Prairie Memories and Reveries II

Prairie Memories and Reveries II, Blogs and images by those noted.

Prairie Memories and Reveries II

Keeping in a more or less chronological order of the contributor(s)’ presence on the prairie, this next group of four recollections is all from what I would consider “old timers” amongst the prairie restoration volunteers. The first, and most important to me, was here at the beginning, but was still being shuttled around by the army, so she didn’t get in on the “Scotch Broom Attack Team”.

Michelle Blanchard

It’s pretty hard to pretend objectivity about one’s wife, but I met Michelle in the early days of volunteering on the prairies. I remember planting Oaks with her and dibbling holes in the prairie for fescue plugs while she put them in the holes. We worked well together from the beginning and I was always impressed with her energy. I still can’t keep up with her.

Michelle the Lumberjack, Photo by John Crawford

Michelle the Lumberjack, Photo by John Crawford

Glacial Heritage BR (Before Restoration)

In 1992 I bought my property just north of Glacial Heritage. Before the trees grew up in the abandoned gravel pit, you could see it from my home. It was not then a prairie. It was a wasteland, a sea of scotch broom and invasive Douglas fir. The original owner had run so many cattle on the property that it had been completely denuded, and, as we all know too well, allowed scotch broom to take over.

At night, I’d see transients campfires along the railroad tracks (that paralleled the gravel pit), and hear shouting and gunfire. People used the gravel pit as an illegal dump. A neighbor’s boys vandalized and torched the abandoned farmstead. At least twice a year, a local aging hippie, “Gideon Israel”, would stage a four-day music blasting; drug and alcohol soaked mini-Woodstock bacchanalia on his property just across the Black River. His ‘guests’ would camp on Glacial, and, on several occasions, come knocking on my back door, expecting food, a bathroom and a shower as they were ‘friends of Gideon’. That property, then dubbed “Rainbow Valley” is now CNLM’s native plant nursery, its original name of Shotwell’s Landing restored.

The scotch broom on Glacial was so thick and tall that when we rode our horses there, you could not see them. All you would see was our disembodied heads, bobbing along at the top of the broom canopy. At that time there was no road other than a narrow, graveled track, worn by the original settler’s cattle, that circled the interior. An even smaller track went through the forested area.

There was little, if any, wildlife on Glacial. Once in a while you’d hear a common yellowthroat singing, and a red-tailed hawk nested in one of the firs, but otherwise, Glacial was silent and lifeless. The only open space of any size was found around the homesteader’s house. They’d planted non-native trees such a Russian olive and pines. The grassy areas around the house were non-native grasses and thistle.

The only wildflower to be found was camas, and even that was sparse, struggling to bloom in the breaks in the broom canopy.

In 1997, I was riding my horse on what we now call North Road on Glacial when a small car blocked my way. Dan Grosboll got out and, in what I was later to learn was his typical diplomatic way, politely informed me that he was the new steward and that horse riding, biking, hiking, camping, etc was prohibited, as Glacial Heritage was now a preserve. Glacial Heritage was the last segment of glacial outwash prairie (other than Ft. Lewis) in the state, he said, and the plan was to restore it to a semblance of its original configuration. The entire time we were talking, Dan kept his distance from me. I wondered, is he afraid of me? I was unarmed and bareback on a small horse. Did I look threatening? I learned much later that Dan was extremely allergic to horses!

Being that I was born a biologist and a tree hugging environmentalist, and had a deep interest in environmental and wildlife habitat restoration, I said to Dan, “Okay. How can I help?”

I could no longer ride on Glacial, but in return, I made so many friends pulling broom. Larry, Cliff, Mike and Marion, Penny, Barry and Darlene, Doreen, Doug and Kathy, John and Margaret, Dan; all are STILL my friends. Best of all, the nicest man I’ve ever met, the one who was everyone’s favorite volunteer, Dennis Plank, became not only my friend-but my husband as well!

When you look at Glacial Heritage now, you see a rolling expanse of native wild flowers. Countless hours of work from many dedicated volunteers has been rewarded with the return of wildlife, to include bluebirds, meadowlarks and northern harriers. I am one of the few who remembers what it looked like then, and can see the results of the ongoing work when I look at it now.

Michelle and Dennis at Wedding Reception, Photo by John Crawford

Michelle and Dennis at Wedding Reception, Photo by John Crawford

Dan and Pat Montague

As you’ll read below, Dan and Pat came along a little later. They soon became stalwart volunteers, particularly for anything having to do with plants. They spent countless hours surveying Glacial Heritage to create an inventory of the plants there, were always on hand for seed cleaning and planting, and did pull their share of Scotch Broom, despite Dan’s protestations to the contrary. They’ve now moved to Whidbey Island and we miss them tremendously.

To Dennis, Michelle and other Glacial Friends,

Dan taking a water break and Pat far right manning the Plant ID station at Prairie Appreciation Day, Photo by John Crawford

Dan taking a water break and Pat far right manning the Plant ID station at Prairie Appreciation Day, Photo by John Crawford

Pictures in our minds and miscellaneous thoughts about the past are fading as we age. Perhaps our most striking memory about Glacial Heritage was the first time we went out to volunteer there. It was sleeting that day in January 2005 when we met at the gate at 9:00 am. None of us wanted to get out of our cars as the volunteer coordinator Carri Marschner urged us to do. Finally she asked “Does anyone want to pull broom?” Only one hand went up! Mike Jarish was willing to go. No one else joined him! Bev Heebner invited us to their house nearby with a warm fire where we could clean seeds and the rest of us did that for our “volunteer day.” Mike worked outside all that day.

Mike Jarisch and a couple of young helpers pulling Broom, Photo by Dan Montague

Mike Jarisch and a couple of young helpers pulling Broom, Photo by Dan Montague

This is not the day; I did not have my camera with me that January day in 2005 but this is Mike.

Farms are visible in the distance with the Black Hills beyond. One of our older neighbors in Olympia told about playing on the fields at the Glacial location when he was a boy and there was no broom at all in the area then. He was born in about 1925 or so and grew up nearby.

We have always enjoyed wildflowers and gardening; getting out and exploring, so after we moved to Olympia in 2000 we looked for opportunities to continue our interest. The local chapter of the native plant society soon sent us up onto Mt. Rainier to help with their revegetation program. We went up to Mt. Rainier to pick seeds and then to work with propagation in their greenhouse at Ashford. So we thought we could do the same at Glacial Heritage; it was much closer. The glossy magazine from the Washington Nature Conservancy office in Seattle mentioned but did not show a picture of their greenhouse at Shotwells Landing, the plant propagation facility for Glacial Heritage just south of Little Rock. That was exactly what we had been doing at Mt. Rainier. We had trouble finding the greenhouse

Why Shotwell's Landing was so hard to find in 2004, Photo by Dan Montague

Why Shotwell’s Landing was so hard to find in 2004, Photo by Dan Montague

but Gabby Byrne of the Olympia office said it was there and her husband, Daeg who ran it would appreciate help. We were soon directed to work on the prairie. So for the next 13 years we pulled broom, located plants, gathered seeds, cleaned seeds and planted seeds by hand for Glacial Heritage.

We went not just for plants alone!

Male Harrier, Photo by Dan Montague

Male Harrier, Photo by Dan Montague

 

Female Harrier, Photo by Dan Montague

Female Harrier, Photo by Dan Montague

Spider on Grass Head, Photo by Dan Montague

Spider on Grass Head, Photo by Dan Montague

Lunch Time at Glacial Heritage, Photo by Dan Montague

Lunch Time at Glacial Heritage, Photo by Dan Montague

Doug and Kathy Whitlock

Like Dan and Pat, Doug and Kathy seemed to come out of nowhere, and immediately became an integral part of the prairie volunteer group. Both of them had incredible energy and worked extremely hard at whatever needed doing. Doug was our chainsaw and brush cutter wizard and Kathy was great at organization and finances. Both have finally had to step back from active roles, but are still involved, and both worked at the 2019 PAD.  (PS  I have no idea what this software is doing to Kathy and Doug’s input.  I’ve reformatted it ann retyped it and it insists on putting it in this strange format.)

Doug and Kathy, front and center, Photo by Dennis Plank

Doug and Kathy, front and center, Photo by Dennis Plank

Some prairie memories, by Kathy and Doug whitlock

We started volunteering when the Nature Conservancy was still managing the south sound prairies. Having been long time members of TNC we thought it would be fun to work with them and continued when CNLM took over.

We started out on Weir and Johnson Prairies, pulling scotch broom and gathering seeds and then moving on to Glacial Heritage, Mima Mounds, and West Rocky Prairies. During the years of TNC work we also went to many other locations, such as, Yellow Island, Moses Coulee, and Zumwalt in Oregon, and even a small prairie near Reardon where we had previously lived. Those were mostly weekend trips with overnight stays at the sites We spent many nights star gazing and watching satellites and meteorites besides building fences or trails and controlling invasive weeds during the day.

There are so many things to like about the prairie. It is an incredibly beautiful place when it is in full bloom with camas, or watching a squall blow in through the Chehalis Gap with out-of-this-world light. Most of all there is the people we worked with: Mike and Marion with their seeds, Barry and Darlene chasing butterflies, Dan and Penny with their leaky roof, Cliff whacking broom, Steve in his full dress broom pulling regalia, teaching Grace how to throw an axe (she was pretty good for a Jersey girl), Margaret and John singing their hair making smores on the slash pile, building Bluebird boxes for Steve, Dennis and Michelle setting up for PAD, Gail and Paul gathering seeds, evenings by the fire enjoying a beer and hot dog with good friends after a hard day’s work.

Doug just reminded me of working with Bev and Charlie too, both here and over in Eastern WA as well. Also he remembered Phil Hall, who used to come up from somewhere over on the coast.

Incidentally, we grew up in central Idaho where fields of camas are everywhere, but we didn’t know the significance of it back then. Wasn’t until we got over here we found out what it really was.

Anyway, fun to go back through our memory bank and think of all these things and people.


 

Doug the Lumberjack, Photo by John Crawford

Doug the Lumberjack, Photo by John Crawford

 

Kathy showing off a Prairie Appreciation Day T-shirt, Photo by Margaret Allen

Kathy showing off a Prairie Appreciation Day T-shirt, Photo by Margaret Allen

 

Toshua Hickman

I was very pleased that Tosh agreed to send something for these memories. More than any of us, he is part of the prairies. The rest of us came to them late in life, but Tosh grew up at Tuesday workdays on our prairies and probably got a better education those days than anyone his age sitting in a classroom could have. Tosh is out of college and working for a living now, but I know he’ll be back on the prairies.

Tosh at Prairie Appreciation Day helping with the Prairie Pollinators Station, Photo by John Crawford

Tosh at Prairie Appreciation Day helping with the Prairie Pollinators Station, Photo by John Crawford

 

The Puget Sound prairies are a hidden gem that comes to life every spring. Camas colors the landscape blue and a multitude of other more uncommon native plants are also in full bloom. As a kid, I was lucky enough to be a part of the restoration efforts to bring the prairies back to their natural habitat. All credit goes to my dad for bringing me to the prairies at a young age. Every Tuesday for many years, we joined other volunteers to clear invasive scotch broom, re-plant native plants, and free oak trees where fir trees had overtaken. I got to learn a lot about native plants and experience all seasons of a landscape that used to be much more expansive over the Puget Sound region. I will always cherish the memories of days spent working on the prairies and the group of dedicated volunteers we worked along with.

Tosh many years later helping build the tool shed on Glacial Heritage, unknown photographer

Tosh many years later helping build the tool shed on Glacial Heritage, unknown photographer

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