I have taken today off for a much needed field trip. With a big season just ahead
at the nursery, it will be quite a few weeks before I am able to do this again. I
plan to head west towards the Long Beach Peninsula in SW Washington. The road I prefer
to take, Hwy. 4, runs along the Columbia River on its north side. But this road has
recently been closed by a mudslide, so I must divert to Hwy. 30 in Oregon, on the
south side of the river. Both roads lead to the same place, but the Washington side
is preferred. It is slower paced, more scenic, and there are some spots that I want
to explore. Either way, it is about 90 miles from my house.
I have just read a book called "Wintergreen - Listening to the Land's Heart" by
Robert Michael Pyle. This book is partly a natural history of the Willapa HiIls,
an intensely logged section of SW Washington between here and the coast, but even
more than that it is a book of the author's experiences and his ruminations on our
place in nature, written in beautifully engaging prose, often poetic, often funny.
The message and feelings in this book resonated with me in such a way that I kept
saying yes, yes, yes. I love this book. So my first goal was to drive through this
area with a new perspective, particularly to visit the one remaining historic covered
bridge in the county, the oldest in the Northwest in fact, near the town of Grays
River. I had known about it, but have never seen it. But first I must get there.
I am excited, filled with anticipation. It is a new adventure, anything can happen.
What will I find? What will be blooming? Will I find an outstanding witches broom
in a conifer, or maybe a weeping tree? What new sights? What new insights? What treasures?
Will I find the crested Polypodium I have been hunting for? Maybe the elusive Quillwort
(Isoetes), a tiny little grassy fern relative, totally teeny and unassuming, but
I've never seen it. And I want to see it. What new experiences will I have and what
memories to integrate into my consciousness?
9:45 – I start out in my 1996 Jeep Cherokee (My 1991 red Isuzu Trooper met an unfortunate
end. Watching your favorite car go up in flames while you stand helplessly by on
an almost deserted road, all dressed up on your way to a wedding, waiting 20 minutes
for the volunteer fire department to show up, is quite the surrealistic experience.)
With a box full of field books, field tools, binoculars, maps, food, music, 3 coats
of varying degrees of warmth, a baggie of raisins and nuts by my side, a cup of very
strong coffee, and Chet Baker ( that old smoothie ) singing to me on CD, I head
out. A dreamy mellow sound to match my mood. It is misty and almost drizzly. But
it doesn't matter. The day is mine.
So, Hwy 30 it is. It's a fast road with few pull-offs where I can explore the intriguing
cliffs I pass, but I do manage to find an old road that leads me to a woodsy, mossy,
tree and fern-filled hillside. Hydrophyllum tenuipes is coming up. The hot pink flowers
of Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis) are starting to open. The moss is luxurious.
Lately I have been exploring the extraordinary world of mosses, liverworts, and lichen.
It's like discovering a new dimension, and quite exciting really. We co-exist with
this miniature world, almost invisible to most of us. But they are everywhere, at
least here in the Pacific Northwest. They are the filler, the coating on the world
around us, on trees and rocks and roofs, along the roadside, on the ground, in the
cracks in the sidewalk, so ubiquitous that I venture to say that few ever notice
that they are even there. We have bigger things to tend to, I guess.
But I have marveled and often reveled in the emerald velvetyness of the Big Leaf
Maples. and have had to resist the temptation to lay down on and bury my face in
the soft thick beds of moss on the forest floor. But as I look closer now, I keep
looking closer, and closer. And the closer I look, the richer, more intricate, beautiful
and fanciful they become. It is a very dense world, rich with species and interactions
and I am having a hard time just getting from tree to tree. One must admire a life
form so well adapted to the extremes of its habitat. Totally exposed to the elements,
able to dry to a crisp in the summer heat and revive within minutes if brought into
a moist atmosphere. Totally cool. I think that this alone could keep me interested
for a lifetime or two.
But I must get on with my trip. Another few miles down Hwy. 30 and there is an old
ferry that crosses the river from the little town of Westport to a piece of land
in the middle of the river called Puget Island. This is, in turn, connected to the
Washington shore by a bridge, taking you to the charming, historic town of Cathlamet,
and west of the mudslide. I've often wanted to take this ferry, but never have, and
here is a perfect opportunity. In spite of radio warnings that, due to diverted mudslide
traffic, there may be up to a 4 hour wait to cross the river here, there are only
3 other cars, and I am directed right to the front of what I thought was the waiting
dock, until we start moving and I realize that I have actually been parked on the
ferry itself ! The 15 minute crossing is pure pleasure. To the west, the sky is clearing
and as it turns out, the rest of the day is sparkling blue. Crisp, breezy, free of