“How did it get so late so soon? It's night before it's afternoon.” - Dr. Seuss
by Brendan McGarry
- The Capitol Hill Times -
You spend too much time in front of a screen. We all do. And despite what you might think, computers, smart phones and the Internet aren’t always helpful, and your post-work Netflix binge doesn’t help you relax. So, why not clear your head and go on a walk?
The other day I did just that, taking advantage of a beautiful fall day – escaping from my screens, I trotted off to Interlaken Park. It only seemed right to start here, the Hill’s largest green space, which is being restored to a more native state by the Green Seattle Partnership. At the western end of the park (where I started), I was immediately surrounded by moderately sized big-leaf maples (Acer macrophyllum), hinting that this area was logged. Intermediate-stage successional species, they grow en mass after cleared land is left undisturbed, out-competing the red alders (Alnus rubra) that grew first. 520 roared nearby, but the leaves falling from North America’s largest maple species were audible.
Birds also mingled with the soundscape. All of our neo-tropical migrants are gone South, but we still have our stalwart residents. Watch for a common bird, the song sparrow (Melospiza mellodia), which is a darkly streaked bird that blurts its “chimp” call frequently. They landed on the road and called from the understory as I walked.
At the first major bend in the road (at a monument to Louisa Boren), the observant walker will notice the first conifers. A large Western red cedar (Thuja plicata) grows on the north side of the road and Western hemlocks (Tsuga heterophylla) dot the south. These second-growth conifers are the murmur of a mature lowland forest that could be. Taking the path here up the hill, bordered with native shrubs despite the tangle of weeds, you’ll notice more hemlocks. Unlike our Douglas firs (Pseudotsuga menziesii), hemlocks tolerate shade beneath a maple canopy. Several larger individuals have strange buttressed roots, evidence that they once threaded through a long gone stump. Hemlocks typically sprout in dead “nurse logs,” getting required nourishment from the decaying matter, often displaying odd, above ground roots as they mature beyond their nurse.
Continuing on the trail, climb to Louisa Boren Park with views to Lake Washington and Laurelhurst. Seattle’s urban canopy is a mosaic, a beautiful jumble of species, all in different stages of color, retreating toward dormancy.
Heading south along 15th Avenue East, I left behind the comparatively wild for the manicured human space. Fewer birds called until I turned into Volunteer Park. The park, an Olmsted gem, has nature but is far from natural. The variety of cultivated trees provides food and lodging for many eastern gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis), a non-native transplant. Having displaced our native Douglas squirrels, gray squirrels don’t hibernate but, instead, rely on fat reserves and food caches. They are currently active, gearing up for leaner times in Volunteer Park, where exotic plants provide more forage. I’m slightly resentful of these squirrels, but only because they’ve impacted our biodiversity. Amusing to watch, they are for better or worse, part of urban nature.
Volunteer park also houses species transplanted from others continents. On either corner at the front of the Asian Art Museum are beautiful Blue Atlas Cedars (Cedrus atlantica) from Africa’s Atlas Mountains. Horse-chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) line much of the parkway, littering their large, spiky capsules with an inedible polished seed within. Many smacked the ground as I walked, and I grabbed one to toss as I headed for 10th Avenue East and East Blaine Street.
Walking beneath vibrant flame ash (Fraxinus augustifolia) and various oaks along 10th, I came to the Blaine stairs and descended; halfway down, you find yourself in an inviting little garden. Streissguth Gardens, once private and larger than they appears (1 acre), is now a public space sprawled on the hillside between 10th Avenue East and Broadway. With many flowering plants, this is my favorite urban place to enjoy Anna’s hummingbirds (Calypte anna). Ending my urban nature walk here, I sat in the sun and watched these little hellions zipping about. All across North America, most hummingbirds have migrated south. However, in the last several decades, for various reasons, Anna’s hummingbirds have expanded their range, becoming year-round residents along the West Coast, as far north as Vancouver, Canada. We now get to hear their noises throughout the year, because males territorially protect their food year-round, and do so nosily and visibly. A showy male bird, adorned with an iridescent helm of magenta, rasped atop favorite perches, and vehemently chased away interlopers.
Capitol Hill may be full of human edifices, but nature still abounds. In the space of a three-hour walk I noted 20 species of birds, enjoyed many non-native and native plants, and felt entirely refreshed. Most of all, I didn’t think about time or Facebook, or stare at an LCD the entire walk.