I’m back on Hwy 4 again, still heading west. and it's getting late. I want to get
to the coast and hike in an old growth Sitka Spruce Forest before this day is over.
Too much to ask of one glorious day? I don't think so. So I head for Cape Disappointment
State Park (formerly Fort Canby State Park) a historic site that overlooks the Pacific
Ocean, with 2 lighthouses, and an easy 1½ mile trail that winds through a preserved
stand of old growth Sitka Spruce, leading to an outstanding ocean view.
Long Beach Peninsula is a narrow strip of land that connects to the SW corner of
Washington and goes north, separated from the Willapa Hills by Willapa Bay. The road
I choose takes me along the eastern edge of the bay. The sun is getting low in the
sky and glints on the water and marshy edges. The yellow Skunk Cabbage (Lysichiton
americanum) is starting to bloom in mucky spots along the road. I don't want to hurry,
but I need to if I want to get my hike in.
There is an island in Willapa Bay called Long Island, 7 miles long, 2 miles wide,
accessible only by boat. I can see it clearly, it's not too far from shore, only
about 200 feet, so I have read, from the boat dock on this side. Someday I will get
there. The secret treasure of this island, what I long to see, is an ancient grove
of Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata), tucked away within the logged over, but now
regenerating, forest. This protected grove of trees is over 1000 years old ( ! ),
one of the last remaining old growth stands of its kind. The thought of it haunts
But I must get to my final destination. I drive into the state park through the coastal
town of Ilwaco, in the farthest SW corner of the state. It's 5:00, plenty of time
for a quick hike. The old growth Sitka Spruce (Picea sitchensis) forests are almost
gone now, but this patch has survived under the care of the State Park system. And
it is spectacular. Sitka Spruces have very broad bases, massive in feeling, and mosses
and ferns are everywhere. An unexpected treat for me is to see the large mats of
the coastal Licorice Fern relative, Polypodium scouleri, living on the trunks and
in the crooks of the branches of the Sitka Spruces. This fern only lives near the
ocean, growing on rocks and trees in salt spray. It is very difficult in cultivation,
but luxuriates here in its element, with the big dark green fronds with rounded pinnae
dwarfing the common Licorice fern, Polypodium glycyrrhiza with which it shares the
trees. And of course the mosses are a distraction. I am heady with the feeling of
being immersed in so many life forms. Such old trees.
By the time I get back to my car, it is nearly dark, and now I must leave. I cross
into Oregon for the long ride home, over the mouth of the Columbia River on the impressive
4 mile long Astoria Bridge,
And as I start home from Astoria, the full moon rises behind the trees, huge and
creamy white. I am taken completely by surprise. I have to look twice to realize
what it is. As I drive east, the moon precedes me, full and bright in an absolutely
clear sky, and I follow it home.
Yes, a perfect day. The only thing that would have made it better is if it had been