Adventure Log: Lena Lake – A Mask, a Bear Bell, and the Hamma Hamma

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.

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I arrive at the trailhead at 7:00 to just one other car in the lot and whose occupant I never see.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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10 thoughts on “Adventure Log: Lena Lake – A Mask, a Bear Bell, and the Hamma Hamma

  1. So many things I (we?) grew up thinking were the minimum requirement for being human, e.g. stepping aside for others. It feels almost biblical out there, a golden calf moment or something. With the aspens and the pecans and viruses maybe Nature is saying, “Guess what, foolish children, you are a part of me, period, learn this and grow up.” So much to dismay that only the quiet of a leaf or the voice of the trees can quell. I liked this story very much

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    1. So glad to know I’m not the only obsessive self-editor! Nature is indeed the teacher here. If we would but listen and learn. (I did not mean to imply that others did not step aside, I just usually beat them to it. And there wasn’t much room to do so; hence the need for masking. IMO; apparently not others’.) Thank you for the lovely comment. I’m so sad not to see you in July.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. So many things I (we?) grew up thinking were the expected minimums for being human, e.g. stepping out of the way for others. Maybe Nature is saying, “Guess what, foolish children, you are part of me, not the other way round.” Feels almost biblical out there, with the way society’s going, a golden calf moment. I liked this story very much.

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  3. As the country escalates further into unknown territory I find myself more grateful for your perspective. Not because I don’t take the threats seriously and not because you dont, but rather, there is always the thread of something beautiful woven into your stories. It matters. I hope you find a way to enjoy all of your places in spite of the inconsiderate ways of others. This mask debate is not likely to go away anytime soon. Be safe and know that there is great appreciation for the important sharing you do. Really great post. And that bear bell … ❤ I love that.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you; so kind. No, pretty sure the mask wearing will become ever more scarce, unless someone requires it. Then there will be hell to pay, not just boorish non-compliance. When I went looking for the link to the last time I was at Lena Lake, I was sure it was last summer. I was stunned it was three years ago. And there were annoying people then too, and I said I wouldn’t go again. So now I’m hopeful it was just that trail. A friend says it’s a Seattle party hike. There are other trails, hopefully with more considerate people. Feeling more positive today.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I didn’t know that about pecan trees/groves. The Aspen here in Colorado are much the same–a grove is one single organism underground.

    As I walk my dog, Tess, around the neighborhood twice a day, I make sure I’m the one wearing the mask and stepping aside first–guess it’s the mother in me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am glad to know that about aspen. I wonder what else? So kind to step aside first and say it’s the mother in you. I look for a spot to step aside first because I don’t trust anyone else to. 😛

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