Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Faerie Wood, Part IV

The sisters, by mere coincidence, had chosen September 22nd, the Autumn Equinox, to go on their adventure. The Autumn Equinox is the day that daylight and darkness are equal in time, with the following days increasing the hours of darkness until the Winter Solstice. It is a time when plants and animals prepare for hibernation, suspension and stasis through the winter. Early civilizations gave much spiritual importance to the Autumn Equinox, while now it often passes unnoticed.  
Although they were not aware it was the Equinox, they had stood with their mother, on the porch of the cottage the evening before, to wonder at the magnificent moon reflecting on the water. And they now stood in awe of the beautiful autumn foliage around them.Their eyes and spirits took in all that they could on this leisurely adventure, as though they instinctively knew that it might shore them up for the winter to come.

The forest was beautiful, rain-washed leaves, lichen and fungi gleaming and sparkling where the sun peaked through the canopy. Judy stood up in the roots of the giant tree for a few moments and gazed about her at the lichen that hung like Victorian lace from the ancient firs and evergreens. The sound of the river seemed to wash away any echoes of summer tourists, like a lullaby sung to sooth an over-stimulated child. Indeed this had been one of the driest summers on record and the hikers and campers had flocked to the National Park, a relentless onslaught of feet and noise.
Judy climbed back down to the trail somewhat begrudgingly. “I suppose I ought to pick up the pace or we’ll take 3 hours to do this 2 mile trail,” she said to Kathy. 
“Oh, it’s fine,” her older sister replied. “I think we are close to the suspension bridge and then we are halfway. And if I’m remembering correctly the other side of the trail is much flatter…it won’t take us as long to get back.”

They walked along in silence for a little while, until Judy saw some movement out of the corner of her eye. She felt a little foolish and laughed, “Say! There is a little brown moth following me!  I knew I had the feeling something was following me and I was worried it was a mountain goat- ha!” 
Kathy was too far ahead on the trail to see the little moth, but she laughed as well, “Beware the rogue moths!” she chuckled.  The trail had moved closer to the river and they found themselves out of the canopy and able to enjoy a bit more sunlight peeking through the scattered white clouds. “There’s the bridge!” Kathy declared. 
The suspension bridge, with a span of 
215 feet, was installed the previous winter. It was built higher than previous bridges in the hopes that this one would not be wiped out by logjams that sometimes move down the Skokomish during flood season. A slight incline and some steps led up to the bridge. “How is your leg doing?” Kathy asked. 
“Oh…” Judy paused, “Actually…it feels fine. Weird. I wonder if hiking on the softer ground and the fact that we are sort of climbing about is actually good for it? You know, not the same as the repetitive motion and hard
Following the faeries?
surface that I get when I walk around the neighborhood.” 

Judy glanced down at her right leg. She poked it, as though that might make it hurt. “I have got to do more hiking! It is ridiculous that we live in such a beautiful place and I have seen so little of it. I always feel so good in the woods! And it doesn’t feel like exercise at all, just an adventure,” she added. 
Her older sister enthusiastically agreed, “Don’t you remember when we were kids? All we did was run around in the woods…I love it…it feels so peaceful and calm.” Judy sent Kathy out onto the bridge first to pose for a picture. She did not realize that the swaying of the bridge made her sister nervous and she was amused as Kathy quickly scurried to the other side. Judy moved slowly across, as it occurred to her that the faster she went the more the bridge bounced. She paused mid-span to take some more pictures of the singing river, then joined Kathy on the other side. 

The undergrowth on this side of the river was thinner, likely caused by a wildfire years before. These fires are a natural part of the rainforest ecosystem, helping to thin the undergrowth and allow new Douglas Fir seedlings a chance to grow. It would make sense that a fire had stopped at the river, making the trail on each side quite different from the other. A yin and yang with a river running through it. Large open areas of ground fairly glowed with the vivid rust color of spent fir needles. They turned and headed in the direction of the campground, with the river now flowing on their right. Judy doled out the M&M cookies and picked up her pace as she realized that she was getting hungry.  Yet every few minutes on the trail some new plant or fungus would appear and they could not help but pause for just a moment to admire the mysteries of this temperate rainforest.

At 3:35 pm the younger Caroline used the cottage phone to call Judy’s cell phone. Her daughter had bragged the day before that her cell phone was the only one to get service at the resort. What Caroline did not know, is that across the water, in the faerie wood, nobody’s phone would get service. She left a friendly message on Judy’s voicemail, “Grams wanted me to check on you girls, just wanted to see when you would be back. Okay, we’ll see you soon.”  She was not particularly worried, but the girls’ grandmother was. 
“They said they would be back in 2 hours. I’m afraid something has happened.” The elder Caroline stared out the window. “Do you think if Judy fell or hurt herself Kathy would stay with her, or would she go to get help? You know how her leg has been bothering her….”  A tiny brown moth fluttered from one window to the next on the deck, as though it anxiously wanted to get inside.
The girls’ mother decided to walk up to the main office and get some phone numbers, just in case. She approached the front desk of the beautiful timber lobby with some trepidation.  She did not want to cause an unnecessary ruckus. “Hi, we are staying in the waterfront cottage…my daughters left to go on a hike a few hours ago and haven’t returned. Do you have a suggestion of who I would call if they don’t come back? I don’t think that we need to do that yet, but I just want to be prepared.” 
The gentleman working the front desk look concerned.“Where did they go hiking?” he asked.
“I think just across the street, in the trails that you have there,” she replied uncertainly. “I’m not really sure, but my younger daughter has been having trouble with her leg and I’m afraid they might be stuck somewhere.” 
It had been a busy day at the resort’s front desk with wedding guests coming and going, but the lobby had quieted down now. A young valet standing nearby offered to go and look for the sisters. Their mother had to smile a bit as the young man grabbed his raincoat and nearly sprinted out the door, obviously pleased for a chance to get outside and have a small adventure of his own. The gentleman at the front desk looked up the phone number for the local sheriff, as well as the local hospital.  “Did they take their car?” he asked. Caroline frowned. She wasn’t sure…there had been a lot of talking going on when the girls departed. 
“I don’t know,” she said hesitantly. “I tried to look in the parking lot as I walked up here, but all I know is it is a gray SUV, maybe a Nissan.” He looked up the make and model of the vehicle that the girls had registered and their mother added that information to the list of phone numbers. She had hoped that by ‘doing something’ she would keep their grandmother from worrying, but unfortunately the conversation with the man at the front desk only increased her own worry.  She headed back to the cabin, with his reassurance that he would call when the valet returned from his search of the trails. She took her time, walking through the parking lots to see if Kathy’s car was there.

It so happened that around 4:00pm, just as their mother was scanning the parking lot, the sisters were scanning the trail for clues about which way to go. They had noticed several Hemlocks with branches recently cut clean and had reached a point where the branches were stacked, blocking the trail and diverting them onto a smaller, narrow trail that veered away from the river. “Well this is suspicious,” Kathy said in a playful way. “Indeed,” Judy replied, playing along, “It could very well be a trap! Someone has attempted to disguise the trail and lead us off in the wrong direction!” The girls giggled. “Well it isn’t a very clever disguise is it?” Kathy replied. “Likely the trail along the river wasn’t safe anymore or too worn or something and the Rangers made a new path.”  

Salamander friend
“OR, the rogue mountain goats are down the river trail!” Judy said with a laugh. “Carry on my wayward son…” she sang, as she marched off down the new trail, taking the lead for the first time on the hike. 

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