A dimly-lit, old growth forest on the south side of Heart Lake, in the Anacortes City Forest Lands (ACFL) was the setting for our moss identification hike on a
mild, early February day.
Nine of us gathered and set off first on a mile-plus loop to learn a little bit about the nature and life of mosses, which are classified as bryophytes. We
stopped at several places to observe and identify five fairly different-looking mosses, which are commonly found in the Pacific Northwest lower elevations.
We noted that some mosses seem to like logs; others thrived on the ground as well as logs; still one other seemed to only grow on the vertical bark of trees.
On the other hand, when more than one moss liked the same conditions, they competed (gently?) for space on the same surface, and formed some
gorgeously green tapestries.
Some mosses looked like miniature fern fronds (Oregon beaked moss); others looked like larger, more-finely-filigreed (bi-pinnate) fern leaves (Step moss);
others looked like teeming silk tassels (or snakes on Medusa's head?) (waved silk moss). We also discussed the amazing sexual (and asexual) diversity of
mosses, which is described in detail in the fascinating chapter entitled â€œSexual Asymmetry and the Satellite Sistersâ€ from â€œGathering Mossâ€ by
Robin Wall Kimmerer. This, and â€œPlants of the Pacific Northwest Coast," by Pojar & Mackinnon, were our references that aided in discussions. We
encouraged ourselves to observe and explore these and other plant wonders on our own, draw upon other resources, and hopefully make new discoveries to
share with others. [Find details of the mosses we identified at the bottom of this email.]
We also observed and identified the western sword fern and licorice ferns, and noted how to distinguish them from each other (how the leaflets attach to the
stems); as well as where and how they grow - bonus!
After this hour-plus walk and talk, we circled back to our trailhead and headed up a series of fairly steep ACFL trails to the summit of Sugarloaf Mountain. By
this time, blue skies were clearly in command. The vigorous ascent paid off in short order at our first viewpoint, which highlighted views of west Anacortes,
and several islands including Cypress, Orcas, and Lummi. A bit further on, we rounded the steep, open meadows of Sugarloaf's summit, and were rewarded
with sunshine, still air, a bit of warmth, and expansive views both westward (as far as the Straits of San Juan de Fuca went, including the whole profile of
southern Vancouver Island; and including the Olympics and San Juan Islands); southeastward to the Skagit River delta islands; and with Mt Erie smack dab
in the middle. As if that were not pretty enough, a majestic bald eagle sat perched in a snag a few yards away from us; was it really just waiting for some
poor varmint to make its fatal last move, or was it enjoying the view as much as us? Thanks to a couple of peak-finding apps, we were able to identify many
peaks in the San Juan Islands.
We soaked in this pleasure for another half hour, before descending a different series of ACFL trails on the northeast side of Sugarloaf. It is always a good
trail exercise to consult maps together, pause to consider which fork in a trail is the desired one, re-consider, and reach consensus on the best way forward.
This we did, and made it down together in one piece, and with most of our dignity intact, notwithstanding a slip or two! A few of us convened at a local
tavern afterward to enjoy lunch and discuss hopes and plans for the upcoming season.