Monday, March 30, 2009

P-I Farewell Party

Last Friday night I attended the P-I Farewell Party at the Ballard Elks Club with my good friend Karen Sykes. We really weren't sure what to expect. Initially, I was excited at the thought of getting to meet some of the people I've admired over the many years I have enjoyed the paper. I also looked forward to meeting up with some of the individuals I have worked and conversed with in recent years.

As the date approached, a certain uneasiness set in. I began to feel awkward about it. Most of these people were now unemployed and probably didn't have a whole lot to be happy about. This was a goodbye party. It was personal for them. If they wanted to cry over a beer or two or five, they deserved to do so amongst the privacy of friends and colleagues.

Well, the worry was much ado about nothing. What a festival! Karen and I arrived and were immediately greeted by John Engstrom, whom Karen has worked with for years. While we chatted, David Horsey's laugh caught my ears as he joked nearby. He was in a tux and enjoying mingling with others.

Art Thiel also sported a tux and seemed to be enjoying himself as he shook hands with old acquaintances. As an avid sports fan, I have read Art's columns for as long as I can remember. Of course, as I peered up at his 6'7"ish frame, all preconceived notions about what he looked like went out the window! All except his mug, of course.

Greg Johns and John Hickey were also present. Probably not a good time to talk about the M's and spring training though. Rain check?

As Karen and I made our way through the crowd, John Owen politely grabbed her arm to chat. Wow, John Owen! His smile was infectious.

Jean Godden was there too. What a powerful presence she had. She seemed a goddess amongst her own, and attracted a crowd wherever she went.

Soon the band started up and it was David Horsey belting out the Ramone's "I Wanna be Sedated", followed by "Twist and Shout". You could see how much fun he was having with the room!

What an event! I would estimate attendance around 1,200 - 1,500, and most all seemed to just be enjoying the evening and the opportunity to reacquaint with old co-workers. If there was anyone missing in attendance, I have no idea who.

As we continued to work our way through the crowd, I was proud to witness several people approach Karen and exclaim, "So you're Karen Sykes! I'm so glad to finally meet you! I've been reading about your hikes for years...." Karen was quite taken back. As a freelancer, she had no idea she had built such a following within the walls of the P-I. I was incredibly happy for her.

Karen and I eventually met up with Greg Johnston and his lovely wife Lorna. We chatted with them at their table until it was time for us to leave. Greg and I hope to hook up on some hikes this spring and summer, and have some specific ones in mind.

I feel very fortunate to have attended this event. No, I feel very fortunate to have witnessed this event. This was a celebration, and it blew away all my expectations. The looks on the many faces I saw, and the happiness they projected at an event marking the demise of their livelihood will last with me for a long, long time.

I wish everyone from the P-I success in whatever endeavors they choose to pursue, and I have no doubt that they will find success.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Daffodils in the Skagit Valley

March is here and that can only mean one thing - daffodils! These beautiful flowers begin popping up in flower beds in neighborhoods all over the Pacific Northwest this time of year.

Want to see more? I'll let you in on a little secret. Think Skagit Valley. Think Mount Vernon!

I say secret because, unlike the Tulip Festival that takes place next month and draws visitors from around the world, the daffodils attract a much smaller crowd. In fact, calling it a "crowd" is overselling it!

You can arrive at 8:00 am on a Saturday morning and possibly be one of only a handful of cars in the Roozengaarde parking lot - it happened to me last year!

Meanwhile, the fields of flowers are there in all their glory and variety of colors. Variety? Oh yes. If you thought daffodils only came in yellow, think again!

Though the varieties may not be as numerous as with the tulips, there are still enough to create attractive alternating rows in the fields. Bring your camera!

How to get there. If you've attended the Tulip Festival, the driving directions are exactly the same.

From Seattle, take I-5 north to Mount Vernon. Take the Kincaid Street exit (#226), go west on Kincaid. At the first stoplight after the railroad tracks, take a right. Go straight through 2 stoplights and over the Division Street Bridge. Continue to the first stoplight after the bridge, taking a left at the light onto Wall Street. Wall Street makes a quick right turn and becomes McLean Road.

Continue down McLean Road about 3 miles. Make a left at the grocery store onto Beaver Marsh Road, and begin watching for yellow fields on your right.

The main parking lot for Roozengaarde is 1/4 down on your right. There is another parking lot about 1/2 a mile further. Both offer access to excellent viewing opportunities.

How to view. I recommend viewing the fields first, especially if arriving early. If photography is your goal, I really recommend viewing the fields first. Both parking lots offer access to ample wandering and many opportunities - check them both out or you'll regret it!

Please respect all signs and walk only in designated areas.

After finishing your wanderings, make your way back to the Roozengaarde Gardens. There is a $5 entry fee to get in, but it is well worth it. The gardens aren't as bustling as during tulip season, but there is still a lot to see. Make sure to get your picture taken in front of the windmill!

What to wear. Dress for the weather. There is something else synonymous with March - rain! Dress warm and bring rain gear. Even if you arrive under dry skies, this can change fast. There is a reason that daffodils and tulips grow so well here! Speaking of rain, it has - and often, trust me! Expect lots of puddles in the fields, much more than during tulip season. Rubber boots are highly recommended.

When to go. Mid to late March offers the best showing of daffodils. Weekdays and weekends are both excellent. Reports this year are that peak blooms are still ahead!

Best weather. Clear days offer vivid colors in the fields and the backdrop of the snow-clad Olympic Mountains in the distance - truly a Pacific Northwest experience.

But many photographers prefer cloudy days. Direct sun offers harsh lighting that burns out the color and details of the flowers. It also creates unwanted contrasts with dark shadows. Cloudy skies diffuse the light, making it more even. The last three images appearing here were taken under such conditions.

Most important. Have fun! Bring a camera if you wish and enjoy the day! Drive slow and stare often!

Finally. Roozengaarde offers the biggest fields and displays that I have found. But there are others. I encourage you to drive around and explore. If you see another display that you really like, send me line and let me know!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Farewell Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Well, the day many of us have dreaded has finally arrived. The P-I has announced that tomorrow, March 17th, will be the last printed edition of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. After tomorrow, it will be available as an online edition only.

Read the full story here.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A 'Thank You' from Karen Sykes


I am overwhelmed! I don't even know what to say except thank you.

Thank you for being my friend. Our writing is a long and lonesome journey at times and it's good to "hike" that trail with another writer/photographer when those opportunities arise.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The End of an Era

Update: The P-I has decided to extend Karen's "Hike of the Week" one more week, with the last article scheduled to appear March 19th.

An era is about to come to an end on Thursday. I know this to be true, but still can’t seem to believe the news.

After thirteen years of writing the “Hike of the Week” for the Seattle P-I Getaways section, my good friend Karen Sykes is approaching the finish line. It’s been a marathon of sorts for her, complete with joys, challenges, hardships, rewards, and stories that will last her (and I hope us) the rest of her life. She is finishing the race strong. Her energy level and motivation are high. Her determination is fierce. This is a race we all new she would complete; victory was never a concern or doubt. We just didn’t know it would be so soon.

Karen will be writing her last hiking article for the P-I on Thursday.

I first met Karen on a hike. Let me correct that. I first met Karen on a long drive to do a hike in Eastern Washington. I enjoyed her company immediately and it became quite clear that it was going to be a fun day. She had a very happy, outgoing personality and an equally enjoyable sense of humor. I don’t remember where conversation steered us that day for the 3-1/2 hours plus on the road, but I remember there being a lot of laughs. A third person whose name escapes me did the driving that day. I jest of course. It was our good friend Alan Bauer, who's images grace this entry (thank you Alan).

My friendship with Karen has grown since that first hike. I’ve followed her hiking accounts in the P-I as well as another forum we both frequent, and have shared laughs via e-mails and phone calls many times. I have resurrected her computer from the dead on multiple occasions. Well, not really. But she would have you believe so.

It was while working on her computer one day that we began talking publishing projects again. When Karen learned of my book Mt. Rainier, she asked me for a copy to review for the P-I. I was in shock! Of course, I obliged too!

When Karen’s review came out, I was flabbergasted. I was expecting a quick couple of paragraphs and just hoped that they would read kindly. I was astonished to find a very in-depth, two-page review with one of my blown-up images jumping across the page! Oh, and she was kind too! Seeing it was truly an incredible experience for me. And now as I look back on it, it is also important to me because it wasn’t just written by a book reviewer trying to meet deadline, it was written by Karen.

Karen will be writing her last hiking article for the P-I on Thursday.

Life is about changes and that rings true with Karen as well. She is soon to experience many new ones and I am very excited for her. One of these changes is her new blog she has started, which I encourage you to visit. She has written about the difficult times and emotions she has experienced as that finish line comes into view. It’s a powerful read. Bookmark it and come back often. I think she’s about to find the finish line to be a simple piece of ribbon, and that the road in fact has a long way to go.

Karen, you made Thursdays fun and something to look forward to. Thank you.

All images appear courtesy Alan L. Bauer. I had a camera too - I was just too busy trying to keep up with Karen.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Snow Geese on Fir Island

Fir Island is synonymous with Snow Geese during the winter months amongst birders. Located near Conway in Skagit County, the area offers excellent opportunities for viewing Bald Eagles, hawks, owls, herons, geese...the list goes on!

Eagles commonly gather in trees while hawks swoop down low along the fields in search of rodents. Owls make their appearance known in early morning and evening. It is an incredible experience to witness. My first visit to Fir Island quickly deemed it my favorite birding destination in our state to date.

To get to Fir Island, drive I-5 north from Seattle to the Conway, exit. Turn left and head west back over the freeway. Take an immediate right on Fir Island Road, and let your eyes guide you the rest of the way! That's right - Fir Island is about driving the countryside exploring, not looking for a specific destination.

All roads can lead to opportunities. Mann Road is popular. Turn left immediately after crossing the Skagit River for this option. Follow the signs along this road to the Skagit Wildlife Area. As with most wildlife areas, a parking pass is required here. I chose instead to follow Fir Island Road west. The Snow Geese are very easy to find in the morning. Just look to the sky!

Their tendency is to sleep out on the tide flats at night, then fly into the fields in the morning.With over 10,000 geese in the area, they were easy to spot throughout the morning as as they flew in!

During my visit, the geese began to gather just off Moore Road. They consisted of a few thousand at first, but more kept arriving. They slowly moved in a northeasterly direction until they consumed the area around Poulson Road.

The geese kept flying in and flying in. Non-stop arrivals. The sky was cluttered with them as the first few images show. The real treat was when a raptor flew by. The entire flock would spook and take flight all at once. It was a truly amazing experience.

I was fortunate enough to visit on a clear, sunny day. The treat was that both Mt. Baker and the Olympics were out in full view, serving as an excellent backdrop. Truly a Northwest experience.

It was interesting to pay attention to the crowds. Early on photographers clearly were the audience. But as the day grew on, the demographic grew as well. What really stood out to me were the number of international tourists - namely Japanese. I talked to a number of them!

As I mentioned previously, the geese began to slowly migrate in a northeasterly direction. This was key to note. While positioned on Moore Road, their backs were primarily to you. But move ahead to Poulson Road and you watched them come flying in! Their numbers kept increasing as their group size expanded and grew toward you.

Of course, there were more birds to watch as well. Bald Eagles were apparent in numbers, and hawks would swoop down along the road and fields when you least expected it.

Fir Island is a marvelous place to visit. The opportunities are numerous and begging for your attention! The Snow Geese appear to be hanging around much later than normal years, so it's not too late to enjoy these beautiful creatures.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Friendly Get-Together

This past week I met up with my good friend Alan Bauer at the Issaquah Brewhouse - one of our favorite meeting places (outside of trails, of course!).

Alan and I have been good friends for a few years now, so it is always fun to get together. We talk shop, current projects we are working on, future projects we want to work on, future outings we would like to do together, family, sports - heck, maybe a list of things we don't discuss would be shorter!

Alan of course has been busy co-authoring the Dayhike series books for The Mountaineers, and has been chomping at the bit for spring to arrive so he can hit the trails again. In the meantime, we'll probably try to do some desert hikes in the coming months. I wonder if Alan knows anything about hiking over there? Hmmmm...

(photo by our good friend Kim Brown)