The upward spiral of music of a Swainson's Thrush echoed into silence as the dappled light kissed a mosaic of spiraled ferns in the forest understory. The thick trunks of lightly plated bark of Sitka spruce covered with moss towered straight out of the rich soils towards the sky. The silence broke - "What are you taking a photo of?" a hiker passing by asked with eagerness. "The forest" rolled off my tongue, slightly confused at the question. "Oh, I thought there might have been something to see", the disappointed tone obvious in the hikers' response. As the hiker walked away, a gentle roar of the not so distant Hoh River became obvious, and again, the musical sonnets of a Swainson's Thursh echoed off of the towering trees.
Two massive old growth Sitka spruce tower above a carpet of vanilla leaf and Redwood Sorrel with a distant Douglas fir leaning towards the heavens.
Quietly meandering along a well traveled trail, one sees dozens of yellow spotted millipeds scurrying about on the open soil of the trail. The dense carpet of bunchberry and vanilla leaf probably hides hundreds of these creatures. Their abundance is so great that these leaf litter consuming millipedes is critical in decomposing fallen leaves to convert organic material into dense fertilizing nutrients. The rainforest has so much density to observe with the eye. Abundance is everywhere - everything is alive. Fallen logs are wet with rot, blanketed with mosses and liverworts, and intertwined with mycelium. No component of the ecosystem is left uninhabited, and in the absence of bird song, the forest muffles sound to a dense quiet.
Occasionally a hiker would pass. Often ice axes decorated the backs of their backpacks, many had headphones in, quickly ascending the Hoh Rainforest en route to the glaciers that glide off the slopes of Mount Olympus high above. What was there to see after all? Wildlife? Sure, but only seldom. Birds? Rarely, they hide among the dense canopies overhead, but they are certainly heard. Forests? Absolutely. But what does it mean to see a forest? There is so much to discover. The trees that have reached the heavens over the hundreds of years. The trees that have rotten to collapse. The fungi that grind wood to soil. The owls that hunt the rodents, the millipedes that transform leaves. Other perspectives seem different. Hurried humans bring the audio beauty of music produced elsewhere to the forest. The trail is a beautiful commute to the high mountains. The human element in the forest today seems strange - consumeristic almost. Who am I to judge someone else's experience? But is it just me when it feels many have turned their back on the Earth to consume beautiful mountains and epic music abound from electronics?
Perhaps it's simply worth nothing, these phenomena as observations. The world is changing, and the emotions that swirl inside of me are simply an eddy in the continual flow of Earth. The Human relationship to the planet has changed. These forests were once occupied by dense populations of many tribes - The Quileute use to live here. Making hats from spruce roots, fishing in rivers and sea. Gathering foods and tending the wild. For thousands of years humans occupied these forests, harvesting wood in respectful and ceremonial ways. When anglo settlers arrived, most people were slaughtered - forests were cut down at an unprecedented rate. In less than half a century, thousands of years of wisdom were erased from the landscape. The world is different now - humans no longer live in this rain forest, and most of the forest is on a cycle of growing into studs and lumber for homes elsewhere. This river valley is one of the few that remains.
As the river continues to flow to the sea, this is one of the few places where salmon still run to the headwaters, undammed. As the sea rises to meet the Earth, change is inevitable. Waters rise as mountains crumble towards the ocean. The Earth continues its journey, as humans imprint the evidence of their chapter. Capitalistic luxury has overrun the era of stewardship. Yet, watching waves break along the shore gives me the impression of optimism. Their rhythmic lullaby rests my soul in the beauty of facing the Earth and feeling its pains. The complexity that comes with caring for the sick brings me an overarching sensation of love. Love for the Earth, love for the stories she shares with us when we choose to listen.