Ruby in Mist

An orphaned strand
stretched out
between
two dream seas.

Great rocks like calcified husks
of ancient sea giants loom
out of the water.

Ancient trees stand
tall and blind,
patiently marking moments
in a world cut loose from time.

Driftwood, bones of nightmares,
twisted and deformed.
Ocean waves scramble over each other
in a
desperate bid to escape the sea.

The waves grasp and claw at the sand
but only find themselves sucked deeper into it,
becoming part of the aimless shore.
Below ground, slowly, they’ll be drawn through
the pores in the earth,
and cast back into their
doomed and inescapable cycle.

In this place of mystery,
each traveler has
private hands
and
revelations.

Angels of frightful symmetry,
perch in clouds
owl-like eyes watching.

Ruby in the mist
is
where
the world
becomes
something
else.

We’ve left many footprints here
on the way to other places.

We’re still wandering the shores, in fact,
just like those ocean waves,
trying to break free from ourselves.

But grasp and claw and cry as we may,
the trees root ever deeper into the soil,
and nothing
ever,
ever
really
ends.

Family of Ducks Braves Rapids near Falls View Canyon Trail

Surprise Nature Magic Just off the Falls View Canyon Trail

Sit still in nature long enough and there’s a good chance you’ll be treated to something spectacular. I was reminded of this unfailing truth last spring on the shore of the Big Quilcene River, just off Falls View Canyon Trail.

I was there with my sister in July. It was a weekday, so even though the sun was shining we had the area to ourselves. We were just relaxing, dangling our feet in the water, when we saw a mother duck and three ducklings coming upstream, approaching the rough waters beside us.


I spend a lot of time outdoors and have had run-ins with bears, moose, bobcat, lynx, and all kinds of animals more dangerous and “exciting” than ducks. Still, every time I happen upon a wildlife scene, even when it’s “just” a little family of ducks, a hush comes over my soul. Everything quiets and narrows in on the scene.

My sister looked at me and we smiled and looked back to the scene unfolding. I was fully prepared for an idyllic little encounter, and had no idea the drama that was about to unfold.

The mother’s motive was unclear, but she was absolutely determined to get her youngsters up the heavy waters. She looked back multiple times towards the main stem of the river and was pushing her ducklings relentlessly onward, so it’s possible that she was fleeing a predator of some kind.

Whatever the case, she was about to take her kids on a tough journey, but she absolutely was not turning back until she completed it.

I couldn’t capture it on still camera, but the waters were batting the ducklings around violently. It didn’t seem like their frail little bodies could take it as they smashed up against the rocks. Still, they pressed on, in file, behind their mamma.

Though a good portion of the rapids, they actually walked along the rocks, rather than swimming over the water.

Obviously, I couldn’t capture this whole scene on still camera. Even if I did, showing the glut of images here would blow up your phone trying to load it all. But this struggle went on for a good ten, fifteen minutes. It was absolutely epic on a duck’s scale.

One or two of the ducklings would get rocked by the water and mother would zip back, round them up, and start over again. They progressed by slow, painful inch, and got knocked back in depressingly rapid speed. Yet, they continued, methodically finding a way up those rocks.

At points, the mother would stop against the rocky shoreline and wait, as if thinking, problem-solving on how to proceed. For most of the trip, I honestly thought it was impossible that they’d make it, and I wondered if they’d die of exhaustion in the effort.

Yet, just as I was ready to give up hope, they did it.

The ducks reached the top of the rapids and turned the bend and were gone from sight. I never saw them again.

My sister and I went back to dangling our feet in the water and talking excitedly about what we’d just seen.

The Big Quilcene doesn’t have a blockbuster Hollywood budget. No special effects. No whizz bangers. But I’ll never forget that moment watching that little family brave the rapids, possible predator in pursuit. Neither will my sister.

As far as I’m concerned, that’s the stuff of magic, and sharing stories like that is the reason I started this site.

Strange Conversation at Irely Lake, Olympic National Park

So it was I found myself on the shore of Irely Lake, talking out loud to a tree…and I’ll be damned if the tree didn’t talk back.

It was one of those days of common desperation. Common for me, anyway, the man who never outgrows his existential angst. No matter how old I get, the nagging doubt remains. What am I supposed to be doing here? Why do the answers fade as fast as they arrive? Is there a reason or isn’t there a reason for anything and everything, and what am I supposed to do with either of those possibilities?

Christ, man, I’m tired of this shit.

Just like every other time my head gets too loud, I felt the need to get away from the commotion of modernity and into the woods, so I hopped in my car and drove three hours to the Irely Lake trail.

The trail head is a few miles outside Lake Quinault, down a couple dirt roads rough enough to turn most the city cars away. Quinault’s one of my favorite places in Washington state. It’s got elk and cougar and bear, rain forest, mountains, miles and miles of trails…and silence. The people there pretty much leave you well enough alone, unless you’re up for a brief and friendly chat.

It’s a short walk along the trail to the lake. Only a little over a mile, I believe. But this was still the winter season. Winds had blown two enormous trees over the trail and water flooded some other parts. This made for some fun obstacles, and even better it meant the trail was mine, so that only a mile from the road I felt completely alone in the rain forest.

Reaching the shore of the lake, which has trees and brush encroaching all along its bank, I saw a duck and its ducklings fly down and splash into the water. A moment later a pair of grown ducks flew side by side over the surface of the lake and away. Right after them, like a glitch in the matrix, two more identical ones followed in seemingly the exact same flight path.

I sat down next to a big old spruce and found myself thinking in the rain. My mind felt like a rabbit getting chewed up by a rabid dog…ugly and haggard.

So I turned aside and look at this big old spruce tree beside me and I said, “Hey, old man, I know this is kind of crazy, but there’s no one around other than you and me and I’m wondering if you can tell me what I’m supposed to do with my life.”

I sat there looking at the tree, not really expecting an answer. Hell, I’m crazy enough to talk to a tree, but not crazy enough to expect it to talk back.

But, as I sat there staring at this thing, I began to notice some details I’d previously glossed over. Multiple species of moss grew on its bark. The bark itself was incredibly thick and the cracks in it were deep; it undoubtedly gave home to all kinds of insects and worms. Up in the branches, birds and squirrels might have nested. If not, they at least certainly stopped there for some time now and then. In the warmer season, I bet that tree was crawling with life.

That’s when it hit me, so clear that it was like the tree was talking directly to me.

What I realized was that that tree had never done anything with its life other than stay rooted on that lake shore, yet in doing so it had given home to a multitude of living things. In staying motionlessly true to itself, it had became a home for life. Zen moment. Bam.

“Thanks old man,” I said.

I stood up, patted the tree’s side, and headed back, feeling lighter as I went.

What’s my purpose? It is to give my absolute best at the things that come most naturally to me. It’s to write and think deeply and create, and to laugh at the absurd things that strike me funny and to read obscure history and study things I’ll never actually use. It’s to explore and to give and to find magic in the world so I can write about it for others. It’s to be selfless and fearless. It’s to be my true self.

At least, that’s the answer I’m toying with now. Here’s to hoping it lasts, because this one feels good and right.

(In “Wandering Around With a Notebook” entries I share the poetic or philosophical side of my travels. A more utilitarian entry will be made for this location.)