Your Very Own Hoh Rain Forest

If you’ve ever dreamed of having the entire Hoh Rain Forest to yourself, then go there in January. While it won’t legally be yours, there’ll be so few people there that you can pretend it is.

At least, that’s how it was when I went there last January.

A great blue heron in the Hoh Rain Forest.
A great blue heron in the Hoh Rain Forest.

The area was so quiet, in fact, that I nearly walked into a tern on the way back to the my car.

I was in the parking lot and had just entered a short trail that connects the two primary parking lots. The tern burst into flight no more than five feet away from me.

The bird flew a little ways and then settled back down by the water. Using my ninja-like stealth, I got close enough to take the glorious picture you see above.

The Hoh Rain Forest is one of the prettiest parts of Olympic National Park, which makes it one of the prettiest parts of Washington state. It’s also more difficult to access than any other part of the park simply because it’s on the far western side of the Olympic Peninsula. The closest town to it is Forks.

A great blue heron in the Hoh Rain Forest.

The Hoh Rain Forest is beautiful in January because the mountains in the distance are snowy while the lower ground is not, creating a nice aesthetic contrast.

I stood on that riverside you see to the left for a solid twenty minutes and only saw one pair of people other than myself. It was quiet and peaceful there, even though I was less than half a mile from the parking lot.

My favorite Hoh trail is the Hall of Mosses. Less than a mile long, it takes you on a walk through a forest of enormous trees blanketed in moss. The place feels ancient, as if you’ve stepped into a time machine and traveled back to a time  before human beings. This is doubly true in January.

But, the purpose of this post isn’t to go into specific hikes or sights; I’ll add those things in other posts later. For right now, I just wanted to pass on a little insider information.

Go to the Hoh in January (or presumably any time around that), and you’ll find lots of silence to roam in.

Your very own rain forest. Can’t beat that.

Dreaming about the Lions, the Mountain and the Sea

Come join me by the fire, friends. I’d like to talk, if you’ve got the time. I’ve been dreaming about the lions. Maybe you have been, too.

Do you know what I’m referring to? Yes? No? Let me explain.

From the first time I read Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea,” the book’s final line has stuck with me. “The old man was dreaming about the lions,” that line goes.

That sentence refers back to an earlier part of the book in which the story’s main character, the “old man” Santiago, is said to have found that in his old age he’s been thinking less and less about his own exploits and accomplishments. What’s stuck with him the most in his twilight years are the wonders he’s seen. One of those wonders is a beach full of lions.

Much has been made about these lions and about Santiago’s dreaming of them, and most of that much-ado is interesting and worthy of meditation. What resonates so much with me, however, and what has me feeling so sentimental today, is something different.

For me, Santiago’s dreaming about the lions is ultimately a hopeful thing. The most hopeful thing in this life of rust and despair, in fact.

For me, the dream of lions comes to Santiago because old age has softened his ego, and the softening of that ego has made him wise. Santiago in his final years has found the simple love of life for the mere sake of life, rather than life as a stage upon which to assert his own being.

To my view, Santiago has achieved enlightenment. This doesn’t mean he isn’t still a proud, strong, defiant man–indeed a “strange man,” as he so desperately wishes to prove himself. But, in that strangeness, he has learned to step outside of himself and appreciate the grandeur of life as it was and will be when he is gone.

I find that notion very beautiful, and very hopeful.

I’m not an old man yet, but I’m old enough that that line from the book has been resonating powerfully with me. As I find myself ruminating upon the things I’ve seen, the mountains and seas and rivers, I find myself thinking about Santiago.

And as I think about Santiago, I think about all my friends, too, and about all of their own inevitable endings.

I thank God for the mountains, seas, and rivers I’ve seen. Beyond all the hardships and the tears of this life, I’m grateful to have smelled and touched and heard nature’s music. I don’t ever want to lose that gratitude, and I hope that no matter how hard things get in the future, I find myself dreaming about the lions.

And to you, my friends, on your own hard, splendid roads, I fare thee well with gratitude. Through all the suffering life will inevitably bring, through all the loss and sadness, may you dream about the lions.

And when your present seems pale and twisted, your future dark and broken, may you dream about the lions.

And, most of all, when that good long night of forever comes to sweep us up into the canopy of mysteries, I hope you’re dreaming about the lions, my friends.

And I hope I am, too.

And that’s all I have to say, I guess, tonight around the fire. Thank you for sitting a while.

The First Time I Laid My Eyes upon Mount Rainier

I’ll never forget the moment I stepped outside the Fort Lewis barracks door and saw Mount Rainier on the horizon for the very first time.

I’d been brought into the base the night before, fresh off the Ranger Indoctrination Program. It was first time ever in Washington,Northwest Nomad sitting on a rock with Mount Rainier in background. but I’d been dreaming of going there for years. Being an outdoorsman, and also being a product of the 90s grunge generation, the state was almost a mythic place to me. There was no way, however, to be prepared for the awe-inspiring sight that is Mount Rainier.
I’m not alone in this. I’ve talked to many people who told me that the first time they saw Mount Rainier was practically a religious experience.

From that moment on, I knew the Pacific Northwest was my home. One could even say the Northwest Nomad was born that day.

Nearly 15 years later, and still there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t look at the mountain in awe and gratitude. This excludes the many days when it’s not visible at all (which as we Northwesterners know is pretty damn common), but when it’s out, I’m as in love with it now as ever before.

So, here’s just a little letter of appreciation to the mountain. I’ll never forget ye, nor the day I first laid eyes upon you.

Anybody else out there in the ether remember the first time they saw Rainier? Got a story to tell? Please do.

Lake Quinault in Winter: Introvert’s Delight

Mosses cover the deep forest, blanketing rocks and fallen trees, clinging to the living spruces and firs like babies embracing their mothers. In some places a pale-green, stringy species dangles from branches like clots of witch hair. The vast, living coat absorbs sound and leaves the whole area in a hush. This is Lake Quinault in winter, and there’s no place in the world I’d rather be.

Lake Quinault in winter barely resembles its summer self, when tourists fill the area. In winter, the rain almost never stops. There are windows of sunlight here and there, always brief and always glorious, but for the most part it’s a persistently gray time. The upside of that is a region left in solitude and silence, perfect for those who yearn for those things as a break from modern life.

The hiking can be a slog. At times, it can be downright sloppy. But, the slog and slop keeps everyone else away, and even a short hike will leave you feeling like the whole of the rain forest is yours’ and the animals’ alone.

The Irely Lake trail, a short trek usually full of hikers in summertime, leaves you feeling continents away from the modern world. The trail is frequently flooded and blocked by fallen tree — great for keeping out the halfhearted. I’ve had conversations with trees there, and there wasn’t a single person (other than myself) to call me crazy for doing it.

You don’t even need to get on the trails, really. Very few people drive the “loop,” which is what I (and presumably others; it’s not all that unique or creative of a moniker, after all) call the North Shore and South Shore roads that will take you in a complete circle around the lake and a good portion of the river feeding into it.

Merriman Falls after a hard rain, just off South Shore Road.
Merriman Falls, right off the side of South Shore Road, part of the Lake Quinault Loop.

You can simply drive out along the road, park your car, and walk that. That’s nice way to do it, really, because the river adds a pleasant musical backdrop. There are also many things to see right off the road, including Merriman Falls and the Roosevelt elk.

My favorite place to stay in the area is the Quinault River Inn, but that’s just my personal preference. The Lake Quinault Lodge is a beautiful building with the best views of the lake.

No matter where you go, you’ll find a quiet place, perfect for silencing that mental cacophony that’s been driving you batty.

If you find yourself somewhere along the Irely Lake trail talking to trees, please tell them the Northwest Nomad said “hello.”

Northwest Nuggets Series: Nirvana’s Polly and the Creepy Story of Gerald Friend

The story of Gerald Friend, which inspired Nirvana’s “Polly,” isn’t a pleasant one. In fact, it’s downright disturbing.

In June of 1987, a 14-year-old girl was walking home from a concert at the Tacoma Dome when a stranger pulled his car over and offered her a ride. The girl accepted. There was no way for her to know she was getting into a car with a monster, but she would quickly find out.

The stranger’s name was Gerald Friend. He pulled a knife on the girl and took her to his mobile home. Once there, he tied her hands to a pulley attached to his ceiling. Over the course of the ensuing days, he raped and tortured her repeatedly.

Eventually the victim escaped. While Friend stopped at a gas station, she broke free from the vehicle and got help. The next day police pulled Friend over for a traffic violation. They recognized him and arrested him for the abduction.

Saddest of all in this story is that Gerald Friend shouldn’t have been on the streets to begin with. The 14-year-old girl hadn’t been his first victim.

The story of Gerald Friend and his debauchery had actually started 27 years before that Tacoma Dome attack, in July of 1960, in the town of Sumner a little ways outside of Tacoma. It was there that Gerald Friend kidnapped a 12-year-old girl while she was hitchhiking with her brother.

Friend assaulted the girl sexually, beat her, and cut her hair. The victim managed to escape and jumped into a river.

Friend hid in a field near his house. His father eventually discovered him. After a scuffle, Friend was injured and taken to a hospital, where he was arrested.

Gerald Friend was sentenced to 75 years in prison after his first attack, but he was paroled early in 1980, despite the violence of his first offense and despite two escapes. Seven years later, he took his second victim, a 14-year-old kid just trying to get home after a show.

After Friend’s second crime, he was sentenced to finish his original 75 year sentence, with another 75 year sentence on top of it. None of that helps his victims or changes the fact that Friend shouldn’t have been on the loose to begin with when he took that second victim. The girl later sued the state for the early parole.

Kurt Cobain read about Gerald Friend and his second victim in a local newspaper. From that story, he wrote the song “Polly.”

Cobain was no stranger to Tacoma, either. While he is primarily associated today with Aberdeen and Seattle, Cobain played quite a few gigs in Tacoma.

It was in Tacoma, in fact, that Nirvana first played under the name Nirvana. Previously they’d called themselves Ted Ed Fred, Skid Row, and Fecal Matter. They first used the name Nirvana in a place called the World Community Theater, which lasted only about a year but hosted many big acts of the era.

“Polly” makes no bones about what it’s meant to be. The song is catchy but also creepy and morose. Knowing that it narrates a true story only makes it more disturbing.

The song’s horrific backstory seems somewhat odd, really, considering that Cobain was so outspoken about women’s rights and about compassion. Years later, Cobain was deeply disturbed to hear that two men raped a girl while singing “Polly” to her.

What, exactly, inspired Cobain to write a song about someone who must have disgusted him is unclear, but the creative mind is a multifaceted thing. Besides, there’s obviously something compelling enough to have kept people listening nearly 30 years later.

 

This is part of my Northwest Nuggets series.