Hurricane Ridge

Sept 18, 19 …

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No, that’s not dandruff on your screen. That’s snow, real snow. I’m up at about 5,000 feet in the Olympics, hiking a trail along Hurricane Ridge. The views are supposed to be spectacular, but today the clouds are the star of the show …

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More clouds …

Plus a mountain view …

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The afternoon before, I settled into my new campsite not too far above sea level on National Park land. This late in the year, the camp grounds are blessedly almost vacant. I practically have a grove of old growth forest to myself.

An hour or so after settling in,  I look out at the strange sight of an Uber driver depositing a camper at the site across from me. Turns out he had set out from here on foot earlier in the day – or perhaps the day before – only to encounter snow flurries way up. He opted not pitch his tent in unpredictable mountain weather. Instead, being the experienced hiker he was, he found his way to the main road and used his Uber app.

In the morning I will take the easy route up, by car. A map orientation …

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I have driven east from my previous campsite near Joyce to Port Angeles, where I have taken a right turn. The blue marker inside the top green area represents Hurricane Ridge. My campsite is twelve miles north.

I wake up to a major mistake – I’ve left the lid to my propane camp stove open. I’m looking at a pool of water on the stove. I tip it out, but enough damp has worked its way inside the burners to render the stove inoperable. No hot breakfast today. No comforting English Breakfast tea. I can only hope this is a temporary inconvenience.

Twelve miles of a well-maintained zig-zag road takes me to a visitor’s center at the top.  The ranger at the information desk recommends what I call a “parking lot walk.” This is the way to go for  when you’re laboring under time or physical constraints. Indeed, on my way west, I did quite a bit of this.

But – I’ve said it before – looking at the scenery and experiencing nature are two wholly different things. I need to get away from pavement and the tourist crowd. At the same time, I need to be mindful of the weather. A wrong turn on a primitive trail out there with the clouds moving in can be catastrophic, even for experienced hikers. I’m sure this is what was on the ranger’s mind when she recommended a parking lot walk.

I explain my needs and we reach a meeting of the minds. I’m back in my car. The road almost immediately narrows and worsens. After two or three miles, I find what I’m looking for. I’ll be hiking on a well-marked trail, the first segment which is accessible to people in wheel chairs. On good days, I imagine, this trail would be packed with hikers. But today I have the area almost all to myself. I’m in the right place, out in nature, away from it all, yet – should conditions worsen – I can easily make it back to my car. In the meantime, I am stepping through a magic portal …

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If you look closely, you will spot a blue grouse materializing out of the fog.

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Each twist along the path opens up into new scenery, new surprises. Hiking out in nature is a constant succession of opening up Christmas presents. Meanwhile, at my feet …

Eventually the trail takes me to the summit and a primitive trail that loops around it. A good spot to enjoy my peanut butter sandwich  …

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Meandering along a side trail, I spot a couple of Olympic marmots down the side of a cliff. One of them wanders up to the trail …

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A closer view …

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This variety of marmot is native to a few spots in the Olympics. Its existence is under threat from invasive coyotes. Indeed, fattened up for hibernation, this little guy would make some worthy predator a good meal. Sleep well, my friend.

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What can be more wondrous than a gentle snowfall amongst the evergreens? I am giddy, absolutely giddy. Only yesterday, at my old campsite at sea level, I was taking pics of yellow maple leaves on the ground, representing the first signs of autumn. Now, here, 5,000 feet up, we have skipped a season into the beginning of winter. Oh, what a day it’s been.

Later, back at the visitor’s center …

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Taking a Break

Mid September …

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Autumn arrives early in the Northwest. Over the last week, from my campsite on the Olympic Peninsula, I have gazed up into the yellowing maples. Now the leaves are making their descent. Comfortable days still lie ahead, but nature has served its soft summons: In due course, it will be time to go, to head south one step ahead of oncoming winter.

But when you wake up to views like this, who wants to leave?

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Except, perhaps, to visit nearby Lake Crescent …

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And go for a little hike …

Or stroll along a nearby inlet …

Or pop into town to pick up supplies …

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As the days roll by, the realization dawns – I’m taking a break from my journey. No pressures, no new challenges – it’s as if I’m on vacation. Finally, though, time to hit the road …

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Leave no trace …

 

Reconnection

Mid September …

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I’m back in the forest, by a river, a couple of miles as the crow flies from the Strait of Juan de Fuca. This is the location I had been aiming for a couple of days earlier, before I decided to pitch my tent at Salt Creek, not far away. The major attraction to this site is it is free. I just need to hang my Discovery Pass from my rearview mirror. The other attraction is it is located away from the other sites in the campground.

The other major attraction is – holy shit! – what a beautiful spot. A squirrel jumps on a stump and starts chattering insanely, then dives for cover. A predatory bird – an eagle? a hawk? – swoops over the river and under the canopy, and is gone in a flash. Lunch awaits, but not here.

I am the victim of incredible luck. By rights, this campground should be full. But I happened to drive in on a weekday, with school back in session. As the weekend rolls around, cars will drive in and out, in vain pursuit of an empty spot. I’m not going anywhere.

Over the next week, I will get out and explore and get in at least one long walk, but the real attraction here is staying put. Here among the trees, looking out over my river, after two years I will reconnect with my didgeridoo. This requires a bit of explanation …

Being on the road is not at all conducive to setting aside practice time. Neither was my living situation during the year leading up to my heart surgery. What came out of my instrument was good enough, but good enough is not good enough. What I imagined in my head no longer necessarily came out of the bell end of my horn. A normally reliable passage would fail me, a note elude me, a rhythm unravel.

Practice-practice-practice. Having natural gifts helps in getting you started, but according to the “ten thousand hours” rule popularized by the writer Malcolm Gladwell, what eventually gets you to your destination is unstinting practice. The rule is based on a study that surveyed violinists. According to the study’s findings, the highest achieving violinists – the concert musicians as opposed to say the music teachers – had put in the requisite time.

Let’s not quibble over whether a mere 9,999 hours will do the trick or whether some people need a 15,000-hours threshold while others get by with a piddling 7,000. The point is that practice makes perfect.

“An amateur practices until she gets it right,” I recall someone commenting on Facebook. “A professional practices until she can’t get it wrong.”

Technique is not an end in itself – it’s the gateway to creativity. Master a few simple basics and we can begin to start playing with our food, really having fun with our instrument.  Master a few more and we become airborne, we’ve achieved lift-off. This gives us the incentive to keep practicing. We are in a virtuous cycle.

But the opposite can occur, too. Too many of us quit too soon. Years ago, this nearly happened to me. Three or four years into the didge had not taken me beyond my one-year skill level. I was getting bored, the instrument had lost its appeal. My didgeridoos languished in a corner. Time to take up something new. Then fate intervened …

My website was in dire need of a makeover. Accomplishing the task would require my total immersion. I would not have time to go for my usual walks. Instead, I decided, I would get away from my work by taking short didgeridoo breaks. After about six weeks, not only did I have an impressive website, my didgeridoo-playing had improved immeasurably. I had broken through, I could see light at the end of the tunnel.

From that day on, I devoted myself to an hour a day of practice. The harder I worked, the more fun I had. Not just instant or fleeting pleasure. This was hard-won fun, the most satisfying kind, the stuff that stays with you weeks later, that healthy lifestyles are built on. I recall telling my brother, “I can’t believe for more than 30 years I wasn’t making music.”

Life gets in the way, of course. You cut back on practice. Your instrument stops cooperating. Frustration replaces joy. The old stuff isn’t working for you, and you can’t see your way to creating new stuff. Putting in the time is now a chore, drudge work. You are now descending into virtue’s opposite – a vicious cycle.

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But here I am, chair pulled up next to this tree, with plenty of time on my hands. I breathe in the forest. I hear new rhythms swirling about, new melodies.

Not so fast, says a voice in my head. Go back over your basics. Keep a basic rhythm going. Now vary it a bit. Now work with that variation. Again and again. Keep repeating it until you cannot possibly forget it.

Next session, same thing. I have a steady rhythm going. Now to do something with it. “What would Pamela Mortensen do?” says a voice in my head.

Pamela is a world-renowned didge artist and one of my favorite people. But our styles are poles apart. If she is Miles Davis, I’m a bad version of Louis Armstrong. But doing what she would do won’t hurt, I decide. This is not to be equated with copying. Rather, Pam is serving as the inspiration for taking my instrument down a new path. More important, she has become my muse, the impetus for me reconnecting with an instrument that for so long has been central to my life – to my identity, to my well-being.

It goes without saying that Pamela would add a vocal to the rhythm, something sweet and melodic. This is not in my wheelhouse. Almost immediately, my breath cuts out on me.

“Louis Armstrong!” says my didge. “Swing band! James Brown!” Almost instantly, tunes materialize in my head. But I remain resolute. “Later,” I tell my didge. “I promise. In the meantime, work with me, here.”

Gradually, the didge lets down its resistance and becomes my partner. We get a credible rhythm-plus-vocal going. In my head, I am visualizing trees, stately trees, marching trees. Can we add another verse to this? Change up the vocal a bit?

The creative process is in full swing. I am happy, my didgeridoo is happy.  I have a long way to go to fully restore our relationship, to get back to where we were two years before and move forward from there. But here, out in the woods, I am getting a sneak preview.  A long and fruitful relationship lies ahead. In the meantime, I experience the sheer joy that comes from reconnection.

Tidal Pool Reflections

Sept 10, 11 …

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Here I am, photobombing this great nature shot. Let me get out of the way …

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We’re looking at the Olympic Mountains from an inlet on the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

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Around the corner and way out on the rocks, we get this view (above) in the other direction, looking across the Strait at Canada on the other side. And climbing up and down to another spot, our inquiring eye takes us east along the northern coast of the Olympic Peninsula. The haze obscures Mt Baker, way the hell away, northeast of Seattle.

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But this post isn’t about views. The star of the show, here, at Salt Creek, is the micro-universe right beneath my feet. First, a bit of a map orientation …

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I’m now on the northern side of the Olympics, looping around the Peninsula, from deep in the woods at Quinalt (down below on the map) to a tent on the beach near La Push along the Pacific to sleeping in my car for three nights at Neah Bay to pitching my tent at my current location at a campsite on a ridge overlooking the Strait. Backing up …

Twenty or so miles out of Neah Bay, I drive past this place …

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I back up and knock on the door. A native American woman produces a Ziploc bag of smoked salmon from the fridge. I have no idea where I will be sleeping tonight, but I know I will be eating good. Nearby are four or so buildings and a service station, one of them a visitors center-meeting place. I actually stop to ask for directions. Inside, Miles Davis is playing in the background. The incongruency of music and location seriously disorients me. An older woman – the type I associate with museum docents and church laity – invites me to help myself to coffee.

The place is connected to wi-fi. I’ve got my coffee, I’ve got my cool jazz. I pull up a chair at the table – the one that doesn’t have the incomplete jigsaw puzzle – and settle in to catch up on the outside world.

The lady informs me that the only route into the interior of the Olympics is closed. I’m thinking fire, but she tells me the cause is roadwork. Pieces of mountain have a way of shifting location and teaching humans a lesson in humility. It will take at least several days to remove the debris.

In the meantime, I can continue along the coast. She enthusiastically recommends a campsite called Salt Creek, which, she lets me know, has outstanding tidal pools. I take this information on board, but I’m more interested in a spot on the map that suggests I won’t have to pay to pitch my tent. I take photos of her map for future reference.

My route takes me into the woods on a parallel route along the coast. Various signs indicate attractions to those with a “Discover Pass.” After an infinite number of false starts, I drive down a road that takes me to my free camping. The catch is I need to purchase a Discover Pass. This involves driving 40 minutes into the town of Port Angeles, locating a place that sells them, and heading back.

It’s starting to get late in the afternoon. Each dip of the sun, each tick of the clock, gradually moves my thinking in a new direction: There might not be an available spot by the time I get back, a voice in my head says. In the meantime, there’s a sign indicating Salt Creek just up ahead, and besides, the lady said those tidal pools are really worth checking out.

Won’t hurt to pop my nose in, I decide.

The campground, which is part of a state park, is on the site of an old World War II artillery emplacement . Later, I will take my didgeridoo into the tunnel and give it a good workout.

The campground is overrun with RVs, but I manage to snag a tent site where I can largely ignore them, especially when I can pull up a chair and enjoy a view like this …

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A word on RVs: They have been instrumental in liberating millions worldwide from urban and suburban slavery. For many, it makes possible the free-range life, not unlike the one I’m leading. But there is a key difference: Whether large rigs or small, these people are basically taking their houses with them, ones with four walls and a roof, indoor plumbing, beds and furniture, and a kitchen, not to mention – in many cases – TVS and home theaters.

I’m generalizing here, but we are not sharing the same experience. A woman in a rig across they way offers a case in point: She informs me that she is not at all interested in scrambling down the rocks to get to the tidal pools below. Instead, she talks of driving to a nearby beach. Late the next day, she informs me, she and her husband drove to a spot where they could get out and observe a distant lighthouse.

Getting close to the lighthouse, she lets me know, would have involved at least a five-mile walk in and other five miles out. So she had her quick in-and-out-of-the-car experience. Two or three weeks later, at the same spot, I would have an entirely different one.

In case you think I’m being unfair, next day I have the tidal pools practically all to myself. There must be at least fifty RVs camped out above, but I only encounter two couples in my explorations. It’s a good guess they won’t be sleeping in an RV that night.

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I have entered a micro-universe, where small organisms eke out a precarious existence in an extremely hostile environment, having to adapt with the flow of the tides to life alternatively below the water and above it, at the mercy of larger organisms that just might find them delicious.

Some more tidal porn …

A novel I wrote and recently self-published has as its main character a troubled Victorian adventurer who gets away from it all by spending time alone in the tidal pools along a bleak stretch of coast in Scotland. He later authors an essay published as a short book called “Tidal Pool Reflections.”

The book profoundly influences a young Einstein, but is largely forgotten. During the mid-twentieth century, however, the book begins to attract a cult following among the beatniks of the era. Then the hippies of the sixties get hold of it and turn it into a cultural manifesto.

Toward the end of the novel, our hero’s great-grandson needs to find deeper meanings inside the book in order to solve a cosmic riddle. The catch is deeper meanings only reveal themselves over time: What initially comes across as merely whimsical takes on a bit more depth upon a second reading years later, which in turn plumbs deeper below the surface with each successive reading over the years.

Ponder long enough the mysteries of the tidal pool – of this micro-universe – and new worlds open up. I sense a profound truth here, though I am a long way from realizing it. In the meantime, I get to enjoy for a day the experience of being the hero in my own novel.

Beaches

Early Sept …

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I am enjoying a moment of afternoon peace and quiet along a cove on Hobuck Beach, on Makah tribal land, at the top left corner of the lower 48. Earlier, I had a long walk in the rain on nearby Tsoo-Yess Beach. The day before, I hiked into Shi-Shi beach, which is part of Olympic National Park, and the day before I walked in to an observation point on Cape Flattery. A Cape Flattery shot …

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Plus this tree I encountered on the way in …

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This is the story of a tree that grew up wanting to be a Saguaro. Just shows what you can accomplish, if you put your mind to it. Meanwhile, over on Tsoo-Yess …

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And along a ridge above Shi-Shi …

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Never mind which beach, anymore, it’s the moment that counts, of being out in nature and experiencing nature on its own terms …

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Where landmass converges with ocean is where we best experience in one place the four basic elements – earth, air, fire, and water. Three of the four are fairly obvious. As for fire, it’s as if it’s the ocean that is lighting up the sun. These four elements reside at the heart of the ancient Greek’s construct of the four temperaments, or humors. Our bodies were believed to consist of bits and pieces of each, governed by organs such as the liver and spleen. In addition, we were influenced by whatever winds – warm or cold – happened to be blowing in from Saturn or Venus or wherever and how brightly lit the moon was, and so on.

Physical science-wise, the ancient Greeks were a bit off, but let’s give them credit for a deeper truth: According to them, to obtain an inner harmony, we needed to keep our four elements in balance. And we needed to do this with regard to the caprices of our environment. This accords with wisdom from other ancient cultures, most notably the Chinese with yin and yang.

We are talking of a mind at rest, at peace – still, yet flowing – uncluttered by our daily concerns, unencumbered by past experience. If I am learning one lesson on the road, it is that nature has a way of both soothing our troubled minds and of inspiring higher achievement. Sometimes, we have to settle for a quick look at the scenery. But other times we get to immerse ourselves in it. Thirty minutes, an hour into it, something seems to shift, our psyche seems to expand. If we’re out in the wet and cold or are experiencing fatigue, we find ourselves rising to the challenge, no longer struggling.

We feel grounded – call it earth.

We breathe more easily – air.

We feel energized – fire.

We feel inner peace – water.

Here, out on my beaches on the edge of nowhere, it all comes together. I have walked many miles. I like to think I am making progress on an inner journey. In truth, I am learning to step out of my own way.

At the Country’s Edge

Early Sept …

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I am looking down at the surging tides of Cape Flattery. Over on the opposite cliff, through a fellow visitor’s binoculars, I observe a bald eagle in a nest. I am at the extreme top left corner of the Lower 48. The red dot on the map below gives you a general idea …

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I am also as far away from wildfire threats as geography allows. Should a tsunami strike, on the other hand, I’m doomed.

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I will be spending the next three days sleeping in my car in the lot of the community gymnasium (pictured above)  in the nearby fishing town of Neah Bay. Outside are public facilities with hot showers. A bit further over is the general store …

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You gotta love stores where you can buy groceries and fishing tackle and hunting knives  all under one roof, and that are not named Walmart. Across the street, fishing boats venture out into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

I am literally at the edge of nowhere, in a town of some 800 called Neah Bay. The nearest decent-sized town – Port Angeles – lies 70 miles distant and is connected to here by a single road. During the fall and winter, when storms lash the vicinity (Neah Bay receives 108 inches of annual rainfall), the road can be washed out in places and the town cut off from the rest of the world. From the point of view of the locals, this may be a good thing.

Indeed, you can make a strong case for retroactive isolation, going back to about 1750. This has to do with the Makah, the People Who Live Near the Rocks and Seagulls, numbering about twelve hundred.

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The Makah Museum (pictured above) hosts an impressive collection of artifacts dug up from a village flash-frozen in time, buried in a mudslide prior to the arrival of the white man. The mud created an oxygen-free environment that preserved the wood. Thus we have rare physical evidence of a people who have occupied the land for thousands of years.

Exhibits include (modern-made) cedar plank canoes of different sizes, depending on which animal the party hunted. Going after whales, for instance, required more manpower than chasing seals. We also have a life-size replica of one of their long houses, also made from cedar planks (plus logs). The planks could be maneuvered for light and ventilation. Cedar even featured in their clothing, with fiber fashioned from its bark. Fragments of ancient textile are on display.

In no time, a picture, albeit incomplete, begins to emerge of Makah life prior to the white man, one of sufficient abundance to allow for complex social orders, specialized tasks, and cultural pursuits. Alas, a smallpox epidemic in 1852 decimated the population, severely compromising social cohesion and transmission of knowledge and skills. Soon after, federal government agents and missionaries just about finished the job.

Thus, here at the edge of our country, once again I encounter two different visions of our nation, each in conflict with the other, always with the same depressing ending. Only this is a story with more than one possible ending. Way down the road, the governor has declared a state of emergency. Further over, wildfires are raging, smoke is filling the skies. Wildfires are part of nature, but man-induced climate change appears to be generating a phenomenon that may escalate beyond our control.

Thus, we may be creating our own Book of Revelation, replete with an Armageddon of our own making, followed by the promise of a new Heaven on Earth. My imagining of this new Heaven would include a proud people, self-sufficient, taking to the sea in cedar canoes, braving the elements in pursuit of the mighty whale.

Assuming, of course, the whale is still with us.

 

Beach Ruminations …

Early Sept …

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I’m on an isolated section of beach along Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. A few more final shots from my various explorations …

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The sky soup is due to a mixture of marine layer and smoke from distant wildfires. Since early August, the state of Washington has experienced Biblical weather, including “Smokezilla” from fires in Canada and ash rains from fires in central Washington. Fires are rampant in the Cascades.

Wildfires in the Northwest have been a fact of life since forever, but this summer has been extraordinary. But nothing lasts forever. Soon enough, the way climate patterns are changing, extraordinary will become the new normal.

Nature, in turn, will reset to a new normal, perhaps with us not in it. If so, will there exist any species – plant or animal – to mourn the loss?

Who will have pity on you, Jerusalem? Who will mourn for you? Who will stop to ask how you are? – Jeremiah 15:5.

Tidal Pools

Early Sept …

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I’m camping along an isolated stretch of beach along Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. The tide is out. I have an open stretch of sand to the rock in the photo below. Time to bundle up against the chill and go exploring …

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Every picture says a thousand words. I’ll let the pictures do the talking …

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To see a World in a Grain of Sand. And a Heaven in a Wild Flower. Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand. And Eternity in an hour. – William Blake

 

Coast

Early Sept …

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This is no ordinary day at the beach. I’m on an isolated section of coast along the Olympic Peninsula, nearly a mile off the road. I have walked through forest with my gear to pitch a tent here. A couple of views of my tent …

Note the wet sand. I woke up in the middle of the night to what sounded like particularly loud surf, as if it were in my ears. I thought no more about it, and rolled over and went back to sleep. Next morning, I woke up to realize that the tide had approached to within one first down of my receiving an unexpected salt rinse.

But now it’s low tide, with a lot of exploring ahead. Let’s back up …

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The top blue pin shows where I am now vs where I woke up the day before. A nice leisurely drive and I’m pulling into my beach parking lot in the afternoon. The beach is part of Olympic National Park, and – back at the Quinalt ranger station – I have reserved my spot.

This takes quite a bit of the spontaneity out of camping, but the trade-off is I know in advance that I have a place to unroll my sleeping bag. Actually, that almost didn’t happen.

Getting to the beach requires negotiating some steep up and downs through the woods. Along the way, I encounter some trees mating …

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Plus this scandalized onlooker …

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Getting from the woods to the beach requires hurdling and tight-roping over massive jumbles of driftwood logs. In order to stick my landings, sometimes I have to put down the stuff I’m carrying. I make it to open beach and find what looks like a good spot. I dump my stuff and do a bit of a walkabout. You can’t beat the view …

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I decide to set up camp further along the beach. I grab my stuff and make tracks, find a cozy spot, and pitch my tent. Later, I wrap myself in a blanket, ass on the sand, back against a driftwood log, and settle in for a peaceful evening. Off in the distance, I make out the lights of passing ships. The moon has risen over some cliffs way off in the distance and begins its solitary path across the sky. Soon, it’s bedtime. I arrange my things, lay out my mat, and reach for my sleeping bag. I can’t seem to find it. Probably hiding beneath a blanket or a pile of clothes. I rummage through, then rummage again.

Suddenly, the realization dawns: I’m on a beach in the middle of nowhere, the cold setting in, with no sleeping bag. In the dark, with my horrible night vision, I assess my chances of finding it as somewhere between zero and next to zero, but that’s the optimist in me.

I set off into the dark with my flashlight, and arrive at the spot where I had initially intended to set up camp. I poke around. No sign of my bag. Not even a ransom note. A couple happens to be passing by. I ask them if, per chance, they happened to have come across a stray sleeping bag.

A normal everyday question, but hardly your normal everyday answer: Yes, in fact, they did spot a sleeping bag, back at the driftwood obstacle course.

This is music to my ears, but in the dark this going to be like finding a needle in a haystack. I head to the obstacle course. Another couple happens to materialize. Yes, they respond to my normal everyday question, they saw the bag and not only that, they can direct me to it.

I can’t believe my luck.

I scramble ahead, following their beam of light as they indicate left and right. With their superior night vision, they can see the bag. I can’t, even though I’m apparently standing right over it. Then a familiar shape looms out of the dark. Can it be?

Yes!

On most days, it makes sense for me to believe that life is nothing more a random series of accidents. But tonight I choose to believe in miracles.

Rain Forest

Early Sept …

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When you’re out in nature, just be with nature. This will make sense in a minute. For the time being, you just need to know I’m in Quinalt Forest, in Olympic National Park/National Forest. The region in general, in that large chunk of land left of Seattle, is known as the Olympic Peninsula. The red pin represents where I have pitched my tent.

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My tent …

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My car is 2.5 miles away. When a very nice woman ranger at the station suggested this spot to me, the idea of me driving down a washboard road for about 40 minutes and walking in with my camping equipment without a proper backpack made perfect sense.

Of course. A year before they were carving open my chest and for a month after that I was walking around like an old man.

The area around the ranger station is a small town, complete with its own post office. Campgrounds and wooden cabins and lodges with lake views abound. Here, you can “rough it” and hike several short loop trails and post on Facebook photos of the world’s largest spruce tree. Or you can drive for what seems like an insane distance and get eaten by a cougar. Here’s a section of the sign that greeted me where I wound up parking my car …

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Until coming across that sign, my plan had been to unconditionally surrender. Alternatively, to apply massive doses of self-doubt-inducing insults, as in: “You call yourself a predator – ha!”

Says the cougar: “Please, please – stop! – I beg of you.”

But now, here I am, trundling along the trail without an adequate pack, tiptoeing over loose rock and tree roots, gear balanced in my arms like Rachel Ray emerging from the pantry. Here, the cougar easily has the upper hand: “And you have the effrontery to refer to yourself as a camper.”

I hold up surprisingly well on the trail, only having to rest once. Deep in this far, you are no longer looking at scenery. You are beginning to experience nature. Stick around for awhile and you feel the boundaries surrounding your sense of self shifting. There is no longer a clear demarcation between the “I” we are so heavily invested in and the “other” that represents our perception of our surroundings.

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I’m looking up at a maple. Cedars and spruce dominate, but then I happened to turn a corner into unexpected broad-leafed glory …

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Not to mention velvety splendor …

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Give these guys a little sun – a chance to sink their roots and soak up nutrients – and they can give the evergreens a run for their money.

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One day I’m going to learn the difference between a spruce and cedar and pine. When they’re this huge, though, it’s easy to mistake all of them for redwoods. One thing I can say for sure, they’re all eminently huggable. Fortunately, they don’t hug back.

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Walking through a forest can’t begin to describe the experience. Total tree immersion is a much better description. But then the trees have a way of opening into spectacular vistas …

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Back in 1899, a party of five known as the Press Expedition (after the Seattle Press that underwrote the venture) spent six months crossing the Olympics (including these peaks) to get to where I am standing and then out to the ocean. A sign posted on the trailhead explains …

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And here I am, feeling good about lugging my gear in 2.5 miles. But already, I’m daring to dream big, of serious overnight backpacking excursions. It’s something I never could have imagined even thinking about last year. But here, I am, back propped against a tree by my tent, in my own paradise, with no nearby car to immediately fall back on – I couldn’t have imagined that, either.