September 29, 2017

A Million Stars in Broad Daylight

Yesterday, I (Joel) was out hiking with some friends, and we passed from bright sunlight into the shadow being cast by Mount Temple.  We looked up at the sharply etched silhouette of the east ridge, and were stunned, because in the glow, it looked like the stars were out.  There were millions of points of light!

We looked through the binoculars, and the "stars" were all moving, dancing in the air. What were they?

I figured it out today: on the return trip from another hike in the high country, with my face towards both the sun and the strong west wind, I passed through a patch of fireweed, the answer was sudenly all around me...

Fireweed seeds dancing in the wind

Seeds.  Fireweed seeds.  They are the size of a fleck of cracked pepper, and come with their own parachute of fluff -- the lightest fluff imaginable.  On warm fall days, the seed pods split open, and the wind picks up billions and billions of seeds.  They are sent skyward, flying over the mountain tops, to land wherever the wind carries them.

So we didn't just see stars: we saw shooting stars!

ps: a few years back, I tried to count how many seeds were in just one pod on a fireweed plant. Here's what I came up with.

September 7, 2017


Last week, my (Nadine's) twenty-five year wolverine vigil came to an end.

After years of tantalizing tracks in the snow, and near misses on the trail ("We saw wolverines there just yesterday"), I finally caught a glimpse of one of the most elusive creatures in the park.

I was on my way up to Sentinel Pass with guests when some fellow hikers said there was a wolverine just up ahead.  Since I'd had many "wolverines" reported to me over the years, only to find out that they were marmots, I was skeptical.

But when we got up to near the start of the final switchbacks, we looked over to the final lingering patch of snow (and patches of snow have been a rarity in this hot dry summer), and, sure enough, there was a wolverine.

And not just one wolverine.

Not two wolverines.

There were three wolverines! We guessed it must be a family, and got the treat of watching them sleep on the cool snow, play on the snow, and just hang out in a most un-wolverine fashion.

One of my guests, Maryse B., got some shots with her camera, and has kindly allowed us to share them.  They were pretty far away, so the images are small, but it gives you a taste of the wonderful experience we all had.