Sometimes I think of my life as a river. We emerge from the highlands, cascading over rapids and falls, pooling and falling, pooling and flowing, until we course through our lives and empty back into the waters that fed our beginning. Birth, first steps, day one of school, growing up, graduation and college, the first job, marriage, having kids, watching them grow up, grandchildren, death. Such milestones can bring turbulence, but great beauty as well – the scenery is constantly changing.
I currently stand in the midst of a new life transition. I have found a place to call home here in the Pacific Northwest of Washington. A modest house in the woods, I am surrounded by new growth forest and logging clear cuts. People still use the word frontier out here. Beyond my house are the Cascade Mountains, where as a rule you will find not find houses due to the rugged geography and heavy winter snows. The area was never historically settled by white immigrants, and still isn’t.
I mention trees. While lacking the species variety of, say, your typical woods in Arkansas, the forests of the Pacific Northwest stand out in their grandeur and sheer size. Looking out my window, I can make out the soaring arch of the Western Red Cedar branch with its drooping needle patterns. To the right stands a dense group of Alders, another tall, leafy evergreen with soft needles.
Going back to logging (a chief industry here in the Duvall, WA area), one of the interesting concepts in forest growth here is that deciduous trees are some of the first trees to grow back after an area has been damaged by the ax or chainsaw. In many parts of the South the role is reversed, with pine trees the norm in burned, cleared, or logged areas (take the hilltops in the East Fork Wilderness Area near Hector, AR for example). The renewed prevalence of deciduous trees in such places marks a return to some degree of balance in the ecosystem.
In the Pacific Northwest, Big Leaf Maples, Alders, Cottonwoods, and other “leaf off” trees fill the role of “disturbed area” markers, leaving the farmed valleys and regenerating forests with a very different feel than their older, healthier, old-growth brethren.
Moisture is everywhere. Damp permeates rocks, ground, and bones. Raining or drizzling almost every day of the fall and winter, the climate in the Cascade foothills takes some special getting used to. The trees of the forests, green with all manner of fern, ivy, and grass, look as if they had adopted their own special winter coverings of lichens and moss to stay warm.
Besides their usual hangout spots on trees or rocks, green spreading creatures are always eager to visit humans in their abodes. While I have a room secured, I will not be sleeping in it for another night as my roommate waits for his small quarters to be de-molded (apparently once it gets into furniture or walls, it is hard to stop). Heat from a fire is good medicine for this malady, as is the newer idea of a dehumidifier. When it comes to food, fresh breads, fruits, and veggies must be eaten quickly or they too will play host for their own little friends.
Speaking of food, my dinner is waiting, and it smells fresh and tasty.