August harvester

August is not the best sleeping month at our house. My earlier blog was about loud, early morning fog horns. This blog is about a little busybody harvester whose work often wakes us with a loud BAM beginning about 5:30 a.m.

We have a huge Douglas fir tree towering over our house. Each year in late August a little red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus), or maybe it is an army of red squirrels, begin harvesting the thousands of cones our tree produces each year. The skylight in the bathroom adjacent to our bedroom seems to be the main target. It is uncanny how loud the sound from a small three inch cone can be when it drops from 70 or 80 feet.

There does not seem to be a particular system for what happens once the cones are felled. Some of them get eaten on the roof. Some of them get carried into our wood pile. Most of them seem to be abandoned all over the back yard, where they are a bit like walking on marbles.

Years ago when I worked for the U.S. Forest Service we took advantage of the red squirrel’s scattered approach to putting away food stocks for the winter. Our forest biologist explained that they harvest way more cones than they need and actually forget where all their stores are. So, we would find a cache and collect cones to give to give to the nursery that grew young trees for our replanting operations.

I am not sure what signals the squirrels that our cones are ready for harvesting or why they quit after about 5 days. It is simply one of those mysteries I enjoy tracking in our rural setting.




Mid-morning fog out my front window

Mid-morning fog out my front window

Early this morning I awoke to the deep-throated booming of a ship’s foghorn. In the dawn light I could read the alarm “4:35 a.m.” In two minutes the “bee-ohhh” penetrated the morning silence again. This time it had moved closer to our house. In another two minutes it sounded like it was going to come in through the front door.

Living adjacent to the shipping lane in Puget Sound, I have come to love these wake-up calls. Often, I open the front door to see if I can catch a glimpse of our morning visitor.

August is a common time for fog in our area—so much so, that we dub this month “Fog-ust”. The low-lying clouds slide in over the Sound in the early morning hours and linger until mid-day when the summer sun manages to burn it off. We often say that summer here occurs between 1 p.m. when the sun burns off and 6 p.m. when the cool, marine air engulfs us once again and we put our fleece and wool sox on again.

There are many technical descriptions of why fog occurs in the warm summer months by the sea, but basically it is the result of warm atmospheric air clashing with cooler marine air.

Morning sun trying to burn off the fog

Morning sun trying to burn off the fog

What fascinates me, though, is the personality of fog. It is mysterious. It is elusive. It is unpredictable—just when you see some blue sky overhead and think it is clearing, you are engulfed in deeper fog for hours. And never did I feel that unpredictability more profoundly than the summer I kayaked around Lake Superior.

“About twenty minutes into our crossing, the predicted blanket of fog descended and wrapped us in a gray cocoon. The distant shore became a wishful thought. . . our lives depended on our $80 mounted compasses and our steadfastness in believing them.” Deep Water Passage—a Spiritual Journey at Midlife by Ann Linnea

Twenty-one years later I still remember the sheer determination, fear, and good luck that got me through those frequent times on the world’s largest inland sea. Lying in my warm bed, I think about those huge ships outside my window with their fancy radar units and their old-fashioned fog horns warning small-time mariners who must depend only on their eyes and ears to navigate the fog.

A mother’s wisdom


On a recent family trip our two-year-old granddaughter managed to hike up Easter Bluff on Cortes Island, BC. It was a challenging hike up and over big boulders. “I do it myself,” she stated many times. Her mom and dad were always close at hand.

It is no small thing that this little one was able to climb several hundred feet over a mile long trail. But what I will always remember is the trip down.

We watched the sunset after eating our picnic dinner. It was 8:30 p.m. and little Sasha had no nap that day. Within ten minutes of beginning our descent she was in full meltdown. No one could help. Nothing worked. We got to a flatter place in the trail beneath two very large, old growth Douglas fir trees.

My daughter, Sally, scooped Sasha into her arms and sat down beneath the tree. “OK, Sweetie, breathe. Just breathe. We will breathe together.” Within minutes Sasha was no longer crying. It was a mother’s magic at work.

And then, of course, her father carried her the rest of the way down the mountain.