March 20, 2014

The Olympic Peninsula at the Vernal Equinox

Too much rain? Two words: "Road Trip"

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THE FIRST THING YOU LEARN IS your don't go "into" the Olympic Peninsula. You go around it. Although Seattle has the feel of being on a coast, it's really an interior city protected from the lashing storms of the Northwest Pacific by a vast up-welling of mountains, as much as it is protected from the cutting edge of our political storms by its removal to the far corner of the nation. One of the advantages of the city is that it sits at the bottom of a vast bowl of straits, lakes and mountains. When the rain clears out and you take in the western view from the top of Queen Anne Hill (the highest hill in Seattle) you see the barrier of the Olympic Mountains that seems to wrap around half the horizon. After seeing this a number of time, two words appear in the mind: Road Trip.

So it was with Spring a day away and, for once, a promising weather forecast I set out for a short trip to the Olympic Peninsula since I had had enough, for a few days at least of:

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But, as I said, there is no "into" when it comes to the Olympic Peninsula, only "around."

It was not promising when, in my effort to get to the ferry that would take me out to the jumping off point, I ran afoul of three detours and two Sunday afternoon traffic jams. What should have been a fifteen minute drive to the ferry turned into an hour and a half. Enough time to take me off my original plan of staying at the Kalaloch Lodge. Instead, I only managed to make the town of Forks in time to participate in the town's annual scholarship auction. You had no choice but to participate since every sound system in every store and restaurant was tuned to the broadcast of the auction and turned up loud. I took shelter by going to the auction itself.

It was one of those small town events that puts your faith in the essential goodness of people back into your soul. Everyone in this town of some 1,300 souls had evidently donated something (From a $1600 Alaskan Fishing Trip to a plate of 6 brownies baked by the Brownies -- $22 and delicious). And everyone in the town was buying something. Furniture, art, baked goods, embroidered guest towels, exercise equipment... a hodgepodge of a town wide garage sale. The purpose? A fund to send some kids from Forks to college. And in Forks getting to college was very, very important because it meant those kids that made it had a chance to get out of Forks.

Not that it is a bad town. Not at all. It is just that it is a dying town. The curtailing of logging and fishing in the Olympic Peninsula may have gone over well in Seattle where people are concerned that they won't have any natural, unspoiled environments in which to ride their horsies and mossy woods to hike about in. In Seattle, the only thing more popular for a politician to say than "It's for the children" is "It's for the environment." Some of the brighter politicians have taken to working in the phrase, "It's for the children's environment!" This always plays to rousing ovations and cheers, especially from the childless.

Things are not so happy in Forks which has had to deal with the loss of thousands of jobs as a result of various "popular" [in the cities] measures. Forks, by any measure, is struggling to keep its head above water. You can feel it in the forced cheer and the determined pride shown at this one small auction where, against all odds, they have managed to raise more than $50,000 for the Forks Escape Fund.

One of my local correspondents, much more knowledgeable about the shameful political history that killed Forks related this small tale that pretty much sums up the relationship of city and town in Washington state:

Our US Senators, Patty Murray (D) who we rightfully detest and Slade Gorton (Republican and now defeated by Maria Cantwell) were on opposite sides of a timber debate on the floor of the senate. Listening to the floor action on the squawk box, we heard Patty nattering about how she was totally in tune with the people of Washington on timber issues, why in fact the lumbermen of Forks were some of her best sources of information and strongest supporters, The staffer turned to me and said "Seattle liberal greenies may love Patty, but not the good folks in Forks. She's cost hundreds, maybe thousands of timber people their jobs. If you handcuffed her to the stop sign in the middle of Forks at 3 AM, come morning she'd be gone and they would never be able to find her body."

True enough. I looked. And she wasn't there. There are many hungry crab pots in these waters.

After an amazingly indifferent meal, I put up at the Pacific Inn Motel to wait for dawn and pray for sun.

Which, amazingly, arrived with the dawn. I wanted to go south towards the Hoh Rain Forest, but since La Push was nearby I decided to head there. Big mistake. Even though my correspondent, who had been so prescient about Forks, declared that she "grew up hiking, camping, trying to drown myself and poaching salmon, crabs and clams off all these beaches and I love every stinking piece of seaweed on every slippery barnacle befouled rock, " I found that I could not share the love enough to find it in La Push. La Push is an indian village and like most of these sad places, seems determined not to let money from casinos work against decades of squalor. Whenever I find myself in these towns I always have to wonder where all those millions are going. Certainly not for paint or decent housing. I beat a quick retreat.

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La Push, the only scenic view

About an hour later, I took a left and came to one of the roads I was looking for.

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This let me know that I was well on my way to what is probably the greatest collection of moss in the Northern Hemisphere, the Hoh Rain Forest.

I stopped in a small store on the way in where the woman behind the counter had been waiting patiently for at least a week to sell something to somebody. She sold me a rain coat. "You'll probably need it seeing that you are going to a rain forest." What could I do but agree? Besides, it was lined with the holy fabric of the Pacific Northwest, fleece, and it doubled my holdings.

Correctly attired, waterproof, I pushed on up the road past local inhabitants --

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--- and signage betraying local attitudes that seemed as eager to say "Goodbye" as "Howdy tourista!"

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But it was worth it because, once beyond the mysteriously deserted entrance to the Hoh Rain Forest, --

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-- I found myself alone in the location where they will shoot the Freddy Kruger epic, Nightmare in the National Parks.

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Walking the Hall of Mosses trail alone on a Monday morning brings you quickly in touch with the overwhelming beauty of this carefully preserved and presented part of the forest. The signs along the way and the slow rise into deeper and deeper groves of moss obliterated trees is like walking through a live Powerpoint slide show on "the value of preserving our national parks at all costs. No matter who has to pay."

At the same time, this particular show, by the time you get to the core of it, starts to present your subconscious mind with all sorts of disturbing back chatter. For all the beauty of it, you still understand that you are also seeing a parasite run wild across a very large chunk of forest. And you see, time and again, how a very small organism such as a spore of moss can topple very large forms of life such as a 300 foot tall spruce. I've always liked moss but I have noticed that various treatments to kill it are quite popular at the local Home Depots. Perhaps, just perhaps, even a good thing can get a little out of hand.

From the Hoh Rain Forest I finally found my way to Kalaloch Lodge. I'd made this my destination since it seemed to promise all the things I need in the way of a retreat from the world, that vision of Edna St. Vincent Millay of:

.... a little shanty on the sand

In such a way that the extremest band

Of brittle seaweed shall escape my door

But by a yard or two ...

and closer still to an acceptable restaurant

serving three meals a day

compete with an adequate wine list

and a nearby store fully stocked

with a vast assortment of

classic American snack foods.

And so I was forced to hunker down with plank-grilled salmon and a few glasses of crisp Riesling. And there I sat until, as it will, the last light came and got me.

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It not only fetched me out of the cabin, it fetched the entire lodge as if a lodestone had, on the very cusp of the vernal equinox, of Spring, taken hold of our rain-soaked, mossy souls and dragged us out of our pastoral stupor, back into the world dimensional.

All along the cabins strung down the bluff doors opened and men, women, children and dogs came tumbling out onto the wet lawn to hover and stare as far out to sea as they could while the sun came down from beneath the curtain of cloud and lit the world and made it new.

It was only about five hours steady drive back to Seattle, but nobody was leaving. Behind us you had the impenetrable escarpment of the Olympic Peninsula.

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In front of us you had the slow Pacific swell illuminated by the hand of God.

Tomorrow would be the first full day of Spring. It would rain again. It would always rain again.

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For now, nobody was going anywhere.

Posted by Vanderleun at March 20, 2014 12:38 PM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

There are times I miss being in the Pacific Northwest. Your lovely travelogue was a brief bit of wayback happiness for me, Gerard. Thank you.

Posted by: Jewel at March 20, 2014 12:17 PM

What about Sol Duc Falls?

Posted by: Remember Personal at March 20, 2014 12:36 PM

Oy !

You've made me homesick again.

Posted by: previous tenant at March 20, 2014 2:57 PM

After 3 years at Ft. Lewis in the infantry, I got real tired of the rain.

Posted by: Eric Blair at March 20, 2014 3:04 PM

'Cept above 4k ft or so, it will be snowing

Posted by: Cletus Socrates at March 20, 2014 5:43 PM

That's the beach my grandpappy hiked to get to work. During the Depression, and before Hi 101 linked the west side. You heard me. He hiked from about La Push, to Hoquiam, on the beach. Back and forth, to work.

The Olympic Peninsula is a hard place for hard people.

Posted by: Casey Klahn at March 20, 2014 6:00 PM

Oh, Gerard. Everyone who grew up in West Seattle knows that the water tanks (509 feet on 35th SW) are higher than Queen Anne (447 feet near the old high school). /snark off

I did enjoy your pictures of the Olympic Peninsula and will try to get out there again soon.

t'anx

Posted by: Dave at March 20, 2014 6:07 PM
The staffer turned to me and said "Seattle liberal greenies may love Patty, but not the good folks in Forks. She's cost hundreds, maybe thousands of timber people their jobs."

More reason that all statewide offices (Governor, Lt. Governor, and US Senators) should be chosen by counties. Each county gets one vote. If you win the popular vote in a county you get it's vote. Whichever candidate carries the most counties wins the office. Think of it as an electoral college for the states.

Since US Senators represent the entire state, then each county should have the EXACT same vote as every other because otherwise, the US Senators just become Representatives-at-Large for the biggest metro areas in the state.

This would also force each candidate to actually campaign in each county and let the people see if that person is worthy to hold public office. It also has the added benefit of not having to repeal the 17th amendment to the US Constitution because the people are still choosing their US Senators.

Posted by: Stranded in Sonoma at March 20, 2014 6:16 PM

Seattle - I spent a week there one night. Very nice pictures.

Posted by: ghostsniper at March 20, 2014 7:42 PM

Mighty fine piece. You do know how to tell a tale of travel that illuminates so much more than just the geography.

Posted by: Jimmy J. at March 20, 2014 8:55 PM

Ah Gerard, Lived in Moclips for two years in the early 70s. The Wild Pacific. Next trip make time for an overnight hike up the Quinault River to the Enchanted Valley [summer only]. It's close to Eden.

Posted by: John at March 20, 2014 9:02 PM

What a wonderful field trip! Thanks for taking us along. Lake Quinault Lodge has been offering deals and I think it is time for a family foray to the Olympic Peninsula.

Posted by: gypsy at March 20, 2014 10:49 PM

I love the whole peninsula and know it well..heck, I even like La Push and Moclips...we got stuck in the mud in Moclips one night in the 70s and had to be towed out in the morning. It was great. haha

Posted by: pbird at March 20, 2014 11:05 PM

Knowing that things you think you know, are not always what they seem …

A critical examination of just the picture provided with this article: It would appear that all the flat land has already been logged, and is a mix of clear cut and new growth. Only the steepest mountain slopes within the park retain the characteristic dark-green old-growth hue.

MIght it be, that a significant contribution to the decline of logging towns, is that all the good easy stuff is gone? It is nature of boom towns to become ghost towns, and then slowly to become something else. Poli-f'ing-ticians are just the noisy b******** riding on top of the bus of history and economics and Nature, making lots of noise about how they're doing the driving. The only real job of pft's is to take out the trash, keep the place picked up, and make sure that the guardians at the gate have everything they need to keep the peace.

People living in a boom town are always going to be quick to blame somebody else. Fishermen and loggers are all alike: left to their own they won't stop until they've made a desert of the place. It's just another manifestation of bubble psychology: get it while the getting's good, we'll deal with tomorrow's famine tomorrow.

We are reasoning beings. We do not have to suffer the fate of lesser species, bound tightly to the ecologic cycles of boom and bust. We can plan for the future, we can act now to achieve a desired future result, we can forego the pleasures of the instant for the joy of a life well-lived.

Then again, reason and intelligence may not be all the are cracked up to be, they may not be a valuable attribute for an evolutionary successful species.

Posted by: John A. Fleming at March 21, 2014 12:30 AM

What is this? Is it a poem? A song? It is beautiful.

Posted by: Katherine at March 21, 2014 9:23 AM

John...perhaps you're not aware that trees grow?

Posted by: Casey Klahn at March 21, 2014 10:28 AM

The decline of the logging industry in the Pacific Northwest was rigged by the claim that the Spotted Owl could only exist in old growth forests. So, the Spotted Owl was listed as "endangered." The rest is history. We now find Spotted Owls living quite happily in second or third growth forests. The danger to the Spotted Owl is another owl, the Eastern Barred Owl, which is moving to the PNW. Basically, the death of logging in the PNW is a man-caused disaster.

Posted by: Jimmy J. at March 21, 2014 5:05 PM

Beautiful. I lived in the rain for 4 years. As I was born and bred in the desert, it was just too gray for me. But, it sure is beautiful.

Posted by: Leslie at March 21, 2014 8:19 PM

Beautiful. I lived in the rain for 4 years. As I was born and bred in the desert, it was just too gray for me. But, it sure is beautiful.

Posted by: Leslie at March 21, 2014 8:19 PM

Beautiful. I lived in the rain for 4 years. As I was born and bred in the desert, it was just too gray for me. But, it sure is beautiful.

Posted by: Leslie at March 21, 2014 8:19 PM

Beautiful. I lived in the rain for 4 years. As I was born and bred in the desert, it was just too gray for me. But, it sure is beautiful.

Posted by: Leslie at March 21, 2014 8:20 PM

I promise, I only hit post once. Sorry.

Posted by: Leslie at March 21, 2014 8:28 PM

"La Push is an indian village and like most of these sad places, seems determined not to let money from casinos work against decades of squalor."

I found out something very interesting in regards to this in general lately. It turns out that though native tribes theoretically have sovereign lands, those lands are actually administered by the US in a byzantine fashion that includes equal dispersal of all lands to all progeny—which means that any given member of a tribe may "own" a fractional amount of the reservation, but there are no clear titles anywhere. There's also the numerous regulations that have to be followed for any improvements or management—the example given (for a land-use permit) was something like 24 steps and three years versus 6 steps and a few months for non-tribal land, which is why most businesses avoid tribal lands like the plague.

So it's entirely possible that the money is there for improvements, but the process of getting it where it needs to be is so difficult and labor-intensive that it gets spent elsewhere from sheer exhaustion.

Posted by: B. Durbin at March 21, 2014 9:51 PM

"And there I sat until, as it will, the last light came and got me."
-my favorite sentence, but I was already smiling when I arrived there.

Posted by: DeAnn at March 21, 2014 10:33 PM

I have lived with and beside the local Indians for lack of a better term, most of my life. Believe me, they do not worry about the exterior of the home unless they are very assimilated into white point of view. It doesn't mean they are necessarily "slobs". Its just a different trip.

Posted by: pbird at March 23, 2014 8:12 AM

I have lived with and beside the local Indians for lack of a better term, most of my life. Believe me, they do not worry about the exterior of the home unless they are very assimilated into white point of view. It doesn't mean they are necessarily "slobs". Its just a different trip.

Posted by: pbird at March 23, 2014 8:12 AM

Man, you are a poet in prose and picture. Excellente. I do appreciate the Pacific Northwest. Some of the best years of my life were either in, or near, Portland Oregon (a few blocks away from Beverly Cleary's neighborhood.) Thanks.

Posted by: arlene at March 23, 2014 4:05 PM

My youth was spent hiking the trails of the Olympic Peninsula through the craggy glacier field then beyond to the wild flower meadows and finally the snow covered peaks. Walking along the ridge of the Olympic Mountains I was the happiest person on the planet. A young girl that did not dream beyond the views of Puget Sound. Content with the accomplishment of reaching the sky.

Posted by: Antonnia at March 26, 2014 12:04 PM