Tag Archive | Skagit Valley

Daffodil Days

March 17, 2020

Solo DaffodilA harbinger of spring, this particular flower is one of the earliest to appear during the first weeks of March.

The Narcissus – also known as daffodil and jonquil – has been cultivated for centuries. People are drawn to its sunny shades; a welcome splash of color at the end of winter.

A member of the Amaryllis family, its showy blossom reminds one of a face surrounded by a large bonnet.  There are thousands of varieties, ranging from tiny clusters of white and yellow flowers, as well as fist sized blossoms in brilliant yellow. Less common blooms can also include combinations of orange and pink.

It was believed, at one time, that the bulb contained cancer curing properties. In fact, the bulb actually contains toxins which can lead to illness and, in rare cases, death if ingested. Rather than getting into the tall weeds in regards to that, here’s a link to the Infallible Wikipedia for those who wish to learn more:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narcissus_(plant)

Mt. Baker and Daffodils

Skagit Valley daffodils with Mt. Baker in the distance. March 16, 2020

The Narcissus is so popular and so prevalent, that authors have for years used it in their works.

Also from the Infallible Wikipedia:

“Shakespeare, who frequently uses flower imagery, refers to daffodils twice in The Winter’s Tale  and also The Two Noble Kinsmen. Robert Herrick alludes to their association with death in a number of poems. Among the English romantic movement writers none is better known than William Wordsworth’s short 1804 poem I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud which has become linked in the popular mind with the daffodils that form its main image. Wordsworth also included the daffodil in other poems. Yet the description given of daffodils by his sister, Dorothy is just as poetic, if not wordsworth-lonely-daffodils2-500x334more so, just that her poetry was prose and appears almost an unconscious imitation of the first section of the Homeric Hymn to Demeter (see Greek culture, above). Among their contemporaries, Keats refers to daffodils among those things capable of bringing ‘joy forever’.”

That’s pretty high praise for a flower!

I always think of the third week of March as the season of the daffodil. While I cannot recall when, exactly, I became aware of the flower, I have always rejoiced when I see their heads pop up from the cold ground, knowing that winter is losing its grip.

My most memorable daffodil experience occurred one lovely spring afternoon in March 1993. I had been out running errands. In my company that day were my three year old son and a belly so large that it was near bursting.

We arrived back at our house sometime after 3:30 p.m. My in-laws were there; ready to provide care for the three year old as my official ‘due date’ was March 19th.

Weary after hours of errands, I sat down for a few minutes but could tell something was not right. A few minutes later, at 4 pm, I feared that my water had broken.

Now, with child number one, I had not experienced natural labor. He was a stubborn one and it took hours and hours along with a labor inducing drug to convince him to arrive.

Those who say that Pitocin and the natural hormone released by a mother’s body during labor are the same, don’t know what they are talking about. Which is why I wanted to avoid its use with child number two.

I went up to the bedroom and called the Doctor’s office, hoping that I could go in and have them check to see if, in fact, my water had broken. Nope. I was instructed to go to the hospital.

The next ten minutes involved tears, calling the hubby to tell him that he needed to come home and take me, and more tears as I wrapped my head around the situation. I assured the hubby during our call that he had plenty of time since I was not experiencing any labor pains. The tears were caused by my anticipation of a 22 hour ordeal similar to the first labor which would involve an IV drip of Pitocin.

Packing was a slow process (have I mentioned how huge I was?) as I gathered all my needed items together and, anyway, I figured I had time. As I was puttering around the bedroom and the bathroom, I kept having these ‘twinges.’ Didn’t think much about it until it occurred to my thick brain that it might be natural contractions, something I had not experienced the first time.

So I timed the twinges… and they were two minutes apart. Wow. I took my now packed bag downstairs and told my mother in law, who was standing in the kitchen, the news about the time between contractions. And then the first big one hit.

The next thing I did was step over to the sink and grip the counter, breathing through the event as best I could. On the other side of the window in our backyard my focus landed on the clusters of bright yellow blooms.

At the end of the contraction my mother-in-law exclaimed, “How soon will he get home? I didn’t sign up to be a midwife!”

And so it went for probably another 15 minutes, me gripping the counter in front of the sink as if it were a life preserver, daffodils swimming before my eyes. Soon the hubby arrived and a flurry of activity ensued with hasty goodbyes to the in laws and our eldest child, then what seemed an excruciatingly long  trip to the hospital, and admittance.

Daffodil princess

Daughter in search of daffodils March 2010 – ten years ago

Three and half hours from the onset of labor, at 7:30 p.m., our daughter was born (without any artificial labor inducing drugs OR any pain relief as there was no time!).

The next day, looking out my window at the landscaping across the street from the hospital, I could see daffodils; bunch after bunch greeted us all along the streets as we drove home with our new baby.

My daughter and I cherish the daffodil as our shared flower, a symbol of spring, new life, and connection from mother to child. Happy Birthday to you, my beloved mid-March child!

Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

A Visual Feast each April

April 9, 2019

This annual event has come to define Mount Vernon and the surrounding area. Begun in April 1984, the Skagit Valley Tulip festival cemented Mount Vernon and the surrounding area’s identity as the tulip capital of the nation.

1984 Tulip Festival poster

The first tulip bulbs were brought to the Skagit Valley from Holland in 1906 by Mary Brown Stewart. Soon she had a mail-order bulb business, selling them to garden clubs in New England.  Her son, Sam, joined the operation 20 years later which coincided with a ban by the Federal government on bulbs imported from Holland.

This event triggered many of the bulb growers to send family members to the United States to establish farms. Through trial, error, and success, the bulb growers discovered that the Skagit Valley was a prime bulb growing region, eclipsing Bellingham and Lynden, Washington, where colder winters were not ideal for the plants.

In the late 1940’s, the embargo was lifted and, once again, the Skagit Valley bulb growers were impacted with many of the smaller farmers forced out of business.

Relative late comers William and Helen Roozen, Dutch immigrants, purchased the Washington Bulb Company in 1955.

The Infallible Wikipedia gives a short summation:

“In 1946, William Roozen arrived to the United States, leaving behind a successful bulb-growing business spanning six generations in Holland. After working on several different farms, Roozen started his own in Skagit County in 1950, and in 1955 purchased the Washington Bulb Company, making him the leader among the four flower-growing families in the area, and the Washington Bulb Company the leading grower of tulip, daffodil, and iris bulbs in North America. The farm operates a public display garden and gift shop called Roozengaarde, which, alongside the DeGoede family’s Tulip Town, is a major attraction during the Tulip Festival.

Local tulip growers showcased their bulbs through display gardens for decades prior to the formation of an official festival. The Mount Vernon Chamber of Commerce established the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival as a 3-day event in 1984 to add festivities during the bloom month. The event has since grown to a month-long event and coincides with street fairs, art shows and sporting events.”

31114207_10211536746427457_5992052137578725376_o.jpgNow in its 36th year, the Tulip Festival, has become one of the most popular events in the state. Weekends in April produce traffic jams in Mount Vernon which rival a bad morning commute in Seattle. The festival organizers estimate that nearly a million people will trek to see the tulips during April. A look at their website, tulipfestival.org, provides a list of hundreds of events throughout Skagit County, helpful ‘bloom’ maps, and lists of where to eat and stay.

The Hubby and I visited the tulip festival offices a couple days ago (I was researching for this article) and the steady stream of people coming in to obtain information was amazing. We were talking with one of the volunteers – a friend we know through a different organization – and he said that there are times when the crowds spill out on the sidewalk.

We left after purchasing three prints of previous years Tulip Festival posters and then headed out on what has become one of the things the Hubby and I ‘do’ together which is drive around the valley.

It was, once again, another magical day. We found a flock of well over a thousand snow geese (they will be gone by mid-May) in a field on Fir Island and were treated to an aerial display which took my breath away. From there we drove up a hill to the west of the flower fields and could see the ribbons of red, yellow, purple, and white cut across the expansive landscape.

We visited a daffodil field which, two weeks ago, had been a cheery harbinger of spring but now the flowers were mostly faded. From there we ventured to ground zero, noting that although there were crowds, they were not yet of the epic proportion expected the next two weekends. The red and yellow tulips were approaching full bloom but the purple, white, pink, and variegated ones were still a week or two away.

Selfie in tulips 2018

The author with tulips in 2018

Daffodil Barb 2019

The author, at the same field, but now daffodils, 2019

Last year we, having just moved in, didn’t visit Roozengaarde or the other large player, Tulip Town. But this year we plan to be ‘tourists’ for a day and visit one or both to get the entire Skagit experience. But not on a weekend. We’re not THAT crazy.

 

For those who want to come see the tulip fields in bloom, visit the official tulip festival website:

https://tulipfestival.org/

For more information on Washington Bulb company and the Roozen family:

https://www.tulips.com/

A Seattle Times article:

https://www.seattletimes.com/entertainment/events/skagit-valley-tulip-festival-is-starting-to-show-its-flower-power/

And the Infallible Wikipedia:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skagit_Valley_Tulip_Festival

 

 

 

Mass Ascension…

… Mount Vernon Style

January 15, 2019

Although this particular population group is less than 1 percent of the species, the spectacle they create each winter in the Skagit Valley is breathtaking.

snow geese mass ascension

The geese depart in mass ascension, wings flapping and outstretched.

The Snow Goose, scientific name Anser caerulescens, is a bird which breeds in the Arctic during summer but migrates south each winter. In the state of Washington flocks of the birds can be found in Snohomish, Island, Skagit, and Whatcom counties as well as on the Oregon border in Clark County.

I went scrambling to find out more information about the Snow Goose after witnessing them last week near Mount Vernon. First the facts about the birds from the Infallible Wikipedia:

“The snow goose has two color plumage morphs, white (snow) or gray/blue (blue), thus the common description as ‘snows’ and ‘blues’. White-morph birds are white except for black wing tips, but blue-morph geese have bluish-grey plumage replacing the white except on the head, neck and tail tip. The immature blue phase is drab or slate-gray with little to no white on the head, neck, or belly. Both snow and blue phases have rose-red feet and legs, and pink bills with black tomia (‘cutting edges’), giving them a black ‘grin patch’. The colors are not as bright on the feet, legs, and bill of immature birds. The head can be stained rusty-brown from minerals in the soil where they feed. They are very vocal and can often be heard from more than a mile away.”

The Infallible Wikipedia also informed me that there are approximately 5 MILLION birds of breeding age which migrate from the Arctic to some 15 distinct areas of the United States each winter.

In the Skagit Valley, according to the Audubon Society, there are upwards of 55,000 snow geese which spend the winter (Mid-October to early May)  feeding on the decaying plants and roots left in the fertile fields. Additionally, approximately 8,000 Trumpeter and 2,000 Tundra Swans are also found near Mount Vernon.

The hubby and I ventured out last Thursday to see if we could find one of the flocks of the snow geese. In less than 10 miles from our home, we encountered a large group gathered just west of I-5 near to Conway. First, a word of caution, DO NOT under any circumstance stop along the Interstate to view the birds, as tempting as it may be. We were along a secondary road but saw a Washington State Patrolman stop to give a freeway bird gawker a bit of friendly advice.

We parked our car but even before we opened one of the doors we heard them: squawking and honking in their unique language. The noise overwhelms and defines the experience.  I had no idea how mesmerizing it would be to watch the birds. From a distance, the geese seemed stationary. As we observed from up close, however, the flock seemed to be marching north, as they pecked at bits of leftover plant materials in the fallow ground. Then, as if by command, they turned and marched south, the strong wind ruffling their feathers and making it difficult to walk.

When, a short distance to the west, a train rumbled by and it’s loud horn sounded, the collective was disturbed and suddenly hundreds of birds fluttered into the air, ascending in a group and spiraling up and off to the west. It was, my hubby claimed as he compared it to the famous Albuquerque Balloon Festival, “Mass Ascension, Mount Vernon style.” The first group was followed by another which was followed by third and yet a fourth after that. Soon, only a small portion of the birds remained. And still we watched.

“Look, over there,” my hubby said some ten minutes later and pointed to the southwest.

Sure enough a dark blotch in the sky grew bigger and then we could make out hundreds of individuals all headed our way. Their arrival was quieter than their departure. Each bird, as it landed among the others, seemed like a graceful ballerina, wings spread to form an umbrella on either side, feet and legs outstretched, as each animal floated to earth.

return of the geese

Like airborne ballerinas they stretch their wings wide to land.

The geese descended in flocks numbering in the hundreds. Wave after wave of the snow geese landed among the group already on the ground with each bird somehow finding a bare plot which they could occupy only to resume their marching up and down the fields.

It was with great reluctance that we departed that afternoon. But the experience only whetted my appetite for more. I have my sights set on next visiting the main area where the Tundra and Trumpeter swans gather at a spot called DeBay Slough just to the northeast of Mount Vernon. After that it may be in search of Eagles whose presence is felt among the geese as the former cull the flocks of the sick and weak. Up the North Cascades Highway (SR 20) at Rockport is the Bald Eagle Interpretive Center, open on weekends for people to learn and to view.

After the Snow Goose encounter I came away with one very clear thought. I now live in a magical place. From the tulip fields in the spring, to the ever changing and interesting Skagit River, to the thousands of birds in the winter, there is no shortage of things to see and do here in Mount Vernon.

I was unable to get my own video’s uploaded but found this one on the internet and, as far as I can tell, this is the same spot where we watched the birds last Thursday.

A bunch of links for those who want to visit and see the birds:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snow_goose

http://www.mountvernonchamber.com/visitor-news/bird-watchers-paradise-peak-season-right-now-for-eagles-snow-geese-swans-in-mount-vernon/

https://wdfw.wa.gov/lands/wildlife_areas/skagit/

http://www.seattleaudubon.org/Birdweb/bird/tundra_swan?tab=3

http://skagiteagle.org/viewing-sites/