Monday, September 3

Backpack part 1: When a tree falls in a forest...

A couple weeks ago my family took a hike. A three day hike. It was supposed to be a four day hike, but we'll get to that later. We like to backpack, but don't actually do it that often. Before the kid, Franz and I maintained about a 50-50 ratio of car camping and backpacking. Well, maybe not 50-50, you know how memory is. Next I will be saying I walked 6 miles every day to school, uphill in both directions. After child, we continued the occasional backpack (starting when Zach was 10 months) but mostly turned to car camping.

So anyway, back to this trip. We hiked a popular loop in the Olympic National Park called The High Divide, although that name more accurately refers to just one section. Starting at the Sol Duc Hot Springs trailhead, the trail follows a river valley up through the forest. Our first day and night we remained in the forest. We have big trees here. Big trees. The day was overcast and damp. Rain was predicted but didn't fall. In the past, such a walk through the damp dark forest with the sound of the river nearby has felt peaceful. But this trip...

Trail through trees

Try this experiment. Get a piece of paper and cover up the right side of that photo. Doesn't that look lovely? Peaceful, serene, green and full of oxygen producing old-growth forest? Now remove the paper. Newly shattered stump. Yes, shattered. What kind of force could do that? Just another tree falling over. And trees fall. We like it when trees fall, it is part of the circle, the cycle, nature at its finest. See the foreground. Trees fell years ago and are turning back into soil. Take your paper and cover up the top of the photo. Don't the logs turning back into soil look peaceful and quiet? Then take the paper away again. Does that look quiet? Do you wish you were witness to that event?

Here's another view. The tree that fell which shattered the other tree was at least 100 feet tall.


Nurse logs, fungus, termites, worms, all seem such a beautiful serene, slow part of nature. I never really concentrated on the dramatic events that start the process. But this hike, as I walked through the woods, every tree reminded me that behind their quiet beauty lies the capability for extreme violence.

I wasn't worried. I didn't expect something to fall on us. It was more a sense of power and darkness, the unknown and unknowable that fueled awareness and anxiety. I was glad to climb above treeline. More about that part of the trip later.


NH Knitting Mama said...

Wow, that is amazing. What a beautiful hike that must have been.

kmkat said...

The two years before we bought our cabin were very dry, and many birch trees died. The first spring weekend that the boys (2 and 6 at the time) and I came up, we were walking around the yard and the edge of the woods, exploring. Standing near the fire pit, surrounded by trees, we heard a rustling sound in the trees above. Older boy and I stood craning our necks trying to see what we assumed was a squirrel. Younger boy stood with us for a few seconds, then suddenly bolted for the house. A dead birch tree had fallen and was caught on the branches of other trees. If it hadn't hung up like that it would have landed right where we stood.

Ever since then I have reminded younger son he is the only one with any survival instincts.