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Day Two: Big Trees and Thursday in the Rain Forest

Thursday, March 22

The mist has lifted from the water and today we can see the far bank of the lake with its dark brown and green textures cut by long white streams of fog. There is no sky, just paleness overhead, mists that are waiting for a reason to lower to water level again. Robins roam all over the lawn and although the ducks already have chicks, the Canadian geese are still strutting and squabbling and nuzzling each other as they court

We walked to see the world’s largest (tallest) sitka spruce tree, a burly mass of grey-black wood with wide skirts of roots reaching out for yards into the moss. The tree is not a smooth column like redwoods. It’s more of a stolid pugilist tree than an elvish pillar. The trunk shows the stumps of lost branches, knots of wood turned in upon itself with the occasional black splinter of wood jabbing the sky sideways as you look up at the tree. Although the trunk is long, the wide skirts and clear tapering of its long crown makes it seem more like a spear head than a spear shaft. You would not look at this tree and think of a ship’s mast to be. It’s a spike of a tree. Beside it is a scraggly shoot, maybe 20 feet tall, with a bulbous base and empty branches dripping with white moss. It stands like a courtier for the spruce with a sign to declare the nobility of its patron for anyone invading their space.
               
Beyond the glade with the ancient tree (>1000 yr), on the other side of the underbrush, is a wide expanse of green much like the lawn behind our cabin. Our first thought is Bog!, but when we cross the bridge and make our way through the woods to the road, we see a sign advertising a golf course. Sure.

We stopped at the market before returning to the cabin and came home with new gear: for me, a fleece-lined rain jacket with hood, and for Susan, the same and a brown fleece jacket that is not quite so woodsy looking.

While Susan wrote in the cabin, I went for a walk, starting at the path behind the small post office and laundromat. I paced the creek a while then crossed it, climbed some log stairs, and found myself away from any noise save for the water down below. There are occasional yellow violets in the moss and deep red/pink blossoms on the salmon berry bushes; green needles and leaves and moss in all tones and shades against the brown, black, and grey of the wood; white, cream, and the faintest pale green lichens. It’s raining in the woods, more than just dripping from the trees. As I go further along the trail, I hear a far off chain saw and begin to see fresh sawdust and fresh lengths of cut tree trunks where windfall has been cleared from the path.
               
Across the ravine lay logs without weathering or the dark reduction of bark to soil for ferns and young trees to feed off the fallen parent tree. Tracing a long tree trunk back to the far side of the valley, I can see a raw slab of roots torn from the hillside, the dirt still ragged at the edges where thin feeder roots fan out, upright in the wet air. One particular downed tree catches my eye and as I look it over, I realize that it is too wide, too solid across the creek to be anything but the lower trunk of a huge tree spanning the ravine. Its upper reaches must have crashed down across the pathway that I’m following. Looking around, I see that the tree snapped as it hit the hillside at my feet and that its top length landed far enough to the right of the path that no clearing had been necessary.
               
Walking deeper, I start coming upon more evidence of trees that came down from the other side of the creek to lie across and block the path. Huge rounds of sawed trunks, the cuts so fresh that the sap is still seeping and the sawdust not yet a sodden lump lie all around me. Now, too, there are torn roots on this side, rising 3 and 4 feet above my head. One turn and your nose is intimate with the most hidden parts of the tree that fell. It smells raw, still indignant at being torn away from the ground.
               
Over the next rise, I come on two foresters who have just cut two huge tree bases free from the trunks that stretch back across the creek. We talk a bit and they tell me that the next section of the path that leads to the falls is closed. I’ll be able to get to the upcoming hillside road okay; the worst blockages here have been cleared and they’re just doing secondary clean up on this path. But, it will be quite obvious to me that there will be no following the path beyond the road.
               
Sure enough, I reach the road and even before I cross it I can see the branch and needle debris that covers the ground by the trail sign and the path to the foot bridge beyond. Climbing over a small log that has been stretched across the path as a warning barrier, I walk up to the sign to examine the map that shows which trails are closed. Beyond it, I can easily see across the bridge where, one after another, fallen trees block any passage. These are not one log after another that could be climbed over; these are logs toppled next to each other and over each other, defying an easy scramble.
               
I walk up the road instead. Out here it isn’t really raining and I can put my hood down for while. To my left, up hill, I can see torn trunks everywhere. In the brush where the road switches back, a tremendous tree stood, its stump now broken like a matchstick, a long raw splinter of trunk reaching fifteen feet and more against the sky. It looks like  a fierce spear of wood just waiting, to tear at some Titan’s foot. I’m tired, so I don’t follow the switchback further than where I can get a look at that broken trunk from behind. Going down hill now, I look to the left and see the wide stretch of destruction that the winter storm left behind. It’s easy to imagine the path of the wind, the hurricane, that blew down the hillside in the wreckage of trees, hundreds of them thrown down and about in a twisting path from crest to lakeside. The gap in the forest cover, a sudden breadth of sky, feels like an open wound. Trees that still stand at then edge of destruction have been exposed, their lower trunks, bare of branches -- normal for a wood with a high canopy of green,  -- seem naked when seen at the edge of the sudden opening in the forest.
               
I come upon the tree cutters again. They are talking with another two men, assessing the work still waiting for them. Talking with one of them, exchanging amazements at the devastation surrounding us, I ask about the golf course. He laughs when I say that we first thought it was a bog. And it is most of the year, he assures me. We talk of counting the rings on the cut logs of tree that have fallen. I got as high as 110 years; he tells me about one that went down by the golf course and how he stopped counting after 400. I marvel at the quality of the lumber we’re looking at. He says that it won’t be logged, but will stay here as it would without men around. and only the kids to come will see the forest once again as it was throughout his life.
               
The road curves, turning way from the wrecked bowl. The wind traveled down a narrow ravine west of the road, where another creek has emerged from the woods. Now the trees on the farther side lie across the ravine, looking like a log bridge built by a reckless child, or like an abandoned corduroy road with gaps in the steady march of logs. As I walk down the road, I see evidence of trees that were not so easy to bring down, that twisted and blew apart. One slab of wood that must be 4 by 10 or 15 feet in size lies like a piece of milled wood against the underbrush, bright yellow in the damp air.
               
Finally I make it down to the road and head back for the cabin. It’s raining even outside the forest now.

At noon, we visited in the Hospitality Room (Patrick and Hana’s cabin 6) for nibbles and getting acquainted, then went back to our cabin, started a fire (a very nice one, as a matter of fact; the fireplace draws beautifully), and sat about (Susan reading, me reading old TW stories to catch up on and see if anything is salvageable. I find that I like the people and that their life situations still interest me and seem workable – it’s the outer universe and it’s basic structure that’s the problem).
               
But, oh, it is simply wonderful to sit stretched out on the couch with the fireplace lit at my feet and the glass porch door open to hear the running brook and to better see the lake and greensward outside. The laptop is on my legs, ipod is playing, a cup of hot chai and my book sit on a chair pulled up to play side table. I’m warm and comfy and don’t have to be anywhere anytime soon.

We went for dinner at 5; Susan had baked cod and I had veggies and scallops, both good. The off-season menu in the resort is limited but well prepared. At the planned cocktail hour afterward, we shared good conversation including an intriguing Connie Willis quote about her wondering if she could continue to write SF now when tech is changing so fast and the kids have grown up with it as normal.

Then I stayed up late reading and writing on these notes and went to bed around 2.

Comments

I adore your writing, Maggie, always have. The cabin and forest sound idillic and I'm totally drawn in by your description - I could almost smell the forest myself! Thank you so much for sharing your experiences.

Pictures soon!

Or at least I hope so. We've had a busy couple days here so I haven't had a chance to download the shots I took with the new camera...and to see if I did everything correctly. It used to be so easy to take a picture....these new cameras make my old 35mm seem like child's play.

I'm glad that you enjoyed the description! Wait till we get to the 7 inches of rain in two days....