Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Hollow Cedar

To avoid paying to take the ferry, I cut through the rural area of the Olympic peninsula on back roads and come up to the park from the bottom. It’s been raining since I left the gardens in Seattle and as I come around a corner and the road cuts through a stand of 200 ft Spruce, the treetops are in the clouds. A little further and I get my first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean through the trees. It’s amazing to me that these giant spruce and cedar trees grow right up to the edge of the beach.
The road turns back away from the ocean and towards the rainforest at the center of the peninsula. As I get higher the fog thickens on the road and the trees block out the grey light from the sky almost as dark as night. Part of the road has been washed out and large construction equipment sits waiting to resume rebuilding the road when the workers return tomorrow. They’ve dug into the hill and laid down wooden planks to drive around the hole in the meantime.
By the time I reach the end of the road the sun has almost set somewhere above the clouds that cover me, but I just see the grey fading to a dark blue-grey. Forests of tall spruce, cedar, fir and hemlock are much more hollow than the forests that I’m used to and the evening light fills the foggy space between the massive trunks and I can hike by this glow without a flashlight. The forest is still wet from the rain earlier in the day and water is falling from the higher branches and drumming loudly on rotted logs and saplings; I put on my hat because the large drops keep hitting my face.
There are clearings in the cover where large trees have fallen and crushed everything in their shadow. The ground is so rich with water that the roots don’t grow deep, they just fan out along the ground. This means that they can’t resist the wind and when they’re old and the wind topples them they take with them all the trees that were growing on top of that train of roots. This leaves a wall of root tangled dirt 12 feet tall rising out of the forest floor at the base of the felled tree. Ferns and flowers grow into these berms and so you find yourself walking under these beautiful garden walls in the forest.
The biggest Cedars have bark that spirals up the trunk and gaps between the roots so large that you can crawl under some of the trees. One massive Cedar has bifurcated and grown two jagged trees out of a trunk 25 feet around with roots that start 10 feet off the ground. Another has a hollow in the trunk big enough to fit two people.
The Hemlock are shorter but have drooping branches that dip much lower than those of any of the other trees. They seem to have abandoned the use of their lower branches and green moss has taken over making them look like coils of rope hanging from the upper branches. The Douglas Fir have deep furrowed bark that to me makes them look more ancient than any of the other trees. You could imagine climbing the tree using the chunky bark as handholds. The Spruce are the tallest; perfectly round with neat bark and branching only high off the ground. They grow straight with none of the tortuous sprouting seen in the Cedar.
The light is almost gone and I still have a long way to go to be out of the woods so I pick up my pace a bit. The moss hanging from a grove of maple now just looks like ragged black cloth drying on the branches and water logged fallen trunks look like giant shiny black snakes. I find the beginning of the loop and make my way out of the woods. As I leave I hear a high pitched sound followed by a low guttural grunt echo through the trees.

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