“The smell in the air tells me that spring is on its way,” shares Jake Simondet, Sitka’s Facilities and Ecology Manager, when I ask about his field experience this week with forest ecologist and retired manager of the of USFS Cascade Head Experimental Forest Sarah Greene. “I find my mind wandering through thoughts of the warmer weather and all the blooms that will follow the sunshine.”
Sarah, who is also a past Sitka board president, led Jake and several of Sitka’s current cohort of practitioners in residence on a tour of the Experimental Forest, the completed restoration project in the Salmon River Estuary and other Sitka Reflection sites that are part of a larger national Ecological Reflections Program.
After meeting with Sarah for an informative overview in Sitka’s Library and learning about the unique history of Cascade Head and its stewards, the group headed out.
“A 160 year-old forest provides sites that are wonderful to see,” Jake shares. “Nurse logs old and young alike, …all of the various plants starting to leaf out. You can see the yellow flower of the skunk cabbage take shape, the deciduous huckleberry finally showing its teeth and early signs of mushroom sprouts pushing through the soil trying to find a little sunlight in this dense part of the forest. Soft soil giving way to our footprints wandering through the damage from our last winter storm until we start to climb uphill to the true understory surrounded by hemlock, spruce, and Douglas fir. Finding sights of tagged trees and measurement equipment set up, waiting for someone to collect their growth data.”
The sensitivity and sensory quality of Jake’s dispatch is stirring. I feel like I am in the forest with him, my own senses awakening from hibernation.
“Our second stop is Tamara Quays, an old dismantled mobile home park,” Jake continues. “Its only remaining feature is an overgrown paved road leading us to the Estuary. This place is not one I had heard of before, and I am fascinated to hear its history and celebrate the dismantling of something that should not have been built here in the first place. A tide gate and a dike were dismantled in the early 90s to give way to nature reclaiming this space. Alder, pussy willows, rush, slough sedge and, of course, scotch broom, all pushing to outcompete each other in a beautiful way. The blackberry, however, seems to be the most successful. The water flows freely once again here, and happier birds flutter about.”
I feel happier the more of Jake’s observations I read and make a private vow to put in less laptop screen time next month.
“From here it is only a short walk to the control marsh, an area that was never diked, and it shows. Rich grasses move with the gentle breeze as we look upon the restored marshes further along with Cascade Head in the background. The ducks quack along as they fly away. This stop really makes me take in my surroundings. There is so much in bloom when you look close enough. The push for foliage to emerge from sprouting plants is a wonderous sight. Forsythia is already starting to bloom its yellow flowers, Lupin is starting to sprout out of the ground and elderberries are all starting to leaf out, giving much needed color on an all-alder backdrop. Pointing out all the plants by name to these creators all around me,” Jake shares, referring to Sitka’s practitioners in residence, “felt like I was cheering on nature… it was truly an exceptional thing to share the day with Sarah and with people who love nature just as much as I do.”
If Jake’s journaling has inspired you to crawl out of your winter den and stretch your own nature observation muscles as the weather warms, I hope you will consider joining us at Sitka this summer when our workshop season commences. Maggie Pahos leads a two-day Travel Writing workshop for all skill levels on June 1-2. Nora Sherwood leads a three-day immersive workshop on Observing and Illustrating the Oregon Coast on June 1-3, all skill levels welcome. These are just the first two of nearly 100 art and nature-inspired workshops Sitka will host between June and October.
At the end of his update, Jake shares this ironic postscript:
“All these joyous feelings were short-lived as I got back to the office and looked at my phone for the first time in hours… another winter weather warning?”
Thank you, Sarah, for sharing your passion and expertise with Sitka’s Residents and team.
Thank you, Jake, for bringing your experience to such vivid life for the Sitka community, and for caring for the built and natural environments in Sitka’s care, in foul weather and fair.