Archive for October, 2015

The Yakima River Canyon Scenic Byway

Written by Jim Huckabay on October 30, 2015. Posted in Uncategorized

“Wow…” was probably the word that most often passed through my mind in that hour and a half. Then there is that “time” thing: How on earth did it take six years to accomplish this – and how on earth could something this good be put together in just six years?

A couple days ago, two handfuls of us, representing various partners in the Yakima River Canyon Scenic Byway Initiative, sat down to catch up and look ahead. Jill Scheffer, representing the Kittitas Environmental Education Network (KEEN) – certainly one of the founding partners of the initiative – had called us to order.

Let us review a bit. In 2010, Jill’s KEEN and the Cascade Land Conservancy (Now Forterra) pulled together nearly two dozen public and private partners to accomplish something several decades overdue.

You know that the Yakima River Canyon was the very first “Scenic Corridor” proposed in the state. 1967. You may recall that there was a never-quite-implemented management plan for this Scenic Corridor. Governor Dan Evans supported the Yakima Canyon because of its “great potential for allowing the traveler to pass through beautiful country at a pace enabling him to enjoy and appreciate its beauty.”

In 1968 Yakima River Canyon Scenic Byway Corridor Management Plan (YRCSB CMP) was prepared. Its primary goal was to simply enhance enjoyment of the byway’s aesthetic, historical and cultural values, while allowing access for hunting, fishing, wildlife viewing, hiking and biking in some way that that could dodge automobile traffic. Unfortunately, a lot of our recreational activities today seriously interfere with safe driving conditions along the byway. Thus, KEEN, Forterra, and those couple dozen partners set out in 2010 to update the CMP and plans to implement it.

Environmental education, economic values, and interpretive planning were not in the 1968 plan. Hiking, biking, wildlife viewing and other current activities were rare at the time. Most of the land along the byway was private. Signage was considered in ‘68, but interpretive panels, kiosks, interactive maps, websites and most of today’s tourism products were fantasy.

Some things have changed over the decades. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) bought over 9,000 acres along the byway, including three heavily used public access areas – Umtanum, Big Pines, and Roza – which draw 500,000 users annually. (Reserve camping and use sites in those areas at http://www.recreation.gov/). Our Department of Fish and Wildlife purchased a lot of the scenery along the byway, supporting fishing, hunting and hiking access to the river and over 100,000 acres of the Wenas and LT Murray Wildlife Areas. All that was, and is, only a start.

Under the constant coaching and watchful eyes of KEEN’s Jill and Forterra’s Deidre Petrina, byway partners and a couple dozen experts in every aspect of the Yakima Canyon’s chronological and natural history created an up-to-date CMP. The Washington State Department of Transportation adopted the plan earlier this year.

Work at Helen McCabe Park, including a great deal of cleanup, new plantings, graveled pathways and fishing platforms, has created a safe and welcoming place for families. Many partners and community folks, including KEEN, the Kittitas County Field and Stream Club, Boy Scouts, CWU students and faculty, have made that happen. Today, the Ellensburg Outdoor School is leading regular kids’ field classes at the park, better signs are being developed and some devoted county architects and fund-raisers are designing the new community visitors’ center at McCabe – at the mouth of the Yakima River Canyon. It is really happening.

Get up to date in a couple ways. First, go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=pMwzHkLHJF4 for a three-minute YouTube video with terrific views of the Canyon and info about the new plan. Then, see the CMP at www.wsdot.wa.gov/LocalPrograms/ScenicByways (select “Corridor Management Plans…” and then the “Yakima River Canyon…” at the bottom of the list). The nearly 300-page document is in sections ranging from background to the natural history of the Canyon. This is a remarkable document, and one with which all residents of Paradise ought to be familiar. Take a look.

I go into the Canyon regularly. Each time, I think about The Old Man’s love-hate relationship with it. In the ‘40s and ‘50s we often made the trip from home in East Wenatchee to cousins in Yakima. Every time we turned into the Canyon onto that old and twisted road (from either end) he would turn to my mom and say something like, “Gawd, Dorothy, here we go again…The longest 30 miles in the country!” Then he would excitedly point out deer, eagles, sheep, marmots or fishermen. That “30 miles” was really closer to 20, but he stuck to his story.

Now, we have a CMP. A long way to go yet, but an amazing amount of work and progress thanks to a number of hard-working visionaries.

Wow.

Woodsman, Refugee, Free Man

Written by Jim Huckabay on October 23, 2015. Posted in Uncategorized

For years, Aurora, Colorado, neighbor Jiri “George” Heinrich hasn’t crossed my mind much. Lately, however, I find myself thinking about that Czechoslovakian every time I watch the news. Something about the rise of Russian influence and about all those refugees walking across Europe with only what they can carry (or less) seeking safety, security, a better life – freedom.

Early this week, I talked with a couple students who’d been deep into the country above Leavenworth. They packed sleeping bags and rifles, and ate what they could carry or find. No bucks they wanted to carry out, but they seemed like pretty good woodsmen. Like George.

I guess I’ve been thinking about George away from all that heart-rending refugee news, too. It comes up when I see people heading for the woods, or hear them arguing their need for wildness. I wonder how many of us could really survive out there. How many of us would know which ants add spice to a meal of grasshoppers or grubs – or even eat them to stave off hunger? How many real woodsmen (woods-persons?) are there among those of us who love wild places?

A funny guy was neighbor George. And very serious at the same time, especially about the gifts of Mother Earth. I had gardened forever, but in one summer he doubled my knowledge about growing food in the Semi‑arid West. Mostly, it was about “listening” to the plants as they spoke of their needs.

In exchange, I suppose, I introduced him to American‑style hunting. He had a knack; the guy could find game almost any time. A skilled woodsman, too; with one match in a rainstorm, he could have water boiling in 20 minutes. I mastered that trick in something over a decade.

During my years at the University of Colorado, I took groups of students backpacking in the summer. In 1976, Colorado’s Centennial year, we hiked up Mount Elbert, highest of Colorado’s fourteen thousand foot peaks – the 14ers. As we climbed to the base of the mountain the day before our ascent, George began finding orange cap boletes. He had grown up with them in the old country, and his excitement infected the whole gang. I’d never been much excited about wild mushrooms, but George was in heaven, making extravagant boasts about how we were about to experience the finest meal of our lives.

As soon as camp was up, several of us headed for the beaver ponds with fishing rods. When we had one nice trout for each member of the party, George said “Enough! Ve must hurry!” We returned to the large bed of coals George had ordered. He raved about the culinary feat he was about to perform, and laid out a long sheet of heavy aluminum foil. The fat golden and rainbow trout were carefully arranged, boletes were sliced in and around them, with pats of margarine followed by salt and pepper. George chuckled “Da secret!” as he sprinkled caraway seeds over his creation. The foil was sealed and nestled carefully into the coals as we prepared our other foods. After our feast, we laughed that “if you can do it, it ain’t braggin’.” We sang old ballads around the fire. I’ve been hunting wild mushrooms since about 7:30 that evening.

In fall, George joined Dick Stevens and me for our elk hunt. The first day of our hunt, George walked up as I stood over a bull elk. “Now you learn European vay!” He performed a rite of offering the stag a last meal, of honoring the animal and the hunter. Then he shook my hand, congratulating me as his first American initiate.

That night, after a meal of elk liver and onions, potatoes and beer, George told us of his escape from his beloved Czechoslovakia. 1968. As freedoms grew in the Czech SSR, the Soviets were growing impatient. George had been warned about his “political” views by his factory machinist overseers – that the Russians would get him when they came in to “straighten out” the Czech government. The Soviets rolled into the northeast. He grabbed his knapsack and knife, and headed southwest. For eleven days, he avoided patrols, eating bugs and whatever was given. He moved in timber or darkness, and did without the comfort of a fire. A couple days into Austria, George found the authorities and sent word to his parents that he was heading to America. At the end of his story, George said, “You vant to know freedom? Iss sitting by roaring fire and talking out loud in da voods!”

I think George went back to Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic) in the 1990s. I watch the news or sit in the silent deer woods and try to remember how that over-the-campfire fresh elk liver tasted. I have long felt that my life was richer for knowing him. And I keep thinking we could use more real woodsmen, willing to eat bugs and grubs to be free.

Totems and Nature’s Hunting Guides

Written by Jim Huckabay on October 16, 2015. Posted in Uncategorized

On Wednesday afternoon, Young Homey caught me outside Dean Hall, on the Central Washington University campus, as I was watching a couple dozen mallards dabbling in the Ganges. “So,” he said, “where you going this weekend? There are bucks everywhere – this is gonna be a fun deer hunt. What are you gonna look for?”

“Ravens and owls,” I said, “almost always ravens and owls.” After a quizzical look, a light came on somewhere in there. “Oh, he smiled, “Like when they tell you a deer is close by… Well, I listen for the pine squirrels, and one of my buddies says camp robbers, and another says wild turkeys let him know… Not so sure about that one…” I mentioned the last time Edward and I wandered some deery draws up the Naneum, finding nothing. At some point, the last of the Hucklings turned to me with “So, where are the ravens and owls when we need them?”

It’s about totems, really; totems I have experienced and enjoyed since I first stepped into the woods with an intention to make meat. And the totem critters to which Edward had also learned to listen afield.

The first time I ever thought about totems was sometime in the mid-1940s – right after WWII. We were on our way from East Wenatchee to visit Grandma and Grandpa Minshall in Tacoma. “Grandma” was actually my mother’s aunt Ethel. Since all four of my parents’ folks were on the other side, the Minshalls were the closest thing we had. They loved us like grandparents, and they certainly treated my folks like their own kids. Family legend had it that Grandma had been a wild redhead – a real pistol – until she met Grandpa. He often claimed that he never could handle her, but that he had a lifetime of fun trying.

At any rate, on one of those trips we saw a totem pole in a small town by Tacoma, outside a store that sold groceries, pop, souvenirs and all the other stuff such stores sold after the war. It was faded and worn, but the fierce, protective bird face at the top burned right into me. The Old Man (all of 26 years old at the time) said it was a sacrilege for it to be used like that.

He called totems the symbols (mostly birds or animals) for a person or a family. In honor of the wild relations who brought them good fortune or protection, he said, Native peoples would carve their images into big cedar logs, paint them and stand them up outside their homes. I remember the one at the store had a giant raven on top – at least I remember it as a raven.

The Old Man never talked much about totems, and I don’t know that he put much stock in them for himself. Grandpa occasionally would talk about certain animals or birds that showed him where to hunt or “protectors” that seemed to warn him off dangerous situations. “I don’t know that I put much stock in the Indians’ ‘guide’ creatures,” he might say, “but I do see certain ones before I get an elk or deer – and where the hell were those ‘protectors’ when I met Ethel?”

Early on, I found that a couple birds were my common companions afield. The “Kruuk kru-u-ck kruk” of the raven and the “Hooo hoot!” of the horned owl were in the woods with me as far back as I can remember being out there on my own. They were always nearby when I walked the box canyon at my aunt and uncle’s place up the Little Chumstick out of Leavenworth. It always seemed like we were looking around together.

The great horned owl (Bubo virginianus), in any number of cultures, is said to bring wisdom and stealth. The keen observer might learn both, and certainly I tried.

The raven (Corvus corax) is the largest of the crow family. It is the most entertaining, too. Intelligent, graceful, acrobatic flyers, ravens have been called “the dolphins of the avian world.” It will soar and glide in flight, unlike the crow, which will seldom glide for more than a couple seconds. A pair of birds may even “dance” together, touching pointed wingtips in flight. In some Native American traditions, raven is a teacher of magic – the magic of life. I was always open to that, too.

On a hunt for bighorn sheep in Colorado’s Tarryall Mountains some decades ago, I awaited first light from a rocky outcropping. As the sun touched the sky, a bull elk bugled in the timber below me and a raven swooped low over my head. As the bugle died in the echoing cliffs, a raven feather settled onto my lap.

On many, many hunts, over decades, the predawn hoot of the great horned owl told me I would be offered a deer or an elk.

This weekend, a hundred thousand plus Washington hunters will be pursuing deer in habitat across the state. A good many of them will have ears and eyes open for some totem animal which just might show them the animal with which they will feed family or community. Whatever that totem, it will no doubt sweep them deeper into Nature than they might otherwise go.

All about Tiny Flying Seeds – Or Not

Written by Jim Huckabay on October 9, 2015. Posted in Uncategorized

No doubt you saw them and walked through them over this past week, as well. They looked like tiny white fluffy seeds floating everywhere; pretty dense on parts of Central’s campus, and in the air across town and several parts of the valley.

On Tuesday, I stopped outside the new, rising, science building just to watch them as they swarmed around me. A young couple behind me were talking about them, too. The guy said, “Yeah, look. They aren’t floating – they have little wings and they’re moving themselves.” To which, she anxiously replied, “Stop looking and let’s get out of here – they’re in my hair and eyebrows and eyes – I think I’m being bitten.”

As Wildlife Information Officer for the Reecer Creek Rod, Gun, Working Dog & Outdoor Think Tank Benevolent Association, my responsibility was obvious. I reached out to Central’s insect pro, Entomologist Jason Irwin.

It’s a hectic time on campus, but Jason found a moment to respond. “Hi Jim. They are woolly aphids. The summer generations are parthenogenic (produce young without mating) and wingless. The final generation of the fall has wings, mates, and migrates to an evergreen tree to spend the winter (summer generations feed on herbaceous plants that won’t survive the winter). Definitely an interesting critter!” I started digging.

According to the WSU Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center, these are most likely woolly apple aphids, Eriosoma lanigerum (Hausman). First identified in 1842, they have a variety of hosts, overwintering originally on American elms and now well adapted to areas where apple trees and orchards are found.

The best summary and story I found of these critters was written by Claire Stuart. She writes for The Journal (www.journal-news.net). She calls herself The Bug Lady and you can find more at The Journal, or email her at buglady@wv.net. The web is filled with pictures of them.

“I remember several years ago that another person had asked me about these creatures, saying that they looked like tiny fairies. They are insects called woolly aphids, Family Eriosomatidae, and one of their common names actually is “fairy fly.”

“Woolly aphids are sucking insects that feed on plant juices. They are closely related to the common true aphids (Family Aphidae) that we see just about everywhere, but there are a few slight differences. True aphids give off a sugary waste product called honeydew through a pair of structures called cornicles. The cornicles are found on the aphids’ rear ends, like dual exhaust pipes. Woolly aphids also produce honeydew, but cornicles are either reduced or absent. Since you usually can’t see an aphid’s cornicles (or lack of) without magnification, they really aren’t that relevant except as a matter of information for those who are curious. What matters is that woolly aphids are “woolly” and true aphids are not.

“Woolly aphids have special glands that produce wax in very long, thin streams. The wax covers the insect’s body and gives it the fluffy appearance. If you could wash a woolly aphid in something that dissolves wax, you would see an ordinary-looking aphid underneath. Wax protects the delicate aphids from predators while they feed. You can sometimes see big colonies of these aphids feeding together on plants in cottony masses. The wax serves as camouflage even though it is easy to see, because it can be mistaken for mold or fungus.

“When woolly aphids take flight, the wax strands catch the wind and let them drift effortlessly until they decide to take charge of the direction of their flight. In flight, they are still camouflaged from flying predators who are not interested in drifting seeds.

“They have a rather unusual life cycle because they usually require two separate food plants called the primary and secondary hosts. They live on the primary host plant during winter and spring, on the secondary host plant in summer, and then return to the primary host; but the same individual aphids do not travel from one host to another and back.

“Eggs were laid on the primary host in fall, and they hatch in spring into wingless females. These females give birth to live young without ever mating, in a process called parthenogenesis.

“In late spring or early summer, the wingless females start giving birth to winged females that fly to the secondary host plant, where they give birth to wingless females again. In late summer and early fall, winged females will again be born.

“They fly back to the primary host plants and a big change takes place. They give birth to both females and males. The new males and females mate and the mated females lay eggs. The adult aphids will die and the eggs will survive through winter to start the cycle again.”

Oh, yes, about that young woman’s concern; according to many blog entries, wooly aphids do bite. They are described as “itchy creepy nasty things” in hair and eyes and nose and ears. One woman writer said she felt crazy because no one would believe they were biting up inside her nose, and doctors treated her like a hypochondriac until they looked closer.

The world is filled with a wondrous variety of wildlife. Welcome to Paradise.

Norm Elliott and The Happy Hunting Grounds

Written by Jim Huckabay on October 2, 2015. Posted in Uncategorized

Norm Elliott went home two weeks ago – just about the time we were packing the last of our deer and antelope meat into coolers for the drive from Sheridan, Wyoming, back to Paradise.

You probably never met Norm. Too bad, really, because he was a fascinating guy with a huge warm smile and a heart as big as the outdoors. Norm could keep you hanging onto each part of whatever tale he was spinning. Hanging on is what you did – until he said something so off-the-cuff funny that you would lose your grip.

I met Norm through his wife Jane. Jane was one of my meditation students back in the ‘80s around Castle Rock, Colorado. Spiritual, smart, sassy and funny, she was on me all the time about my firearms and my love of hunting and eating wild animals, and how on earth I could be teaching meditation. The very mention of the killing of an elk or deer or antelope to feed my family raised the hackles on her neck. Somehow, through all that, we remained good friends; her daughters, along with a teen who lived with them, Amy Adams (yes – that Amy Adams), would look after the Hucklings when needed.

At any rate, by the late 1990s, Jane was on her own, working as a massage therapist in Castle Rock. One day, this guy Norm traveled the 60-some miles from his home in the mountains west of Denver to get help with a back carrying too many years of heavy construction. Two months later, summer of 1998, they were married.

This was all happening while I was building a new career at Central. We never lost touch, and talked now and again. One fall day, she mentioned that they had gotten a big elk and had a heck of a time getting it out of the woods. What? Jane?!

Turned out that she and Norm were quite the muzzleloader and rifle hunters. She hunted, she shot and she cooked and ate game meat. She was happier than she had been in a long time, living with this man of the mountains. The guy knew pretty much everything there was to know about construction and wild things and true West history, laughed all the time, and lived largely in harmony with the earth.

In 2002, Norm and my sons Tim and Edward drove up from Denver to join my annual Wyoming antelope safari. Edward and I had done this trip several times, and this was his second year of actually hunting. Tim hadn’t hunted with me for years. They were both ready to go. Norm was in more than a little pain at times, but he never stopped smiling. He could carry out a stalk in almost any ground we hunted, and when the time came, he could shoot.

Over a couple days and a number of stalks we gradually filled our tags. At the end, it all added up to two days, four shots, four antelope, and the finest of meats for our families.

On one of our last evenings, we had an old-West history lesson. Norm wanted to go see the movie “Open Range” which was playing in Sheridan. Norm knew the history of those days well, and he knew the country in which the movie’s story took place. His ability to weave the story of those final open range grazers and the establishment of in-place ranches and towns mesmerized us. I had always considered myself a fine teacher and storyteller; that night I sat with a master.

The following September, Norm and Edward joined me again for the Wyoming hunt. Norm’s too-many years in construction were catching up with him, and he was having trouble getting around in the antelope-stalking country in which we were playing. We headed for the Sheridan office of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. Wyoming had just overhauled its disabled hunter permit program, and Norm had his Colorado Division of Wildlife paperwork handy. We left the office with his permit to shoot from a vehicle under certain circumstances, and my Disabled Hunter’s Companion Permit. Our permit numbers were 0001. Cool.

As we climbed back into Norm’s rig, he laughed. “Look at this. You just signed up to find us antelope and clean, skin and haul mine back to the truck! Thanks…”

Through some terrific stalks and goofy screw-ups, we had a great hunt.

We never hunted together again but we met up with Norm and Jane from time to time. He volunteered at Cherry Creek State Park for years, and taught western history to a full classroom. As his big heart struggled, that huge open smile rarely left his face. He was always ready to talk hunting and the “true” West.

I keep remembering his off-the-cuff view of the world, and how he summed up our 2003 hunt. As the three of us prepared to head home, he grinned, “This is good male bonding stuff, you know? …Kinda like when women all walk to the bathroom together.”

Rest in peace in those Happy Hunting Grounds, Norm.