May 27, 2020
Pecan trees produce nuts on a boom and bust irregular cycle; growing and accumulating calories at different rates depending on their habitats. One would think, then, that early mid-west settlers who got fertile pecan farmland, would get rich quickly, while their shaded neighbors would struggle and only rarely have abundance. But this isn’t true. If one tree fruits, they all fruit—there are no soloists. Not one tree in a grove, but the whole grove; not one grove in the forest, but every grove; all across the county and all across the state. The trees act not as individuals, but somehow as a collective. It is the power of unity. What happens to one, happens to us all. We can starve together or feast together. All flourishing is mutual. — Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass (paraphrased)
I forgot to download an audio book from Libby before I left the house for my hike, so I sat in the carport ready to head out at 5am yesterday, scrolling through available choices. Braiding Sweetgrass was the first of interest I saw. I’ve had the print version from the library before, but it came due unread. I checked it out and headed out, stopping for my latte at an alternate drive-up since my favorite wasn’t open yet.
I’m having a hard time finding hikes that are open following pandemic closure, snow-free, and that I want to hike. I’ve been to Lena Lake (read it here, there were goats!), and it’s a popular hike among Seattleites, so it’s not a stellar choice, but it’s what’s available. I hoped going early on a weekday would keep down the crowd; but with the universities shuttered and people “working” from home, there is no guarantee.
It’s a beautiful morning drive up I-5, the rising sun glowing through the half-fog, then up Hwy 101 along Hood Canal.
I arrive at the trailhead at 7:00 to just one other car in the lot and whose occupant I never see.
The trail to lower Lena is beautiful and gentle—the 1300 foot elevation gain eased by many switch backs—probably why it’s so popular. I walk to the accompanying rush of the unseen Hamma Hamma River far below. Finally leaving the river roar behind, I enter the mossy deep silence of the towering old-growth forest, but for the whisper of the breeze far above and the soundless echo of crashing trees during winter storms and the eons old cataclysm of the mountain breaking apart, sending car- and house-size boulders rocketing down to their rest.
The bear bell attached to my pack tinkles. The bell was given to me by my mother when I started hiking alone. I free it from its pouch when no one is around not because I’m afraid, and not because I think it’s what keeps bears away—I’m pretty sure they hear me breathing, my poles clacking, the vibration of my steps through the earth. I wear it because if my mother can see me I want her to know I still hear her voice, see her face, feel her love. I wear it beyond her capacity to worry about me to remind myself she cared about my well-being.
I cross the beautiful bridge over the dry river bed, imagining the water tumbling over boulders before it abandoned the highway in favor of some new road less traveled. The sunlight slanting through the trees on the upward slope enchants me. I try both cameras, a panoramic, a video. I can’t capture the beauty. Perhaps it’s not meant to be stopped in time; nature is movement and constant change.
This is not a showy high alpine wildflower hike, but the woodland flowers are just coming on: star flower, bear grass, bunch berry, even a few rhododendrons.
I arrive at the lake at 9:00, and have it to myself. I sit for 45 minutes on the rock outcropping above the water, listening to the stillness broken only by birdsong and fish plop. I watch the sun lighting up the tips of the trees across the lake and the shifting reflections as it rises higher in the sky. My first Airbnb guest since the pandemic cancelled reservations was a returnee bird watcher. She told me she sat on the patio for three hours Saturday morning. I never just sit. No wonder I don’t see the 13 birds she listed in my guest journal (along with a Great Horned owl in the woods!). I’m going to do more sitting.
When two young women arrive to the rock, I hike down to the lake and sit again for 15 minutes. The young women walk by chattering and two older women arrive, talking loudly, taking up residence nearby. Time to go.
On the hike down, I estimate I met 60 people, most hiking in groups of two or three. Just one party of one and one family of four pull up masks as I approach. That is all. As the meetings become closer together, I just leave my mask on. Unless I stop and wait at a switchback, it’s lucky if there is room to wait even four feet apart, usually only two.
I don’t understand. When I look at someone wearing a mask, I don’t think, “Wow, you must be really afraid. Get a backbone!” I think, “Thank you for caring about me and others around you.” When I see people not wearing a mask, I don’t think, “You are really brave.” I think, “You are really stupid and selfish. Get a brain, and have a heart!”
Like the pecan trees, we will rise and fall together. We are a collective, not soloists. The power of unity is how we will get beyond this thing, and it’s not going to be quick.
I’m so stressed—and angry—by the time I get back to the car, I don’t know if I will hike again this summer. I wish a bear bell would keep thoughtless people away. Frankly, I would rather see a bear. Maybe it’s the year to day trip by car. Or maybe I’ll get over myself—and look for less traveled trails. Stay tuned. Meanwhile, I’m grateful for the paradise that is my own home.