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At the Hoh Rainforest

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Today, I spent the day trekking through the beauty and majesty of the Hoh Rainforest.  Located within Olympic National Forest, its a 3.5 hr drive from Olympia, Washington and didn’t quite go as I’d planned.  The space that the national forest occupies is immense, I can’t even wrap my brain around the fact that it contains over 1 million acres and is 95% undeveloped and pristine.  I had a quick chat with a park ranger who was very helpful and informative, he obviously loves his job and while I didn’t have time to delve into any semi-personal questions, he has an aura of one who has been working there since he graduated college and would never think of doing anything else.  I can imagine that after he retires, he will probably be involved in some sort of volunteer organization in a related field.  It’s always a pleasure speaking to people who are passionate about their jobs.

The forest itself is breathtaking.  I had the opportunity to walk by myself for quite some time in the wee morning hours before the majority of hikers and vacationers would descend upon the path.  Peak time seems to be around 2 PM.  There’s a quiet stillness that happens in forests that I love to wallow in.  All you hear is the rustling of branches, an occasional snapped twig, the wind blowing through the trees, the buzzing of the bugs, the sound of the river and your breathing as you slowly make your way down the path, making your way closer to the center of the forest.

I have, what you might say, a special relationship with forested areas.  As long as I can remember, and with every move that I made, no matter where in the world we moved to, we always ended up living very close to a large forested area.  And I would make these make woods my own personal play space, as I got older they started to become a refuge and a sanctuary.

My love for fairy tales and the absurd began in the woods, I would live and imagine myself having a completely different life in those woods.  I was the princess, the crone, a troll or a hunter. And later, when it became my refuge it would be the place I could go to clear my head, where I could walk around and talk to myself and not have anyone see and think I was insane, where I could go to cry and scream or just sit and write.

I’ve noticed that as I’ve gotten older my need for that has diminished or maybe more accurately, life has gotten so frantic that I’ve removed it.  I’ve moved so many times now, on my own, and been so wrapped up in my own head, that I’d almost forgotten what it was I loved so much about nature.  Fortunately, I have the opportunity to feel “away from it all” and yet not really go anywhere, the backyard to my house is practically a park.  I have a hammock to swing in on lazy summer days and read the latest brain rot or a large picnic table close enough to the house to run an extension cable to hook my laptop up to if I feel compelled to write outside.

And I think that’s part of where the disconnect came in on the “hike” at the Hoh.  I had this idea in my head that I would be able to stop in some little clearing, if I felt so inclined, and indulge in the inevitable creative juices that would start flowing simply by being in the great outdoors.

No such luck.

First, there were the bugs.  These weren’t the normal bugs that you encounter in a normal forest, these were extremely tenacious bloodsuckers that wouldn’t take no for an answer.  By the way, who knew that bug spray needs to be reapplied every couple of house, another lesson learned.   Also, in the Hoh, large horseflies abound.  Why? You might ask?  Probably because horses are allowed in the forest.  At several points in the hike a couple of flies were so emboldened to hitch a ride on my bosom and were undeterred with my swipes to get them off of me.  They merely flew back, as if it were their rightful place.  Technically, horses have their own trails  (I saw the signs) that are separate from the ones that hikers use however not all the horse people use those trails and as a result you will come across sections of the trail where you will have no choice but to step in horse shit because that’s how much of it covers the trail.

Yuck.

Secondly, there were no clearings for me to indulge in my vaunted creativity.  In fact, much to my dismay, there were no places to sit period.  And as I am not in the best of shape, I became a little winded and weary after mile 4 and then became alarmed as I realized that I would have to walk my ass back.  On my long, slow walk back to the trail-head, I observed several other hikers who had gone ahead and made their own little clearings by stretching out on the side of the trail, some of them napping, others swatting at flies irritatingly while trying to avoid the sun (which was futile, both the swatting and avoiding).

Thirdly, and lastly, which was an epic fail on my part.  Totally forgot to charge my camera and so when I attempted to turn it on, it laughed at me by flashing, “LOW BATTERY POWER” and then promptly turning itself off.  Boo.

But regardless of my personal issues with that particular hike, the Hoh is a magical place and I wasn’t able to capture it on camera (I doubt I could have even if I’d tried, low battery not withstanding.) The trees veiled in moss, the trail broken up with roots and rocks, the way the sun filtered in through the canopy and give the interior a soft, warm glow, the myriad of greenery (in every imaginable color of green) that would catch your eye and inspire a tentative poke or stroke of the finger.  The atmosphere fills you with silence and there’s the tendency to want to whisper when conversing with other members of your party and while spiders in my home are quickly introduced to the bottom of my shoe, here, there’s the feeling that I had to step around them (if I saw them).

I’ll go back, next time more prepared.  Next time, I’ll be ready for it all. Next time, will yield a less sorry story to tell.

Yeah, we’ll have to see about that next time.

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