A stroll in Paradise Valley gives a close-up view of Judd Creek’s two stems


For The Beachcomber

Skirting the north edge of Paradise Valley mid-Vashon, this walk traverses the east and west stems of upper Judd Creek, a salmon-bearing stream flowing from central Vashon’s plateau.

Judd’s watery life begins in ditches, ponds, streams and culverts that direct the flow through parked-out and second-growth woods, grassy burial plots, grazed fields and restored swales. This “around the block” itinerary goes east up S.W. 204th (near the Jesus Barn), north on 107th S.W., west on S.W. Cemetery Road, through the cemetery, southerly along Singer Road S.W. and back to S.W. 204th.

After parking on S.W. 204th, walk uphill (or east) to turn north onto 107th S.W. This relatively short street dips and rises, defining Vashon-Maury pastoral with its wood-frame houses, fields dotted with horses and goats and a southwest slope that catches winter’s dim light.

Moss-hung, elderly apple trees retain a few fruit, red or yellow spots in a subdued December landscape. Sparking memories of a past era, an aqua mini-trailer sits roadside, and Mobil Gas’s vintage icon, the Flying Red Horse, leaps off a barn wall. Plum Forest Farm’s roadside stand sells carrots and leeks this week, and promises eggs, if the hens cooperate.

Darkening the roadside, last year’s salmonberry thicket decays, turning a maroon hue. Unfortunately, the non-native canary reed grass invades ditches here as it has all over the Northwest.

Where once our region’s winter palette was dark and appropriately depressing, this invasive grass fills the ditches with its blond loud and flashy stalks. A few feet further, an attractive reconstruction occurs — a culvert is perched above stones artfully arranged to create a pool and waterfall.

The road ditches serve as more than water carriers. Although the county has recently cut the ditch vegetation, persisting are green leaves of skunk cabbage and cattail. In spring, these natives fill the ditch, a wetland intent on reclaiming the road.

Up the hill, overhead power lines tick and buzz, creating a distressing noise.

At S.W. Cemetery Road, the hike turns left to go west, eventually skirting the cemetery.

Enter the cemetery, not from Singer Road, but at the hill top. In the fir grove near the road, the Jakk Corsaw (1920-1990) Memorial Bench for Meditation is engraved with a Count Basie quote: “Silence also swings.” The Island knew Jakk as a spry elder, artist and friend to Laurence Ferlinghetti. Jakk was the cool daddy of beat, so cool for so long that in the 1940s, he wore zoot suits. As a University of Washington art student in 1947, he created a design that inspired the revolving globe atop the Seattle P-I building.

Southeasterly downhill, the grave site of PFC Andrew Martin O’Francia Ward is decorated in red, white and blue. Born on May 1, 1979, he was killed in action in Iraq on Dec. 5, 2004. When his funeral cortege passed through Vashon town, people came to the curb to honor him.

Many headstones sit in small gardens tended by loved ones. A manikin sits near one plot, dressed in yellow slicker and polka-dotted galoshes. Pink roses, rain spotted but lush and lovely, perfume the air.

Exiting near the cemetery’s office, the hike turns right onto Singer Road passing the Sportsmen’s Club. When the shooting range is open, gunshots echo across the Island plateau from north at Mukai Pond to east at Vashon Highway. The second-growth woods are thick with huckleberry and salal. A hazelnut’s last yellow leaves glow like a lantern.

The road, now dirt, enters a valley and passes A Bit of Heaven, a horse-boarding ranch. Three handsome horses stand on the left. Two black steer, plowed ground, barbwire fences and two feeding stations denote orderly, skillful animal husbandry.

Perhaps the four-legged creatures are not steers; maybe they are cows. All I know about beef is that it comes packaged as lean and extra lean. Once, Islanders knew one bovine from another, one apple from another, and if tree frogs croak, it must be above 50 degrees.

Judd Creek’s west stem meanders down field. Light blue cones protect restoration plantings on a 20-acre section of Vashon land trust property purchased as part of the conservation of Judd Creek.

At the turn east onto S.W. 204th, the native bleeding heart (Dicentra formosa) grows in the ditch here, not pink in color but a rare white.

Salmonberry also flourishes here, and recent research finds that it earns its name. Salmon carcasses, rich in nitrogen from feeding in the ocean, rot in streams. The decaying salmon inject the ocean-sourced nitrogen into the riparian nutrient cycle, making it available to the entire food chain.

Out of all the riparian vegetation, salmonberry takes up the most ocean-sourced nitrogen decaying out of salmon carcasses. If salmonberry blesses one’s property, better to never cut it back. As a plus, non-native blackberry rarely finds a promising inhold among salmonberry canes.

At the hill bottom, S.W. 204th crosses a huge culvert where Islanders held the annual salmon welcome in November. As Islanders drummed, a salmon swam, as if on cue, through the culvert and thrashed up the right-hand stream. Here, Judd Creek’s east and west stems meet and flow on through Paradise Valley into Quartermaster Harbor.

— Ann Spiers is an Island poet and naturalist.

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