Embracing November: Seasonal Changes on the Olympic Peninsula

“Like millions of commas, raindrops are not a full stop, instead, they serve to continue the story of life. “

From the desk of Alex Wilson, Development Director

November is a brisk reminder that winter is near. Leaves that clung onto limbs in October, drop en masse with November’s shorter days and colder nights. Meanwhile, the last remaining migratory animals move somewhere warmer.

A large, bright orange chicken of the woods mushroom peeks out from a crevice in a tree trunk.

A chicken of the woods mushroom at Elk Creek Conservation Area.

November presents extremes, and we tend to focus on dormancy and the things we “lose” when we describe the approach of winter.  Yet, there are extremes on both ends. Many migratory animals, like the Trumpeter Swans, return here to overwinter. Deer and bucks become feverish with an urge to continue their species. Jays frantically store nuts and seeds, forgetting the location of many, leading to countless propagations. Opalescent snowberries shine, providing important carry-over food for animals that do not hibernate. Salmon return to spawn and create a whole new generation. Mushrooms burst from their mycelium networks. Mosses and lichen become brilliantly verdant, turning leafless big leaf maples into giant luminescent shag sculptures.

Though winter for some plants and animals is a time to lay low, for many, winter is a time to shine and November is the best time to observe this transition. Our public lands offer folks a wonderful opportunity to witness these life-giving changes, right now:

  1. Elk Creek Conservation Area is covered in mushrooms and the mosses and lichen are radiant.
  2. Siebert Creek Conservation Area’s sparkling snowberries and bright red rosehips line trails like strings of lights.
  3. Lyre Conservation Area sports its own salmon run, inviting large groups of eagles to fish.
  4. Pysht Conservation Area provides an excellent glimpse into the swelling rivers of the Peninsula.
Yellow-leaved vine maple and mossy bare branches arch over a leaf ridden trail lined with various ferns.

Vine maple, sporting fall colors, arching over the trail at Elk Creek Conservation Area.

For me, Elk Creek Conservation Area is my favorite place to visit in late fall and winter. Elk Creek and the surrounding rainforest feel the most alive at this time of year. Like millions of commas, raindrops are not a full stop, instead, they serve to continue the story of life. If you’re lucky enough to be there when it snows, you’ll witness the arresting beauty of diamond-encrusted phosphorescent moss and lichen draping from magnificently twisted vine maples. Don’t believe me? Check out the reviews of Elk Creek on Google, AllTrails, and other public forums, or grab a friend and visit Elk Creek for yourself. While you’re there give the two sublime Sitka spruces, “The Sisters,” a hug for me.

There is something else I love about November. After visiting Elk Creek, I like to stop at La Push before heading back to Port Angeles; hoping to see a storm rolling in. November storms from the Pacific are an important part of the lifecycle of the sea. One Klallam word for November is čiʔčiʔk̕ʷáʔsəŋ, which means “time to put the paddles away.” The Klallam-English Dictionary notes, “November is considered to have the meanest weather of the year. That is why it is time to put the paddles away and to stay off the water.” Though these storms may appear destructive, it is their ferocity—their “meanness”—that churns the northern Pacific’s rich waters, preparing the sea for an unparalleled bounty in spring.

Snowberries, mushrooms, jays, and crashing waves remind me to look beyond the fallen leaves and instead witness the immense power of nature to exhilarate and provide.

It is no mistake that we exchange gifts and show gratitude during this time of year because we all have the same power to reinvigorate and give, not only to one another but also to these lands and waters.

In support of the Land Trust’s work, help us conserve and protect this place we all love by giving some of your time through volunteering or by giving a donation that brings you joy.

After visiting Elk Creek, I hope to see you at the beach—raingear on, leaning into the wind like a zealous child racing to recess—tasting and smelling nature’s power and benevolence.