Sunday, October 20, 2013

I did not know that our Olympic National Park was one of the 'last quiet places'! Check out this very cool story from The Daily Good website! No wonder the faeries are still there.  After reading this I think I will have to go back soon, a November or December hike may be in order.  I am posting this in the hopes that you will enjoy reading this interview/article while you wait for me to finish up Part IV.  The October plague has slowed me down for nearly two weeks now and I find myself getting further and further behind on things...writing included.  I am beginning to feel better, but now begins the 'catching up' phase!  I may get part IV posted by the end of today, or perhaps Monday or Tuesday.  Hang in there! 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Faerie Wood, Part III

The park bathroom was a small cinderblock building with just two stalls. As the two sisters entered, the five soggy hikers already occupying the space had to move around, relocating their wet rain gear that was dangling here and there. “Sorry,” one of them said, “We had to get dried off a little before we got back in the car.” “We barely managed two miles and got soaked,” said another.  The sisters nodded sympathetic understanding and Judy mumbled something about the heavy rain.  They squeezed between the hikers. 
The loud chatter of the women helped somewhat with the awkwardness of trying to go pee 2-feet away from complete strangers. Judy appreciated this until she realized the chatter was directed at her. “It’s really wet out there... the trail is covered in a lot of places with water.” Followed by a different voice, “We had planned a much longer hike, but could barely manage two miles, hope you aren’t planning to go far.” “Sorry we are taking up so much space here,” said a third voice, as a hand reached up and grabbed a pair of rain pants hanging over the door of Kathy’s stall. “We are making our tea, it’s a tradition!”  Flush…the sound of the toilet covered whatever was said next. “Look at all this mud that I got on me when I fell…” A second flush muffled the words yet again. 
The two sisters emerged in tandem from the stalls and the shuffle of bodies began again. Judy’s quick glance at Kathy confirmed that they would both like to get out of the bathroom as fast as possible. There would be no hand washing, which would have required the woman squatted by the tea contraption to stand up and move everything. They smiled and thanked the hikers for their advice and exited the bathroom amidst more recommendations and warnings. The adventurous sisters did not notice when, just moments later, the bathroom became quiet. They did not see the five brown moths fly out of the bathroom window. Three moths flew in the direction of the river, while two of them seemed to follow the sisters, moving slowly from one tree to the next.

The sisters walked quietly toward the trailhead, zipping up coats and pulling on hoods.  Finally Kathy said, “Weird.”  Judy laughed, “Yep…super awkward.”  As their parked car came into view the rain began to diminish. When they reached the parking lot, the rain stopped entirely. A patch of blue sky and sunshine was directly overhead.  “Aha!” said Judy, “the universe has made clear that it wants us to hike! It has brought the sun just for us,” she joked as she pulled off her hood and ran out onto the wooden bridge that crossed the Skokomish River. She lifted her face, spread her arms wide and smiled at the sky. Kathy followed, and somewhere inside they both felt ten years old again, a sense of adventure pushing aside any words of caution from the other hikers. The ‘girls’ were so preoccupied by the sun, they failed to notice that the others cars were now gone from the parking lot.


“Oh this is going to be so much fun,” said Kathy. “The trailhead is over here!” But “over here” proved to be a large mud puddle on the verge of becoming a small pond.  Kathy stopped and looked at it for moment before she strode purposefully round the right side and started across a large, soggy stretch of grass. “Um…I don’t think we should do that,” said Judy, who was more concerned about her feet getting soaked than about breaking the rule of staying on the trails. 
“It’s fine…what are we supposed to do?” Kathy asked. Judy tentatively followed, musing in her head that she had always thought of her older sister as the one to follow the rules, and to be the ‘girly-girl’ who would not want wet feet. Apparently things had changed. “Here’s the trail,” Kathy announced. And she marched off with such certainty that Judy did not hesitate to follow. If Judy had not been feeling like an adventurous ten-year old she might have noticed that the trail grew increasingly narrow. She may have questioned why a supposedly popular trail was now reduced to just wide enough for her to walk on.  Instead she stopped every few minutes to stare in wonder at the rain swollen current rushing over the boulders in the Skokomish. Kathy described how much slower the current had been when she was there the month before, during one of the driest summers on record.

Kathy finally stopped at a log that had fallen across the trail, “This is not right. This is not the trail, something’s wrong,” she said. It was then that Judy realized they had obviously ventured onto a side trail.  “Hmm…it’s just over here somewhere. I know it’s in this direction,” Kathy said as she stepped off the trail and began making her way through the temperate rainforest undergrowth. 
“What are you doing? You cannot just go marching off the trail. We should go back to where we started!” Judy was shocked. She watched in disbelief as Kathy continued, with unwavering confidence, to march deeper into the undergrowth. 
“I know it is this way.  We can’t get lost, we can just head back to the river if we need to.”  
Judy followed for a bit, until the salal and ferms became thick around her knees. The soft ground of rainforest compost made her nervous. “That is not safe,” she shouted at her sister.  “I am not following until you find the trail.”  But as Kathy passed out of sight around a large cedar tree, Judy cursed under her breath and carefully followed, trying to step exactly where she had seen her sister step. 

It was surprisingly dark under the dense canopy of evergreens and moss. She could not see Kathy anymore. “Where are you?” she called out. Her sister’s voice responded cheerfully, “Oh see here, there’s a little shack here... I am right here by this little shack. We must be close to the trail.”  Judy froze in her tracks and shouted back to her sister. “Are you nuts?  A little shack?! Listen Gretel, I am not following you to the little shack in the forest.  I am going back!”   The sound of branches and twigs snapped as someone, or something, moved through the undergrowth.  
A moment of silence and then her sister’s cheerful voice again, “Here it is, I have found the trail!  Just head towards my voice, you will pass the little shack.”  Judy let out a sigh. She had obviously lost her ten-year old self back by the river. As she worked her way toward Kathy, she found herself wondering when she became the worrier and her sister the adventurer, or had it always been that way, she wasn’t really sure.  As she approached the ‘little shack’ an uneasy feeling came over her.  The door was partly open and she fought the urge to peak inside, torn between the rational thought that it was a well house and the paranoid thought that a crazed lunatic would be lurking inside. At least a dozen tiny brown moths and two large dragonflies flitted about the odd, tiny structure.  She took a quick picture and picked up her pace to join a smiling Kathy on the trail. 
Faeries disturbed?
“That was creepy,” Judy muttered, “I wanted to peek around the door and see what was inside but I was scared. Did you look?” she asked Kathy.  
“There was no door,” her older sister replied. 
“There was a door and it was ajar. And creepy,” Judy added. 
“There was not a door…I would have seen a door,” Kathy responded, again in her matter-of-fact voice that let Judy know to drop the debate.  I’ll just show her the picture later, Judy thought.

The two sisters quickly discovered that although it was no longer raining out on the road, it would continue to ‘rain’ in the forest, as the hours of heavy precipitation collected in the canopy continued to trickle down onto their heads.  They put their hoods back up and found some sturdy walking sticks to help with any tricky parts of the trail, but mostly to throw at any rogue mountain goats that came their way. They frequently had to step off the trail to avoid large puddles and potentially unstable sections. They clambered over nurse logs and tried to step carefully around the delicate fungi.

To get around flooded sections of the trail, they clung to tree roots on the uphill side of the trail, exposed by years of rainfall. They avoided the side of the trail that dropped off into forest, or occasionally straight down to the river. The sisters moved quickly past large boulders left behind by the glaciers and kept up a steady conversation as they talked about the past, present and future. Judy frequently stopped to admire yet another mysterious fungus, as they marveled at the enormous diversity and
mystery of the trees, plants and fungi. The Olympic National Park has such unique biodiversity that it has been declared both an international biosphere reserve and a World Heritage Site. 
Kathy reviewed the rules of engagement for an aggressive mountain goat. These surly goats are not native to the Olympic Peninsula. They were brought there in the 1920’s and their numbers had become so large and problematic by the 1980’s the park service began a plan to manage and control the population of goats.  Judy, bothered by the loss of peripheral vision from her hood, frequently stopped to look behind her.  She had an uneasy feeling that something was following them but decided it was too much talk of mountain goats.  “I am going to periodically scan for rogue goats,” she announced.  
Kathy laughed and turned around, “You look like a hobbit!” she smiled.  “Climb up there and I’ll take your picture!”  As Judy climbed up into the roots of an ancient evergreen, a small brown moth followed.

Can you see the faerie?

 Meanwhile, back at the cottage, water was boiling for tea.  The two Carolines, mother and grandmother to 'the girls', had just finished their tidying and organizing.  The rain had let up again and they opened the windows just a bit, to let some fresh air in.  The younger Caroline took her tea into the den to cozy up with a good book.  The grandmother sat at the kitchen table with her tea and looked across the water.  She did not notice the two brown moths that skimmed across the canal at surprising speed, flew up onto the cottage porch and perched on top of the windowsill. As she sat quietly drinking her tea, she glanced over at the dock next door.

The property next to the cabin was a curiosity to the four women, surrounded as it was by a tall wood fence with a locked gate, security cameras and ominous warning signs. The grandmother’s eyes settled on the sign just poking out of the water “Warning: High Security Area. Do Not Enter”.  A sense of unease and a chill passed over her. She got up to close the kitchen window. “Shoo,” she said, and waved her hand at the two moths. As she turned the window latch she called out to her daughter, “Isn’t it about time for the girls to be back?” The younger Caroline looked at the 
clock, “No, I don’t think so.” 
“They said they’d only be gone a couple of hours, hasn’t it been two hours?” their grandmother persisted. “Not quite, mom. If they aren’t back by 3:30 I’ll give them a call.”  The younger Caroline decided to find something on the TV to keep them from worrying. She could not decide if the slight nagging feeling she felt was instinct or simply brought on by her own mother’s concern. They settled in to watch a nature show and for the next half hour they did not wonder about the girls.

 To be continued..Part VI..The river, mysterious stones and a dragon's bridge.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Faerie Wood Part II

The Toyota 4-Runner cruised slowly around the eastern shore of Hood Canal, its windshield wipers created the musical background to the two sister's conversation. The oldest, Kathy, with curly hair made wild by the rain, drove the car carefully. The younger sister, Judy, was free to gaze out the window and marvel at houses that dangled off the road and into the fjord that separates the Kitsap and Olympic Peninsulas. “Would you live in that?” Judy asked as they rounded a bend to see a tiny house perched on stilts. “Oooh! I love it!” Kathy answered as the tiny blue-gray house passed out of view. “Oh my, look at that!”  A large building loomed on the left, looking for all intents and purposes like an old-fashioned Water Works.

It was the Public Utility District and the giant pipes that carry water down from the Lake Cushman Dam #2 and provide power for the City of Tacoma over 40 miles away.  Lake Cushman was created in the 1930’s when the Corps of Engineers built dams across a naturally broad portion of the Skokomish River. Created, like many other lakes in the Pacific Northwest, to harvest hydroelectricity at the cost of the fish and wildlife and the subsistence of tribal communities.

The sisters had set out on this rainy day with no particular destination in mind. There were several possibilities and the sense of freedom, and perhaps the pounding rain, carried the 4-Runner further up the Olympic Peninsula. “Shall we go to Lake Cushman?” asked Kathy, who had hiked there just the month before. “I'm pretty sure we’re over halfway there…it’s so beautiful.” 

“Sure!” Judy replied. “Do you think mom and grams are napping yet?” she added with a laugh. “Well they ought to be!” Kathy quipped, “Having cookies and second breakfast already! And I think they stayed up later than they usually do last night.” In fact, their 89-year old grandmother had told stories by the fire late into the night.  It had been after 11pm when their grandmother had gone to bed, her tiny self barely visible in the King size bed. 

“Yes, let’s at least drive out there and if the rain lets up we can do that hike you mentioned.” Judy’s multiple sclerosis had flared up and aggravated her leg most of the summer and she had missed out on many hikes, she was excited at the prospect of "Staircase".  The SUV continued on its now northwesterly route and the two sisters pointed out wildlife and quirky houses while they talked about the past, present and future. The conversation flipped easily from a 30-year old memory to talk of retirement and whether one could live “so far away from civilization.”

Back at the cottage, the two Carolines had finished up their cheese enchiladas, left over from dinner Kathy had prepared the night before. They sat at the kitchen table nibbling on fresh-baked cookies and watching the seals play. A great blue heron swooped in and spent a good bit of time entertaining the ladies. He quietly stalked his prey, moving through the water so slowly that not a ripple was made, then…. pounce! With a gracefully fast dart of his beak, he would grab a fish and toss it overhead, so that it slid down whole.

The rain changed from heavy to mist, to heavy again.  The two Carolines, mother and daughter, drank tea and talked of the past, the present and the future. The conversation drifted lazily, punctuated by long comfortable moments of quiet, following the pattern of rain and mist. An hour passed this way, until a subtle restlessness came to visit. The Carolines decided it was time to tidy up the cottage a bit. There were dishes to wash, beds to make and miscellaneous items to put away.                                                                                    
Nearly 40 minutes had passed by the time 'the girls', as their grandmother called them, turned onto the road that runs adjacent to 8-mile Lake Cushman. Heavy rain continued and Kathy’s brow furrowed, “Do you think this is safe?” Judy, who was usually the Eeyore of any outing, was caught off guard. “Is what safe?” 
“This…what we’re doing…you know, with all this rain. I mean trees do fall, or those big rocks. There was a rockslide sign back there,” Kathy said in her usual matter-of-fact manner. Judy’s blue eyes glanced up at the towering hillside to her right. She had not noticed the sign or the way the trees grew at an outward angle. She pondered for a moment before she answered. “Well, those things do happen. But it’s very rare you hear about someone being killed by a tree or a rock. I suspect we risk our lives more each day when we get on the freeway or drive around town.” Another sign appeared ahead -Fire Damage Area- Beware of falling trees and rocks-. “Hmmm…maybe you could just move us a bit more quickly through this area.” 
Kathy picked up her speed, “Good grief!” she said with a nervous giggle.

Soon the road turned from pavement to dirt and gravel. Judy was lost in a memory decades old. “Were you with us the time we came out here in the winter and stayed at that A-frame cabin? The one mom’s boyfriend owned? Cousin Lorraine and I went for a walk and it started to snow; it was so pretty we just kept walking all around…there’s so many little roads and houses scattered in the woods around here.” 
“I do remember that A-frame,” Kathy said, “We came up here a few times.” 
Judy started to smile, “Well you would remember this time, because mother panicked! Lorraine and I were late getting back and she was just certain we had somehow fallen in the lake and drowned. I don’t know how long they were out looking for us, you know we were just out exploring like we always did, but when they pulled up in the truck mom had obviously been crying.  Lorraine and I felt really bad.  Poor mom.”  
Kathy laughed, “Ha! I don’t remember that, but then I was the good child so I was probably back at the cabin.”  With a nostalgic spirit and more stories the sisters finished their drive to the park entrance.

As the pay station came into view Judy said, “Oh good, an official person up here will make me feel better. You know we haven’t passed a single car on the way in. For some reason I worry more about creepy people out in the woods than I do about falling trees and cougars.” Kathy pulled the 4-runner up to the booth. A sheet of plywood was nailed over the window. A sign instructed them to park up ahead and put their payment in an envelope by the bulletin board.  
At the bulletin board another sign warned them of an unexpected danger.

“WARNING: Mountain goats have been seen close to the trail and campgrounds. If this behavior persists or worsens this area will have to be closed for recreation.” The sign listed what to do if approached by an aggressive mountain goat and what not to do that might accidentally lure the goats close to the recreation area. One of the bulleted items stated that hikers should move at least 100 yards off the trail to urinate. Apparently the goats are attracted to the salts left behind in human urine. Kathy raised her eyebrows, “There’s a pretty decent bathroom over here in the campground, 
follow me.” 

Judy pulled her hood up over her strawberry-blonde hair and followed her older sister, skirting around large washed out areas of the path.  They hesitated just outside the bathroom, suddenly aware of many voices. There had been two other cars parked in the lot. Judy pushed open the door and entered the tiny concrete building. It was warm and steamy. She was greeted by five soggy female hikers, “Don’t mind us, we’re just making tea!” one of them said.

Stay tuned...part III...where is the trail? and a 'funny feeling'...