Spring Wonders

    Tadpoles and kids have always gone together…at least they did before paved-over wetlands and acid rain combined to mute the great springtime chorus that accompanied evenings all across the Northwest. We siblings would take a bucket or a glass jar to the swamp to collect frog eggs, like tapioca clusters in chartreuse gelatin. We watched the black dots in each globule grow to become recognizable eyes while the little round bodies formed, tails tucked under. Then one day the tails straightened out, the bodies wriggled free of the egg mass, and the water shimmered with tiny, minnow-like forms.

  We had another, easier spot for tadpole watching and collecting. Up the hill from our house, where the road cut through sandy banks, water trickled through grass and marsh plants in the ditch all year round. Whether we found our eggs there or in the swamp, we usually kept them in a cool spot outside the house while the tadpoles grew. Eventually, two little hind legs pushed out at the base of each tadpole’s tail, then the smaller front legs. The tail itself grew shorter and shorter as the tadpole body took on the shape of a frog’s. By the time the tail was gone, the gills were too. When the little frogs climbed up on the sticks we’d floated in the pail, we released them into the swamp to grow and sing for us next year.

  We never knew where they started life, but for several years we observed a phenomenon I’ve never seen anywhere else: the great toad migration. On a late spring evening, we’d be driving home from Granite Falls, and Dad would hit the brakes. The road ahead pulsed with tiny leaping bodies: hundreds, thousands of baby toads tumbling down the embankment from the steep hillside on the left, hopping across the road and down through the woods to marshy Saunier’s pond. They bounced like popcorn in the headlights, as dry-skinned and bumpy as the parent toads. When we couldn’t wait any longer, we slowly drove on, knowing that, in spite of Dad’s care, some would die beneath our wheels.

  Once, the day after the migration, we walked the lane to old Mr. and Mrs. Saunier’s house. Laggards still scrambled through the moss and ferns.  I picked up one of the little toads. Intent on reaching its goal, its spread-out toes pushed against my fingers as it tried to launch the next hop.

  Back then, we never thought how humanity’s habit of changing its surroundings to suit its own purposes would crowd out so many of creation’s small wonders. We just enjoyed the ones who shared our valley, like the baby frogs and toads.

(From Small Wonders in my book, A Logger’s Daughter: Growing Up in Washington’s Woods.)

I will be signing copies of the book Saturday, May 26, 2-5 pm, at the Rexville country store,
19271 Best Road  Mount Vernon, WA 98273
(360) 466-5522

I’d love to see you there!

Arizona Album, February

Early morning hillside

These are a few of the photos we took last month near Tucson, Arizona. Click on the pictures for a larger view.

Spring starts small in the desert

Catalina Mountain Stream

This car was new when its driver ignored a “Do Not Enter if Flooded” sign at a low spot in the road. She escaped with her life but a flash flood washed the vehicle down the mountain.

When the sun goes down, the temperature drops. Time to go home!

How about a hug?

Pottery for sale at a market

Shadow patterns at Sweetwater Wetlands

Shoveler drake and reeds

Granddog, Bella

Rocks of the Texas Canyon formation

Desert cloud patterns

Sign for new tavern on 4th Street, Tucson

Where’s Waldo?

Signs of spring in the shelter of a saquaro cactus
A rainstorm barrels toward Tucson over the Santa Cruz River
Birds find shelter in the saquaros, too.
Fairy dusters in Saquaro National Monument

A chilly roadrunner warms himself by fluffing his feathers and turning his back to the morning sun.

The Spirit of Generosity

    This Christmas will go down in my personal history book as “the best ever.” Not because of the gifts, or the way-too-abundant holiday treats, or the decorations. Not because of the Christmas concerts and other celebrations, or the cards and letters reminding us that we’re important to the far-flung people we love.

    What made it “best ever” was the spirit of generosity that touched us in many ways.

    Every year, somebody hangs giant snowflakes and lighted wreaths along our town’s main street. While out walking the morning after Thanksgiving, we caught them in the act. Stanwood Lions Club volunteers were partnering with a TV cable company to put up snowflakes that sparkled in the fog. The man in charge told us the Lions also hoist the lighted Christmas tree to the top of Stanwood’s icon, the old Hamilton Lumber Mill smokestack, as well as install other symbols for later holidays.

    Another day, we joined a number of senior citizens at Stanwood’s Community and Senior Center for Christmas luncheon. We were all delighted when one hundred fifty children from nearby Cedarhome Elementary School filed in to entertain us with a varied and enthusiastic program of holiday music, some of it original compositions from their teacher, Mr. Rich Crouch. Thanks kids and teacher, for sharing your talent!

Dennis Bunch on his Honda 1300cc

    When we drove to Camano Island to finish our Christmas shopping, we were amused to see Santa Claus sitting by the highway, waving from a bright red Honda motorcycle. We stopped to talk with him and take his picture. Santa (Dennis Bunch) has been sitting on that motorcycle for several hours a day, every Christmas season for six years, because he feels its a way he can bless others.

    Volunteers around Stanwood come by ones, by a few, or by the hundreds. The Warm Beach Lights of Christmas, only four miles from town, is known all over the country for its more than one million lights and its family-friendly activities that go on for twenty nights in December. More than 800 volunteers band together to set up the displays, man the events, and later take it all down again. They make this a happy, well-loved destination for young and old.

    For us, what made this Christmas truly “the best ever” was a generous gesture from one of our sons. His sister lives in the Arizona desert. She’s homesick for the damp green Pacific Northwest at Christmas time and we miss her, too. His gift to all of us was to fly her home for a weekend packed with love and fun.

    What better way to celebrate the birth of One who gave the best gift ever than to imitate his giving spirit? That spirit of generosity is the thread that ties the whole package together.

Giving the Gift of Heritage


    Sharing Your Stories
    Guest Blogger, Sharon Brilla

Something in our hearts responds to story. Before the invention of radio and TV, before we even had access to the written word, stories were the way we passed on our history and our culture. We especially love tales of courage and triumph over difficult circumstances. Stories about family help us know where we fit in the scheme of things. What small child doesn’t beg, “Tell me a story?”
Sharon Brilla, Co-Director of Social Services at Josephine Sunset Home here in Stanwood, says:
“One of the greatest gifts we can give to our families is sharing our trials and failures and how we overcame in the midst of turmoil.” She relates this to the Biblical account of Moses leading the Israelites out of their Egyptian captivity to the land God had promised them. Moses told the people, “‘Teach what you’ve seen and heard to your children and grandchildren.’ As we face tough economic times we can help the current generation learn to face adversity and remind them we can be over comers.

“My mother told about putting cardboard in her shoes because she couldn’t afford another pair of shoes. All of us have Exodus stories about how our family has survived when life happens. Our challenge is to share our stories with the next generation and teach them to recognize their own stories.

Christmas time is a perfect opportunity to remind our families of our triumphs and lessons learned from the hard times. This year give the gift of legacy and start a new family tradition.”
Here are some of Sharon’s ideas:

* Start a journal with stories from the past and add new stories throughout the year

* Play a game of remembering past victories. ‘I remember the time Grandpa’s car broke down on the  freeway and….’

* Start a prayer journal with your family. Record answers to your prayers.

* Share a time when you failed and what you learned from the failure.

* Encourage younger family members to share their Exodus stories. This year I will remind my grandson of his fears on the first day of school. That morning he asked me to pray, and when school was out, he said, ‘I had a good day, Grandma.’

Here are a few ideas from Sun Breaks:

* When you put your photos in albums, or download them to your computer, be sure to label them with the occasion, place, and people in them. Don’t let your treasured photos end up in a shoe box in some estate sale because no one knows their significance.

* Keep a journal, if only jottings on a calendar to keep track of important daily happenings.

* Keep scrapbooks of family events.