Saturday afternoon is the perfect time to make a short 55 minute drive east from Adytum to enjoy a relaxed walk through a literal art museum of Nature and 1000 year old Fir and Cedar. Don’t let that number slip by you… Reflect on all the history these trees have absorbed. I have 51 years. They have 949 more warm summers and winters of frigid snow, ice and winds endured…pause and take note.
Boardwalk and nicely groomed trails mark the way through a forest that has withstood the test of time. The first impression, at least on a day without the usual Pacific Northwest cloud cover, is the enchanting glint of splendid sunlight piercing the canopy 200 feet above accenting the old growth trees. The first shaft of sunlight I witnessed fell on shards of Western Red Cedar snags in the early afternoon light. The quality of light is the envy of any painter of note. It stops you in your tracks. At once it suggests enchantment and mystery. I knew I was in a different kind of wood. It was a hallowed Hall of the Ancients and they exert their presence from the beginning of the trail beckoning me onward.
We walk on sand before the boardwalk begins. Because the Ohanapecosh River floods it deposits rich soil onto the forest floor nourishing some of the largest trillium I’ve ever seen, piggyback plants, elderberry and salmonberry and many varieties of ferns including my favorite: the Maidenhair Fern with its arching black fronds. The forest floor is littered at this time of year- October – with dry fir needles and freshly fallen leaves. The earthy, spicy smell is enveloped in a chill and rises up with each step further toward the Throne Room where the majority of the Ancients hold Court.
The second impression that literally takes my breath away is the purity of the water quality of the river along the trail. Crystal clear somehow isn’t an adequate description. The water flows from a non-active glacier and is pristine in the extreme. Each rock is clearly visible; its colors undulating under the movement of the current. I imagine that summers could be spent here on the banks of this river. Waterproof shoes would allow crossing of the shallow waters and even children could play off its banks with abandon. As I watch a Water Ouzel dive in to find a little insect and bob downstream with the flow.
As we crossed the Suspension Bridge with little Dash terrified of being tossed overboard with the rocking, I thought that this was the stuff calendars are made of; the quintessential calendar shot. Since I had polarized Maui Jim sunglasses on, I could look right through the top glare to the bottom where the rocks rested on the same sand I walked on earlier.
The trail is pure pleasure. The incline is achieved in a gentle fashion and there is so much visual stimulation we are oblivious to any exertion. Once the Great Hall is reached where the concentration of Ancients is evident, the real art show begins. Quite simply, it is an eye to eye study of wood grain in the fallen Elders.
Whorls, knots and water-like swirling patterns adorn the lovely old wood. How I would love to have a table made of these patterns…their lives are lived out as concentric circles, as rises and falls, as knots and depressions.
No artist could achieve a more compelling work. The patterns of the old bark on the soaring Fir are equally riveting; to say they wore their age well would be an understatement. It is a cloak of pure glory they wrap themselves in before strutting to the clouds in their antiquity. If we leave behind such grace, originality and sheer magnificence we will count it our great legacy. Remember, they are but Trees planted some 1000 years past. We hold choice in our hearts.
The interesting portion that transfixes my eyes are the old limbs that hang like hoary appendages from antediluvian times from the trunks. Covered in moss and lichen, they seem to be living driftwood – dead but not dead. Sometimes they intertwine with vine maple in an age old dance of stability and lightness. Mostly they stand as a testament to age and an endurance most of us are unlikely to ever match. Each Ancient Tree soars like a cathedral spire into heaven itself. The sun that chances to fall onto the forest floor through the denseness of this age-old canopy is fortunate indeed. When it achieves that end, the shafts are guaranteed to cause us to stand and admire the highlight. This minute, the shard of Cedar was in the limelight. In the next quarter hour, a pair of towering Fir allowed the sun entrance in the space between them like pillars containing pure energy.
We will be directing guests of Adytum to this amazing experience. To enter the company of the Ancients, to gain strength from their endurance and joy from the beauty of their artful expression is something few will ever forget. Their impression remains imprinted on the wild places of the heart that has the eyes to see.
Heading East on Highway 12 through Packwood, we turned left at the Stevens Pass turn off (which is also the Sunrise Entrance to Mt. Rainier- the right hand route would take you to White Pass) and then another left at Stevens Canyon.