Summer Salmon Fishing

Fall has come to the Pacific Northwest. Our dry summer is history. Snow is beginning to accumulate on the mountain tops and area rivers are rising. The latter fact is good news for our migrating salmon—many (though, not all) small headwater creeks now have enough cool water for these magnificent, iconic creatures to complete their egg laying journeys. Once the eggs are laid and fertilized, they rest in gravel bars all winter before hatching in the spring as tiny alevin with yoke sacks on their necks. And the great salmon cycle begins again.

As a keystone species (essential to the health of our region), nothing about the salmon/human interaction in the Northwest is simple. Their shrinking numbers depend increasingly on shoreline restoration. Unfortunately, lack of funding for habitat restoration is woefully inadequate. Couple that with the problem of stormwater runoff, dams on tributaries, and logging practices, it is a wonder that we still have a salmon run. According to Washington’s State of Salmon in Watersheds report issued January 2021, a trend of warming waters and habitat degradation are the principal problems. The report says that 10 of the 14 threatened or endangered salmon and steelhead runs in the state are not improving and five are “in crisis”.

So, why fish?

Fishing with my dad was one of the first ways I explored the natural world. When I was only six years old, we waded in cold Colorado mountain streams seeking the elusive native cutthroat trout. I loved the excitement, the connection to nature, and, of course, the camaraderie with my father. Fishing became synonymous with adventure for me. And it has remained so.

This drawing is up on my wall. I love the reminder of my dad’s spirit. He passed away in 2013.

However, fishing and fishing resources have changed dramatically over the 65+years since Dad taught me to fish. Yes, we had licenses and limits back then. And my family always ate the trout we caught. But now, of course,  the catch limits of every state have gotten stricter as the resource has dwindled.

In my home state of Washington, our Department of Fish and Wildlife is doing its best job to manage the salmon fisheries despite many challenges. So, I trust that my small impact on the fisheries IS part of a larger plan to keep a healthy fishing resource.

It thrills my wild heart to have a chance to “think like a salmon”. What is the right bait, the correct shore, the correct time of day, and the correct technique for safely landing them? Their magnificence connects me directly to the ecosystem and people of this land—both now and in the past. Also, by being responsible for all facets of catching, cleaning, and eating them, I have a much better understanding of my decision to remain a carnivore at this time.

Wearing my down jacket on an October morning, I stand on the empty shore of Bush Point. Looking across Puget Sound, I see the stately Olympic Mountains. Looking towards the Strait of Juan de Fuca, I can see the San Juan Islands and all the way into Canada on a clear day. I remember all those mornings of summer past— watching the arrival of dawn on the mountains or peering through the fog, feeling the camaraderie of my fishing buddies, and experiencing the occasional excitement of a tug on my line. It is a remarkable, expansive place to fish, even with the shoreline homes right behind us.

A quiet July morning fishing at Bush Point.

Another, not so warm, July morning fishing at Bush Point.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Salmon season on the west side of our island has been closed for three weeks now. It was a great season—the first time in four years that I caught my limit of two fish/day (once) and the first time my grandson caught a salmon. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife estimates that nearly 2.9 million wild pink salmon(also called humpbacks) arrived in Puget Sound in 2021. There were other species, too—cohos(silver) and Chinook(king)—but the vast majority this year were pink salmon.

Our grandson with his “pink” salmon on a July morning.

Those millions of salmon streaming by the island are now inland on the last leg of their precarious journeys from the open ocean. How do they know which stream to return to? Is the water cold enough? Where have they been the last 3-4 years? Do they really care if my lure has Smelly Jelly on it? Why do they sometimes hit a pink lure and sometimes a chartreuse lure? So many questions, so few answers—just an ongoing exploration of curiosity and awareness.

Fishing with my grandson

In the tradition of family fishing, it is a great joy to me that our 16-year-old grandson, Jaden, loves to fish. Every single morning of his annual summer visit with us this July, he got up at 6 a.m. so we could fish for 2-3 hours. Unfortunately, his vacation occurred at the beginning of the summer run, so very few people were catching fish while he was here. But Jaden persisted. On his last morning, 30 minutes before we had to leave for the airport, he caught his salmon! He was getting high fived by all the guys on the beach—a rite of passage into manhood that could not have happened if only his grandmother was there.

Jaden’s salmon being admired by some of the “old salts” who fish Bush Point.

 My friend and skilled fisherwoman, Pip, is our salmon-catching mentor. Jaden followed her teaching: land the fish, give thanks for its life, and kill it quickly to eliminate suffering. He gutted the fish himself and later fileted it back at Pip’s fishing station. And he did not miss his plane! His persistence and determination were admirable.

Jaden fishing with Pip

Recording the date, type of fish, “wild” or “hatchery” on his fishing license. Identifying what you catch and being sure it is legal is important.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fileting the fish back at Pip’s garage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After he left, I joined Pip on the beach once a week. She who fished every day caught over 5 dozen salmon. My salmon card reported only six fish, but it was plenty to share with friends and put some into the freezer for winter nights when we need a reminder of summer’s bounty.

Ann cleaning her female fish full of eggs back at her home.

Carrying the fish innards and unused portions back down to the beach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nothing is wasted when fishing. Within minutes of arriving to throw innards into the water, the gulls arrived. What the gulls don’t get, the crabs do!

Standing on the empty shore now, I marvel at the bigness, the mystery, and the excitement of nature’s cycles in my region. And, above all, I give profound gratitude for the privilege of living in a region that still has salmon runs.

 

 

 

 

 

2021 Summer Family Gatherings

If the summer of 2020 was the summer of cancelled reunions, memorials, and weddings, then the summer of 2021 has been the summer of resuming important family gatherings. As of this writing, vaccinated gatherings have felt relatively safe and so very imperative, but the rise of the Delta variant of COVID is beginning to cast a shadow on late August and autumn events.

After our mother died in October 2020, and we were able to have only the smallest internment service for her, my sisters and I began dreaming of a large family reunion to celebrate our mom and mark the passing of her generation as we four stepped into the role of elders. In this blog I record the absolute joy and privilege of a Brown Family Reunion/Memorial for our Mother that occurred in mid-June.

Our sweet mother, photo by Ann Linnea

My three sisters and I started planning in December 2020 before there were vaccinations. Two things seemed clear—it needed to be in Colorado where our family had vacationed for decades, and we wanted lots of outdoor activities because that’s what our family always did on those Colorado vacations.

The Brown Sisters: Kathy, Margaret, Ann, and Susie, photo by Joe Villarreal

We settled on Snow Mountain Ranch, YMCA Camp of the Rockies, and reserved lodge rooms for mid-June. It was a huge leap of faith. Spring came. Vaccines arrived. We got the shots. People began to register. Nearly every living descendant came—53 people, ages 1-76—from Florida, North Carolina, Minnesota, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Colorado, Arizona, and Washington. We are a diverse lot—age, sex, race, religion, and political affiliation. We are united by our love for our dearly departed matriarch, our shared joy in nature/outdoor adventure, and loyalty to the values this family has practiced since Mom and Dad married in 1948. Time together helped us be our best selves.

How do you weave a diverse, far flung family together to pull off an event with such unity? You plan. You trust. You jump in and have fun together. For our family I think the shared outdoor adventures were key because that is the culture that our parents had set in place for over 50 years. And most certainly you need a measure of good luck.

A collage of activity photos is included below. We supported each other to participate in activities ranging from horseback riding to high ropes adventure to zip lines to bicycle riding to hiking to making crafts to swimming to  tubing to eating s’mores around bonfires.

The narrative I focus on here is the high adventure ropes course because it was an important event for my small part of the big family. My daughter wanted this listed on our choices of activities because we had done this type of thing when she was a child. “I have a fear of heights and I want to challenge myself,” she said.

On a beautiful early June evening several dozen of us walked or drove down to the ropes course. Located in a circle of pines in the forested mountain bowl of Snow Mountain Ranch, an event called the Giant’s ladder and the Leap of Faith pole were rigged by a group of young staff. We gathered for instruction.

High ropes courses are all about individual challenge with team support. Participants are carefully fitted into a parachute type harness and hooked to safety lines called ‘belays’ held by staff and team members.

Our 16-year-old grandson, Jaden, was one of the first to climb the 40-foot utility pole and jump off wearing his harness. After watching several other family members, including some that did not make it to the top but turned around halfway up, our ten-year-old granddaughter, Sasha, said she wanted to try. She harnessed up and reached for the first foot peg and slowly made her way up to the tiny wooden platform at the top to the cheers of dozens—most loudly her big brother. With hesitancy on that little swaying platform, she trusted her harness and herself to leap off. As her father said, “I felt like she left a lot of the anxiety from a year of Covid homeschool and little socialization up there on that tiny wooden ledge. It was very emotional for me to watch.”

Sasha determined to climb that pole, photo by her father Joe Villarreal

Sasha at the top preparing to maneuver onto the jump platform, photo by her father Joe Villarreal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sasha ready to leap, photo by her great Aunt Margaret

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“OK, now I have to try,” said my daughter. There is nothing natural about climbing to the top of a high, slightly swaying pole and then jumping off. It wasn’t easy for Sally, but slowly she climbed, carefully managing her hands and feet. The support crew of aunts, uncles, cousins, and, of course, her family encouraged her to leap and trust that we who belayed her would slowly lower her to the ground. Once on the ground she was in the middle of a hug from Sasha, Jaden, Joe, Nina, and I.

You did such a good job, Sweetie! Now I have to try, photo by Joe Villarreal

Sally leaping off the platform, photo by her Aunt Margaret

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After several more people and children climbed, Jaden wanted to try again. This time he had the goal of jumping off and catching the trapeze bar swinging seemingly just out of reach—something our young guide said less than 10% of participants accomplish.  The friendly crowd grew silent when Jaden perched on that little platform. It was like being a spectator at an Olympic event—we could feel the young athlete’s focus and concentration and did not want to interrupt it. With every ounce of strength in his young body he flew and caught the bar! Cheers, laughter, high fives . . . it was a raucous moment out there in the pines. Afterwards I reflected to Jaden, “If you focus yourself, you can do anything you want to. That was impressive!”

Jaden leaping from the platform, photo by his father Joe Villarreal

 

Jaden reaching for that trapeze, photo by his great Aunt Margaret

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He got it! Photo by his father, Joe Villarreal

 

 

 

 

 

Me watching Jaden fly onto the trapeze, photo by Joe Villarreal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was up next. Someone in the grandmother generation needed to do this! I made no attempt to leap for the bar—sure did not want to throw a shoulder out. But I found it fun to trust that harness and leap. And for sure the cheers from everyone were helpful. Once down and getting out of the harness, I admit to a certain pride in being called a “bad ass grandma” by one of my nephews.

My leap documented by my sister, Margaret

This was one of many events in our five-day gathering. All of them were focused on choice, empowerment, and team building. And all of them built a strength of togetherness that culminated in the final evening memorial service for mom.

The memorial happened the last evening in the chapel after four days of eating, talking, and adventuring together. The field of connection was strongly woven at that point. The service had participation from all three generations remaining in the Brown family. Our historian sister, Margaret, and her son, Frank, put together an amazing video of mom’s life with live footage of her talking. Each of us other three sisters spoke. Mom’s musical talent rested in her grandchildren, and they played the piano and sang with beauty—Molly, Anna, and Frank. Thanks also to Erica and Jaden for their heartfelt words. And thank you to our three cousins who came to represent the fact that their Aunt Astrid was the last of the Svedlund women. Not a dry eye in the room. A homespun service of great heart and meaning.

Photos of our time together

Horseback riding in the Colorado Rockies, photo by Ann Linnea

 

Hiking to the falls: Christina, sister Kathy, niece Erica and daughter Kinsley, sister Susie and Ann, photo by John Harrington

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Making s’mores, bonfire created and tended by Joe Villarreal, photo by Ann Linnea

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our oldest Zipline daredevil, Christina, photo by Joe Villarreal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flying through air with the greatest of ease, Christina, photo by Joe Villarreal

Eating in the dining hall—Kathy’s family, photo by Ann Linnea

The great grandchildren making their own evening plans: Riley, Mishayla and Jaden , photo by Ann Linnea

A surprise graduation party for Mom and Dad’s youngest grandson, Frank Jonas, photo by Ann Linnea

The whole family after an afternoon of summer tubing, photo by Kyle Unfug

Giving Away Grace

Giving Away Grace

Posted this ad on our local Drewslist (our local equivalent of Craigslist) this week:

Free: Aquaterra KAYAK

Grace: a stable, trusty paddle.

Paddles, spray skirt included.

Grace, the kayak that traversed 1800 miles along the shore of Lake Superior in 1992

This 17- foot, rudderless Aquaterra plastic sea kayak with paddle,
cockpit cover, and spray skirt to the person with the right story!

In this boat I kayaked 1800 miles around Lake Superior in 1992. We moved to Whidbey in 1994 and she’s enjoyed many pleasant hours in Puget Sound. As you can see, she is well cared for. But she weighs 65 pounds and when I kayak these days I find myself always opting for my lighter weight boat. Since she has a remarkable story, she needs to go to someone who really wants her. Also included, my story of that journey: Deep Water Passage, A Spiritual Journey at Mid-Life.

Please donate something to Drew. We do.

Ann Linnea 7/06/2021

The emails of interest began pouring in. In the next several days 19 people expressed an interest. Their stories were many and varied: “Need a kayak for my daughter so she can join our adventures. My husband would never buy himself something, and he works so hard. I would love a kayak for my wife and I take really good care of gear. I’d like to do longer paddling trips in the San Juan Islands. . . .”

On July 10 a young father from nearby Oak Harbor arrived with his 7 and 4-year-old sons with many adventuring tales and a firm commitment to tending old gear. He skillfully loaded the boat onto his sedan. As I handed him an autographed copy of Deep Water Passage, he shared that he has aspirations to write his own book. We shook hands and off he went.

Young father and sons ready to claim their new sea kayak

Grace loaded and ready to go to her new home

Here is the response I sent to each person who inquired about the boat:

Thank you for your inquiry about my Aquaterra Sea Kayak. Some of you shared stories about why you would like this 32-year-old kayak that carried me around Lake Superior in 1992. In the true spirit of Drewslist, I lined you up in the order of receiving your emails. This afternoon a young family in Oak Harbor with an excellent story loaded her up and took her into her next life. They were the first people to inquire about the boat.

Fellow paddlers on the sea of life, be well, keep your paddle in the water, and keep adventuring always!

See you on the water,

Ann Linnea

 

My greatest joy at this time in my life is empowering the next generation(s)!

 

 

The Organic Farm School

Multi-colored vegetables, goats, chickens, hogs, and fabulous young people learning to be organic farmers. What is not to like about this scene? For the past three years it has been my great joy to volunteer as an adult mentor at the Organic Farm School in the Maxwelton Valley of Whidbey Island.

Sunny day in early spring, courtesy of Organic Farm School

Baby goat, courtesy of Organic Farm School

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Chicken tractors” protect the young chicks from predators, but can be moved daily for foraging in new places. Ann Linnea photo

The young people range in age from mid-twenties to mid-forties and come from all over the U.S. to join the ranks of future farmers focused on growing healthy food. It is a six-month, full time, intensive training. They learn soil management, seed production, marketing, and business planning through a combination of classes, field work, and community interaction. (The latter was challenging during the pandemic, but we shifted, adapted, and had a successful year with a smaller class in 2020. We are back up to full capacity at 12 this year.)

In one of our recent teaching sessions the students were each giving a 4-minute statement on why they choose to farm at this time. We were meeting in the open-air picnic shelter. The air temperature was 45 degrees F. and there was a light wind blowing. I found myself wishing I had donned long underwear. Even though it was April, there had been a morning frost.

Student working with seeds and seedlings in one of the greenhouse, courtesy of Organic Farm School

I was busy taking notes so I could reflect back to them the general gist of their statements. Every one of them was articulate about why they were choosing to farm at a time when the number of farmers in the U.S. is slowly decreasing, farmland is being bought up by big corporations, and U.S. Department of Agriculture policies continue to largely favor the “big farmer.”

Many of them spoke about wanting to change the way farming is done in this country. Some focused on wanting to learn essential life skills. Several referenced seeking a spiritual connection to the land. All of them were inspirational to listen to—courageous, taking a big leap of faith, working bone hard every single day. These are the people I want to invest in!

Transplanting seedlings from the greenhouse to the field, Ann Linnea photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The focus of OFS teaching by the farm manager, assistant farm manager, and the instructor is on regenerative agriculture. A shorthand explanation of that might be a farmer saying, “I focus on the health of my soil. If it is healthy, I am being successful.”

Regenerative ag farmers use a variety of techniques ranging from cover crops to crop rotation to no till farming to rotational grazing. In many ways they look at farming more like a 1950s farmer growing a variety of crops, not using pesticides or herbicides, having some animals as a source of manure and “tilling,” and planning to have a farm whose soils can support crop growing for generations to come.

Everyone learns to drive the tractor, courtesy of Organic Farm School

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also built into the program is an emphasis on communication and interaction. The students host a farm stand, offer cooking and tasting sessions, and even Friday evening pizza oven gatherings. All of these programs involve community volunteers.

“Communication” is where my friend and colleague Sharon Betcher and I come into the program. We offer weekly supplemental classes, like the one articulated above. The umbrella title for our classes is “The Holistic Farmer. We, and invited community members, provide an hour-long session on topics ranging from developing working agreements, to a history of the area, to working with conflict and disagreement, to functional fitness, to civics for farmers, to ethics of slaughter.

Inside one of the large green houses, courtesy of Organic Farm School

We have a course outline for the remaining Mondays of this year’s sessions. We know the curriculum will need to be adapted as suggestions and needs come forward from the students. Like the soil, plants, and animals, like weather and seasons, change is the norm in this outdoor lifestyle. To stand alongside and contribute to this program is challenging, wonderful, and a great privilege. I come home with my arms full of very fresh vegetables, and my heart full of confidence in the future of farming.

Aerial early spring view of OFS, courtesy of Organic Farm School

Young hogs “tilling and fertilizing” a stretch of sod, photo by Ann Linnea

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Resilience

Recently we had the privilege of hosting our dear grandchildren for a week. Because of COVID and the fact that they live far away, we had not seen them for 18 months. The very first thing we did after getting our second COVID shots was to call our daughter and see if we could bring them here for spring break. Ah, the benefits of vaccination!

Sasha, Jaden, Christina, Ann and Vivi

Sasha, Jaden, Christina, Ann and Vivi, photo by Nicole Luce

There are so many memories from our recent week together: The joy of watching them play with the young dog they had never met as a puppy. . . their familiarity with rhythms from years past like planting peas . . . the fun of board games on rainy days . . .growing skill at helping in the kitchen . . . and their deepening ability to articulate themselves during morning check-ins.

Photos in collage below

In many ways it was not so different from previous years. Well, Jaden is now old enough to be driving us around! And Sasha is now old enough to sleep in her own bedroom. But the thing that struck me the most about being with them this time is their resilience.

Since COVID cancelled our annual spring break visit in 2020, they have had a year of school entirely on ZOOM. The vast majority of their time has been spent in a two-bedroom apartment or running errands with their dear parents. They have had very limited access to friends. And once our daughter found a new job which took her away from home, the two of them had to learn to take care of each other at a whole other level.

I am so impressed with both of them! What I see is how this past year has matured them—made them stronger and better versions of the selves they have always been. This, of course, is certainly a tribute to the fine job their parents are doing and the closeness of their family unit. But it also speaks to how adversity can grow our souls.

A lot is being written about “the lost year” of COVID for young people. I know there have been huge losses and challenges. But what I see in our grandchildren is strength and resilience. I am defining resilience as an ability to recover and grow from adversity. This is a skill that will stead them well.

None of us knows what the future holds for our beloved children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, family friends, and neighbor kids. We wish we could have a crystal ball that told us what is coming so we could help prepare them to create the world they want. But we don’t. We must simply love, encourage, and support them to the best of our abilities and resources. And then we must step back and trust their incredible youthful spirits.

I trust Sasha and Jaden’s spirits even more after this recent visit. May I have the privilege of being with them for many years to come.

Morning wakeup and conversations

With Jaden as my ally I am SAFE!

Neighborhood work party with Sarah

Jaden at the wheel

Playing at the beach

Wrestling on the floor with Vivi

Ann and Sasha baking

Writing our note in the bottle

Inserting note into the bottle and sealing with beeswax

Football player Jaden getting ready to throw the bottle into the outgoing tide on a very chilly morning

Many games of UNO

Sasha planting peas

 

Spring is Coming!

I have lived in the northern part of the northern hemisphere my entire life, including 15 cherished years in Duluth, MN where snow can arrive as early as October and leave as late as May. So, I know the length and breadth of winter—and, I do not think I have ever been so eager for spring as I am this year. After a year of Covid winter, I am ready for some thawing, some blooming, and for sure, more joy!

It has been a very long year for everyone. There has been much suffering, ambiguity, frustration, adjustment, upheaval, and insecurity. Yikes! We have had no visitors inside our home. Our tiny, socially distanced gatherings occur under the patio heater on our porch on days with little wind or rain. We still walk hiking trails here with masks on. All of my family connections, friendly outreach and community meetings have turned to ZOOM. We last saw our daughter, her partner, and the grandchildren in October 2019. And I know these stresses are small in the scheme of things. We who are the middle class retired have been inconvenienced, but not bearing the brunt of disruption. We have stood by to assist others as best we can. We have a home, heat, enough to eat, relative health, love. AND— I am ready for some opening up!

Tea on the porch under the patio heater with neighbors

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How can I tell? Well, my moods are as variable as spring weather. Valentine’s weekend we had snow at our house, a rare sea level occurrence. I got to ski down our street and make a snowman! It was great fun.

Ann skiing down the gravel road in front of her house

Ann making a snowman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then in perfect Seattle snowstorm fashion, it all promptly melted in three days and the inexorable, erratic march of spring returned. Immediately, I was out in the garden turning over the winter cover crop. I walked over to our neighboring farm to get my garden seeds. The next day the sun came out and I got so excited I nearly planted grass seed in the thin spots in our front patio yard until I read the package which instructed me, “Seed when the air temperature is 60 degrees F.(15.5 degrees C.)” More waiting!

3 days later turning over the winter cover crop in the garden

Neighboring Deep Harvest farm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I laughed out loud at myself. Geez, it IS only February, and the temperature has not even gotten up to 50 degrees F yet (10 degrees C.)! So, I restrained my optimistic impulses and strolled around the yard appreciating all of the blooming plants that came through the snowstorm in great beauty: Hellebores, heather, and Pieris. I do feel lucky to live here.

Blooming Hellebore in our February backyard

Blooming heather in our February front yard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A couple of days later I was walking with our puppy on our favorite trail in the state park. “Oh, my gosh!” I exclaimed aloud to little Vivi. “It is the first salmonberry flower in our park! Spring IS coming!” My steps on the muddy trails became ever lighter.

Salmonberry bud about to burst. Once they do, the incorrigible rufous hummingbirds arrive from their long migration to begin their incredible summer lives in the NW.

 

 

And yesterday we got our second COVID vaccination. It does feel like slowly, slowly the door of possibilities is beginning to open. My daughter and I immediately made plans for the grandkids to come up for spring break. I was so happy that I cried. Yes, we still have to be very careful—need to get COVID tests, need to fly with cautious protocols, need to keep masking up in public. But spring is coming. Warmth. Possibility. Hope.

Decades ago, I worked as a newspaper reporter in northern Utah. I was the cub reporter. One of the more seasoned reporters I looked up to very much, Jim Godbold, said he heard I was from Minnesota. He then proceeded to tell me the story of his year working at the Minneapolis Star and Tribune. “Coldest, most miserable year of my life,” he said. “But when spring came I was more creative than I have ever been. There was such a release of my energy as things began to thaw. I couldn’t believe it. Haven’t experienced it since, but I never forgot that feeling.”

That is exactly how I am feeling at this moment. Spring IS coming. (Honestly, to my Minnesota and Canadian friends, it WILL come.) The Earth’s signals do not lie. They may taunt us, but they do not go away. Lighter weight jackets can come out of the closet. Mittens and scarves will soon go into storage. Masks will still be with us for a long time. But somehow the necessary changes we face no longer feel as daunting.

In 1732 the English poet, Alexander Pope wrote, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.” That’s me. I wish he was around this spring, I’d give him a high-five and a hug. Masked, of course.

 

 

 

 

2020—A Good Year for Fungi

Originally I was going to post this blog on January 6. But on that day the President of the United States, whose job is to protect our government, incited rioters and looters to attack the U.S. Capitol. My father, a lifelong Republican who risked his life for democracy by fighting in World War II, would be furious. My mother, who lived her life as a model citizen of democracy, would be appalled and profoundly saddened. I carry both their emotions.

 I wrote this blog to insert knowledge and hopefulness about good things that happened in the challenging year of 2020. It still does that and maybe more than ever this moment needs the story of two women scientists—one a friend and mentor, another living a short distance away—who have changed how we view the natural world, specifically the potential for fungi to be of help during this profound time in history.

When I was an undergraduate Botany major at Iowa State University (1967-71), my major professor was Dr. Lois H. Tiffany—a mycologist, an Iowa farmer’s wife, a mother, and a woman science professor in an era when women scientists were rare. She was known as “Iowa’s Mushroom Lady” because she taught and led field trips all over the state. She was a remarkable role model and teacher to me. Lately I have been thinking about her because even in a year overwhelmed by politics and pandemic, fungi, or more specifically their mycelium, have been making the news. If she were still alive, I think “Dr. T” would be gratified to see her long-held beliefs and research about soil, and mycelium in particular, validated as crucial to the health of plants.

Dr. Lois H. Tiffany, courtesy of Iowa State University special collections

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fungi are a “hot topic” right now

In the complex year of 2020, the emergence of ground-breaking understanding about the role of fungi in sustaining planetary life may contribute to our lives as much as vaccines and restorative political leadership. (The terms mushrooms and fungi are often used interchangeably, but technically mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of certain species of fungi.)

Early in 2020 the documentary, Fantastic Fungi https://fantasticfungi.com/  opened in independent movie theaters. (It was the last movie we saw in a real theater before COVID-19.) An LA Times review summarized the documentary this way, “Mushrooms are the new superheroes… a documentary of epic proportions.” The cinematography was superb—imagine subterranean, invisible to the naked eye, networks coming to life as we see them in action doing their work of sustaining plants and decomposing things that humans cannot figure out how to get rid of.

In December,  the New York Times magazine published an article entitled, “The Social Life of Forests” by Ferris Jabr: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/12/02/magazine/tree-communication-mycorrhiza.html?referringSource=articleShare . The article enables us to see the very real progress being made on understanding the underground world of the soil and fungi. And it opens our minds to thinking about defining “communication” in new ways—i.e. something other than human words.

At the end of the year, I finished reading Entangled Life: How Fungi Make our Worlds, Change our Minds & Shape our Futures by Merlin Sheldrake (2020 Random House/New York). This brilliant book by a young scientist with its 50 pages of notes and its 44 pages of bibliography details everything from the revolutionary work around lichens(extremophiles) to the mind-altering capabilities of mushrooms to the industrial potential for these organisms to decompose everything from plastics to nuclear waste. This young scientist has synthesized profound amounts of information to further help us understand the potential of this life form.

Cover of Merlin Sheldrake’s new book on fungi, photo by Ann Linnea

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conviction/persistence by a young woman scientist

All three of these 2020 works feature the research of Dr. Suzanne Simard, Professor of Forest Ecology at the University of British Columbia. She grew up in the old growth forests of British Columbia across the border from where I live. When she decided to pursue a career in forestry in the 1990s to study what she loved, she entered a discipline that thought of trees as commodities that would produce faster profit if grown in monocultures so the desirable species had no competition. This did not make sense to a woman who knew the aliveness of an old growth forest with its variety of trees, plants, and animals.

Dr. Suzanne Simard, courtesy of Wikipedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Despite dismissal by many colleagues, she persisted in her conviction that there is a scientific way to “prove” the interrelatedness of trees in a forest. Her 1997 PhD thesis was the first study showing that carbon passed between plants in a natural setting (not in a greenhouse). Using radioisotopes and tracking the movement of activated molecules between trees, she showed that trees are not separate entities, they are connected via mycelium. Or as Jabr writes in his article, “Trees appear to communicate and cooperate through subterranean networks of fungi.”

The tiny fungi strands (mycelium) surround tree roots forming a partnership called mycorrhiza that enables the trees to get water and nutrients from the soil while fungi utilize the sugars the tree makes through photosynthesis. The forest and all habitats are a study of cooperation and linkage.

Dr. Simard will be coming out with a new book on May 4, 2021, Finding the Mother Tree, Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest. The advertising for this book claims, “From the world’s leading forest ecologist who forever changed how people view trees and their connections to one another and to other living things in the forest.” I can hardly wait to read this new book!

Changing our perceptions

Dr. Tiffany published over 100 scientific papers and looked extensively at the relationship of fungi to Iowa’s prairie soils. Dr. Simard brings a similar impeccability of scientific research on the subject of forest soils and trees. Fungi are crucial to the web of life in all habitats. It is good to see them getting some “popular press”.

Every week, my little dog and I walk our local state park with its old growth and mid-growth forest. It is winter in the Pacific Northwest. The rains have made visible a lot of mushrooms. I am keenly aware that I am seeing only the most miniscule manifestation of the mycelium beneath my feet and scattered everywhere in the rotting and downed logs. So much has been learned about fungi in my lifetime! A bow to scientists who continue to pursue the true curiosity of real scientific inquiry to open our understanding of the world around.

A jelly fungus with the common name Witch’s Butter, photo by Ann Linnea at nearby state park

 

The Healing Power of Ceremony

October and November are important months for our small family. We honor the passage dates of each of our four parents and our son, Brian. All five of their lives were well-lived. Our four parents lived to honorably old ages. Brian died at 33 as the result of a line of duty accident as a paramedic captain. We take time to mark each of these passages in some way.

Part of our kitchen counter this fall was dedicated to remembering our ancestors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is Brian’s passage that we annually honor by taking an entire day to immerse ourselves in nature. Our choice of where to go and what to do is often spontaneous. This year our choice was prescient. We decided to spend our day walking the sandy beach created by the sediment being washed down from the Olympic Mountain National Park’s Elwha River into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Mouth of the Elwha River, WA before (left) and after (right) dam removal. The sediments are rich in nutrients. Photo from Olympic National Park website

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Outside of the Puget Sound region, the Elwha River is hardly known, but it is famous for being the site of the world’s largest dam removal project. For a hundred years two dams stopped the Elwha from flowing freely from the finger glacier on the east side of the Olympic National Park into the sea. The dams were used for electricity production. These dams, of course, prevented salmon from migrating from the sea back up to the pristine headwaters in the national park. However, by the early 21st century the amount of electricity produced was minimal and stakeholders from the Lower Elwha Tribe to politicians to environmentalists and businessmen began long and involved conversations about removing the two dams.

The removal of the dams took two years of careful engineering and deconstruction. Photo from Olympic National Park website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 2012 the project was launched and by 2014 the dams were removed. Some thought it would take years to see if the original salmon stock would migrate upriver. It began happening within two months! The river is being extensively studied by scientists. They are using research methods from snorkel surveys to radio telemetry to sonar imagery to seining to discover which salmon runs are being restored, how fertile the sediments are at the river mouth, and how other species are being affected. Much data remains to be collected, but already the results are stunning for many species, not just salmon.

Fisheries biologists sample the Elwha for salmon. Photo from Olympic National Park website

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And so, we took our grief at losing Brian to the great river and its new and ever-changing delta. We walked. We talked. We stopped to self-design a ceremony of remembrance by creating a circle of  beach treasures and scattering some of his ashes around the edge. The stories flowed easily and freely. Brian was such a presence. The stories of both his heroics and his deep devotion to family just pour forth when his name is mentioned.

Brian in his beloved jeep. Photo by Cousin Molly Hilgenberg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In ways we could not anticipate or even totally articulate, we felt restored and renewed by our meandering walk and spontaneous ceremony. The ecosystem around us was being slowly restored and renewed, as are we. The Elwha and its great salmon runs is resilient, as are we. Brian would have it no other way.

Ann gazing at the Straits of Juan de Fuca attended by her little corgi. Photo by Christina Baldwin

 

Ceremonial circle of beach items and some of Brian’s ashes

A Life Well Lived

My mother, Astrid Linnea Brown, seven years before her death at age 93.

 On October 1, 2020 our dear mother Astrid Linnea Brown passed away. She died of natural causes at the age of 93 years and eleven months. She lived through the last century and this one with an unflappable kindness that family and friends counted on. She spoke humbly and often did not realize how much wisdom was embedded in her comments on everyday life. I miss that voice and know I will begin to hear it rising from within myself.

On the morning  of her last day of life, Christina and I had a brief Zoom call with her. She remembered that Christina recently had cataract surgery and asked how she was doing. Even though she had entered hospice, we had no idea that she would shift from frailty to dying just a few hours later that afternoon. Thanks to technology, my sister, Kathy, who lives nearby, was able to alert and help gather all four of us daughters so we could be present to our mother’s last hour of life. While Kathy held her hand, we other daughters (in Washington, Arizona, and North Carolina) held vigil via Zoom. We shared scripture and music and the promise that we would take care of each other. We gave her permission to let go. As we played Dvorak’s Going Home from the New World Symphony, our mother, the organist, let go of this life and moved on to her next.

Mom’s casket. Three of us daughters, three grandchildren, and five great grandchildren attended a simple graveside service observing Covid protocols, acknowledging that we were each standing in for dozens of family members who could not travel because of the pandemic. Photo by granddaughter Kyle Anderson.

 

Since our father’s death seven years ago, after 65 years of marriage, Mom transferred out of the family home to an assisted living campus near Kathy. My sisters and I phoned her nearly every day for the last couple of years, being especially diligent as she shifted into nursing care and during this time of pandemic isolation. Many times she called us before we reached her. We were her lifeline as her capabilities diminished. It was an honor to have these conversations and shared insights into one another. Mom tackled her last phase of life with the same resilience and steadiness that led her through the birth and raising of four daughters, the arrival of thirteen grandchildren and then 28 great grandchildren.

Susie, Kathy, Mom, Ann, and Margaret on a 2018 trip up the North Shore of Lake Superior.Photo by waitress.

 

She was a classic woman of her generation—wife, mother, community member, and also a talented piano player and church organist. In many ways our mother was the epitome of the American Dream. Her parents both immigrated to this country as teenagers with their Swedish siblings. They were poor and hardworking. Mom lived through the Depression and never forgot the frugality and hard work of those years. She lived her whole life with the values of love, kindness,  and honesty. These are the values that endeared “Astie” to her many descendants. These are the values needed now more than ever in our country. Thank you, mom, for this powerful legacy. We will not forget.

There are so many stories to share when you live as long as our mother did, but the one I  choose to focus on here is how much I learned from her about writing. Her penmanship was impeccable. Her commitment to writing letters was multi-generational. And she always paid attention to the proper use of language!

My immigrant grandmother, Vendla, taught herself to read and write English. She never got back to Sweden to see her family, so she counted on letters as the link to that other life. Mom often spoke about watching her sit down at the dining room table, Swedish/English dictionary at her side, writing those letters.  The imprint was strong. Mom in turn always took time to write her four daughters as we moved far from home. Actually, our father also wrote us letters because his father had written letters to him during his service in the Pacific Theater in World War II. The importance of communicating via the written word remains with us and has been passed on to our children and grandchildren. (In the younger generation texting and email has, of course, often replaced actual letters but the IDEA of writing is deep in the extended Brown family.)

Mom’s writing went beyond letters. In the late 1990s she and her younger sister, Helen, took one of our PeerSpirit writing seminars. I was delighted by the writing  she shared in a group much younger than herself. She joined a writing group when she moved into her long-term care center after dad passed away.

Mom on one of our writing outings.

One of the things I cherished doing with mom when I visited in recent years was driving to a nearby park to be inspired by the beauty of nature. At first she could walk, then she used a walker, and still later I pushed her in a wheelchair. We would sit and look, sometimes read a Mary Oliver poem, and then take some time to write our reflections. It was a beautiful way to witness my quiet, introverted mother as she articulated some of her deeper thoughts.

A sample journal entry by mom

This snippet of her writing that I share here came from a shared moment with my sister, Margaret. After a fall,  mom had been moved from the assisted living wing into the nursing wing. Susie had come earlier to help our local sister, Kathy. Margaret and I arrived to help disassemble her assisted living apartment. Mom, Margaret, and I paused for an afternoon tea break and took a moment of quiet to reflect on the statement at the top of her page: Little things make a big difference.

You see here her beautiful penmanship even at age 92, her appreciation of our presence, and her getting used to the name of the new place that would be her home for the rest of her days. By having parents who lived for so many decades, I have gained a deeper understanding of what it means to live into old age. And I had a chance to internalize what an extraordinary role model my dear mother was for me. I walk now in her footsteps, in my own way, as best I can.

Graveside service bulletin. Photo by granddaughter Kyle Anderson.

Staycation

This is the summer of our staycation. With the coronavirus still on the rise across the United States, we decided it was not wise to travel. It has been a difficult decision—letting go of our annual Granny Camp with the grandchildren and visiting my mother and a long-planned dream to visit family in Alaska and kayak Prince William Sound.

We know plenty of people who have decided to travel. This is not a commentary on whether this is right or wrong or a debate about flying vs. driving vs. camping. These are times of calculated risks for all of us and to the best of our abilities we weigh the risks vs. the rewards and act accordingly.

This is a blog about some wonderful, unexpected joys of remaining home this summer.

There has been a different pace to life. We don’t “bop” to the store to pick something up. We wait until we have quite a list, because it is a big deal to mask up and then bring everything home and sanitize it. We often travel via bike to do our errands like checking the post office box, because we have more time.

People have had time to create beautiful artwork on our beaches.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is very exciting to have someone come over to visit because we have to plan ahead for a nice day so we can be out on the patio and remain socially distant. No one has actually come inside our house since the first lock down here in early March. As dog walkers in our neighborhoods, we take the time to stand socially distant and visit with someone who is weeding or just porch sitting. We have gotten to know several neighbors on the adjacent street that we did not know before. Speed and efficiency are definitely not very important this summer.

The garden is a special source of joy this year. I don’t think we have necessarily raised more beans or squash or blueberries or garlic, but I have experienced greater joy in the act of tending. For sure the carrot seedlings in the garden and the tomatoes on the porch are getting more regularly watered.

I had an especially good garlic harvest this year.

Snap peas, beans, and squash from our July garden

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was part of our Audubon pigeon guillemot study. These are wonderful, orange-footed seabirds that nest on the cliffs below our home. Once a week during nesting season I have gotten up  at 6 a.m. and sat below the cliff nests on our beach and carefully counted how many fish deliveries/hour the adults make. There are dozens of Whidbey Island Audubon members doing this below bluffs all over the island. The organization has been doing this for 10 years and thanks to their scientific diligence, several other Audubon chapters in the region have begun their own studies. This has given scientists some important, previously unavailable data about these birds.

Pigeon guillemots are little black and white seabirds with preposterous orange feet.

Remarkably, pigeon guillemots nest in holes high on the cliff. When the young are ready to leave, they jump out of the hole, bounce on the ground and walk into the sea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It has been a good summer to be a salmon fisherwoman. Well, the silvers(Coho salmon) are not exactly running yet but being a shore caster early in the morning has its own special joys like baby seals coming out of the water and taking a nap ten feet from my feet or watching the red, orange sunrises on the mountains of the Olympic peninsula. Actually, I have already caught one Coho. My father, the fisherman, trained me well. He would be proud.

Ann and her 3 pound coho. Photo by fishing buddy Pip Gordon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We camped at a state park on our island. This was our 9-month old puppy’s first camping trip and she came through with flying colors—did not bark at neighboring campers too much and slept through the night! Sleeping outdoors gives one a different perspective of home. One night I had a hard time going to sleep. I slipped quietly out of the tent to look at a star-filled sky through towering old growth Douglas fir trees. There was not one sound in the entire 55-unit campground. Everyone from the ten-year-old boys that were racing around on their bicycles to the older couples in their RVs to the teenagers celebrating a birthday two sites over was quiet. Asleep, sheltered by the trees, trusting in the absolute safety around them. It was a holy moment that I will treasure for a very long time in this chaotic and often not-so-kind world.

Christina, Ann, and Vivi on their state park camping trip—face masks close by for when they leave their own campsite. Photo by Sarah MacDougall

Vivi watching the sunset over Puget Sound.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Night lanterns for the 13-year-old birthday party two sites away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even though we have lived here for 26 years, we made some unusual nature discoveries. One day on a low tide walk we discovered a moon snail carefully laying its eggs in its industrial looking sand collars. Another day we came upon a garter snake trying to eat a slug! Within minutes the young snake let go of its unusual prey, realizing the numbing effect of the slime. The snake rubbed its head back and forth through the dirt to rid itself of that horrible sensation. Probably will not try that again!

The underwater foot of the moon snail is pulling in sand, mixing it with special saliva and eggs to create the sand collar at the bottom.

A garter snake trying to eat a slug.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s been a cool, wet summer here. Our little puppy had another first—kayaking. Mostly she was patient for her hour-long ride, but then she hopped out into the water and was ready to run and play on her very own four legs. Enough lap sitting!

Vivi’s first kayaking adventure

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Home improvement projects are generally not thought of as part of vacation, but it brings us joy to tend this little corner of the planet. Having a whole summer home has enabled us to get totally up to date on all outside staining projects—which frees us up to feel more energy for riding bikes, camping, kayaking, and hiking!

Assorted paint brushes get the job done.

Our favorite stain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conclusion—It is a very serious time on the planet. Many more people will die because of the pandemic. Economies are crashing. The racial and economic injustices in the world are made ever more visible during this time. This summer makes my white privilege ever more obvious to me. HOWEVER, ordinary people like myself are doing the best we can to find joy and bring kindness into the world. And, ultimately, this is the thread that holds everything together.

Sunset light on a gnarled, old growth Douglas fir tree hanging onto the west edge of our island—like all of us, a survivor.