For the Curious

Have you ever wondered about invasive stowaways in Puget Sound?

Or maybe wanted some information on Red Tides and a good photo of one?

And why is Salish Sea slime vital for shorebirds? What IS Salish Sea slime?

What’s the effect of underwater noise on our marine animals?

Do killer whales really attack porpoises?

Toshiba Digital Camera

Moon snail shell and part of a moon snail egg case, Liberty Bay

Here’s your chance to find answers to all the above questions plus lots more information about Puget Sound (and, often, the whole Salish Sea) at one site–the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound,

When I opened it a few days ago, the first thing that caught my eye was a tweet from someone reporting that the first invasive green crab I’d been hearing about lately in the news had been caught in Puget Sound, in the waters off San Juan Island. Since then, I’ve seen it reported in the news media. This is current information!

The site was launched in 2012 and is geared toward scientists and policy makers at the local, state, and federal level, but it’s also available to anyone interested in what lives in the waters of Puget Sound and the health status of those waters.

I found the recent articles on the first page most interesting–the home page opens to recently published ones. The magazine, Salish Sea Currents, found in the menu across the top also features a lot of current articles. I found the “Species” section difficult to use. And I mistakenly thought I could identify the shoreline habitat in front of my house by using the identification chart in the “Shoreline Habitats” section. It lists 95 different kinds of shoreline habitats in Puget Sound!

I’ve really missed seeing sea stars on our beaches, so I looked for an update on Sea Star Wasting Disease–I’ve been hearing that the sea stars were coming back. All I found was an article about the disease, no recent information. Perhaps with a little more practice, I would have more success with these research challenges.

The Encyclopedia of Puget Sound is yet one more site to put on your “Favorites” list for browsing now or later.

Crawling Backwards

“Architecture is inhabited sculpture.” — Constantin Brancusi

Maybe you and I are not that far from the cave? A few steps perhaps?

When I was five or six years old, we lived in a house that had an old barn, but I have no memories of it, although I do recall the ladder leading up to the hayloft. That ladder called my name any time I wandered near it.

What I do remember is a very small, shabby shed out behind the barn. Dusty dirt floor. No windows. Light leaking in between the siding boards. A little dark, but not scary dark, although I never dared go out there after the sun set. It became a favorite play spot. I have a vague memory of one of us being in trouble for starting a fire there. It was our space, small, intimate, and the big people never ventured out there. We accumulated small treasures and furnishings there–a couple of chipped cups for the “kitchen,” some broken toys, a row of very valuable rocks.

Last summer we walked the beach at the Point No Point Lighthouse and passed some seven or eight driftwood creations. Every 30 to 50 feet would be another unique structure–never a driftwood animal or sculpture, never a tower, but always a small cabin-like structure we could walk or crawl into. Some of them were tall enough to allow us to stand upright in them.

Driftwood sculpture at another Salish Sea site--a Bellingham Bay beach.

Driftwood sculpture at another Salish Sea site–a Bellingham Bay beach.

Like a sandy subdivision, they lined up in a row down the beach. Days like that restore my faith in people. Why? They stood upright, unguarded and unprotected. Even though they were fragile (no nails, of course), they stood! No one had come along and knocked them down, one by one, just for the heck of it.

Unfortunately it wasn’t more than a couple of weeks later that someone lit one on fire (I choose to believe it was an accident) and during a summer that was way too hot and dry, it created considerable problems for the fire department.

Something draws us back into the tight, small, warm spaces. Like babies playing with cardboard cartons, like the architects of tree houses and playhouses, like tent designers, like my friend Jean’s beloved little domed “Turtle” she pulls behind her car, we crawl back into the cave. It makes me wonder if the architects and buyers of the current Monster Houses might be misguided.


I have lived nearly all my life beside water. Growing up in the Flathead Valley of Montana, I could run back through the pasture, beyond the grove of birch trees and scoot down the clay bank to the Stillwater River. We four kids learned to swim in that river. We waded to the other side at the rapids and we built rafts from scrap wood.

Now I live on a saltwater bay of the Salish Sea. I walk the road along its mud and gravel shore almost daily and sometimes drop down to the beach to see what washed in on the last tide. I pick up bits of twisted driftwood and colored sea glass. I’m on a small, rather enclosed bay, so I’ve never found glass floats, but I did find a new smelting net last year. The pole was five feet long, the net another three feet across. I felt like I had caught a trophy fish, and still am thinking about mounting it on the side of my garage. One summer I found a big, beat-up, wooden Adirondack-style lawn chair that I lugged home, one of my favorite finds.

Bodies occasionally wash ashore on Salish Sea beaches and I’ve always had just a little fear about finding one. One day on the beach when my sons were young, they came running and shouting to come see what they’d found. The tone of their voices brought up that old apprehension as I followed them. Turned out to be a water-logged briefcase, empty, except for a card identifying its owner. We dried it out and telephoned him. When he came to pick it up, he said it had been stolen while he was on a Seattle ferry run, although nothing of value was in it.

When one of my sons was 12, he found a beautiful hand-carved canoe about two and a half feet long, likely washed up on our beach as an emissary from one of the many Suquamish or S’Klallam tribal families in the area.  Now 40, he still treasures it.

Today my grand-daughters find treasures on the beach. Last summer they found a plastic juice bottle with a message tucked inside. The girls bounced with excitement. That excitement waned somewhat when we opened it–the rotten smell all but gagged all three of us. The girls stood some distance away as I read the message, written in a child’s scrawl. It was a sweet poem about a flower, “colorful, full of life, never giving up….when winter comes it goes away, till spring comes once again.” And it was signed by “A 4th grade, 10 year old girl.”

There’s nothing like finding a treasure, whether it’s a dime on the sidewalk, a marble you dig up as you’re weeding, or even a long forgotten chocolate in the cupboard. I hope you will find some treasures among the flotsam that washes in here.