Enid Thrall Nordlund ~ Naturalist, Historian, Mountaineer

By Louise Lindgren

Enid Thrall Nordlund, born in 1906, was steeped in the mystery of growing things from an early age. In later years, the yard of her 1898 home was filled with old-fashioned perennials and delicate forest plants. Red and white trilliums grew side by side with little-known mosses and ferns. Birds flocked to the feeders with their varied menus as her cat, trained to watch but not pounce, sat idly by. Watching too, was this lady who spent much of her lifetime nurturing nature’s offspring.

Anna Thrall in her garden.

As a child Enid observed as her mother carefully tended the perennials which brightened their modest home on Everett’s “Riverside.” The family had inherited eight lots with an orchard on the high end and swampland lower. Slowly, the property was transformed with gardens.
In 1920 her mother, Anna Thrall, opened the first commercial nursery in the area, specializing in perennials and rockery plants. Enid became her mother’s employee at age 14 and spent after school hours transplanting and learning. Often she was observed studying the huge, unabridged dictionary at the library with a long list of plant names in Latin on the table beside that tome. She attempted to decipher pronunciation and find out why the plants had been given such strange names by long-dead botanists.

In addition to normal nursery duties, Enid and her sister Dorotha would spend hours each fall gathering holly for Christmas wreaths. Over 300 holly trees of various types were planted around the perimeter of the property. Enid could make a wreath in six minutes flat. She said, “Our sign said ‘Holly Wreaths – 25 cents – Delivered,’ Can you imagine that? Delivered!” The sisters continued the sideline of making wreaths for 55 years.

Sundays were days of rest and family outings. A love of exploring and hiking far hills was instilled early. One hard lesson was learned in May of 1918 when Enid and Dorotha went on their first serious hike up to Lake Serene on Mt. Index. She reflects, “You know, that’s too early to go up there on your first real hike. There was snow, and we had to hike clear up from the Stevens Pass highway. We crossed a swinging bridge and went two and a half miles just to get to the start of the trail. We didn’t have slacks in those days, just dresses. Of course, we were soaking wet. It’s a wonder that experience didn’t turn us off to hiking.” Clearly it didn’t.
Enid and her friends continued to explore mountain areas, including one that was to become very special to her – Monte Cristo. In 1924, the Royal Hotel in the old mining town was the “place to go.” Even the ride in was an adventure, aboard the gasoline excursion car along the old Everett and Monte Cristo railway tracks.
When the railway bed washed out, groups of friends made the pilgrimage on foot. She developed a habit of taking along flower seed and planting all along the way from Granite Falls to Monte Cristo. Trays of leftover sedum plants were carefully inserted in the crevasses of the natural “rockery” walls of Robe canyon, at that time a treacherous stretch of abandoned train tracks (now converted into the Robe Canyon hiking trail).
In 1934 she married Ed Nordlund, inviting him to share in her love of the mountains and planting flowers in the wilderness. Their first home was in Kenmore, where she started her own rockery planting service as well as continuing to help in her parents’ Everett nursery several times a week. However, they continued their mountain excursions, always taking plants and seeds along, and with the seed of an idea germinating in their minds – to build at Monte Cristo. In 1948 they purchased three lots on Dumas Street, where buildings were left as deteriorating ruins.

Nordland Cabin, 1959

The Royal Hotel was no more, but the old Boston American Mine cookhouse, converted to a resort, continued to attract visitors. By 1951 the Nordlunds, who had moved back to Everett, built a small cabin at Monte Cristo entirely from salvaged lumber and windows from snow-crushed buildings. Enid soon became the old mining town’s volunteer naturalist, leading trail tours and giving illustrated lectures for resort patrons.
The cabin was decorated with artifacts dug from collapsed structures of the old town site. Colorful, broken bottle necks hung from strings like garlands framing the windows. The Nordlunds collected, sold, and used antiques all of their lives. The kitchen in their Everett home sported a fine old woodstove with warming ovens, a fancier cousin to the one they used at their cabin.
Visitors to Monte Cristo in succeeding years began to notice the flowers Enid planted. Near the townsite, paths were bordered by daffodils in early June (later than normal because of heavy snow). Swiss blue-bells and the non-native, but more colorful Russell’s lupine lined pathways. In more inaccessible areas, she planted edelweiss and trolius imported from Switzerland.
Often visitors, in those days before environmental sensitivity, would dig up the flowers and take them back to the city, prompting her to plant farther and farther from established trails. “It has been said that city people come to the mountains to pick it, dig it or, if it moves, shoot it,” she observed.

Wildlife was a common sight and a joy. A marten would sit on the woodpile, looking in the cabin window, waiting to be fed a piece of banana or other treat. Mountain goats were visible more than a thousand feet above their home, and the chipmunks and birds would always be fed with a sprinkling of seed atop an old pot-bellied stove beside the fir tree. Enid recorded all in her journals – the animals, native flowers, mosses, ferns, trees, mushrooms, even the insects. (An entry, “deerflies,” has an exclamation point after it – they bite viciously!)

The loss of a favorite deer hit hard. They had named her “Mercedes,” and though thoroughly wild, she was accustomed to spending time in the area with her fawns on the way to the high country. Her visits continued for 12 years until the game department decided to allow the shooting of does. One summer she simply vanished, causing the Nordlunds to view every hunter in the area with suspicion.

This woman of the mountains absorbed her losses over time. Her husband died slowly of Alzheimers disease. Her sister Dorotha, who lived with her in later years, preceded her in death as well. Still, in spite of failing eyesight, she continued to help those who wished to learn. She sold the cabin at Monte Cristo to close friends who maintain it as she left it, in her honor. Her vast collection of historic photos was shared with both the Everett and University of Washington libraries. The Snohomish County Museum in Everett was the recipient of many artifacts from her collection.

Painting of favorite deer by Enid Nordlund [date unknown]
Enid died at the age of 97 in October 2003. Still, for those who drive the Mountain Loop Highway or hike to Monte Cristo, there remain a few flowers that have adapted and survived, tucked away in crevices to puzzle and delight those who discover Enid Nordlund’s legacy.

Source: Interview with Enid Nordlund by Louise Lindgren, December 5, 1991.
© 2006 Louise Lindgren All Rights Reserved