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Those mysterious Mima Mounds, with bonus wildflowers

The odd landscape of the Mima Mounds.

Mima mounds are one of those quasi-mysterious landforms that no one really has an explanation for. They occur in various places in North America and elsewhere, but the landform itself is named after the mounds on the Mima Prairie, which happens to be just down the road from where I live (I’m northeast of Olympia, Washington, and the mounds are about 10 miles south of Oly). This area is also one of the few examples of native prairie left in western Washington, as well as a prime example of the mounds.  It’s now preserved as a Natural Area Preserve by the state of Washington, and as a Natural National Landmark by the federal government.

Some of the theories of Mima mound formation, as posted on the visitor kiosk.

I’d been there once before not long after I moved to Washington, then I completely forgot about it. Which is really too bad, actually.

But the real draw for me, especially this time of year, is the flowers. Of course. I saw at least a dozen different kinds. Here are some of them.

Siberian miners lettuce. A ubiquitous woodland flower, found this time in the woods near the parking lot.
Desert parsley.
A serviceberry shrub. A similar species back east is known as shadblow.
Western serviceberry blossoms.
Salal. Another common woodland plant, related to both blueberries and rhododendrons. I found it at the edge of the prairie this time.
Camas plants are scattered like this all over the mounds.  The yellow blossoms are western buttercups.
A close up of a camas bloom stalk.
The violets grew in patches, not scattered all over like the camas.
Death camas, so-called because the bulb is poisonous. The bulb is almost indistinguishable from the regular blue camas, so the Indians used to dig these up and get rid of them when they were in bloom, which was the only time it was easy to tell them apart.

And two other non-flower photos.

Not a flower, but this unfurling fiddlehead was just cool.
It’s not often you find a sky as open as this in western Washington.

Oh, and by the way, it’s pronounced like lima bean, not like Lima, Peru.

A long-held wish comes true

I remember first hearing about this amazing Chinese archaeological find decades ago. It may even have been when it was first discovered, although I was a pretty self-absorbed teenager back in the 1970s. It seems like it was always a part of my imagination, an entire city built underground, filled with wonders, first and foremost of which was an entire population made of terracotta clay – like flowerpots. Mostly an army, but others as well, and animals, inhabiting a place where rivers ran with mercury, all built by an emperor who wanted to be immortal.

I have wanted to go see that terracotta city for what seems like forever, but a trip to China has never been in the cards.

Well, yesterday, China came to see me. Seattle’s Pacific Science Center is one of only two American stops (the other will be in Philadelphia) on a tour of a wonderful exhibit of the Terracotta Warriors, and yesterday my friend Loralee and I went to see it.

It was amazing. I really don’t have words. The story and history behind the terracotta army beggar belief, but to see the actual statues, and learn about how they were made, and why, and for whom…

Anyway, I may not have words, but I do have photos, and here are some of them. If you’re going to be anywhere near Seattle between now and September (and if you can still get a ticket – this exhibit has been wildly popular) or if you’re going to be in Philadelphia when it’s open there, all I can say is – GO. It’s an amazing and wonderful thing, and everyone who can should see it.

This 2200 year old fellow was at the entrance to the exhibit. The coloring is way off because something got messed up on my camera. The rest of the photos are much more accurate color-wise. But this one is rather dramatic…
Some of the many other than sculpture artifacts displayed in the exhibit.
An infantryman.
And a close-up of his face. There were ten of the actual human statues in the exhibit, and each one had different features and a different facial expression. The explanatory text said that this was true of all of the over 8000 sculptures they’ve found so far.
A pair of archers, standing and kneeling. Their wooden bows have long since rotted away, of course.
The face of a cavalryman, who looks rather condescending, as is appropriate for a member of a more elite corps.
The back of our cavalryman, and his horse.
Some of the stone armor.
And what it would have looked like assembled.
This man is a court official, and definitely not a soldier.
One of the last parts of the exhibit was a room full of what the soldiers looked like when they were first found. Sorry about the photo quality — the curators used light or the lack of it to make it seem more realistic.
In that room was one of the soldiers, and a light — show isn’t the right word — but projected onto him was what happened when the figures were first exposed to light. Starting out brightly painted, within 15 minutes of exposure to air, the paint peeled and flaked, leaving the sculptures covered in bits of, well, gunk. I think that was the most astonishing part of the whole exhibit.
One of the funny things about how many exhibits I’ve seen in this space over the last 20 or so years is that sometimes I see a mental overlay of other things I’ve seen here as I’m walking through. This was taken from the ramp that leads up and out of the exhibit to the exit. I remember seeing similar views from here at the Titanic exhibit and the one about Lucy the hominid, among others.

They haven’t opened the emperor’s actual tomb, both because they’re afraid they’ll destroy it unintentionally, and because the levels of mercury in the soil above the tomb are so toxic that it’s completely unsafe for anyone to do so.  Maybe someday they will open it, if they can ever figure out how to solve those two problems first.  But in the meantime, all we can do is wonder.  And wow, do I wonder.

Wow, it’s so lovely and warm

I always wake up at the crack of dawn when I’m camping. Especially this time of year when it gets light before six in the morning. But that’s okay.

I’m not sure why (am I ever sure why?) I decided to drive up to Lake Chelan this morning, but I never really have before. I stopped in the touristy town of Chelan, at the foot of the lake, to buy batteries for my camera and to stick my head in a quilt shop on the main drag. Whoever their fabric buyer is, her taste does not agree with mine. I’m not a big fan of what I think of as sixties neon, and that was about all that little shop held.

There is no road clear around Lake Chelan. It’s a landlocked fjord, and the upper end of the lake reaches deep into the North Cascades. There are two roads on either side. The one on the north shore of the lake is only about twenty miles long. The one on the south side is about twice that length, so that’s the one I took.

Lake Chelan is the third deepest lake in North America at over 1500 feet deep (the bottom is lower than sea level), according to a sign I read at the ferry landing. It’s roughly 55 miles long, and varies from one to two miles wide. It’s also pretty darned gorgeous. I stopped at the Fields Point Landing, a few miles up the lake, to poke around the visitor center and ask about the ferry that runs daily to Stehekin, the tiny settlement at the head of the lake. One of these days I want to take that trip, but the boat had left an hour or so earlier. Next time.

But I saw beautiful views, anyway, and more flowers.

The view across Lake Chelan from Field’s Landing. I don’t know if that’s a permanent snowcap or if it’s just because it’s only May.
A view of the ferry landing and down the lake.
Along the path looking northward along the lake. The yellow flowers are more balsamroot.
Prairie Star Flower. I saw these for the first time down in Oregon on my Long Trip last summer. This was the only shot I got of them this trip where the blossoms weren’t blurred by the breeze.

I’d thought about camping at 25 Mile Creek State Park at the end of the road that night, but it wasn’t even noon yet, and I decided I wanted to actually go on up to the Okanogan. So, stopping along the way to make a picnic lunch, I headed up to the town of Omak, where one of my favorite quilt shops (Needlyn Time) is. And, yes, this time I bought fabric, which I needed like a hole in the head, but tough.

After that, I headed up to Conconully, the little town that inspired the ghost town of the same name in my Unearthly Northwest books.

The view from the highway going up to Conconully from Omak. Please excuse the bug blurs — I had to take this through the windshield because there really wasn’t a good place where I could get out of the van.
This is what I meant by more balsamroot than I’ve ever seen on one trip before. Whole *hillsides* of the stuff.

Conconully is one of the few towns I know of with a state park right at the edge of town. But it’s a nice state park, and the campsite I wound up at was right on the lake and pretty secluded. I spent what was left of the afternoon just enjoying the day and reading, and listening to the red-winged blackbirds sawing their courtship cries. Oh, and watching the geese and ducks use the lake as a landing and launch pad. And the deer eating the campground’s mowed grass.

One of the red-winged blackbirds who sawed his mating call all afternoon at Lake Conconully.
One of the deer who wandered through the campground in the afternoon.
The view from my campsite at Conconully State Park.
My campsite at Conconully State Park.
Sunset from my campsite.

All in all, I drove a bit more than I had intended, but it was well worth it.

Over the mountains to sunshine

It’s no secret that this has been the wettest winter on record in western Washington (almost 45 inches of rain between October 1st and April 30th – our average, for well over a hundred years of record-keeping, is closer to 35 inches for the entire year), and one of the coldest. There’s no argument that it’s been incredibly depressing as well (and personal reasons have made it even more so for me).

So, when the weather forecasters for this past week noted (with great cheer) that it was supposed to get to and over 70dF on the west side of the mountains for the first time this year on Wednesday and Thursday, and even warmer, with lots of sunshine, on the east side, I thought, you know what? Screw it, I’m going camping.

Of course, when I thought about the east side of the mountains, my first idea was to go back to the Okanogan, which almost feels like home after the time I spent there researching my first two Tales of the Unearthly Northwest. I was also hoping it would nudge me back into writing the third Tale, which has sat there a few chapters in whining at me for longer than I want to think about it, due to those personal reasons I mentioned above. That didn’t really happen, but at least I got to spend some time in the sun, in nature, and to see lots of spring wildflowers.

The first place I went for flowers wasn’t on the way to the Okanogan, not in the region proper. At some point in the past I had picked up a flyer titled Wildflower Areas in the Columbia Basin, and one of them was about ten miles southeast of Wenatchee.

That turned out to be something of an adventure, as the photo of the Rock Island Grade Road will show. At my first sight of it, I thought, oh my gosh, I hope that little dirt road climbing up the side of a canyon isn’t the one they’re talking about, but yes, it was.

The Rock Island Grade “Road”, looking back towards the Columbia River from where I saw so many wildflowers.

It wasn’t the steepest, narrowest road I’ve ever driven, but I think it’s the steepest, narrowest dirt road I’ve ever driven. The recommended place to stop was about two and a half miles up, and the flyer hinted that there was a parking area. Ha. And what it turned out to be was a place for locals to go up and shoot cans, with all of the attendant garbage. That said, it was also literally carpeted with wildflowers. I managed to park Merlin as close to the edge of the road (not, at that point, hanging over the cliff) as I could, in case someone else came by (no one did, thank goodness), got out, and this is what I saw.

Spreading phlox spreading everywhere along the Rock Island Grade Road.
A phlox close-up.
And another. One of the things that makes phlox one of my favorite wildflowers (and garden flowers) is the infinite variation of a simple five-petaled flower in such a limited color palette.
The yellow flowers are wild radish. The purple ones are blue mustard. Both are tiny, but were profuse.
Yakima milkvetch, which was a new one to me.
And the first of more balsamroot I’ve ever seen in one trip before, which is saying a fair amount.

After I made my way cautiously back down to the highway, I headed back to Wenatchee, then north along Hwy. 97, which borders the Columbia River. It was getting fairly late in the afternoon by then, so I stopped at Lincoln Rock State Park, the first of three parks with campgrounds north of Wenatchee. I’d never camped there before. All of the sites are within sight of the river, and it was a peaceful, warm evening. I sat out in my lawn chair and just absorbed it all. Unfortunately, the batteries in my camera chose just then to give up the ghost, and apparently I’d forgotten to bring the spares, so I have no photos of that.

And that was my first day east of the mountains this year.  More tomorrow.

critter quilt

This is another charity quilt.  I’m calling it the critter quilt, and I needed to find a pattern to use that fabric with all the animals without chopping it up too small to tell what they were.  This is the result.  It’s a single block of the Burgoyne Surrounded pattern.

It’s the last of that batch of charity quilt tops.  I have two gift quilt tops layered and ready to be quilted, and I’ve started piecing more charity quilt tops.

48″ square, machine-pieced, hand quilted.

my mother’s quilt

Mother’s whole cloth quilt. 72 inches square, hand quilted.

I’ve been meaning to post a photo of this for a month or so now.

Back in 1998, I wanted to make my mother a quilt.  I “made the mistake” of asking her what kind she wanted, and she asked me for a whole cloth quilt (one made out of a single piece of fabric).  Well, back then I’d only been quilting for about ten years, and I had no real idea how to design or make one.  All I really knew was that I didn’t want it to be beige or white, as the only whole cloth quilts I’d ever seen by then were.

But I couldn’t find a pre-printed top in anything but beige or white, and I didn’t know where to buy a) fabric wide enough to make a bed-sized quilt out of a single piece of fabric, or b) a bed-sized stencil (I’m still not sure there is such a thing as a bed-sized quilt stencil [wry g]).  So I did the best I could with what I could find.

Technically, this is not a whole cloth quilt, because it’s pieced out of 42″ width fabric.  I bought a center feather wreath stencil and two border stencils, a lot of blue (her favorite color) fabric, and got to work.  I remember that I saw blue fabric in my sleep for weeks after I finished it.

I washed and dried it, and picked off what I thought was all the cat hair, then I took it with me when I made my annual visit that year (we lived 2000 miles apart).  The first thing she did after we spread it out on her bed was pick a cat hair off of it.  Well, no, that was the second thing.  The first thing she did was hug me and tell me how beautiful she thought it was.

My mother died in January of this year, at the age of 92.  That quilt decorated her bed for eighteen years, first in her home, and then in the assisted living facility where she spent her last two years.  It’s been washed many times, but it’s held up pretty well (the binding’s a bit worn, is all).

And now it’s mine again.  I miss her, but I’m so glad she loved this quilt.

the globe quilt

I was going to call it the globe fence quilt (the pattern is called rail fence, and the focus fabric has globes all over it), but given the current political climate, that didn’t seem quite right.

It’s the second to last of this batch of charity quilt tops.  Gotta make more tops!

And the color combination, which was riffed off of the colors in the globe fabric, seems kind of weird to me now.  I’m not sure what I was thinking when I pieced this last year, but oh, well. 40″x48″ (the blocks are 8″ square), hand quilted in the ditch.

Pinwheel quilt

I didn’t realize until I looked at the dates of my last few posts, how fast I’m quilting these little charity quilts.  The process does go a lot faster when I’ve got the tops already made.  Only two more to go till I run out of charity tops, though!

This one is named the pinwheel quilt, for obvious reasons.  It’s another misfit fabric quilt, with the robbing Peter to pay Paul effect (dark/light blocks alternating with light/dark blocks) I like so much.

This is my coping mechanism right now

Because writing just isn’t happening, much as I wish I could force it to.  For personal as well as political reasons.  So, meanwhile, enjoy the pretty.

This is the first monochrome scrappy quilt I’ve made.  Years and years ago I saw one at a quilt show, and it’s been at the back of my mind to make one ever since.  So last year I put the top together, and I pulled it out and quilted it over the last couple of weeks.

I’ve got three more charity tops waiting to be quilted, and I’m currently piecing a bigger quilt for a gift.  I have one more gift quilt to make, and then I’ll be back making charity quilts again.

36″x 48″, hand quilted in simple diagonal lines.