Towards Y2K9 (5): Another Green World

The American northwest, especially the Olympic Peninsula with its National Park area west of Seattle, contains old boreal rainforests with lots of ecological diversity. Here are some shots from our visits to 1) the Marymere Falls near Crescent Lake, and 2) the Hoh rainforest.

Big trees here. I was already looking forward to meeting even larger redwoods further to the south of here, but these trees, mostly Sitka spruces and hemlock trees, were quite stunning already.

The rainforests in the national parks are almost completely left to themselves. Old trees fall and rot and on the rotting stumps, new trees find enough food to grow. There is lots of rain here, with the winds from the Pacific being stopped by the high mountain ranges.

Because of the high humidity, there are lots of lichen and moss growing everywhere on the trees – I have never seen trees so completely covered with long strands of moss. For some reason, it makes the place look like an enchanted fairy tale forest. I was wondering, what’s the connection between moss and fairy tales but I didn’t really know. The fairy tale look was very distinct though.

There is a lot of wildlife here of course – racoons, bears, cougars, otters, deer, elk. If you walk a trail through the forest, it is quite likely that you meet a deer, like we did. These deer are used to walking people, it seems, and they don’t really seem to be afraid.

At first we thought that elk were moose because “Elch” in German stands for “moose” in English. Some language confusion here. The elk that roam these forests are more similar to what we would call “Hirsch” in German, with the males carrying large antlers sometimes.

A sign at the visitor center had warned us that elk were in the mating season, and that being full of testosterones, they would sometimes attack visitors. We didn’t really take this too seriously but when we had almost completed a round trip trail and were near the parking lot again, a group of people that had passed us minutes ago came back the other way, more running than walking. They said a large elk was on the way, and that he was not happy seeing people walking around in his stomping ground.

We decided to wait for a few minutes, and then slowly proceeded, looking out for the elk. We eventually saw it not far from us, but it was slowly walking away from the path into the deep forest. He hadn’t seen us and we could eventually get back to our car safely. We definitely wouldn’t have felt like dealing with an attack of this impressive animal – he was quite large and strong and he had a full set of antlers. Too bad I couldn’t take a picture!

After spending several hours in this beautiful forest, we were all the more sad about the fact that most of the forests are cut down – on our way south from the Olympic Peninsula, we met lots of huge log trucks, and we saw miles and miles of destruction where wild forest used to grow.

Usually, trees are replanted to be harvested again after several years, but of course the resulting tree areas are lacking the ecological diversity, and bear little similarity to natural rainforests. Large old trees disappear completely because replanted trees are harvested when they are still young.

Very often, the logging companies leave a narrow belt of forest along the highways, maybe to prevent people from seeing all of the destruction, but the truly sad and desolate looking clearcut areas can often be seen behind them.

The northwest forest area is one of the US’s main sources for timber, and it is even exported – all sorts of wooden products are made of these rainforests. And of course, there is the paper industry that turns the trees into pulp and paper.

For nature loving people like us who come from Europe where the rate of recycled paper is much higher than in the US, it is painful to see how precious rainforests are cut down for stupid things like paper cups that are thrown away without thinking. The amount of waste, especially of paper waste, in the US is staggering for us (it is bad enough in Europe). If you go somewhere in the US for a coffee or a little food, you will very likely get them in paper cups and on paper plates, instead of real porcelain cups that have to be cleaned and reused which would be more expensive. There is much talk about ecological thinking but fact is that nature is still brutally exploited.

Towards Y2K9 (4): Mountains And Rivers Without End

We started our last Seattle day picking up Ted, Letha, and Tallulah at their beautiful house – Sabine held Tallulah for a few minutes which turned out to be an interesting experience for both of them ­čÖé

We had a fabulous breakfast at Geraldine’s together …

… before setting out north and then west towards the Olympic National Park which was our next destination.

We arrived in a small town called Port Angeles, dropped our luggage, and drove straight up the mountains towards a place with the promising name Hurricane Ridge. After the sunny days in Seattle we were a little disappointed to see clouds pile up in the mountains, and we expected low visibility.

We were all the more delighted to find that once our car had climbed through the clouds and forests with huge trees, we suddenly could see for miles and miles, like in the Pete Townshend song.

Being up on a high mountain is something special (even if you went there by car, and even if you just have a few hours to spend there). It touched my heart. The light up there was different, very bright and clear, and once we were on a trail away from the people, there was that timeless silence that is at the center of everything.

Of course I was reminded of my all-time hero poet Gary Snyder who had spent much time on mountains like this.

Down valley a smoke haze
Three days heat, after five days rain
Pitch glows on the fir-cones
Across rocks and meadows
Swarms of new flies.

I cannot remember things I once read
A few friends, but they are in cities.
Drinking cold snow-water from a tin cup
Looking down for miles
Through high still air.