August 15, 2007

Scintillating Saturday at SAM

Posted by: David Williams

Weaving together natural history and local lore, fellow Burke educator Tim Stetter and I led 18 people on a unique tour of the new Olympic Sculpture Park last Saturday. Our goal was to encourage people to see beyond the art and to see how the park opens a window into making a connection between the park’s landscape and the greater landscape of Puget Sound. Because of the diverse plantings we were able to tie in glaciation, microclimates, and fossils. It was a fun way to get people to notice nature in the city.

The short walk started by looking at two “non-native” plants in the Valley, the area dominated by Richard Serra’s Wake. Although the plants, dawn redwood and ginkgo, are now native to China, fossils of both have been found in Washington, at Vantage and Republic, respectively. I know the trees look a little odd but I think their presence encourages people to think more about the links between human and geologic time scales.

Also in the Valley, we focused on native salal, with Tim reading a quote from naturalist Eugene Kozloff on how the berries taste: “something like huckleberries marinated in a dilute extract of fir needles.” In addition, one youngster found a handsome little beetle, which led Tim into a fascinating discussion of insect adaptations. The kids seemed quite excited to learn about the beetle’s wings, hidden under their elytra.

From the Valley, we went up to the Meadow and finally to the Aspen grove, one of the most unusual aspen groves I have ever seen. All other aspen groves are clones of one single tree, but to plant this grove, SAM had to plant individuals. It will be great to see how they change in the fall.

We both felt the tour was a great way to extend the Burke’s mission. “I think it gave people a better understanding of this place we call Puget Sound,” Tim said to me.

- David

Left: David and his specimen table at the park.
Right: Ginkgo biloba fossil, photo by T.A. Dilhoff.