Sunday, February 26, 2012

Champagne on Ice

Spring rains often swamp the Samish River with "fecal" matter that washes off fields and runs into the river.  When that happens, the State Department of Health (DOH) temporarily closes Samish Bay to shellfish harvesting.

As a result of multiple bay closures during past spring months, the DOH reclassified Samish Bay from "Approved" to "Conditionally Approved."  This means if the river rises by a certain level, the DOH automatically closes the bay.

Then, Skagit County employees or Storm Team volunteers must quickly take water samples, test them, and send the results to Olympia the next day.  When pollution levels are within the safe range, the bay will be reopened.  It will remain closed until the water and the shellfish are safe.

On March 1 a four-month clock starts running to measure the success of the Clean Samish Initiative's (CSI) massive clean-up effort.  Restoration of the "Approval" status in Samish Bay in 2012 will be achieved if the following ground rules are satisfied by July 1:

(1)  There must be "normal" rainfall during that 4-month period.

(2)  There must be at least 6 times when rain makes the river rise enough to cause an automatic closure by the DOH.

(3)  There can only be one bay closure due to pollution levels in the river.  If there are more, all bets are off and the bay will not be upgraded this year.

What's going on with CSI and the Samish River over the next four months is critical and complex, and Skagit Leeks has a front row seat.

The DOH will upgrade Samish Bay to "Approved" only if it rains enough and the river rises often enough to demonstrate that efforts to clean up pollution sources in the watershed have been successful.

Everyone following the Saga of the Samish the last few years wants the CSI Team to be successful and Samish Bay to be upgraded.  The upgrade will signify the river is cleaner, the bay is cleaner, there will be fewer closures to shellfish harvesting.

We at Skagit Leeks have put some champagne on ice and hope to pop the cork and toast the success of the CSI Team on July 1.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Looking for Agates

You can always spot an avid agate hunter among any group of beach walkers.  Those who have come to enjoy the ambiance look out at the water or up at the sky as they stroll along that sandy, rocky skirt at the water's edge.  The agate hunter walks slowly into the sunlight, cap brim pulled down to soften the glare, eyes scanning back and forth among the rocks.

These glossy, waxy stones are swept along by oceans and rivers, tumbled over and over before waves carry them high onto the shore and leave them behind.  It's been quite a journey.  Those two agates pictured above are actually a micro crystalline variety of silica formed inside lava flows billions of years ago.

Most agate hunters don't particularly care about the scientific properties of these little gems.  We simply want to find one, and then another, feeling their waxy "softness" with our fingertips before slipping them into a waiting pocket.

Sooner or later the looking becomes addictive.  Even when walking in a beautiful place on a perfect day ... the head drifts down and experienced eyes once again begin to scan the rocky path stretching out ahead.

At the end of the day, pockets are emptied and contents spill onto the table.

This pile of shiny stones is our reward for missing the gulls lazily drifting on the breeze; kingfishers staying underwater until it seems their lungs would burst; sunlight coloring the edge of the beach like a luminous highlighter.

After years of looking, it is still a thrill to spot one tucked away, just waiting to be found.  Since most agates are small, sooner or later the avid hunters talk about the "big ones" they found on this beach or that one.  My prize finds are pictured below with a few of the more normal-sized ones.

And what do we do with them all?  We put them in jars.  It starts by filling a single clear glass jar or vase with these shiny stones.  Soon another jar is filled and then another one.  Defying logic, all agates found must be kept ... until containers full of them accumulate, lining window sills and serving as bookends.

Some people believe agates have metaphysical properties including protection, strength, and harmony.  Others, like me, believe they're simply fun to find.

Where is your favorite place to look for these shiny treasures?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Where's the Beef?

Remember this picture from the January 29th post, "Red Herrings in the Samish"?

Here's the scoop on the project.  It cost $20,000 to put in the culvert, 1200 feet of fencing, and 300 plants ... to keep 2 (t-w-o) horses from pooping in a ditch.

After all the hoopla made by Clean Samish Initiate (CSI) members over this project (colored pictures in brochures, bus tours, etc.), surely the ditch must head directly to the Samish River, right?

Nope.  Take a look at the map.

The red "X" is the property with the two horses.  The ditch goes into one end of Cranberry Lake (marked "pond" on the map).  Then Swede Creek flows out of the lake and travels a good three miles before it empties into the Samish River.

So, why do all the CSI Folks make such a big deal about this one project completed back in 2010?

Is it possible it's the only thing they've done?

How about showing us improvements that would make a real difference, like this spot with plenty of livestock grazing right above the banks of the Samish River?

There's the river on the right side of the picture below.  Look at that mud.

Here's another look.  Guess where the heavy spring rains are going to wash this muddy mess.  Right into the Samish River.

Talk about a chance to stop pollution in its tracks!

These are the "before" pictures from last spring.  It's been almost a year, CSI Folks.  Where are the colorful "after" pictures?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

I Feel Good about Squash

This has not always been the case.  In the past, any dish made with squash was to be avoided, lest the mushy mixture should make me gag.

With age comes many things, including a growing fondness for squash ... especially baked Acorn Squash with butter and brown sugar or raw Zucchini in salads.

Then, an intriguing recipe popped up on my radar, containing something new to me -- Butternut Squash -- that looks like this when you buy them:

And like this when you cut them open:

While preparing the new recipe, I discovered this lovely yellow stuff is quite delicious raw.  It's crunchy and nutty flavored, as well as being filled with vitamins, carotenoids, and antioxidants.

Research revealed that the word "squash" comes from the Narragansett language (belonging to Native Americans living in Rhode Island long ago) and means "a green thing eaten raw."

In fact, squash was one of the "Three Sisters" planted by Native Americans:  corn, beans and squash.  Is it a fruit or a vegetable?  Experts say it is both, since it's considered a vegetable when used in cooking, but because it has seeds it's technically a fruit.

The bottom line is the deep yellow/orange flesh of Butternut Squash tastes great in a recipe for "Tortellini with Butternut Squash" originally found in Real Simple and modified by swapping out the mushrooms for sweet Italian sausage.

The surprisingly tasty ingredient in this recipe is the squash, which is cut into chunks, seasoned with salt and pepper and sage, tossed in olive oil, and then baked on a cookie sheet quickly in a hot oven until it looks like this:

Check out the recipe HERE.

This dish will provide the entree for another Birthday Dinner at my house next weekend, served with a shrimp, avocado and fennel salad ... and topped off with a luscious Limoncello Cake.

How do you like your squash?