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.)

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