Spring in Shevlin Park

 Shevlin Park in fall. Photo: Mike Putnam

Shevlin Park in fall. Photo: Mike Putnam

My dog used to drag me around to different trails all over Central Oregon so she could smell new things while I plodded along on my weekly runs. But my pup passed away last year, so this spring I've been running in one place over and over: Shevlin Park.

I think of Shevlin as Bend's version of Portland's Forest Park. It's nowhere near as large as FP, but for a close-in natural area with lots of trails, gorgeous views, and diverse flora and fauna, it's tough to beat.

On one run early this spring, I heard a branch break up on the eastern ridge and spied a female elk. I held still and she gave me maybe 10 seconds of her time before returning to her climb. What a beauty she was!

In early May I was jogging along thinking of my mom (gone, like my dog) when I stumbled across a couple does. One stotted off, but the other stopped not 20 feet from the trail, looking at me with her mule-like ears raised. When I started walking, assuming she'd do the same in the other direction, she instead held still and swiveled her head to watch me with those big doe eyes. No, I don't think she was my mom reincarnate, but a few tears fell anyway.

On my most recent run at Shevlin, I heard my first Olive-sided Flycatcher of the season ("Quick, three beers!"), which made me laugh as it always does. (And, no, I do not know how a bird forms the "th" sound. It just does.) I also heard the sweet song of a Black-headed Grosbeak right beside the trail and saw a Lewis's Woodpecker, which is sadly in danger of extinction.

If you've read this far, let me tell you one more thing about those experiences at Shevlin. Right after I spied that elk, I saw a runner coming toward me, and I was going to tell her about the beauty right across the creek from us. Only she (the runner, not the elk) had headphones in and didn't even look at me. Same thing happened when I saw those does.

On another run, someone was playing their music out loud (not on headphones), so I couldn't hear nature at all.

I've run with headphones in too, and I've been on my cellphone while hiking many times, so I'm not casting aspersions ... much. What I can tell you is that I do those sorts of things far, far less often now because I know more about the plants and animals around me (I didn't even get to tell you about the sand lilies, penstemons, paintbrush, phacelia, and more I've already seen in bloom this spring).

Believe me, the songs, conversations, and connections you can experience with nature are far more varied and exciting than the ones you're likely to experience on your digital devices. Especially in spring and especially at Shevlin.

The Wonders of Sitting Still

 After we finally started moving again ... a view down the canyon at fading balsamroots and lots of sagebrush, thinleaf alders, mock-orange, elderberries, and more.

After we finally started moving again ... a view down the canyon at fading balsamroots and lots of sagebrush, thinleaf alders, mock-orange, elderberries, and more.

If you know what's good for you, head out for a hike the day after a spring rain. My hiking partner and I went to Scout Camp today, where the sagebrush, bitterroots, and oceanspray looked like they'd been specially washed and buffed for our viewing pleasure.

And the smells! The elderberry blooms, curl-leaf mountain mahogany, and oceanspray were in spectacular form. Don't get me started on the misnamed bitterbrush either: Even with the blooms already gone, after a rain that scraggly shrub has a sweet aroma.

About a half-mile in, we stopped for a quick snack overlooking the canyon ... and ended up staying at least a half-hour because of all we saw and heard. A Kestrel slipped across the river and into a hole in the canyon wall across from us. A Canyon Wren serenaded us with that song that reminds me of a Steve Miller song (I'm pretty sure it's only me). Swallows swooped and darted. A Song Sparrow called. A Turkey Vulture swung low, perhaps assessing our age and whether we were too close to the cliff edge.

Most spectacularly, an Osprey perched on the opposite cliff to watch the river with us (you could see to the bottom today). Then suddenly the Osprey rose high, spun around, and dove smoothly toward what I'm sure would have been a tasty fish. At the last moment the fish must have slid from view because the Osprey broke abruptly, almost skimming the water before rising back up to a perch.

I used to hike for exercise, and to some extent I still do, but it turns out that stopping and sitting quietly can be at least as rewarding as working up a good sweat. Besides, it's uphill on the way back up the Scout Camp trail, so you can get your exercise after you watch nature put on a show.

Here's Why I Wrote The Nature of Bend

 Photo: Ron Halvorson

Photo: Ron Halvorson

Before I moved to Bend, I lived on Sauvie Island—a gorgeous place and a birding hotspot. Only I didn't know how to identify many of the birds (or other animals or plants) around me. I went to workshops ... then went home and forgot what I learned. I bought field guides ... but struggled to translate their scientific descriptions of species from all over the Northwest to what I was seeing in my own backyard. 

The struggle was the same wherever I went, including many excursions to Central Oregon. I'd hike and bike and kayak and climb, but was forever frustrated that I didn't know what I was looking at along the way (I also drove many a hiking partner nuts with my questions). 

Fast-forward to a couple years ago, and I was fully, madly in love with the Central Oregon outdoors and was straining with all my might to get to know it better. This time I wouldn't be denied, even if it meant having to write the nature guide I'd always wanted to read.

So I started dreaming (some would say plotting). This magical nature guide would be about one fairly small place—Central Oregon—not all of Oregon or the Pacific Northwest or the West. It wouldn't assume you know four-syllable words, but it'd also be smart, covering the basics and adding deeper insights. It'd help you identify species AND give you reasons to care about them. It'd be beautiful, filled with full-color photos that make you itch to get out there. It'd be full of stories from local naturalists who have lived and breathed and protected this place for decades. And the writing would be as joyful and funny and enthusiastic—as wild and alive—as the species themselves.

Well, that was the goal. The Nature of Bend is the book I've always wanted, and I hope it'll deepen your outdoor experiences like it has mine.

A Few Favorite Nature Quotes

 Photo: John Williams

Photo: John Williams

There are some great quotes in The Nature of Bend—lyrical lines from John Muir and funny stuff from Mark Twain and others. Even Franz Kafka makes an appearance (talking about squirrels of all things). 

But there are a lot more quotes that didn't make the cut, usually because there wasn't enough room. Here are a few of my favorites, including a few by local folks:

“No one will ever be able to tell me that there isn’t power in mountains, glowing sunsets, owls, flowers, beetles, whales, little children, and you and me.” — Jim Anderson (local naturalist in his book, Tales from a Northwest Naturalist)
"If my brain were made of dynamite, I still couldn’t blow my nose." — Jim Anderson again (who else?)

“Nobody sees a flower—really—it is so small it takes time—we haven't time—and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.” — Georgia O'Keeffe

"When I get to know a new place my world gets bigger. I see beauty that makes my heart sing." — Sage Clegg (thru-hiker, known for being the first to hike the Oregon Desert Trail, as quoted in 1859 magazine)

“The more often we see the things around us—even the beautiful and wonderful things—the more they become invisible to us. That is why we often take for granted the beauty of this world: the flowers, the trees, the birds, the clouds—even those we love. Because we see things so often, we see them less and less.” — Joseph B. Wirthli