[Tweeters] Northwoods Journey

Jeff Gibson gibsondesign at msn.com
Sat Sep 27 09:06:23 PDT 2014


Rained out of painting work in Port Townsend, I'm back home in Everett for a few days. Yesterday I journeyed to the Northwoods - it only took a few minutes.
That's right folks, the Northwoods - it starts just north of Everett, which is where the southernmost Paper Birch - that Northwood's icon - grow in Western Washington. OK, so it's not the GREAT Northwood's - just a bit of it - and of course, this being a biogeographic matter, the boundary is not crystal clear - there were some Paper Birch found along Union Bay (Seattle) in 1929 for example (according to the UW herbarium records) - but the first real groves, and big patches of Paper Birch start around N. Marysville - as far as I'v seen.
Yesterday my excuse for driving North was a dump run to Arlington. While there is a closer dump in Everett, that drive, featuring views of stuff like Boeing and "the worlds largest ugly building", and lots of traffic, is unappealing. It's a bit farther, but when I go to the Arlington dump, I get to tree watch. Ever since I was a sapling myself, noting the first birch patch along I-5 on family camping trips, I still get a little botanic thrill seeing them again.
Later in life I was Paper Birch rich, as I went on to become a successful college drop-out in Bellingham and vicinity. The success was having lots of time spent in nature. Western Whatcom County is a real goldmine of Paper Birch - apparently blown out of Canada by that Arctic Trombone, the Fraser Valley. I used to work out in North Whatcom during winter cold snaps in frigid windchills. "Gee Toto", I'd imagine as I was freezing " I don't think we're in Seattle anymore". Birch don't mind that cold a bit.
Yes, Whatcom is some real Birch Country. In fact, the largest Paper Birch - a National Champion- grows in B'ham. Or used to anyway. I remember seein' some big ones in town. I've seen some nice Paper Birch up the Skagit too - particularly along the East Bank Ross Lake trail (kind of a botanical paradise), and if you ever go to North Cascades Environmental Learning Center, on Diablo Reservoir, look for them there.
One note; don't be fooled by other Birch around here. If you see birch on your next trip to Spencer Island in Everett, for example, it's probably a European Paper Birch, with bright bark and drooping branches. The Himalayan Birch is also a popular bright barked species.Popular ornamental's. Our native Betula papyrifera doesn't develop all that white of bark around Everett and nearby, somewhat due to the mild climate I guess. In Whatcom it does, particularly in colder areas, and in the foothills. Unlike it's family relative and party-pooper of fall color, the Red Alder, the Paper Birch turns gold in the fall- another way to spot it along the road.
In my Mental Ecology, having grown up in the television age, seeing Paper Birch often conjures up the soundtrack to those old Hamm's beer commercials; "from the land of sky-blue wa-a-ters" the tune went, with bears and beavers cavorting about. Somewhere along the line I got that mixed up with another cheap beer, Schmidt, which I drank a lot of in Bellingham. Those beer cans had Northwood imagery like Moose and Muskellunge - and Indians in Birchbark canoes. So, I associate the Paper Birches with cheap beer from Minnesota. Another northwest connection is that after all those Scandinavian loggers cut down all the big White Pine in the Great Lakes, many of them wound up here, with their saws and axes. Maybe they felt better seeing Birches, like in the old country.
So, maybe you might wanna try Birch watching. The bark is beautiful - get a close look if you can.
Jeff Gibson Everett Wa


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