cold wetlands, hot chili

Cold, rainy, slushy days remind me of my days in Oregon and Washington studying wetlands for delineations and permits. Developers always wanted their wetland study done in the late fall to winter so they could get their plans drawn for work in summer. Unfortunately this meant that I was trying to identify plants with no flowers or leaves, sometimes missing important species, or in the case of grasses trying to find stems that still had seeds. Of course it was usually raining, or even turning to snow, and I would end up getting sick from being wet and cold for hours.

There was one interesting location near Mount Hood about an hour from Portland. It was a tangled mosaic of wet and dry areas, with fens, meadows, and riparian wetlands interspersed with upland forest. It was a peaceful place, cool in summer under the shade of the tall hemlocks and Douglas firs, and it was botanically fascinating. On one wet slope I painfully discovered Devil’s Club, a nasty wetland shrub with thorns on the trunk, the leaf stems, and even on the leaves. Digging in the fens, I found identifiable plant material possibly hundreds of years old, preserved in the muck due to the cold groundwater and lack of oxygen. I hoped this place would never get developed, and 25 years later it is still intact.

There had been some logging prior to my visiting the site, and several trees were still lying on the ground. I was working with a student intern who was identifying plants for me. We were hiking through the woods when we heard a chain saw. We looked through the trees and saw a guy who was probably stealing firewood from the property. As we got closer, we realized he was naked except for a work boots and a cowboy hat. We looked at each other in disbelief, and hid in the bushes wondering what we should do. We must have moved the brush a little, because he suddenly looked in our general direction, put down the saw, and quickly moved behind his pickup to put clothes on. Tiffany and I decided to just go the other way and let him enjoy his lumberjack fantasy.

One miserable November day at this site, after being out in the bone-chilling drizzle for hours, my boss took me to eat at a nearby cafe he knew about from a previous visit. They had huge bowls of chili and bread, and a big fireplace to warm up by. It was the best chili ever.