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'...

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