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Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

The Darkest Day

The end of December is a time for celebration. Whether you are Christian, Jewish, Agnostic, Hindu, or even an atheist, there is something about the lengthening of daylight that should put all of us in a good mood. This year, December 21st was the shortest day of the year. Each day from the 22nd of December until the Summer solstice, days will get longer.  While religious traditions are held near and dear to our hearts, what is often forgotten is that many of these celebrations are truly “festivals of light”,  and are celebrated during this time of year because they are historically tied to the winter solstice. 

Many people believe that the reason Emperor Constantine chose December 24-25 to commemorate the birth of Christ was because it fell at the same time as the Roman Feast of Sol Invictus (the Undefeated Sun). Sol Invictus had been considered the most important Roman god for the previous 200 years. The twenty-four days of Advent leading up to Christmas, in which a new candle is lit every Sunday, is further evidence of this connection. Being the first Christian emperor of Rome, Constantine had a strong desire to unify his empire. Its seems that one way he tried to do this is by combining both pagan and Christian traditions. (*fingers crossed* an evangelical doesn’t hunt me down and kill me for posting this!)

Hanukkah, which involves lighting a new candle every night, and Diwali are also feasts of light around the time of winter solstice.

In Mexico and Central America there are various feasts of light that involve bonfires. In one Guatemalan  festival, “Burning the Devil”, huge bonfires are built on December 12th to drive away the devil (the dark). There are several versions of these festivals throughout Central America. (Although I did read that they are curbing some of those festivals to help with climate change!)

In Sweden, on the morning of December 13th (the 13th was the solstice in an older Christian calendar), St. Lucia’s Day, a young woman is chosen as the light queen. She wears a white dress and wreath of lighted candles in her hair. And in Holland, on November 11th, children carry lanterns from house to house, singing songs in honor of St. Martin – who gave a poor man his half of his clothes on a dark and stormy night.

How does your family celebrate this time of year??? If you are interested in learing more about how other cultures celebrate this time of year, I found this interesting site

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After almost two weeks since the return of our family camping trip, I am finally beginning to feel the return of our daily rhythms. While I am still catching up on what was a living room full of dirty clothes and blankets, waking and naptime have returned to their regular times, weekly chores are getting done, and I am finding myself with a little bit of free time once again. Whew!

However hectic it was to return from the trip, I must say, it is always worth it. Besides a few setbacks, our trip couldn’t have been more perfect. Although initially setting out for Glacier National Park, our plans were abruptly changed when two nights before departure, I decide to check the weather. Outlook did not look good. Freak weather rolled into the park, creating thunderstorms, highs of 50 and lows of 27 (not your ideal camping weather I must say). While the thunderstorms were certainly no reason to change plans, sleeping in a tent with 27 degrees was. I don’t even like to sleep in my HOUSE at 27 degrees! Although disappointed, we turned to the internet in search of a no-too-far locale where we could spend the week camping. It didn’t take us too long to find what seemed to be a perfect site inside Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Nestled in between Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams, we found a remote campground located on the lower falls of the Lewis River; the Lower Falls Recreation Area to be exact.  The next morning, we got in the car and headed south about three and a half hours. While there were only 40 sites at the campground, when we arrived on a Monday afternoon, there were plenty of sites to choose from. The sites were large and private. Easily able to hold five tents. The only visible sight of your neighbors was a flicker of their campfire and the falls were loud enough to be heard form all parts of the campground. The so-called “no-smell” composing toilets were close, yet far enough not to smell them. Perfect!

Here is a shot taken when we arrived. It took us some time to set up camp and scout out the place, so we decided to just relax and hang out by the river above the falls. DSC_0237

 

The next morning, we woke up (parents of toddler’s lingo for “woken up”) early and started out on what we thought was a hike down south to Big Creek Falls. However, an hour into the hike, we realized we went the wrong way and decided just to make the best of it. After about 5 miles of hiking, we decided to rest up on a bluff at the highest point on the trail. At that point, Liam was ready to turn around. What a beautiful sight though. (For pictures sake, I think I need to invest in a graduated density filter so that I can capture both the foreground and the sky without the sky being so overexposed… the list never ends). DSC_0270

The next day, was a big day. We decided to take a little road trip (about 25 miles) to get closer to Mt. St Helens and to explore the Indian Wilderness. First stop: Mt. St Helens.  Here she is in all her glory. Absolutely breathtaking!DSC_0286

 

Second stop: The Trail of Two Forests. Very cool. It is basically a location in Mt. St Helens where the lava had started to cool. Because if this, the lava didn’t completely wipe out the forest, but instead went around the trees. When it cooled completely, and the trees eventually died, it left huge holes and lava tubes (for the dead trees on the ground) where the trees once stood. There were also caves from where the lava cooled and eventually the cracked. I will be posting more pics of this on my Flickr page as it was truly one of the highlights of the trip. DSC_0308

 

Here is a 30 foot lave tube that I crawled through. It was dark, cold, and scary. You never think you’re afraid of closed spaces until you climb in a lave tube. DSC_0315

Next stop: Indian Heaven Wilderness. This hike is supposed to be a haven for huckleberries in late July and August. Offering some amazing views of Mt Adams and Mt. Hood, it is one of the best hikes in Washington. However, I so wish I was warned about the first mile and a half of some serious incline. I guess the huckleberries and the vistas are your reward 🙂 Here is a view of Mt Adams. DSC_0320

 

From this vista, you could see both Adams and Hood. However, my camera lens was not wide enough (and probably never will be after looking at the price of the lens) to capture both peaks. Below is Mt Hood. DSC_0317

 

The next day we decided to take it easy and do a 3 1/2 mile hike up to the Upper Falls of the Lewis River. Although almost losing our dog over a waterfall (the most panic stricken 10 minutes of my life), we managed to resuce her and make it up to the upper falls for a nice lunch. DSC_0483

After almost a week of eating really healthy, sustainable snacks and meals, we decided to stay longer and needed to restock at the local general store. As you can imagine, word of the food revolution has not spread to Cougar. Although I will say that there’s something to be said about eating canned green beans off a camp stove. Washed down with some diabetes-inducing homemade marshmallows, you feel like your…. well….. CAMPING! DSC_0515

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A few weeks ago, my neighbor informed me of some visitors we have in the Arboretum and I could not wait to meet them! I took Liam to their usual hang out spot before dark and we got to meet these beautiful adolescent barred owls. How amazing is it that these little guys are hanging out less than a five minute walk from our house!

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 They let us get really close. In fact, one of them was right over my head for the first ten minutes I was there and I had no idea! This species of owl are quite large and their wingspan is amazing. They were fascinated by Liam and were following his every move. I wasn’t able to find the parents, but I could sure hear them. There is a slight sound difference between the parents and the adolescents. These guys are getting ready for a good night’s hunt. The one below was the first I spotted when I arrived.

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As I was posting these, I did notice that the pics are a little blurry. I was shooting with a brand new telephoto lens that unfortunately does not have the VR I need for shooting them in low light. The one with VR cost about 300 dollars more! Being the pro that I am not, I could have changed the aperature and produced a much clearer shot. Next time I will just bring my tripod. Here’s another shot I took that may be a bit clearer.

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