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Wednesday, June 4, 2003
Readers respond
Send your comments, poetry, artwork, ideas related to the series to

Here is a sampling of responses from readers on the Natural Wonders series. Letters have been edited for space considerations.

Yellow Island

Thank you for a beautifully written article on Yellow Island. I am the Dodd's oldest great grandchild, Dana Hall Hallahan. My first ten years of life were spent with frequent visits to Yellow. My grandparents, Joe and Sally Hall (Sally, or Sarah, is the oldest daughter of Elizabeth "Tib" Dodd), had a sailboat and would take us up there to visit Great Grandma Dodd. When I was eight and my brother was six, they took us up there for a whole week and we stayed in the smaller guest cabin. Our days were spent on the spit, collecting little treasures and exploring the tide pools. We slept on the floor and each night our grandparents would read to us or tell us stories. We really wanted to have a campfire, but our grandma would explain to us how easily the whole island could burn down just from a few sparks. Instead, we would sit out on the beach at night and look for shooting stars.

I spent my first birthday on Yellow in the summer of 1971, right outside of the main cabin. I went up when my great grandmother's ashes were sprinkled over on the hillside, when the wildflowers were in full bloom. She was a lovely, lovely woman, a gentle spirit. She would always greet us when she saw us coming - always glad to see the great grandkids. Now I tell my own two children stories of my childhood visits to Yellow Island and their great great grandma Tibby.

Although it was hard to understand as a child why we had to sell Yellow, as an adult I am so thankful that the family chose to sell it to The Nature Conservancy. It truly is a gem, you are absolutely right. Nothing quite compares to Yellow!

Many thanks,
Dana Hallahan

Basalt columns

Thanks for the story about the Bretz floods. It's a fascinating story, both about the events themselves and the land we've inherited as well as about the history of scientific understanding of those events.

It may have been that Pardee, having understood the existence of Lake Missoula in about 1911, sat in Bretz' presentation in either 1923 or 1927 (thereabouts) and knew, as he listened, the source of the waters that Bretz could not explain at that time. Pardee did not rise to his feet and explain what he knew in that meeting. Allen and Burns (Cataclysms on the Columbia, 1986) may present that historical tidbit. Alt (Glacial Lake Missoula, 2002) presents an orderly account of both the history of geology's sleuthing and the evidence supporting the repeated flooding 13,000,000 to 15,000,000 years ago. Alt and Hyndman (Northwest Exposures, 1995) describe the geological development of the Pacific Northwest. In their account, from the formation of the Earth until now, the Lake Missoula floods are virtually the last chapter in the book! Imagine the Cascade Mountains arriving as islands from the west, the Okanagan plateau before that.

Paul, Bellevue

Great little science story on J. Harlen Bretz and J.T. Pardee, it captures the flavor of this gutsy style of Eastern Washington science. It brought back fond memories of puzzlement that I experienced as a kid in Spokane.

At Salk Jr. High, we had a set of basalt columns as decor in front of our school. I remember wondering why all the exposed basalt columns and hard unforgiving scabland around Spokane - what the heck went wrong on my side of the state compared to the other side of the Cascades over in soft mushy Seattle. Where did Spokane's topsoil go?

And then, seeing parts of the Columbia gorge at Vantage on our driving trips from Spokane to Seattle - what the heck came crashing through here to help carve this thing out - surely not just the Columbia River. It wasn't until college that I found someone over in the geology department able to give me an intelligent answer. That's when I found out about Bretz and glacial Lake Missoula.

Glacial lakes that release suddenly, it all seems like an obvious result of recent Ice Age activity but really only contemplated and documented in the last 80 years. Funny. Many people live in Spokane and Eastern Washington, but only a few of them know about the epic geologic history of the land. What a sad disconnect.

J. Scott

Good job on the Columbia Plateau flood story. I presume that space limitations forced you to shorten a fuller description of what is known to have occurred: how the richness of Palouse topsoil is largely due to silt deposited by the floods, how the Columbia Gorge owes much of its size to scouring by the floods, and the fact that not only did the Snake run backward during the floods, but that the floods also backed into the Willamette Valley and left silt there.

We can only imagine how traumatically the Columbia Basin floods may have affected early Native Americans (possibly including "Kennewick Man") in this whole area. Factoring in the data now increasingly available should help clear up ongoing controversies about the peopling of the Americas.


Thanks for writing that wonderful article on the Missoula Floods. It's well written - concise and digestible for the "average Joe." A friend of mine forwarded it to me because, after growing up in Wenatchee, he had never heard of the Missoula Floods, and I was generally annoying him with the story on our way to the Gorge for a show last fall.



I LOVED your raven article, so very entertaining. And by the way I would have taken that "let it go!" as springing the trap as well. Good job, at least you caught one!


Thanks for the wonderful article on the raven. My mother had one as a pet in Sweden during her teen years and had taught it to speak. I'm a volunteer tour guide at Wolf Haven International in Tenino and we have a group of ravens living there who try to steal meat from the wolves. It gives me the opportunity to let people know that the stories of wolf and raven have a basis in fact.


Loved your piece on ravens. If you would like to see how difficult yet truly satisfying it can be to observe this bird, check out "Ravens In Winter" by Bernd Heinrich. Unbelievable.


Thank you so much for the delightful article on raven this morning. Raven is one of my favorite birds for so many years and I know they are very very smart! When I tell people how smart they are, they (the people, not the birds!) were not convinced. I am confident that they believe me now.


Good article. Ravens are very intelligent. I was at the coast one time. I brought a lunch which I packed in the bottom of a leather backpack. On top of that lunch was stuffed clothing, binoculars, & various other items. I set the backpack in the sand & walked out about 100 feet to the edge of the water. I turned around after about a couple of minutes & saw a couple of ravens at my backpack. I immediately walked back to my backpack & those smart birds figured out how to undo the backpack, pull everything out & were munching away at my lunch. I want to know how they figured out that the lunch was in the bottom of that bag!?? I figure it was payment for being on their turf, so I gave them the remains of my lunch. They never bothered me after that.


Cool article. I especially liked, "Sharks concentrate on smell, eagles concentrate on seeing, ravens just plain concentrate."

Hope you do a follow up....and that you prove smarter than the bird that inspires you...but I won't be disappointed if that doesn't happen. They do have a couple of evolutionary centuries on us. :)


Wonderful article about the Ravens. Extremely well written.

My wife and I spent the entire summer on a bicycle/camping trek of the San Juan Islands. Crows were our constant companions. We learned to really appreciate their intelligence, cunning, and wit. The social interaction among themselves, and us was unbelievable.

One incredible event was a brief "firefight" between a Crown and an Owl (I assume over turf issues) that could have been in "Top Gun". Very violent and acrobatic.

One day while biking Lopez Island we saw two very large "Crows". I told my wife that I thought they were Ravens. I grew up in California, and definitely knew they were not Vultures.

Question: Are Ravens known to inhabit, or visit the San Juans?

Thank you


Cedar Tree

This is one of the most inspiring articles I have read in ages. I think we need to be reminded more often of the earthly wonders that surround us. It seems that in our endless search for the newest, fastest, easiest and most disposable, that we forget to appreciate and utilize the beautiful things we have. The telling of the Native American beliefs regarding the red cedar makes the connection between people and the tree so very wonderful. Thank you.


Natural Wonders series and Lynda Mapes

Have to say, though, that although I liked the cloud essay, it was her article about dunlins (December 2) that really got my attention. Her writing was just exquisite.

I look forward every week to the "Natural Wonders" article. I don't know if Ms. Mapes picks the topics, but I do know that her beautiful writing does them justice.

In an era when there's so much bad news in the paper, particularly in the environmental realm, "Natural Wonders" is a joy. THANK YOU -- and thank you for assigning this very talented and sensitive writer to this project.


The Palouse Country

Nice article, thanks. It brought back a childhood memory of years ago.

As a child in the family car traveling east through that area; I looked out the back window and I saw the song phase " for amber waves of grain."

The wind blowing through the endless fields of golden grain will forever remind me of a golden ocean. I knew then just what that beautiful song was all about.


I grew up in Pullman and left after high school. Still, after nearly 50 years, those soft and familiar hills seem like the friends and relatives I occasionally visit -- I miss them!

A cousin recently told me of driving from Pullman to Spokane to pick up a visiting author. It was the writer's first trip to Eastern Washington and he was surprisingly quiet as they headed back south to WSU.

Finally he broke the silence with this comment: "I feel like my eyes have had a massage."

Isn't that great?

Karen, Salem, Ore.

Wonderful piece on the Palouse. I'm one of those that fell in love with it while attending school (yes I went to class) at WSU. Those that see just the wheat miss a beautiful landscape where just a little bit of dirt road exploration reveals gems like Rose Creek preserve where the 'Northern Exposure' moose lived or dozens of other Ponderosa Pine oasis. Even something as 'rural' as the historic barn tour put together by the U of I architecture department is fantastic. There is so much more than wheat, I'm glad I was one of the people who discovered that.

Thanks for kicking up some of my best Palouse memories with your thoughtful writing.


Very nice job. I've lived in Moscow since 1968, and the area has grown on me, just as with some persons in your report.

I grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska and was very happy to leave heat and humidity behind. After traveling in all 50 states and 5 continents, I still think Moscow is Paradise.

One day in Seattle is enough to look elsewhere.



I've lived here in brown, dry Santa Fe for nearly thirteen years. I miss my beloved PNW for a part of every single day. The strength of the imagery in your article transported me back. Thank goodness I once had the chance to feel the joy of a mouthful of blackberries, a noseful of their fragrance, and an armful of their scratches. And thank you for a lovely article.

Patrick, Santa Fe, N.M.

I enjoyed your article re: blackberries. I too have been fascinated by these plants, which embody the good/evil paradox in every living thing. I choose to focus on the good. Have you come across anyone who has harnessed the blackberry as a beneficial, natural fence? Rather than put up some unnatural wood or metal contraption to define property lines and keep dogs and people in or out, has anyone used blackberry bushes? And did you come across anyone who is harvesting them and has techniques for improving the yield and quality of the fruit?



I absolutely LOVE blackberries. Oh sure, you get a scrape here and there. I did learn last year though that one should never go picking such berries while wearing short sleeve shirts and shorts. I have blackberry canes that sneak through the Laurel branches and arc gently downward about 5 feet off the ground. Large clusters of berries form at eye level. The funnest thing is to just wander around the yard grazing like some sort of cattle.

Blackberries are nearly as needy and dependent as say roses. I never have to use fungicide on the Blackberry canes. On my sloped hill in back they hold the soil. And I don't have to do anything to get free fruit. Let's not forget the antioxidants in blackberries.

What more could one want?

Kris Cruz

I recall that in an early Tom Robbins novel ("Another Roadside Attraction"?) he described the relentless encroachment of blackberries upon the Pacific NW, such that they would ultimately engulf and over-roof the city of Seattle.

Forrest, Seattle

I have found a way to kill them, but it is not for the faint of heart. I've cleared about an acre of them since moving in, and have scars on my arms and legs... still they come back but there are a LOT fewer of them now. And I couldn't swear to it, but I think they are afraid.

1) Cut down overhead vines with brush hook. This is something that looks like a shovel handle with a big metal hook on it. This requires a fair amount of upper body strength. If you do not have it when you start, you will when you finish.

2) Cut blackberry vines down to 1-2" of the soil using a machete. You will get cut up doing this. Hopefully only from the blackberries; I nailed myself in the leg with the machete twice, once requiring a trip to the doctor. By the second time I was hardened to such things.

3) Wait for the plant to put out new growth. (2-4 weeks.) It thinks it's survived (and it will if you let it) but here is where you get nasty.

4) Find a hardware store that carries something called Crossbow. You have to sign a form when you buy this saying that you understand that it will cause all your offspring to be deformed for five generations and that you are okay with that. Take it back to the house and mix it up in a sprayer. Outside. Well away from the house.

5) Wait for a nice clear, dry, hot day when the blackberries will be nice and thirsty, and then spray liquid death all over them. Bask in the toxic smell of doom. Shower well afterwards and wash all your clothes. I'm only half kidding about the deformed offspring.


Deception Pass

Your article is going to bring back my nightmares. (It was) 1965, our first trip in our 30 foot Owens. Memorial Day weekend with four other boats owned by friends. We spent the four days from Seattle up to the San Juans and back but going through the Swinomish on the way North. Coming back they said we were going to save time and go through Deception and no one said one word on what to expect.

Our timing was for the height of a flood tide and we were lined up to go through and I was the fifth boat. We were about fifty yards from the bridge and a boat coming from South of me cut in front of my boat and I slowed down. The next thing that happened is we hit the North wall under the bridge head on. The boat just took a quick left turn and I didn't know what to do. After some harrowing minutes we got through to the Marina inside the Pass. My wife and two young sons took it better than I, but my wife and younger son switched boats back to Seattle. We wrapped a canvas over the huge hole in the bow and as long as I kept it up on plane we stayed above the water.

For the next six months I saw that rock wall come at me, $8,000.00 damage, but we kept that boat for 25 years and went through Deception many times, but at full throttle.


Thanks for the explanation of this water wonder. I have not seen Deception Pass, but after reading your article, I will make a point to witness this natural phenomenon.

I grew up on the South Maine coast and was always fascinated by the tidal surge, tidal pools, ebb and high tides. I've seen 2 story hotels, mammoth in size, lifted out to sea in a Northeaster (1978 flooded entire waterfront of Boston!)

I now live in Alaska. I don't venture into the Bering sea without caution and aboard a reputable vessel.


Skunk Cabbage

Many thanks for the well-written and informative article on western skunk cabbage. It is one of my favorite PNW plants and not enough appreciated by local folks, in my opinion.

Bill, Mount Vernon

Can't imagine how you came up with the idea for the article, but it was outstanding. As a one-time forestry major at OSC, and now transplanted to Bethesda, MD the article brought back many good memories of the Oregon coast, the Willamette Valley, the Columbia River Gorge, and the woods in general. Thanks.


I enjoyed this article. Thanks.

I had been thinking about this plant and the article was very timely for me. I have just the perfect place for skunk cabbage.

John, Edmonds

Skunk cabbage is found much farther east than Idaho and Montana. It also grows on the East Coast where I often saw its spectacular foliage and flowers in swampy places while I was growing up in New York State.

P.S. I enjoyed your informative article very much.

Nancy, Bellingham

Pacific Treefrogs

Frog photo
Reader Linda Watson sent in this photo of a treefrog that she took in her yard on Bainbridge Island last fall.
Treefrog Serenade
By Bonnie Campbell Hill
(inspired by an article in the Seattle Times 5/6/02 by Lynda Mapes)

All winter they wait,
hunkered down in stony crevices,
eyes shining from black bandit masks,
stalking beetles with their sticky tongues,
awaiting warming weather.

Spring moon rises,
the silent pond erupts --
deafening treefrog chorus,
a veritable amphibian rock band.

Tiny froglets
as small as Hersey's kisses
converge in fishless ephemeral ponds.

Red, brown, green or mottled camouflaged bodies
answer mating calls,
gliding off into deep water.

Soon fishlike tadpoles hatch,
morphing into hopping, carnivorous, terrestrial frogs
adding their raucous refrain --
to the cacophony
of a treefrog serenade.

I really enjoyed your article on the Pacific Chorus Frog. I have an eleven year old daughter who is just crazy about frogs. We had two of them for pets. One of them just hopped right in the front door of our apartment in Kent one rainy night about a year and a half ago. My daughter named the little green thing Tenchi, after a character of a Japanese Anime series. We made a home for her in an old aquarium. It wasn't until the following spring however that we were introduced to the calling of the male of the species. We found another frog on our doorstep (this one was brown and a bit smaller than the other one) so we put it in with Tenchi. Well a few days later we were watching TV and the little guy, whom we named Nobuyuki, starts croaking. He was so loud! We couldn't believe all that noise was coming from such a little frog. I can attest to their ability to change color too. They both could change to blend in with their surroundings. Well we moved out of that apartment and let Tenchi and Nobuyuki go back to the pond. I think it was the right thing to do.

Robert and Janell

Just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your cleverly written frog article. We live across the wetlands from Sammamish River and have enjoyed them for several seasons now. It's good to know more about them! We are saving the article for future reference.


I enjoyed your article on our local tree frogs tremendously. We are lucky enough to have a small wetland pond outside our yard and, while some of our neighbors bemoan them, we adore the frogs. We look forward to their waking up every year, and miss them when they quiet down. We even phone friends and hold the phone up to the frogs' chorus. The friends think we're weird, but I think the frogs appreciate it.

Vicki, Newcastle, WA

A friend of mine just sent me a copy of your frog article. Our home is right next to a large water retention area and starting in March we began hearing the sort of sounds you're talking about. I actually collect frog memorabilia and at first enjoyed our noisy neighbors. You were sure right though when you said they go on ALL night because I've had a few sleepless nights this spring due to those darn frogs! I've gotten used to it and they seem to come and go. Now in the late summer is a completely different story! We have some sort of toad or HUGE frog that sounds like an elephant or something. When we've went out with a flashlight to investigate we've seen them--about 4-6 inches across--puffing out their cheeks and making noise! Maybe in the summer you can tell us something about those guys--it sure helped me appreciate our nearby nature when I read your info on them!

Melissa, Seattle

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