Solstice Snapshot: Salmon(non)berries, Elderberries, and Kids in the Shrubbery

At long last, after one of the coldest, wettest springs on record, it’s solstice time in Seattle! The sunset has rolled over to the north end of the Olympics, and after a deliciously slow fade, overnight the horizon light seems to just shift slightly around north until the glow reaches its sunrise location. We Seattleites live for this time of year.

So what’s up in my urban wildland at this end of the ecliptic ellipse?

Savory salmonberries! Their deep pink flowers were duly fertilized by insects and probably that lively little rufous hummingbird I regularly saw defending his territory around here, and now they’re hanging temptingly from the shrubbery along the trails.

Salmonberries

They taste like sunrise, and aren’t actually berries in the technical sense—each berry’s seeds come from multiple ovaries—but somehow “salmonaggregatefruit” doesn’t have quite the ring that “salmonberry” does, so I’m going to keep calling them salmonberries.

Elderberries, which actually are berries because each fruit comes from a single ovary, are just now beginning to acquire their gorgeous red color. At this point, before they’re ripe, they look sort of like a flopped-over, decorated Charlie Brown Christmas tree.

Ripening red elderberry

Once the berries fill out and the cluster gets heavy, I always love to feel its tickle in the palm of my hand. And there’s something so satisfying about running my fingers through that jumble of tiny red balls.

The flickers have just fledged, the young pileated woodpeckers are expanding their range beyond their nest hole, and the mother hawk is feeding her as-yet-invisible babies regularly, tail high above the nest’s edge as she tilts in with scraps of prey. Any day now I’m hoping to see a baby head or two up there in that secret place of theirs in the tall thin tree.

I’m always on the lookout for my own good secret places in my park, ones that offer some privacy, a fairly comfortable log that’s more or less horizontal, and a reasonable prospect of seeing birds. Yesterday I was poking around a cleared area near the salmonberries, and saw a nice log toward the back, behind some sprouting Himalayan blackberry plants. With the forest behind me, the blackberries to screen me from the major trail, and a view around the cleared area to trees where I’d seen chickadees, fox sparrows, and hawks, I figured it might make a good sitting spot. So I parked there with my notebook out to jot down some descriptions of the elderberries.

Soon I heard voices along the smaller trail to my right: two children and two young mothers. Their chatter faded as they walked south, and I went back to my field book—but not for long before first a small face and then a larger one appeared through a gap in the trees, asking each other whether the overgrown path they were bushwhacking through actually made it to the clearing.

Children! Exploring the forest, making their way along tiny hidden tracks, excited about seeing what came next! Even with all the time I spend in the park, I almost never see this, and I felt so encouraged. The kids weren’t entirely on their own, which would’ve been even more hopeful, but at least these terrific mothers were letting the kids take the lead, scratches and all. If we’ve got kids scrambling through the shrubbery, getting to know a place and building an intimate relationship with it, there’s hope for our ecological future.

 

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