Here I’m sowing seeds on a roadside by the Umtanum Falls trailhead. Kyle, my host in Ellensburg, told me that he used to see monarch butterflies here several years ago until a massive wildfire came through these parts. Since then, he hasn’t seen any. Upon arriving, I found a great stillness to this place. The only sound was the occasional gust of wind against the dry grass. It felt desolate and haunting with all the dead branches jutting out of the ground.
This is what Anna Tsing would call a site of ‘disturbance.’ While disturbance often has a negative connotation, Tsing describes it more neutrally as a shift in environmental conditions that “causes a pronounced change in an ecosystem” (Tsing, 2015, p. 160). Disturbance results in ruin but it’s also an opportunity for renewal. Tsing uses Matsutake mushrooms as an example — these mushrooms only fruit in places that have undergone significant disturbance (i.e. fire or clear cut). So I thought this was a perfect spot for a waystation. The milkweed seeds will play a role in renewing this place as a site of resurgence and help jog the monarch’s memory that this was their haven just a few years prior.
Heading out of the Ellensburg area, Kyle said I had two route options to get to my next stop, Tieton. One was a nicely paved road with some dicey curves and heavy traffic, and the other was a backcountry gravel road where there were “a ton of cougars.” He said that when you go hiking around the area, if you backtrack you’ll likely find fresh cougar tracks. They’re scouting you out without you even seeing them. I thought to myself “I’d rather be scouted out by a cougar than hit by a car” — so I chose the latter. It turned out to be an amazing ride.
Also, Kyle is a bike mechanic who does pro bono projects fixing up bikes for people who need them. On my way out, he gifted me one of the extra saddles he had in his garage. It was the holy grail of biker saddles: a Brooks. Thanks for the monarch waystation lead and for the wonderful hospitality and generosity, Kyle!