Stewart Wechsler of West Seattle is a former Seattle Parks naturalist who offers guided hikes in several parks on a pay-what-you-can basis.
Tales from the Trail |
You might not know his name — most don’t — but if you frequent parks and trails in West Seattle, you’ve likely seen him.
There he was on Valentine’s Day at Camp Long, for example, beaming a flashlight on a pond to look for salamanders.
He mimics the song of the barred owls to lure them off their perch at Schmitz Preserve Park.
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Yep, that’s him, too, at Lincoln Park every day, running around, netting butterflies or snatching bugs to get a closer look.
Naturalist Stewart Wechsler, 55, makes his rounds around West Seattle daily, with binoculars in hand and an illustrated bird guide in his back pocket.
When you live in Seattle, you can discover the wonders of nature without going far, said Wechsler, who lives 10 blocks from Camp Long, where he formerly worked as a naturalist guide for the Seattle Parks Department.
In January, he launched a Web page to invite the public to come along on his park walks for a donation ($1 to $20 is suggested). He tells you about the birds he sees, the scenic spots he likes. He looks at bird droppings and feathers for clues to what lurks atop those hemlocks and cedars. And once he gets rolling about the damage invasive species have done to our city parks, you just have to crack a smile. His spiel sounds like dispatches from the front line.
“The enemy is encroaching on the indigenous species,” he said of the weeds along our walk at Lincoln Park.
“The Himalayan blackberry is also high on the enemy’s list. They must be stopped!”
After 90 minutes of this, you would have thought a battalion of weeds were advancing up the hill, cutting off the supply line of the native Douglas firs; a phalanx of foreign ivys, closing in on the Enchanter’s Nightshade plants.
Life wasn’t always this much fun for Wechsler. Fifteen years ago, he was an English teacher in Japan and was miserable. He thought back to when he enjoyed life most.
“You know when that was?” he said, during our walk along the water. It was grade school. Oyster Bay, Long Island — the walks with his older brother, Doug, who now works at the Academy of Natural Science of Drexel University. They would geek it out, competing to see who could identify the birds and trees first.
He still does that, yelling out things he spots.
“That’s a Steller’s jay … often mistaken for a blue jay.”
Or, “That’s poison hemlock. Used to kill Socrates.”
It’s spring now, so he likes to check out the “sexy red threads of the beaked hazelnut flowers,” and “the magenta bloom of the salmonberry.” He’s dusting off that butterfly net, too. “I am the kid butterfly chaser who never grew up.”
Tan Vinh: 206-515-5656 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @tanvinhseattle.