Category Archives: Salal Dreams

Stories and poems.

Swainson’s Thrush

Swainson’s Thrush

It was summertime, deep into July.  I heard this haunting melody and was captivated.  I wondered if we had a visitor from another world.  With some help from a good friend I discovered it was the Swainson’s Thrush, a visitor in our woods for only a few months.  The call is heard in the early morning and late evening, just when the sun in making it’s entrance and exit to the day.  This bird is rarely seen, but the the song is not soon forgotten.  It has an upward, spiraling melody that is haunting and beautiful.  It’s a happy reflection on a cold and dark winter day.  To learn more, visit All About Birds, from Cornell as we wait for the days filled with light and the Swainson’s Thrush to return again.


Pearly Everlasting


Our cat is a true horticulturist. He loves plants. Whether it’s the smell or the texture, Pearly everlasting, or Anaphalis margaritacea, is completely irresistible to Sprite.  He rolled in it, sniffed it, rubbed it and was blissfully happy to be part of this lovely native plant.  Who knew that nature has created another catnip?  I see it blooming now in the ditches on the side of the road.  That’s a tough place to live so this must be a tough plant, and deer resistant too.  We should bring it into our gardens. I wonder if it would take over?  I’m sure Sprite would take care of that!  Donna at Gardens Eye View has done a wonderful post about this plant which you can read here.

Just the Facts
Zones 3-8
Height 1-3 ft Width 1-2 ft.
Blooms July to August
Full sun to part shade
Herbaceous Perennial
Native to North America
Easily grown, prefers dry, sandy conditions


Pearly everlasting growing in a weedy ditch.

My Top Fifty

Meconopsis 'Lingholm'Fifty is a big number for me this year. It all started in 1964 in New York.  Everyone was so excited for me, or maybe the World’s Fair?  But I arrived and now it’s fifty years later.  I’ve been thinking a lot about my new number. The number 50.  It’s kind of fun being around for 5 decades, watching the changes within and without.  Feeling the beat change as new music becomes old and then new again.  Listening to my parents play Downtown by Petula Clark.  Why do I love that music so? It moves me to a time and fills me with happiness.  It never seems to get old, just better.  Okay, that’s my goal.  I’m never going to get old, just better.  I feel like I’ve reached a significant dividing line in my life.  Like I”ve made it halfway.  Fifty down and fifty to go.  Now that I”m in the middle I want to pause.  Take a breath.  Reflect on the first half and consider the second.  I know what I can live with, I know what I can’t live without. For some reason I keep thinking about Japanese Maples. So I’m creating a list that represents me, or my favorite things.  Fifty things that make me Elaine. Who I am, who I was and who I want to be. They are not in any particular order, just stream of consciousness.  I recently read the Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin and that’s reflected in my top fifty.

1. Daughters and Son: Tessa, Carolina, Ariana and Zander
2. Elephants
3. Obsession with Julia Child Rose
4. Cookies are my life
5. The Birthday Sassy Dance (
6. The ocean
7. Water: salt water, fresh water, drinking water, river water, ice water, water
8. Change produces creativity
9. It’s okay to lose something
10. The summer solstice
11. Spring and May 16th
12. The Dove Tree, Davidia involucrata
13. Books! The scriptures, fantasy, fiction, poetry, song
14. Brandon Sanderson
15. Pasta, pizza, salad and butter
16. The color blue
17. Biking
18. Walking through the woods
19. Hiking in the mountains
20. Running down the beach
21. Tidepools
22. Zooxanthellae
23. Skaneateles, New York
24. Spreckels, California
25. The Pacific Northwest
26. The sound of rain
27. Molluscs —Olivella biplicata
29. Michael Jackson Music
30. Downtown by Petula Clark
31. Emmanuel–Toda la Vida
32. Coldplay–Viva la Vida
33. The sound of ice tinkling in a glass
34. James Taylor–Up on the Roof
35. Cats, dogs, Neon Tetras
36. Friends–Good friends, old friends, new friends, best friends
37. Act the way you want to feel
38. If you can’t get out, get in
39. Let it go
40. Do it now
41. Enjoy the day
42. Keep smiling
43. Sing in the shower, sing in the choir
44. Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll
45. Robert Frost–The Road Not Taken
46. Witchhazel
47. Daphne and lilac and roses and gardenia and hyacinth
48. Pinus strobus ‘Mini Twists’
49. Japanese Maples
50. Love

Snowbell Song


Last week the blossoms were just opening on the Snowbell tree, or Styrax japonica.  The bees were humming through the air, the sun was sparkling….it was a glorious day!  I was so excited to immerse myself in in the world of  the snowbell tree, so I tried to capture the moment with this video.  My novice video-taking skills leave much to be desired, but I think the tree still stands out during this perfect time.  It was the perfect time too, for the next day I walked by and many of the flowers had already faded and fallen to the earth.  One day they were fresh and creamy white and the next they were tired and finished.  I’ll never forget my first encounter with a snowbell tree when I moved to Washington State.  I had never had the opportunity to meet one before, because the timing has to be just right. On this day I was walking through my neighborhood taking my daughter to school.  We had just walked below the canopy of a leafy green deciduous tree and I happened to look up.  I was surrounded by bells!  By snowbells!  Thousands of beautiful bright blossoms were dancing all around me! It was a joyful experience and from then on I would say that one place I could always find happiness was under a snowbell tree in June.  And yet the moment is so fleeting and that’s the way it is with many plants, and sometimes people too.  The timing has to be just right to see them at their very best.  So pay attention!


Blogiversary 3 Years!

It all started as a small idea.  This blog was like a seed.  Small, yet full of potential.  Someone at work mentioned blogging and I thought….’could that be me?….could I become a blogger?…could I create a blog?’ I remember actually checking a book out of the library about blogging and discussing it over lunch with my friend Rachel.  Two things I remember from the book were 1. blogs were better if they had a theme and 2. people don’t care what you had for lunch (don’t bore readers with uninteresting details of your life).  Well, I had my theme, plants, and I didn’t really want to talk about my life, as we were in the process of losing our house (and garden!), so I started in the world of WordPress on January 16th with a Hello World first post.  But before that my blog needed a name.  Something catchy.  Something descriptive.  Something me.  Not too long, not too short. Not too weird.  I filled up a notebook page front and back with my stream of consciousness ideas.  As I began to type them into the WordPress magic blogmaker, I found that most of them were already taken.  I had no originality!  Or at least other people think like me.  Here are some of my starter ideas and my thoughts on them now: Trees and Bees (dumb), Blue Skies (not green enough), A Garden Note (cute), Falling Leaves (love it!), Sunlight, Sunbright (good stuff), Salal Dreams (too weird, but it is the title of my fiction and poems), Plants Permitted (what???), IPlant, YouPlant, WePlant (I am not Apple), Enchanted Leaf (not bad), The Plant Project (too academic), Plant Planet (Hmmmm), The Hundred Acre Woods (nice reference to literature).  Nothing on my list worked out, but I must have been inspired because at top of my page of notes is scribbled in pencil Rainyleaf.  As soon as I typed it in and it was accepted into the Blogosphere, I knew I had found my niche.  As I began to write I found my voice and I enjoyed the process.  I enjoyed the research, the photography and the plants.  I created new friends and was inspired from their blogs.  So many nights I thought I had nothing to say, yet a post was produced.  A lot of times my family was talking and distracting me, but somehow I kept on writing (perhaps not as clearly as I would have liked!).  And here I am in 2014, with 66,338 all time views and lot of ideas for the future.  Thanks for reading! Here’s a look back at last year:

Here are some of my favorite posts from last year:

Book Review– A Memory of Light:  Finally, the last book in The Wheel of Time Fantasy Series.

Book Review–Gathering Moss:  What a great book! I learned a lot.

A Hobbit’s New Zealand Garden: My favorite garden at the 2013 Northwest Flower and Garden Show.


Happy Birthday Dove Tree: This beautiful tree blooms on my birthday.

Digiplexis Illumination Flame: An striking new foxglove.

Swimming With the Squid at VanDusen Botanical Gardens:  Some invertebrates are welcome in the garden.

Iseli Nursery: I finally made it to this famous nursery, it was well worth the wait.

Rhapsody in Blue: From the Portland Rose Garden, my favorite flowers.

Bald Cypress–The Theory on Knees: This was fun to write.

Book Review – The Collector by Jack Nisbet

The CollectorHave you ever had a book you’ve waited years to read? This is mine.  I remember seeing it at Borders Bookstore when it first came out in 2010.  I picked it up, read the back, and flipped through the pages.  It was in the Northwest Natural History section, right by the front of the store.  Near Wheedle on the Needle and Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast. I loved the beautiful illustration of a Douglas Fir cone on the front cover.  It was about David Douglas and the Natural History of the Northwest.  The recommendation on the front called it ‘exhilarating’ and I was sold.  I really wanted to read this book.  Over the next few months every time I saw The Collector I would categorize it in my mind in the ‘to read’ section and would often touch it as I walked by.  I had already claimed it, if not bought it.  But then Borders closed and it was lost in my imaginary book pile for awhile.  Until last month when I visited Powell’s Books in Portland for the first time.  I was shocked at the size of the store. I was starstruck with the amount of books in one location. I was shaken with excitement and this book was uncovered in my memory.  I inquired about the Natural History section, located The Collector and it became mine after a $16.95 exchange.  Sometimes I get tired of reading about people and I just want to read about plants.  Enough with the character development, just give me a forest. Give me a cone!  Give me a leaf and a bud and a season and I have a story.  But it turns out that this book is more about the man and less about the plants. And that is just fine, because the man was all about the plants.  The man, David Douglas, was a Scottish botanist/explorer who described and categorized many plants right here where I live, in the Pacific Northwest.  He came to the Northwest in 1824 and since then his name is synonymous with this part of the country, as in the ever-present Douglas Fir.

Douglas Fir

Douglas Fir

I don’t want to start at the beginning though, but rather at the end.  The end of the book.  (Spoiler Alert) He dies! It’s unbelievable.  It’s disconcerting.  It’s so sad.  In the middle of his travels, while exploring and observing and doing what he did best, suddenly David Douglas has a freak accident without any witnesses, and he’s gone.  No more Noble Fir, no more Salal, no more Brown’s Peony!!!  No more discoveries, at least.  I was not ready for this ending and actually had tears come to my eyes as I read it.  Just like that?  His life was over just like that? Yes, I know it was almost 200 years ago.  Of course he has died since then.  But the manner of his death was so shocking and unexpected.  He was so full of life and enthusiasm, with packets and cartons filled with newly discovered plants and seeds.  There was so much momentum in his life when it came to an abrupt end.  So tragic.

If you enjoy plant names, you’ll like this book.  It’s filled with references to men like William Hooker and Archibald Menzies, who were contemporaries of Douglas.  We get to find out the story behind the people behind the plant names, such as Pseudotsuga menziesii.  “When modern naturalists set out to study the flora and fauna of the Northwest, many of the names that roll off their lips and out f their field guides first flowed from the pen of David Douglas.” The author, Jack Nisbet does a satisfying job of telling the story of  Douglas.  This book is written from letters and journals written by Douglas and his friends.  One thing I would have liked was more plant information.  He told us where the plants were discovered, how their seeds were collected and shipped back to England, but I wanted to know how they influenced the gardens of England.  He briefly mentioned this with a few plants.  I would have liked a showcase of a few of his discoveries with more details about where they were growing, where they ended up, the importance in the retail industry and possibly how they influenced plant breeding.  Give me more!

The collector recounts the life of Douglas, giving his early history, but mainly focusing on his natural history explorations in North America. His first collecting trip was to the Northeast of the United States and this just whet his appetite. Soon thereafter he was sponsored by the Hudson Bay Company and sent by the London Horticultural Society to the Northwest.  David Douglas began collecting even before he arrived in the Northwest.  During the long ocean passage from England to the Northwest, his ship docked in several ports for supplies.  One stop was in Rio, Brazil where Douglas said “my pockets (were) filled with the granite of Rio; my hat outside and inside was pinned full of insects and both my arms full of plants.”   I like that the first plant he noticed when he stepped off the ship in the Northwest  was the leathery green leaves and pink blossoms of Salal, our ever-present shrub. He noted that the local pronunciation was not Shallon, as recorded by Lewis and Clarke, but rather Salal.  He referred to lupine as the “most magnificent herbaceous plants I have ever beheld.”

Lupinus latifolius

 I didn’t realize how much work he actually did to make his trip possible.  He walked, he hiked, he climbed, he rode horses and often foraged for his food.  He suffered from cold and heat and physical exhaustion.  Nisbet reports that “Gathering seeds was not the only painstaking work at hand, for he also had to analyze each new plant he found, determining its genus and then comparing its characteristics to the limited species that had been identified in the botanical manuals of his day.  His primary references were Thomas Nutall’s Genera of North American Plants and Frederick Pursh’s Flora Americae.”  I admire his dedication and persistance.  He also recorded many of the native american customs and uses for plants.  Besides visiting the Northwest on two separate occasions, he spent several years in central California and was exploring the Hawaiian Islands on his return trip when he died so prematurely.

David Douglas—The Collector

According to a fascinating blog post I recently read by Naturanaute on Plant hunting, ” 15-30% of the world’s flowering plants (around 70000 species) are yet to be discovered, which means that finding, describing and even cultivating these unknown plants is essential to gain a better understanding of global biodiversity.”  David Douglas was a pioneer in this field and it’s exciting to realize that even in our day, new discoveries are being made.  I really enjoyed reading this book.  For any natural history enthusiast it was a well written and exciting adventure.  Hearing descriptions of the early flora and fauna of my country was priceless.  I’ll end with the beautiful closing words of Jack Nisbet “The thrill of such discoveries lifted him (Douglas) from the sagebrush summer into Blue Mountain snow squalls, where he could disappear in a riot of June wildflowers.  On the shattered basalt atop Mount Blalock, the collector knelt close to judge the progress of one season’s royal peony seeds.  During the course of some future excursion, when the elements had toasted them to perfection, he would gather a few.  That was one of the ways Douglas would share part of this place with the rest of the world: he would take those seeds home, and encourage them to sprout anew.”

Remembering My Dad

At Kolob Canyon

Elaine and Dad at Kolob Canyon, 2013

On October 18, 2013 my dad passed away. It’s been difficult to think about ‘normal’ life when suddenly my life is completely different.  I still work and sleep and shop for groceries, but something is missing.  Someone who has been with me from the very beginning.  I feel like a perennial that’s been divided, part of me is gone.  But I can tell I’m still growing.  Going into a winter rest, needing some time for reflection and quiet.  I want to sleep longer, breathe deeper and read long works of fiction.  I’ve been in the habit of leaving flowers in unexpected places, it makes me happy. I like walking by a pine tree and seeing a ruffled rose peeking out.  Some people prefer plants in their natural state, and I don’t mind that, but I also like the unpredictable, the wonderful.  This quote by J.G. Ballard begins to explain it:

I believe in the power of the imagination to remake the world, to release the truth within us, to hold back the night, to transcend death, to charm motorways, to ingratiate ourselves with birds, to enlist the confidences of madmen.

Tony 3 years old

Growing up in Brooklyn, NY

My imagination is my own worst enemy as well as my very best friend.  It haunts me with memories as well as teases me with dreams.  I believe that my imagination is a gift and an inspiration, beginning in my early years and learned from my parents.  It was my dad that inspired me with a love for the natural world and science as well as a passion for learning.

Anthony DelPrete Jr. comes from a great Italian heritage. He was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1935 to Antonio DelPrete and Josephine Lombardi and later graduated from High School in Amityville, NY.  Even though he was an only child, Tony was always surrounded by a large Italian family who enjoyed time together and knew what a good meatball was.  He carried these traits with him throughout his life with his love of good food and family.  He always made an effort to be with his family, even as his children grew up and moved across the United States and all the way to New Zealand.  He taught us the importance of family, not with his words, but with his deeds.  He didn’t talk a lot, but what he had to say was always worth listening to.  His sense of humor and intellect made him a great conversationalist.

Our Italian Dinner at Bucca de Beppo

Our Favorite, A Big Italian Dinner 2013

Tony loved to learn and this continued throughout his life.  He received his Bachelors and Masters degree in Geology from the Missouri School of Mines, studied Oceanography at the University of Washington in 1966 and eventually went on to earn a Ph.D in Geology from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York.  He was hired to teach geology and oceanography at the State University of New York at Oswego and spent his entire career there, retiring in 1997.

One of Tony’s favorite hobbies was trains.  He almost always had a model railroad set up in his garage or basement.  He watched I Love Toy Trains on TV and he loved to travel by Train.  Together he and Gloria rode all over the west and beyond on Amtrack and they even have a small collection of Amtrack spoons to prove it.

Tony in Korea

Tony in Korea 1956

Tony had many life experiences.  He served in the United States Army for two years during the Korean War and served as a radio operator for a year in Korea.  When he and Gloria retired to St. George in 1997, they began Geocaching.  They found over 2000 geocaches all over the world, from Budapest to Ecuador and even created over 80 of their own.  Tony loved puzzles and codes and relished the challenge of figuring out these hidden geocaches.  He and Glory went by the handle TonyGlo and always enjoyed making new geocache friends.

Tony was a world traveler.  Whether it was by train, airplane, boat or car, he always had a trip in the plans.  He traveled from China to Europe, around Cape Horn and even to New Zealand, just last year.  He also enjoyed driving a nice car and watching formula one racing with his friends.  He always taught us ‘don’t drive in the left hand lane, it’s for passing!’

He treasured learning.  Besides teaching at a university for many years, he was a lifelong reader and usually enrolled in adult education classes.  He was the only person I ever knew who watched the national spelling bee on cable TV.  He always loved old movies, especially old sci fi movies.  He got a kick out of watching the classic Plan 9 from Outer Space, possibly one of the worst movies of all time.

Peace Rose

Peace Rose

Tony always said that the song he wanted played at his funeral was ‘I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden’. We laughed when we heard this, but as we listened to the

words, we understood. It talks about life.  Along with the good times, there are the bad times.  We can’t stop that or change that, but we can change ourselves.  We can choose to be happy.  We can live and let live.  That was Tony’s motto.  No matter the trials in life, he was usually smiling.  Even though full of fun, he was humble, thinking about others more than himself.  He chose to be happy, which in turn spread joy to those around him.

Dad, Elaine, Mike and Chris

Dad and His Kids

Although not a man of traditional faith, Tony was full of faith.  Faith in the future, faith in his friends, faith in our country and faith in his family.  We know that faith is not a perfect knowledge, but a hope for things that are not seen but are true.  Tony had this faith.  He had a perfect brightness of hope and a love for those around him.  As he battled with health for the last several years, he was an example to all of us with his hope and optimism.  He didn’t surround himself with raindrops but rather with roses.  We love him and will miss him.

Geocacher and Geologist

Geocacher and Geologist