YOU’RE SPEEDING ALONG A CITY HIGHWAY and catch a glimpse of distinctive, bushy green in a ravine. Sword Fern, your quick mind says, moving on to the grocery list or that looming queue of emails.
Or you’ve slowly walked up a mountain trail through Limber Pine, sun on your shoulders, and you notice a funny sound overhead, catch a flit of motion that reveals itself to be a gray-headed, black-winged bird studiously digging into a pinecone. Who? You’re not sure, but you’re mesmerized by the motion, the action, the subtle sounds, the tan flecks of cone-scale that drift down.
For both of these situations we created Cascadia Field Guide, which gathers into thirteen communities 128 iconic and endemic beings of the Cascadia bioregion, a vast area stretching from Southeast Alaska down to Northern California, from the Pacific coast east to the Rockies. This collection is an invitation to slow down and more deeply consider familiar beings like Sword Fern, near ubiquitous of this region, and to be introduced to lesser-known residents, like Clark’s Nutcracker.
How do we come to appreciate and know anything or anybody? Not just through information. Sound, touch, story, imagination, and wonder bring us together, and this is the purpose of Cascadia Field Guide. Science, meet art and literature. Mind, meet heart and body.
The folio of nine beings published for the first time here introduces you to this new sensory, playful, heartful “feel guide” (a term J. Drew Lanham invented to describe this book). Story-rich descriptions of the natural and cultural histories of each being are accompanied by original poems and visual art.
When Claire Emery spends hours carving the woodblocks that she uses to make her prints, the image she makes holds not only beauty but also a sense of caring time. When Jane Wong considers how she and Bushy-Tailed Woodrat are similar in their hardiness and how they are maligned, her poem wakes us up to a new way of knowing. Chloey Cavanaugh’s graphic formline design expressions of Tidewater Glacier beings inspire us to see this community in relationship to millennia of Tlingit presence. Prageeta Sharma’s poem about Chukar, a being introduced to Cascadia’s eastern regions from Pakistan for sport hunters, reminds us that coming from “away” doesn’t mean we can’t come to belong.
We invite you to forge your own connections with the art, poems, and stories here and with the beings they dance with. We invite you into relationship with Cascadia—as a visitor, a recently arrived resident, or a generations-deep dweller. The creation of this book allowed us to forge new bonds with a place that we know and love. We hope it invites you to do the same.
|Rocky Mountain Snail
LOOK AND LISTEN FOR MOUNTAIN BEAVER at dawn or dusk in the damp, western lands of Cascadia. Tune your ear for gentle, purring queries. Peer into dim light and watch for the tremble of a tender green shoot. If the bough falls and disappears—tug, tug, tug!—into a burrow, you’ve seen Mountain Beaver at work storing bits of Fern, Alder, or other delicacies in one chamber of the intricate underground home they have built, and that’s most likely all you’ll see. Mountain Beaver is secretive and fairly nocturnal in urban areas, although in wilder spaces they forage and nap throughout the day and night.
Mountain Beaver’s preference for tree seedlings may be unpopular with domestic gardeners and the logging industry, but there is much to appreciate about Mountain Beaver. Unchanged for forty thousand years, this large member of the rodent family is about the size, shape, and weight of a standard toaster (three pounds), with brown fur, a short tail, delicate hands of tender pink skin, and curved claws. Mountain Beaver’s underground lair can range over half an acre and contains chambers for food storage, sleep, and latrines. Another amazing fact? Mountain Beaver hosts the world’s largest Flea (Hystrichopsylla schefferi), which, unlike other Fleas, is picky and wants only Mountain Beaver as their host.
Traditionally, people hunted Mountain Beaver in the spring and traded their furs. One of Mountain Beaver’s many names, Suwellel (or Sewellel) comes from Lewis and Clark, who both
mistranslated and misunderstood the Chinook word for the robe made from Mountain Beaver’s skins, which is called Shewal-lal in Chinook jargon (Mountain Beaver is called Ogwoolal by the Chinook, Showt’l by the Nisqually, Squallal by the Yakimas, and Netate by the Tolowas of Northern California). The robe is not the being! Other names for this being are Boomer, Chehalis, and Kick Willy. Why Mountain Beaver for a creature who does not live wholly in the mountains nor is beaver-like? That is your story to invent.
Inside the Terrarium
At the edge is how I think of it,
our house overlooking a forest
hemmed by a low fence and signs
reminding us to protect the wetland, heart
of its own community. Coyote
and bird songs echo through the alders, frogs chorus
the stream. Bobcats strut along the fence
when they are so inclined, sometimes wandering
into the spaces we’ve claimed.
I wonder about you, mountain beaver—misnamed ancient,
elusive survivor. Is it you whose chatter and squealing rises up
from the underbrush on evenings when the windows
are open to the dampening air?
Do you burrow beneath the stubborn clay
I’ve amended for my peonies? Do you scoff
at my young habitation, you who have wandered
among oreodonts and sabre-tooth cats, witnessing
civilizations rise, gnawing on ferns as they crumbled. Which of us
is animal, compromising root systems as we forage,
mapping networks of roads, laying waste stretches
of seedling? You see the suburb best, our webs of pipe and wire,
the somber concrete and layers of lawn and lilacs, our garish
structures, their jaundiced lights blinking on just as you begin
your night rounds. I wonder about you, eyeing us,
how we spiral beyond the glass.
ANY SHADY, MOIST, CONIFEROUS forest not too high above sea level in Cascadia might hold Sword Fern’s thigh-high bundles of dark, leathery, evergreen leaves that stand like a strange bird buried in the ground but for an upthrust, brushy, quivering tail. In dry weather, the fronds—due to their rusty spores, which are a favorite food of Mouse—have a distinctive smell, not unlike the dust of sanded wood; in spring, the early growth pops up and unspools more than unfurls.
Sword Fern has never been favored for food by Humans, except for their rhizomes in spring, but Sword Fern’s fronds work well as flooring or bedding and can be used as a layer in traditional pit ovens or for storage. Sword Fern is known in many Coast Salish cultures as pala-pala plant because of a children’s game in which the contest is to see who can pull the most leaflets off a stem in a single breath while saying “pala” with each one. This game helped train young Nuu-chah-nulth and others to hold their breath, a skill essential in diving to harvest Bull Kelp.
There are at least six Polystichum species in Cascadia, but Western Sword Fern is the most abundant. Rusty-orange bumps of reproductive sporangia (spore cases) line the undersides of Sword Fern’s leaves, looking like some wild version of candy dots on strips of paper. Sword Fern takes time maturing, and spores are not produced until Sword Fern is one to five years of age; then the hearty, wind-borne bits disperse in the millions.
Near Vashon Viewpoint
—Point Defiance Park
On the afternoon walk past the culvert
and its signature of small stones, the hill
is a shady mound of sword ferns
lapping at the boles of moss-shagged maple,
second-growth fir, and nurse stumps
big as VW bugs. At the road’s edge,
another old man stands, watches
his white-eyed chocolate lab
romp through waist-high fronds
as my springer, as she did yesterday
and will tomorrow, tugs me into
that rustly jungle, her nose to the ground.
What is it about dogs and sword ferns?
I ask my almost twin. He laughs,
says his dog is blind, says
it’s all about the mice.
IN EASTERN INDIAN MYTHOLOGY, Chukar is a symbol of deep love. In the history of Cascadia, Chukar is a relative newcomer who was first brought to North America from Pakistan in the late 1800s as a game bird, and has become a familiar voice in the Eastern Rivers community.
Chukar got their name from their song: Chuck-chuck-chuck-chukar! They sing to welcome the morning sun: Squee. They sing to wish it goodnight in the evening. They sing wheetu before (and often during) flight. They may even sing chukara-chukarachukara, to rally their covey, alerting each other to a coming storm or predator.
Find Chukar hanging out with Desert Parsley (whose seed, along with leaves, berries, and insects, they love to eat) and dashing through Sage. Dashing is precisely the right word, for Chukar was born to run. Though Chukar adults are capable in the air, their real strength is held on the ground. Hatchlings are unable to fly at all. Instead, they use a technique known as wing-assisted incline running. Young Chukar, all orange legs and granite-colored feathers, turns uphill and starts running and flapping. Though this may seem comical and somewhat endearing, it is also a lesson in the evolution in flight. Two theories exist: birds learned flight “tree down” or “ground up.” Chukar assures some scientists that ground up is the way ancestors learned to fly, as running while flapping was a faster way to scramble up steep inclines. Though the jury is still out, Chukar doesn’t seem to be changing style. This hardy, hard-to-find being can easily outrun a hunter.
The rocky slopes, canyons, and otherwise arid regions that Chukar calls home require Chukar to take advantage of all water sources. They’ve been known to go into mine shafts, sometimes ten feet belowground, seeking a sustaining drink. To see Chukar is to see a Quail-like being with orange-brown and slate upperparts and breast, black-and-rufous-barred white flanks, and a white face with a deep black eyeline. Chukar’s bill and legs are the color of sunsets. Though we lack their speed and beautiful plumage, we can try on some of Chukar life. Outstretch your arms, and flap as you run uphill, duck through Sage and around boulders, sing wheetu, and know that you, too, have celebrated the Chuk-Chuk-Chukar!
—for Bakirathi Mani
I find my kinship with a Chukar, a steadfast walker like myself.
I’m thinking of her and how we tend
to our loved ones, as they hurtle out of time.
For my flight I’m only now committing to driving,
to get him to the hospital.
I’m not straying too far from water, finding
him the nourishment to fight this rare cancer.
I have learned the inset of emancipation,
and how to fight the insuperable pain of unbelonging
and being unforgiven in certain communities.
A Chukar will emigrate to the air with chatter,
or a cry for protection, and yet have the clarity
to stay strong in this face.
I too, with my South Asian origin,
came west and stayed put,
Montana and now further west to California.
Looking up from the ground, the freckled plains,
sprite mountains of dry earth.
We are both red-legged partridges
feeling out all the migrational mantras.
I’m trying to heal him from illness’s grip.
I try to say my father’s mantra but it’s a mouthful
and it’s fifteen minutes long. In our scrub, he and I consider
both our health and surroundings,
our apparent fact of faith needed, and how this imperial world
with its incessant and “disorienting” Big Pharma, clinical trials,
hospitals with “hope” brimming over in branding,
won’t give me any respite images with which to identify.
Stay steadfast to the winged one and how it practices
a running hop to nest tending, with pinyon and keeping.
BEING A BUSHY-TAILED WOODRAT (or Pack Rat by another name) gets a bad rap but is actually pretty awesome. You can collect sticks and bones and pine cones, bits of rope and leather, feathers, Owl pellets, paper, and anything else you find interesting. As Pack Rat, you will stack these treasures and then, well . . . piss on them, both marking your territory and, once the urine crystalizes, fortifying the walls of your hidden home with cement-like strength.
Scientists studying Pack Rat homes have learned much about history. In southcentral Idaho, at the City of Rocks, middens date back forty-five thousand years. The contents of these middens create a picture of local ecology, past and present, and even give clues about the role wildfire has played over time.
Your house, Woodrat, may be in a Human-made place. It may be in a cave or rockslide or a similar crevice. You’ll be called Bushy-tailed by some, and then, by others who know you well, a Trade Rat, for sometimes as you carry a treasure home, a better one presents itself, and you trade. What findings aren’t used in homebuilding are eaten. On the menu will be plant parts: Pine’s needles and cones, leaves, fungi, and all sorts of fruits and berries. One southeastern Idaho study found that you may enjoy Cactus, Grasses, Vetch, Juniper Berries, and Sagebrush too. Throw in Spider, Centipede, and maybe even Scorpion, and you have a regular Pack Rat buffet! Conversely, Pack Rat can be pretty tasty to some others. Because they tend to like the nightlife, Woodrat shows up on the menus of Weasel, Fox, Bobcat, Coyote, and most significantly, Spotted Owl.
Pack Rat weighs about the same as a full can of beer, is about the same size, and is covered in brown to gray fur with a streak of white underbelly from chin to bottle-brush tail (hence “bushy-tailed”). Pack Rat is promiscuous: both males and females prefer the company of many others for breeding—a conclusion drawn not through observation but due to overlapping ranges. A litter of as many as six pups, pinkies, or kits are common, and mom can get pregnant again in six hours. Being a Pack Rat means having big families—up to three litters each year. So, as you add another trinket to your treasure trove, think of Pack Rat’s discerning eye.
|I was born in the year of
|the wood rat, the first
|in the zodiac. At the hospital,
|my mother held me up, eyes
|whirling a planet into being.
|I did not cry. I did not blink.
|Some golden hunger stirred
|within me, thunderous. My mother
|told the nurses: she knows
|too much. The bushy-tailed
|wood rat is born with its eyes
|shut. Fifteen days later,
|the coldest fog licks its eyes
|clean. A group of wood rats is
|sometimes called a swarm
|or a plague. I think about what we
|fear, what we will ourselves
|to fear. The stink of worry lines
|for whatever dwells deeper
|than we can see. Fear of dirt, disease,
|something coming in we
|want out. Wood rats in your car
|engine, in your attic, in
|the soft wooden folds of night.
|During the pandemic, were
|you afraid of me? Did you want me
|out? Such hate makes me
|heart sick, slumped in the bluest
|bathwater. Wood rats drum
|their feet when alarmed. Beat of
|my heart, thumping, trilling
|earthy measures. According to the zodiac,
|wood rats are charming,
|quick witted, clairvoyant. Also,
|survivors. Let us tell you
|a future then. In the future, our nests
|will shimmer with so much
|gleaming gold, you will finally see
|what has been here all
BEARGRASS IS THE RACIEST PLANT in the Montane community. Showy, certainly, with tall white stalks
streaking into the summer sky, but also exquisitely feminine. Many have said that to look down at blooming Beargrass is to see a white breast and nipple. Seems apropos. This being, with a once-in-a-lifetime bloom stalk that holds up to four hundred small milky flowers, feeds hundreds of forest insects—even though they only bloom for a mere five or so days. Perhaps Beargrass should also be called Mothergrass, as mothering is an obvious trait of this being. People have long used Beargrass fiber for clothing and the roasted rhizomes for food, and Eastern Plains tribes use the roots to treat sprains.
Beargrass is not an actual Grass but in fact a type of Lily. The leaves are fodder for Bighorn Sheep, Deer, Elk, and Mountain Goat. And though this being has been given many names, from Soap Grass to Basket Grass, to describe their many uses, the favorite moniker of the Montane remains Beargrass, for Brown Bear has been known to bring these leaves into their winter dens.
When we see these beings on rocky slopes, dry ridges, or in open coniferous woods, and when they survive moderate fire and grow back quickly to help prevent soil erosion and regenerate a site, maybe this breast of a bloom is reminding us of the many ways this plant is, in fact, a mother, and to give her some love right back.
How many times did I see your arching
fountains of olive blades before I knew
your name? Even then, how long did it take
before I recognized what a mistake
it is to describe you with words given
to us by men on an expedition
who saw only your resemblance to their
experience? They had not learned enough
to know your tufts were not grass at all. How
often had I witnessed you in this form—
tussocks tenacious enough to endure
drought and frost—before I found myself struck
by luck: a whole meadow of your many
bodies, tall stalks rising into clusters
of cream flowers blooming from the bottom
up? Even now, I cannot detail each
way I perceived you: pale breasts with tightly
budded nipples, mounds of marshmallow fluff,
cotton swabs, fields of froth, fireworks fizzling
as they burst, haute couture of delicate
lacework. Each likeness falls short, does not praise
how you’re the first to arrive after fire,
how your rhizomes survive mudslides to sprout
bounties of green shoots, how you wait years for
just the right amount of rain to blossom,
to adorn some unsuspecting clearing
with your brash display. How often will I
pass through the same stretch and never again
catch—no, be caught by—such exuberance?
I still come across your seas of verdant
puffs, let them brush my knees. Now, I call you
quip-quip, a term whose exact sense I can’t trace
but on its face suggests the joke’s on me,
wishing for what’s past, stumbling on wonder
once and believing I can make it last.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN SNAIL
LOOK DOWN AT THE TRAIL. The forest floor. Turn over a leaf, perhaps. Do you see a slow-moving being? That’s Rocky Mountain Snail. You’ll know them by the shell, the earthy color and relaxing spirals, and the fact that a nickel could hide them. Get on your knees and greet Snail. Once they get comfortable, the head will emerge. Now you can examine the ocular and olfactory tentacles as they see and smell you. With just one foot on the ground, Snail trolls the forest floor searching for detritus. This busy omnivorous scraper (Snail eating is called scraping) isn’t a picky eater; they’ll rasp through the waste of any organic nature. They are, after all, professionals in the field of decay.
Snail works in this way: slow and solo. Snail takes up to a week, moving constantly, to go about a half mile. And perhaps because they have little time to waste on the frivolity of mating, when two Snails meet, each can leave the union fertilized by the other and ready to lay eggs since they are hermaphrodites. As for homemaking? No annual nest or den for them; they pack their homes along with them as they travel.
All that toil can prove for naught if Thrush spies and makes a supper of Snail. But if they avoid their many predators, Snail can live for years (as many as five) before shrugging off their mortal (calcium carbonate) coil. And when they do, gather up that shell. Blow into it for the whistle it makes. Hold it in your hand to remind you to slow down and to watch where you step.
Treatment of Uncertainty
You called it
Hunting, the children
said, tucking vials in their
pockets to fill
with snails. Together
we tore quiet
bodies from the base
of trees, watched
as they curled back
from air. Oreohelix
you told them.
Oreohelix said our children,
and dumped them on the table
where they dried forgotten.
Occasionally one escaped, and I
found it by following—I’m sorry
I couldn’t stay,
sorry I stayed
so long, the way
a forgotten body
dries to almost
nothing, the way
escape can leave
an obvious path.
The title of this poem, “Treatment of Uncertainty,” comes from “Oreohelix strigosa cooperi (Cooper’s Rocky Mountain Snail): A Technical Conservation Assessment,” prepared for the USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region, Species Conservation Project, by Tamara Anderson, PhD.
A RUN OF EULACHON IN EARLY SPRING is an awakening throughout Cascadia. Before Salmon has returned, before Herring, Eulachon—also known as Candlefish, Ooligan, Hooligan, and Saak—arrives. People wade out into rivers with wide nets to dip for fish, or they set out traps and hooks to snare these handsized, oily, silver beings who nourish people in more ways than one. Aside from being a food source, Ooligan is also fatty enough to provide a source of light. People would—and do—travel hundreds of miles to meet Eulachon when they run in early spring. In British Columbia’s Naas River, people brave the still-iced waters to catch, share, and trade these fish—a spring bonanza after the spare months of winter for Human and non-Human alike. Hooligan runs up other big rivers in Cascadia, like the Columbia and Cowlitz, and wherever they do, people harvest them. In fact, Eulachon may well be the origin of the word Oregon.
Ooligan is prepared every way you can imagine: baked, fried, steamed, dried, and more. The oil from Eulachon, which has the same consistency as vegetable oil, is traditionally just as important as their flesh and is prized as a dipping sauce and a preservative for berries. Historically, “grease trails” deep into Cascadia’s interior allowed people to exchange Ooligan oil with inland, Athabaskan-speaking people.
Like Salmon, Eulachon spends years at sea but is born in and returns to die in freshwater rivers. Ooligan lives three to five years, and at sea is an important food for other fish, seabirds, Seal, Sea Lion, Orca, Eagle, and Bear. Near Tidewater Glaciers, they are recent arrivals, taking advantage of new streams and welcoming other beings to follow.
Before vine maple leaves
have swollen enough to unfurl,
your sliver-blue glints
leave the salty Pacific.
In flashing masses,
you surge upstream,
With welcome and praise,
with fine-gauge nets,
the people hasten to you,
alight with your life-giving fire.
WHEN SCRAMBLING OVER ROCKS, pause to examine what’s beneath your feet. It’s quite possible that the patches of gray, black, white, or green that you notice underfoot are not the rock itself, but actually lichens pasting the stone.
What’s a lichen? A rhyme will guide you: Freddie the Fungus met Alice the Algae, and they took a Lichen to each other (with some side help from Cyndi Cyanobacteria and sometimes Yanni Yeast). Lichens are incredibly complex; they’re actually a few different beings living intertwined lives. Basically, a fungus provides structure and protection from the elements, and an alga offers sugars via photosynthesis. With this pairing, a lichen is a self-sustaining organism able to thrive where most other beings cannot.
While many lichens are difficult to identify to the species level, Map Lichen is an exception. Map Lichen grows in continuous, loosely oval patches made of black circles filled with slightly raised neon-green centers spreading in a tile-like pattern.
As with many crustose lichens (lichens firmly cemented to a surface without any liftable edges), Map Lichen grows slowly and steadily, annually increasing by about one millimeter. How slow is that? For comparison, Earth’s tectonic plates move about fifty times that rate. In fact, Map Lichen’s growth is so predictable that patches of them can be used to estimate how long a given rock may have been exposed to air by glacial retreat, rockslides, or other processes. The arrival and establishment of lichen is one of the ways newly exposed rubble moves toward soil, as the lichen traps dust and provides usable nitrogen.
As with all lichens, Map Lichen is both hearty (they can survive in dormancy for long periods, withstand extremes of heat and cold or wet and dry, and exist solely from what is wafted to them through air) and vulnerable (they pick up whatever pollutants are around them).
Lichens are an indicator species for air quality: areas with poor air have a dearth of lichen
diversity, while clean air supports an abundance of different lichens. Look around, wherever you are, and consider what Lichen is telling you.
What Eats Around Itself
My great-uncle Larry was, for a minute,
the oldest living man in America at 111.
I explain DNA to my son as a code.
We have the code, he brags
to people who do not have the code,
as if we could break into the safe
of ourselves, unlock a long life.
The oldest living organism is the map lichen,
a lichen that looks like
it knows something about somewhere,
a map licking Sharpie-black.
How is the air quality index back
home? A map lichen went to space
like dog or monkey or man
and was exposed to the map-less lack
of atmosphere, and shrugged:
I felt nothing. Extremophile.
The west burns for a third summer.
My backyard is solid with smoke, a gravestone
like the ones we played on as a kid, my mom
tracking the genealogy of other families
while we hopped from grave
to grave or scraped away lichen
growing into the grooves
where names once were.
Ash from the crematorium
of the sky snows onto the Subaru.
Linnaeus called lichens the “poor peasants
of the plant world” and was wrong.
They care nothing for our likes,
which they will long out-live,
Excerpted Cascadia Field Guide: Art, Ecology, Poetry edited by Elizabeth Bradfield, CMarie Fuhrman, and Derek Sheffield (March 2023) with permission from the publisher Mountaineers Books. All rights reserved.