A friend of mine, Washington State author and artist Jennifer Chushcoff has written a beautiful book titled “Washington is Water”. Indeed, whenever I am on the road, I keep thinking she nailed it. And especially in the winter season. We are living on dripping wet lands in the western part of this state.
Part of it is certainly because of all the rain that falls from above and settles as snow in the Alpine areas of the Cascades and the Olympic mountains. From there, creeks spring that bubble through the wilderness, ever gaining size, until they are wild rivers of drowning strength. I hardly know any part of Western Washington in which there is no swamp, creek, waterfall, lake, or river – do you? No wonder everything is so green, if not exactly emerald green.
One of the places that I love best to explore are wetlands. Per definition, they are ecosystems that are either permanently or seasonally flooded with aquatic vegetation that occurs only in such areas. As they can be freshwater, brackish, or saltwater wetlands, such can be found pretty much all over Western Washington. Not all of them are accessible, of course. Some of them can only be seen from the road. Others can be hiked in only. And these are the ones that I like best.
Nothing is more peaceful than walking into a wetland on a wet day. You are pretty much alone with Nature, then. You best wear sturdy boots or hiking shoes and weather gear that doesn’t soak through easily. And you ought to be ready to step through mud and step rather cautiously over boardwalks. Boardwalks, by the way, are among those features of wetlands that make my heart soar. You are literally on a platform, as close as it gets to water fowl and other aquatic animals. If you are lucky, you can spot elk at the fringes of nearby woods. There are mudbanks or lichened tree trunks. The grass looks as if the ebbing tide had combed through it at its retreat. The only sound you can hear is that of the water, the wind, some birds, and your own breathing.
Of course, most of you will have been to the wetlands of the Nisqually Reach. My first time was around the 1st of advent in the year of my arrival over here. It was one of those rare days when a sudden flurry of snow set in. Back then, the boardwalk to the Sound didn’t exist yet, and the Brown Farm Dike was still quite visible. Today, it is stunning to watch how ebb and high tide shape the mud lands. Herons sometimes stand right by the path. You can watch deer and waterfowl, and eagles soar over the wildlife refuge. McAllister Creek, the Nisqually River, and Puget Sound have certainly created a unique delta with the amazing backdrop of the Olympic mountains to one side and Mt. Rainier to the other.
Another stunning wetland I only recently mentioned, is the Julia Hansen Butler Wildlife Refuge near Cathlamet on the Columbia River. It is pocketed with sloughs and marshes, and if you are lucky, you can watch the rare Columbian white-tailed deer graze in the boggy meadows. Or some elk. It is not as quiet in these wetlands as you would wish, though – a road goes through it, which is shared by pedestrians. So, as to the beauty in colors – especially in winter! – there is no gainsaying. But in this one case, I rather stay inside the car.
A recent discovery on the very quiet side were the Theler Wetlands near Belfair. A gorgeous wrought iron gate marks the entrance to this particularly pretty wetland. An interpretation center tells the visitor about the flora and fauna of this special area which is sitting at the mouth of the Union River on Hood Canal. Boardwalks and winding little paths crisscross the wetland and lead you out to a platform quite close to where waterfowl and otters can be watched. If you care for a longer walk than this enclosed area offers, simply saunter towards the nearby salmon hatchery and find another network of paths along the Union River. I simply breathed in the low-hanging clouds and the almost horizontal rain that Sunday afternoon, deeply relaxed and blissful. With nobody around but my soulmate and some paddlings of ducks.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.