ONE NIGHT THIS WEEK: Kevin is in the kitchen making one of his irresistible pizzas, while I work
in the office space he set up for me. The wild back yard here is carpeted with large, thin Vanilla Leaf plants and Kevin brought me a bouquet of them for my desk one morning.
Vanilla Leaf, achlys triphylla, also known as Deer’s Foot and Sweet After Death. That last name is in reference to the vanilla smell of the dried leaf. Both dried, and fresh leaves, are said to repel flies and mosquitoes.
When I got here to Kevin’s house in Packwood, WA last Friday, we set straight to unloading the gardening goodies that I brought. The seeds that we started in March, along with those Kevin has planted since then, are all ready to be transplanted to their own pots. Just before I arrived, Kevin got a small box in the mail from my mom. She sent us some yellow fragrant day lilies from her Alaska garden!
We’ve been rained-in since then. One day, I kept looking at the vanilla leaf bouquet and thinking about all the amazing understory plants that were coming up in the nearby forest. There is a very distracting book shelf next to my “new” desk and I just couldn’t help myself…I found a favorite, which I also have at home, Northwest Foraging by Doug Benoliel (1974). Each plant has line drawings by Mark Orsen that are almost as good as color photos, especially when coupled with the perfectly detailed plant descriptions.
Then I came across the 1984 edition of Plants and Animals of the Pacific Northwest by Eugene N. Kozloff. There are 3 sections with very good color photos of the trees, plants, moss, fungus, snails, slugs and a few common bugs in our woods and fields. That’s it, I proposed a walk!
Next, a bright pink flowering fruit? tree in a neighbor’s yard. I’m still using the camera in my phone and downloading to email, then to photo file on my hard drive is a tedious, slow process. Kevin brought his camera, but had battery issues. I don’t care. I am maddeningly determined to show you our woodland discoveries!
Entering the forest trail, the first plants are the Vanilla Leaf, Oregon Grape, and the delicate and mysterious Fairy Slipper, calypso bulbosa. She’s a pretty one, but aside from several dozen at the beginning, we (Kevin) only saw one more all the way to the falls and back.
Hugging the ground in sunny spots, were the white little wild strawberry flowers. The Indian Plum/Oso Berry, oemleria cerasiformis rose from waist high, to above our heads. They were still dripping with flowers and bright green new leaves, which smell like cucumber when crushed. These small trees will yield the first ripe berries in the woods, but the birds eat them so quickly, humans rarely get to see them.
There were ferns, chickweed, mosses, fungus, and a lot of Trail Plants, adenocaulon bicolor, which we always called Pathfinder Plants, because the backs of the leaves are silvery and easily show where someone has walked through them. There were plenty of Cleavers, galium aparine and Avens, geum macrophyllum.
When we walked this trail to the waterfall in March, it was pretty quiet. Today the air was filled with the trilling birds serenading us all along the path. I recognized the American Robins, round from a plentiful diet of worms, and chickadees flitted everywhere and nowhere, never landing long enough, or close enough, for us to catch sight of them.
Some spiders had a busy spring weaving webs in interesting places.
It has been many years since I walked the woods, then came home and learned about the flora and fauna with my children. Much of it comes back, as I wander through these woods with Kevin, and reacquaint myself with my old green friends. In the past, I have made salads, and medicinal oils, tinctures and salves from wild things in the forest. For now, I’m satisfied photographing and sharing them with Kevin and you.
I apologize about all the spaces in this post.
Also see Jill Swenson’s recent post here about spring surprises on the east side of the country.
I hope you enjoy this back woods tour,