Dateline: May 18, 2021
I’m a little late hitting the road this hiking day. I woke in the wee hours and didn’t go back to sleep until Lena cat returned to the bed and spooned with me. I don’t do alarms, never have. I figure I will be on the trail, or on my way there, exactly when I’m supposed to be. It’s hard to beat daybreak as we race toward the solstice, anyway. Still, I’m at the espresso kiosk just thirty minutes after they open.
I’m not expecting crowds on this trail on the east side of Olympic National Park, nor is it a “view trail,” so an early arrival isn’t critical. Still, I like the early morning silence, the dew-drenched foliage—or in today’s case, the mossy tree limbs dripping last night’s rain—and the slanting rays through the trees as the sun rises above the ridge.
The drive to the Peninsula is easy and pleasant. The camas is a blue blur as I whiz through the prairie on I-5 between Centralia and Olympia, stopping at the rest area to catch the rising sun. I exit in Olympia and head toward Hwy 101, where I stop at the same off-road bench I always stop at to watch the low sun beaming across Hood Canal, later glorying in snowy mountains revealing themselves through the dissipating clouds. (Goddess, I love where I live.)
I’m glad for these hiking drives and trips to Seattle to play with Adrian—or this month just for Saturday ball games while East Coast grandparents visit. I’m listening to Barack Obama’s “The Promised Land.” It’s twenty-eight hours long. I don’t know if I could get through the fat book, but listening to his voice is like eating comfort food. He could read the phone book and I would hang on every word. I miss him. It’s educational too, like Mitch McConnell has always been a first class jerk—it didn’t just come on in the Trump era—stating from Day One he would not vote for any Democrat-introduced bill, before he even knew what they might be. Must be an easy job he has, no negotiating skills or decision making required. I guess I never paid attention before; I thought all this ridiculous Republican stuck-in-the-muck behavior was newer than it is. After watching MSNBC as much as three hours an evening through the impeachment, the pandemic, the election, the insurrection, the second impeachment, I’m back to never watching the news.
I leave the highway and the canal at Hoodsport, where on a warmer day I would stop at Hoodsport Coffee Shop for the best ice cream on the way back. This is not a warm day. A couple miles down the road, as I pass Lake Cushman, I hit the potholed gravel five miles to the end of the road and the Park. The potholes aren’t car swallowers, but it’s slow going.
The parking lot is empty at 7:30, the ranger making her rounds greets me warmly. This is a perfect early season hike. I haven’t been to the Staircase area for a while; it was one of my first camping trips when I moved back to the Pacific Northwest, but I haven’t been since. The trail is short, four miles round trip, though I manage to get closer to five with a side jaunt. Elevation gain is non-existent. It’s just a beautiful ramble along the Skokomish River as it rushes and pounds its way over mossy boulders through the forest. The trail is wide, accessible to the many. I’m glad trails like this are available. Someday I will need them too. I wish I had thought to bring my mother here.
Woodland wildflowers are coming on. What’s left of the trillium is fading along with last summer’s leaves, but bear grass, Oregon grape, vanilla leaf, currant, false Solomon seal, bleeding heart, Hooker’s fairybell are gathering themselves. And always the lichen, including lettuce lichen.
I stop at the suspension bridge—the loop route—to check the light, then backtrack and continue toward, according to the sign, Four Stream.
There are a couple tricky navigational spots on the less “accessible” trail beyond the bridge that I would think nothing of were I ten years younger. But I am the age I am, so I take them cautiously, observing from all angles before I continue, like a kayaker scouting a rapids.
Speaking of going with the flow of an aging body, I’m getting hearing aids next month. I’m still working out how I feel about that. (Obviously, I’m not hiding it.) I guess I have a little ageism going on, though it’s just projected onto myself. I have friends who have had them for a while, and I don’t for the first second think of it as an aging thing in them. And people who can’t hear and refuse to get aids, or can’t see and refuse to wear their glasses annoy me. So what is it? Maybe it’s observing myself becoming more my mother? Living with her as she passed into old-old age, knowing I was following, was really kind of terrifying. I’m fine taking aging as it comes, but seeing, day to day, where I’ll be in thirty years is like getting into a time machine and stepping out a second later in some strange new world—the life I haven’t lived yet flashing by me.
Anyway, I can hear birds singing this morning—my loss is “mild to moderate”—but I wonder if there are more I am not hearing. I can surely hear the river! I remember now, last time I walked up here, I got spooked. The grouse were drumming, which is freaky if you don’t know what they are. I did, but there was a really loud rustling as I walked through the flats. I worried it was a bear, and back then I had no protection. Of course it could have been a squirrel, sounds in the deep forest are magnified. I hear nothing of note today. But, hmm, what is there that I’m not hearing?
It’s a natural sculpture garden out here, including some nature graffiti and springboard slots from a long-ago logging operation, before FDR declared this a national park.
I return to the bridge when I come to a tree across the trail. I could slither under it, but I’m done. A few yards down the other side of the river, a young woman calls to me from behind. She’s planning to go to Flapjack Lakes apparently. I think she will run into snow, but I don’t say so. I also wonder if she knows it’s miles away and it’s already ten o’clock. I don’t think she’s done her research, but I guess she’s on an adventure and doesn’t need my opinion. She wants to know if I have a knife (I do), to cut the plastic binding on her bear spray canister. She’s relieved to make the cannister usable, and says she will be less anxious now.
There’s a side stream feeding into the Skokomish, with a log bridge with a rail, and I delight at some bridge engineer’s sense of humor. There’s another log crossing with no rail and it’s rain wet. I decide on a ford crossing. It’s a small creek, but it’s running full and fast. That age thing again. I’m cautious, appropriately I think.
I’m thinking this might be a fun Camp Gigi hike. Easy and lots of fun stuff. There is the two-hour drive in both directions. I don’t know. But an ice cream reward!
I meet just one other couple on the trail just before the end, but there are many peeps in the parking lot getting ready to hike. Soon after I leave the Park, the sun leaves too, the clouds are gathering as I drive back down the interstate. I’m home at 12:30 in a hail deluge.
Happy trails, until next week!