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Birthday wishes for Washington state

SUNDAY, NOV. 8, 2009

What better way to celebrate the anniversary of statehood than to come up with a few East-friendly state symbols

So Washington’s 120th statehood birthday is Wednesday and you don’t know what to do about a gift. Relax. I have an idea. You can go in on it with me.

To honor the Evergreen State, let’s review Washington’s official symbols and see if they are truly worthy of their status.

A few of them seem a tad West Side-y. And shouldn’t most of these exalted emblems really represent the whole state?

Take the state tree, for example. Nobody is saying the Western hemlock is a loser. And though not widely abundant, it can be found in the Inland Northwest, said Tom Pawley, a silviculturist with the Colville National Forest.

But it needs a fair amount of moisture. You don’t need me to tell you which side of the state has more of that.

Asked to nominate a possible replacement as Washington’s state tree, Pawley didn’t hesitate before putting forward a candidate: “Doug fir.”

Do I hear a second?

Washington’s state bird is the American goldfinch, which has been known by several names over the years. The Spokane Audubon Society’s Joyce Alonso didn’t have an unkind word to say about this particular feathered friend: “It’s a pretty little thing.”

But could we do better? For instance, the local Audubon group’s “mascot” is the Northern pygmy owl. That could be a pretty cool state bird.

Or what about something from the strutting avian family that includes crows, magpies and ravens?

“Corvids are some of the smartest birds around,” said Alonso. “And some of the most obnoxious.”

OK, OK. How about the state flower? You wouldn’t be alone if you were skeptical about the coast rhododendron’s pretensions of representing all of Washington.

And, in fact, it turns out that this plant really isn’t cut out for our character-building winters.

“They just don’t perform over here the way they do on the West Side,” said Penny Simonson, program coordinator for the WSU/Spokane County master gardener program.

After consulting with colleague Tim Kohlhauff, she proposed echinacea (coneflower) and kinnikinnick as possible replacements – the former because it’s drought-tolerant and reputed to have healing powers, and the latter because it’s fun to say.

Of course, to be fair, there are some West Side representatives on the list of state symbols that unquestionably deserve their place. Let’s not be crabby or excessively provincial about this.

Did you know the orca is the state marine mammal? Nobody would throw cold water on that selection. Long may they reign.

Certain other choices also make sense. We can assume that the apple is the state fruit by acclamation. The steelhead makes a fine state fish. And the Walla Walla sweet onion is a zesty slice of perfection as the state vegetable.

The Columbian mammoth is a thunderously great state fossil. Bluebunch wheatgrass seems like a reasonable state grass. And petrified wood makes for a commendable, creative state gem.

But it’s worth noting that another of the state’s official mammals, the Olympic marmot (Marmota olympus), is distinct from the iconic yellow-bellied marmot (Marmota flaviventris) found in the Spokane area.

And, for the record, there’s another marmot without honors – Marmota caligata – found at high elevations in the Cascades, said Madonna Luers, spokeswoman for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Cue a rodent version of Rodney Dangerfield.

Richard Zack, chairman of the department of entomology at Washington State University, served as a consultant about a dozen years ago when a group of grade school kids over in Kent successfully pushed for the green darner dragonfly to be named the official state insect.

And maybe he’s still loyal to that big bug, because his tongue-in-cheek suggested replacements were the codling moth and the green peach aphid – a pair of formidable agricultural pests.

Or perhaps Zack is thinking in terms of employment opportunities for entomologists.

In any event, the list can be amended.

“All of the symbols are adopted by the Legislature, usually brought forward by a school class that takes it on as a civics project and approaches their local legislator,” said Dave Ammons, spokesman for the secretary of state.

“Any changes in existing ones would be handled in the same way, though you’d run afoul of the powerful rhododendron lobby.”

Bring it on.

On second thought, Washington’s lawmakers will have their hands full when next they convene. Chopping down the old state tree can wait.

Still, that doesn’t mean we can’t wonder.

Would “Baby Got Back” by the Evergreen State’s own Sir-Mix-A-Lot be a more hummable state song than “Washington, My Home”?

Give me a sista, I can’t resist her

Red beans and rice didn’t miss her

Would the twist or the rumba be more in step as the state dance than square dancing?

And can’t we come up with a more cogent state motto than “Bye and bye”?

Hey, I have one:

“Let’s move on.”

Paul Turner can be reached at (509) 459-5470 or

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