Old Friends, New Friends

Whelan on Walkabout in Washington - Olympic National Forest

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When I worked with the cabin owners at Huntington Lake, Sierra National Forest, I would hear their stories about their cabin being passed down for generations. They would talk about how they met there, who was who at the lake, who had which cabin and what they did to it over the years. The would tell nostalgic stories about "Thirty years ago, when I came up here for the summer, I would hike, or swim, or boat or meet people at the cabin for a holiday party. Their cabin was their old friend. 

They were very nice stories and I would listen to them thinking about my parents. My family could never dream of buying a little cabin in the woods. But what they did own then, and what we own now is public land. We all have our old friends the National Forests and National Parks.

After the stress and anxiety of moving to Washington, it came as no surprise that my first day-trip was to the Olympic National Forest and the Olympic National Park.  A visit to a new old friend. 

 
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Rain Forest Nature Trail - Old Forest
The simplicity of taking a short walk through a tunnel of life - tall, dense, growing, green, natural, perfect in its own way, connected in time, space and experience. This nature trail is short, flat and perfect for close up interaction with the temperate rain forest. Everywhere you look, everything you see is covered with green life. The old dead support new life. Green on green is the color scheme with no place to rest your eye. It is a friendly visual assault. Like a giant vegetative hug, it walks up to you and you can't help to hug it back, and love it back. We are visiting on a clear sunny day and everything seems to be shouting "The sun is shining! Quick soak it up while you can. Soon we will be bathing in rain."

 Douglas Fir grow big on the Olympic National Forest. 

Douglas Fir grow big on the Olympic National Forest. 

 Handsome cozy chairs in the lodge's public space - lodge style done well. 

Handsome cozy chairs in the lodge's public space - lodge style done well. 

World's Record Sitka Spruce - Old Tree  How can you not love a very large and very old tree? I would just go crazy when people jumped the fence to take a selfie on the roots of giant sequoia trees. While in Cambodia I was disappointed to learn that platforms were needed to keep selfie seekers from stomping the roots of the strangler fig tree featured in the Laura Croft Tomb Raider movie. Unfortunately, fame comes at a cost. 

I found the very same people taking selfies on the roots of this amazing sitka spruce.  I did speak to the tree and told it "hang in there big boy. We love you. " Then I took my selfie by the sign in the parking lot, away from my new old friend's trampled roots. 

 Ferns cover the forest floor like bear clover in the Sierra, only ferns are prettier. 

Ferns cover the forest floor like bear clover in the Sierra, only ferns are prettier. 

Lake Quinault Lodge - Old Lodge
A historic gathering place that is still loved and cared about. Unlike my previous experience with resorts under special use permit from the US Forest Service, Lake Quinault Lodge is well managed, well maintained and continues to create memorable experiences. It was stylish with the look and feel of old historic Park lodges.  

"Built in 1926 and styled after Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone and Sun Valley Lodge in Idaho, the Lake Quinault Lodge reflects the spirit of a bygone era. This cozy getaway offers a serene retreat from the pressures of the outside world." 

We casually enjoyed our beers with lunch on the outdoor patio overlooking the lake. While visitors sat on the lawn, we speculated about staying at the lodge when the weather is more representative of the temperate rain forest. "If the room had a fireplace and a good book, this could be a fun place even in the dead of a rainy winter." 

 Selfie by the sign, not on the roots of the World's Largest Sitka Spruce. 

Selfie by the sign, not on the roots of the World's Largest Sitka Spruce. 

 The view upstream with a peek of the peaks of the Olympic National Park backcountry. 

The view upstream with a peek of the peaks of the Olympic National Park backcountry. 

South Shore Drive/North Shore Drive - Old Drive
Still one of my favorite activities - taking a drive exploring new roads in the forest. Up stream along the river, there are few cars on the drive as we weave back and forth from gravel to pavement, from one lane to two lanes, from open views through caves of moss covered maples. The forest reaches above and beyond. The trees are so tight, maybe they are blocking out the cell phone service protecting us from thoughts of the outside world? 

 A tunnel of green on North Shore Road, Quinault Valley, Olympic National Forest. 

A tunnel of green on North Shore Road, Quinault Valley, Olympic National Forest. 

 A forever landscape in the Olympic National Park. 

A forever landscape in the Olympic National Park. 

Olympic National Park Beaches - Old Friend

I can't resist a visit to the beach. Olympic National Park has beautiful long, wild, and cool beaches that stretch as far as I can see. There are footsteps in the sand, but no one is around. Even the names "Beach One" and "Beach Two" are simple and unassuming as if to not clutter the space with expectations. "This is all there is" says the waves as they roll without regard to me or anyone else in the world. How may years have they been doing this without notice? Beaches are prehistoric relics alive today and hopefully forever. 

 Perfect beach stones. 

Perfect beach stones. 

I'm still trying to get back to my old self in my new environment. I'm having a bit of writer's block and I want to thank you for reading my blog. 

There's Hope in the High Country

Great Basin National Park

 Pinyon pine prevelant in the Great Basin.  

Pinyon pine prevelant in the Great Basin.  

What first struck me about the Great Basin was the numerous high mountain peaks within the “basin.” Driving through Nevada, we took advantage of the space in-between and stopped for a few days at Great Basin National Park, one of the many places that we routinely discuss during the long drive from one National Park to another. Rising above the blue-green sea of sagebrush, I realized that I didn’t properly pay attention to my high school geography lesson. I missed a few mountains and valleys. The Great Basin National Park brochure sets me straight. “It’s not one, but many basins, separated by mountain ranges roughly parallel, north to south, basin, and range alternating in seemingly endless geographic rhythm.”

Environmental extremes, highs, and lows, a string of unique biomes all in a row. That’s my kind of place. We camped at 7,600 feet and after the first day of altitude acclimation, we hiked the Timber Creek Loop Trail up to 10,000 feet elevation. What a change to be in the spruce aspen forest, making friends with a dozen wild turkeys that paced back and forth as we enjoyed our lunch. What a joy to see the small waving leaves of quaking aspen trees, delicate paper-thin spruce cones, spiny prickly pear, manzanita, and hairy mountain mahogany all living along the same trail.

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But nearby, were the granddaddy of environmental barometers, the 3,000 to 5,000-year-old bristlecone pine forest and the glacier on Wheeler Peak. Two unique relics of bygone ages. Ecosystems that are distinct and thank goodness, not yet extinct. The glaciers and the bristlecone pine endured the folly of history and the willy-nilly externalities of human cultures. We didn’t design systems that would impact these little gems, we just neglected to properly understand that our resource consuming society is harmful. No one said, “hey, let’s warm things up a bit. Let’s melt ancient relic ice and kill some trees that are older than the history of human civilization.”  People had no clue what we were doing to our environments when we cut down forests and started burning fossil fuels. We still don’t understand how things fit together.  

 Alive or dead? It is hard to tell with a bristlecone pine. It only take one branch to stay alive. 

Alive or dead? It is hard to tell with a bristlecone pine. It only take one branch to stay alive. 

When we got to the bristlecone pine grove, we were greeted by a lively group of 20 high school students from Cedar City, Utah. They were having a snack and resting near a Park Service interpretive sign. The sign was one of many that explained the special environment of the bristlecone pines.  “An increment borer is a specialized tool used to determine the age of trees, without hurting the tree.” We could hear an adult voice instructing them, “Be sure to look for micro trash. Pick up anything you see, even if it isn’t yours.”

When I was in college, I decided I wanted to take care of trees. Now, that seems so pretentious. With our climate changing it ways we didn’t foresee, caring for trees is really a very tall order.  A hike in the ancient forest was an opportunity to see first-hand just how well are these precious relics? Are they cared for? Are they in good hands?

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 The old and the younger trees together. 

The old and the younger trees together. 

These ol’ gals, even after 3,500 years are still cranking out the cones. Beautiful creek basins were full of cones. We should all be blessed with such sexy virility! The proud skeletal remains of trees dearly departed were now their own handsome headstone monument.  Next to the time worn troupers, young, 100 years or so, trees in the landscape grasped to the rock rubble that substituted for soil.

Looking across the hillside, it was green, alive, and it looked like a forest; a beautiful vibrant community of vegetative companions.  I’m sure it isn’t as well and prosperous as it appears to the casual naked eye, but it felt good to be there. I was moved to reach out and touch a twisted tree trunk. “I love you. You are beautiful. Hang in there.”

 

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We continued beyond the bristlecone pine grove up to a rock glacier nestled below Wheeler Peak. No longer were we among the trees, but above the pines within a series of glacier moraine. There were no birds or insects to be found, and a dark cloud was materializing above. There was no soil, only angular rocks piled into repeating rows below the ice field. We scrambled up along the trail with the side walls of the canyon enclosing us in semi-metamorphic layers of multicolored rock material waiting to crumble.

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Out of place, and without context, we saw a scattering of twelve inch, brightly colored, red, blue, green, yellow, and white plastic balls. “What is going on here?” It looked like either art or science. It was hard to tell. We were greeted by a group of college students, from Fargo North Dakota.  They were tracking and mapping the glacier using pulsed laser light, the most current survey science - LIDAR (Light Directing and Ranging). The balls were their reference points.

The question was on everyone’s mind: “How is the glacier doing?” This was the fifth year of measurements and they were pleased to say that it is looking good. How fast is it shrinking? The winter snow fall is replenishing the ice and it is all moving very slowly like a glacier should be moving. We were glad to see someone is taking notice, gathering measurements, collecting data, and following the health of Wheeler’s rock glacier. Someone cares enough to be watching for good news or the bad news.

Climate change is real, and we did it.

But, sometimes I am a dreamer, an environmental idealist, an eco-friendly romantic. Weren’t the ol' masters Henry David Thoreau, Ansel Adams, Walt Whitman, and Aldo Leopold at least part-time optimists? I know they had their good days. I want to stand next to them. 

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Today was my good day.  I want the bristlecone pine forest to be here for thousands of years to come. I want glaciers to move very, very slowly. I want mountains full of trees and valleys full of clean running water.  I want all the basins to be great. I hope the students want this too.

Today, I have hope for the high country.

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