Oregon coastline and perhaps the resident elk herd foraging in one of the lower meadows.

Cascade Head

 Jessica asked the Greenbelt Staff to consider describing in a few words what they are thankful for during this Holiday season.   The most difficult part of considering that question is narrowing down the list. I think at the very top of my list is that I feel especially blessed to be able to live in a beautiful part of the world among a community of wonderful friends and neighbors.