Monday, March 31, 2014

Winter at the Beacon Food Forest

I first got involved with Seattle's Beacon Food Forest a little over a year ago. Back in December, I wrote an overview of 2013 volunteering with the project. Since then, there's been three monthly work parties this winter. Considering those are usually some of the coldest and wettest months, the turnout and productivity was astonishing. Here's a look back:

January was shockingly warm and beautiful. Plants were planted, trenches dug, stone walls built, ground mulched, tools cared for.
My personal area of most interest is the compost, and in January we prepared the site for the first official compost bin. We leveled and woodchipped while the carpenters finished constructing the lid for the 3-bin compost system.

Lunch was sunny, musical, and delicious, and at the end of the day we realized there had been 150 volunteers. Incredible!

The February work party felt like a more typical winter day with its chilling cold and foreboding clouds. Again, amazing volunteers came and contributed a ton of work. In addition to planting nursery plants, we also started seeding some seeds. I was helping with compost again, as we chopped compost materials and started building up the piles. Then the sky opened up right at lunch time, and it POURED. We huddled under the pop-up tents, drank tea, and accepted that sometime you just have to get wet and muddy.

The March work party was right before the vernal equinox, so it was technically still winter. The weather was pretty nice- not too cold, and only the smallest spatterings of rain. Then it got sunny! I couldn't understand why my face felt so warm when I got home, and it took me awhile to realize that I had gotten a little sunburned! 
The Beacon Food Forest recently installed several beautiful educational signs throughout the site. Extra special about this work party? The artist who designed the signs came up from Portland to be there! Illustrator Molly Danielsson is an artist with a background in science, and specializes in visually representing complex and sometimes technical ideas. Her explanations of biological processes from compost to urban forests are awesome.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Olympic Coast Weekend

While the rest of the world was thinking about the Olympics in Sochi, I was plotting my escape to Washington state's own Olympic peninsula. I was waiting for the next opening in razor clam season as my perfect excuse to drive to the coast. These big clams can only be dug in the cooler months, and only after the Department of Fish and Wildlife tests marine toxins to determine they are safe to eat.

There are several beaches on the southern portion of the peninsula with abundant clam populations where you can dig on approved dates. The best time to dig is 1-2 hours before low tide.
From Dept. of Fish and Wildlife Website
Last Friday, low tide was around 6pm, so that meant that my sweetie and I had to leave town a little early to get to the beach in time. It was still light, and we had no trouble finding the clam holes and catching our limit (15 clams each).
It was a gorgeous evening- calm, clear, mild, and with a stunning sunset. Our hard digging work was rewarded with burgers and beers at a nearby pub before heading to the campsite. We had to blanch the clams to take the shells off, and then get them into the cooler. Did you know the Jetboil pot is the perfect width and depth for dunking razors clams?

In the morning, we still had to clean the clams. The clouds had rolled in and the wind picked up, and a seagull eyed us relentlessly from his perch 15 feet away. One of us did the cutting open while the other scraped the guts out. It was sort of a ridiculous process to do at a campsite on a winter day, with one bucket of guts and one bucket of clean rinsing water. We had to keep hot water on the camp stove to dunk our freezing fingers. But we knew it would be worth it to have a cooler full of clean, delicious local clams.
It was a fun day of road tripping north up the peninsula. I had never been on Highway 112 toward Neah Bay, and it's a beautiful stretch of road as it hugs the shoreline out to the very corner of the state. We made it to the Shi Shi Beach trailhead in the late afternoon. It's a couple miles hike in, and while I don't usually backpack in rubber boots, I'm glad I wore them for this crazy muddy trail.
This section of the coast is breath-taking. Shi Shi is wild and rugged and you realize that it has looked that way for hundreds or thousands of years. The Point of Arches sea stacks are so unique, and the tide pools are plentiful. It was a little disconcerting though to see how much garbage was on and off the beach. I thought at first that it was from visitors not packing out their garbage, but then I realized that with the buoys and big blocks of styrofoam, it was more likely that  the debris had been washed ashore. If I ever got back there, I am definitely bringing a garbage bag to haul off some of the trash.
It rained during the night and all day on Sunday. That didn't stop us from walking around and exploring, and in fact the mist added to the ambiance. I must be a Pacific Northwesterner, because I found myself saying things like, "Wow, we got so lucky with the weather! We saw stars on Friday, and it didn't even rain on Saturday!"

We hiked out of Shi Shi and took a short side trip to Cape Flattery, the most northwestern point in the contiguous United States. By that point, it was dumping rain. Luckily, much of the muddy trail is boardwalked. Unluckily, I wanted to take more pictures but was worried about damaging my camera in the downpour.
As we left Neah Bay, we decided that more coffee was in order. It was cold, damp, and we still had a bit of driving to get to Port Angeles, not to mention to the ferry and back to Seattle. The next town was Clallam Bay, so we figured we'd take whatever we could find, even if it meant a gas station. We stopped at a little shop on a corner of town, which appeared to be a hodge-podge of mini-mart, gallery, and ice-cream shop. I didn't see an espresso machine, and thought maybe this was not going to fit the bill. I asked the lady if she had coffee, and she exclaimed in a sweet Australian accent, "Why yes! But only French press and pour over. I carry beans roasted nearby in Sequim by a father and son team. Are you a light roast or dark roast person?" Needless to say, it was a really good cup of coffee, one of those welcome surprises when you are on the road and don't know what you will find.

Back home we set to work making a big clam dinner before the rest went in the freezer. We fried some clams as an appetizer, then made a northwest version of pasta a la vongole- a delicious pasta tossed with a white wine-butter-garlic clam sauce. Next up will be zucchini-clam fritters and clam chowder. Yeah for catching and eating your own food!