Here are four species of native plants of the Pacific Northwest. If you live in this region, do you recognize any of these? They are common friends to know.
The first, Oregon Grape, is a delicious (albeit rather tart) edible berry. It is most ripe at the time of my writing this in late August. When the berries start to shrivel up just a little bit is when they are most sweet to eat by the handful. It’s okay to eat the little sift stems attached to the berries, too. In springtime, the new leaves of this plant are deliciously edible; they are very soft and light green and taste like a tart apple.
It is said that parts of the Nootka Rose can be edible. I am not certain about this, and beside, we should all do our research to make sure we can absolutely identify any wild edible plant before eating them. Some wild plants have parts that are edible and other parts that are poisonous. Others are completely edible, but only at certain times of the year. It’s not hard to learn these things, but it does take a bit of real-world identification practice.
Salmonberry is one wonderful species that I can say for certain is edible. The berries are totally edible, being ripe in early summer, around early June. The flowers, which come out in springtime before the berries, are also edible right off the stem. They have a very subtle, soft, sweet taste. I don’t think the rest of the plant is edible. Salmonberry is super prolific in this region, so I’m never concerned about over-harvesting. It even competes with Blackberry.
Snowberry, the fourth plant here, is poisonous. Many plants with white berries are poisonous; learn who lives around you, so you are not wrongfully fearful of an edible plant. It’s strange that this fourth picture is the darkest, an uncanny coincidence of an omen.
It was at Wilderness Awareness School that I adopted the practice of using the word “who” to describe plants and nonhuman animals, instead of “what”. This choice of language signifies a different way of thinking about nonhuman species; the sense that they are alive, and that a species need not be human to have a personality or be in meaningful relationship with others.
Plant photos by Gentle J. Pine.
I found these following gems while sorting through my phone-photography.
Early in the year it snowed. We went to the hills to see it up close. I love the feeling of being wrapped in wool when it’s snow-cold out. Only wool clothing is a suitable when you sit down in snow; this way, you can be peaceful and take your time.
At the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, I was surprised by what a beautiful effect the glass separating humans and non-humans has on the photographic lens. In these pictures you can see the telling reflection of the onlooking humans. The effect of a transparent barrier between species is uncannily significant.
Below: words of fascination and appealing design, Kinokuniya Bookstore in Seattle. The company is a specialty Japanese bookstore with only a few locations outside of Japan. It’s a favorite for language-learners such as myself.
Speaking of Japanese inspiration, I got to visit the Pokémon Company International headquarters in Bellevue, WA! Pokémon was one of the original “sparkles” of my childhood that set me on the path of wanting to learn about Japan.
Going for a walk in Seattle on a bright, early summer morning…
I wish all parts of the city were as clean and inviting as this neighborhood. Sadly, Seattle is having a lot of problems lately with chronic drug-induced homelessness, and the ripple effect of crime and filth is becoming a local crises that no one in the region can ignore. While there are several complicated reasons this is happening here, it still doesn’t change the unfortunate truth that I no longer wish to spend time in Seattle city proper unless it is really necessary. Beautiful moments like these pictured above seem to be less frequently found these days. People who have lived in the region much longer than me say it was never like this before. T and I now just want to stay further out, even past Redmond, closer to Issaquah and Sammamish where we currently live. We jokingly say of downtown Seattle, “There but for the grace of Kinokuniya go I.”
This gorgeous house in Seattle probably costs multiple millions of dollars. However, I and many others see that the cost of real estate alone is no where near solely responsible for the aforementioned local problems.
Above: sunrise captured from the balcony of a house on a hill in Bothell, WA. May the mountains watch over us.
Alert! These waters (Pine Lake in Sammamish) contain toxic invasive species you oughtta know about. This is one of those instances where species identification is the real deal, more than a naturalist’s pastime.
Hmmm, something isn’t quite right about this picture… ;3 A morbid sense of humor in a Tacoma neighborhood, anyone?
Now that’s what I call a true enthusiasm for the holidays, for flood prevention and for caution while kayaking: it’s only August, and already these good people are preparing for Halloween!
Perhaps the spirits of the river’s dead will be reborn as…
a kingfisher, kawasemi in Japanese. I love how the kanji for “kingfisher” looks like it’s smiling :)
Last night I wanted to go to sleep and wake up as a happy five-year-old in this house of my grandparents, with both my Grandma and Grandpa alive, healthy and vital, the decay of the future far away or nonexistent; that present that is now the past, eternal again in a child’s unending summer day. And I found myself crying quietly in Grandpa’s study where I sleep when I come to Fresno, California to visit, because he is ten years still gone and Grandma is here in body but is barely and unrecognizably tenuously “alive” in her spirit.
I’m twenty-eight now and, for the great majority of my adult life under the rational light of the sun, I am accepting of and at peace with the situation that has come to be: our time is one of seeing more beloved elderly people slowly and pitifully die than ever before in society, proportionate to the numbers of the young who must witness it. Our grandparents and parents, once all medical cures are exhausted, languish in a half-life awaiting death, this rite of passage of which I have increasing faith in as a great liberation and the ultimate cure itself. People are living longer, but not necessarily better lives past a certain point. It became known to me in the past few years that Grandpa had considered seeking physician-assisted self-euthanasia, had his incurable physical pain become unbearable and death had not taken him in his sleep. The thought of it would have been too hard for me to handle when, at his death, I was eighteen and he was eighty, but now I have more and more serious respect for the natural and ancient dignity in such a choice. I had the freedom to euthanize my beloved cat of thirteen years when her veterinary ailments became unbearable for her, but we are in such stupid denial about the dignity of human beings in valid situations being able to choose the same for themselves. Instead, we force our beloved humans to have their butts wiped by somebody else, a humiliation that should never be forcibly born by a person because those around them are too chicken-shit to accept the reality of death in The World.
Sometimes, it’s the very resiliency of human beings that scares me so much: we can go through any hell and keep living. Other animals are not averse to the peace of death as a natural response to a suddenly severely maladaptive environment. But we humans are terrifying in our ruthless, pertinacious will to keep breathing through any plague, and now I wonder what this insect-like insistence has made of us. We have become titans of battle against everything, against our own brains and against Nature itself, and we have become unloving of Reality, at odds with The World, constantly unaccepting of the limits of the universe. Do I share in this same inclination to be at odds with The World in my childlike longing for a theoretical universe that could have (should have, would have, but only might have) been?
I was a child of the 1990s. I’ve long had a quietly uncanny feeling that something happened in the ’90s, and it was the end of the world. It was the end– or maybe the world spun off into different directions, dimensions, and this who I am in one of them is not who I am in another. And yet I do not feel divided within myself: through all my depression and the shit I went through as a kid with an insanely emotionally abusive mom with Borderline Personality Disorder, I have had the great luck of always feeling continuously whole within myself. Imaginatively, this uncanny sense of differing possible realities is more that I was pulled into one possible universe where things were not as whole all was meant to be, and something was off, only because, in contrast, I also glimpsed that deep Beauty of the Original World peeking through into this one. As a child, I saw this through the lens of my family. And who I am here have always been a little exorcist, who descended only deeply enough in time and in worlds within worlds to confront something, finish something, set something right. And any day now I will find my way back home to where I am supposed to be, waking up, relieved, from a dream.
Back in this world, I have lately been enjoying the lighter quality of trying not to feel so much all the time, for once in my life: my nature is to be so deeply feeling that it is frequently maladaptive to my environment, and I am weak and as yet unskilled in spinning this sensitivity into strands of gold. And now it suddenly and forbiddingly occurs to me that this ability to turn away from the tender heart is the necessary –and terrifyingly natural– shadow underlying my hominid ability to uncanny adaptation. How comfortable we are pressed to become among prolonged sickness and wrongful decay in our dogged search between a rock and a hard place for survival: the loss of tender feeling for that shimmering Original World, peeking through the slats of our weighted days, becomes an unbearable heartache for those with too much to carry. So much of an aging human life is full with the totalistic and unbending trial of coming to accept the absolute finality of death and loss, when still our persistent hearts in their deepest chambers yearn for life eternal. Among all of this, we must find a way to be happy– on pain of death. No wonder that those who find a path of absolute acceptable of reality while somehow keeping a tender heart are rightly called the saints of our species. And so I wonder if the Christians really have it right about something: humanity’s omnipresent longing for a semblance of eternal life, evident in all cultures, makes me wonder if there’s really something to it, in the way that hunger is an indicator that food exists somewhere.
But I am here now, born into this land of the vast old Earth, where my species is restless and beautiful and full of ancient and unknowable strangeness. Drifting into sleep last night I heard the night birds of this warm valley cooing their evening song from their perches and nests, calling steadily to their mates in their peaceful language, comforting their young in their downy breasts. I know their names, some of them, and the names and intimate formations of the trees that they love, that I love with a tender heart, that are bequeathed to me in an unending ancestry of natural lives in exchange. It was the Descent of Man, a going-down which Darwin spoke of, into the World to be among it completely, in totality. And in this moment of my brief human heart in the glorious life of the dark Earth I want nothing more than to be among the sounds of the night-songs forever, here in The World, so deeply is their avian comfort entwined with the blanketing world of the dusk, the old bones of the mother-sound of my animal life.
Early in July of 2017 I visited my homeland region of the San Joaquin Valley and Sierra Nevada Mountains. It’s something gentle to my heart, a mystery why this place keeps calling out to me with such love over such distance, across time and space. The Sierra Nevada mountains of California, I have long held, are what a heaven shall be like when the great celestial places come to settle their love on our small and intimate Earth, it is told, in the life of the world to come. How I love this cathedral range, mountains of gentler snow and light and love.
I journeyed into these mountains of mine for two days, alone with my little car and a quietness in me, on July 6th and 7th. I stayed at extraordinary Mono Hot Springs, where I wish the likes of me could somehow live with my sweet husband, our two cats, and a sure chosen family-community for the rest of our lives. Of course, this magical little town of a dozen-or-so is seasonal, arising out of the glitter-snows of winter for half the year in hotter days of late spring through early autumn. There are real true springs, there: warm, lovely scented (a good smell of the washing and comforting earth!) sulfur springs welling up from the high meadow paradise grounds. It is said the Original Peoples ventured there, the Mono and Miwok and other ancestral, indigenous travelers from over the range. I speak prayers of thanks and friendship to them while I walk, barefoot and lightly clothed in rectangular fabric, the paths of the little mountain meadow hillsides where these springs of warm renewal rise.
Walking this land, this place I love likely more than any other I have tread or even seen depicted by the captured frames of light, my heart jumps in happy greeting at the sight of familiar specie-friends. What a happy revelation to find that the days of searching and studying the knowledge of these plant and animal species truly does create clearer eyes in humans who go walking int heir homelands. At various times in this visit to the Sierras I was, at turns, lovesick in my heart for feeling, at once, such a great love for this place yet missing my husband and our two little cats back in my current home of the Puget Sound. I wanted, with longing, that all my loves would be gathered together –as we hope for in heaven. No wonder that the images I have dreamt of my original family resurrected to life is of our meeting in these Sierra Nevada mountains.
And here, friends, I speak your names once more, a litany of love and homecoming, of belonging to the profound and sacred heart-comfort of this place. I recorded your good names in a notepad to remember you, that I should not forget I have seen you again. I shall see you again.
Western Juniper – Juniper occidentalis
Douglas Fir – Pseutotsuga menziesii
Ponderosa Pine – Pinus ponderosa
Jeffrey Pine – Pinus jeffreyi
Western White Pine – Pinus monticola
White Alder – Alnus incana
California Bay Laurel – Umbellularia californica
(Up and down the way through Oregon:) – Interior Live Oak – Quercus wislienii
Mountain Dogwood – Cornus nuttallii
Oregon Grape – Berberis aquifolium
Poison Oak – Toxicodendron diversilobum
White Stem Raspberry – Rubus leucodermis
Thimbleberry – Rubus parvifolus
A Gooseberry Unknown
Manzanita (Greenleaf, likely)
also Pinemat, Whiteleaf
Bracken Fern (whom I thought was Lady Fern, mistooken)
Pteridium aquilinum variation. pubescens. Rounded lobes.
Lady Ferm pattern: little tufts along her spine,
Athyrium falpestre var. americanum
Lupine – type? Who, among so many names.
Miner’s Lettuce – Claytonia perfoliata
Paintbrush – Applegate’s, Indian? – Castilleja applegatei species.
Jepson’s Pea –a brilliant pink of hearts! – Lathyrus jepsonii
Gay Penstemon, happy, joyful – Penstemon laetus! –Laudete!
Animals, Animalia, Kingdom
– the Ones through Whom God looks out through all eyes.
Golden Buprestid, a Beetle of Brilliance
Sierran Blue-winged Grasshopper
“Northern & Boreal Bluet”, Common Blue Damselfly – Enallagma cyathigerum
and female var. E. boreale
Western Fence Lizard! Blue-Belly!
Sandpiper (almond orchard, down in the San Joaquin Valley)
Turkey Vultures (different from Condors, the greats)
Mourning Dove, whose song I love, who greets the hot day
and makes her mourning into singing.
Northern Mockingbird, the scout-flapper-flier.
– Do not all these deserve the same love?
American Robin – Turdus migratorius – steady on laws to remind us, to cheer us
Saw somebody with a yellow belly, not sure of his name yet, fine feathers of turmeric.
Stellar’s Jay – his eyebrows stripes of vertical white are different here
than in the Puget Sound. Two light-blue
eyes stripes vertical!
Dark-eyed Junco – Junco hyemalis
California Ground Squirrel (distinct white back)
Raven – Corvus corax –
harbinger unto the end
Sloshing through puddles
blustery sky overhead–
I’m a troubadour
last time you came
to visit my house
it was snowing
where snow rarely falls
on my moss
Let me tell you about the quest for fulfillment.
I held out my hand under a dripping ice ball,
and a drop hit me in the wrist.
I moved my hand.
It got me right in the palm
like I wanted.
At the end of the wetland
we travel a trail through a patchwork
of Salmonberry, Indian Plum, Oregon Grape.
Mud of the Salix, willow, is all
that remains of the annual stream,
black and cool in the summer shadow
of cottonwoods, shimmer–heart leaves,
tracks of Raccoon.
The trail breaks
through the fence.
has smoke of the tree
where it comes from
on a summer afternoon
barefoot cool dirt,
river rock naming birds
gift of flight, good words,
sun sleep, sun skirt.
wander in the green.
well dirty, real clean.
Where were the records kept
in the days before writing
when we spoke aloud to each other
our dreams in the morning
at the breakfast fire
Building a weir
with a gabion handmade–
what is willow
in another tongue?
Black locust has thorns
to remind you
of the holding
With you I have walked
this trail before;
And you, I will miss you
most of all
when I go.
Starting out on a wander across a bridge
that sways under feet, between gravity and air
you meet Northern Flicker. You stop,
body posed in mid-step like an animal;
you and the bird look into each other’s eyes.
He stands on the ground, flees from your burning gaze.
You straighten your beautiful back and walk on.
Like the river you now part the meadow,
rose-hips and brambles surround us.
I take note of the names given the flora
by Man in the garden– Thimbleberry and Alder.
Again your hand sweeps the grass to one side,
serpent of rushes, apple light falling over your face.
Is this what wild is? Coming onto
the riverbank, sandy pebbles,
a spiral made with blue stones.
Some come to be warriors.
Some come to love.
You leap up on a log.