Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A new look at ancient trees on Washington's Orcas Island

My brother and I did in fact see some migrating Orcas from  high bluff in Lime Kiln State Park, and the price was a helluva lot better than what the boat riders out yonder paid their captains. The real joy of hiking Orcas Island, though, is the chance to see some ancient western redcedars and Douglas-firs and Pacific madrones in all their glory. Here's what I wrote:

I’ve had the privilege and honor to enter and pray and ponder things in a number of historic churches, some of them cathedrals, throughout my adult life.
The apartment Monica and I rented in Pittsburgh while we awaited her lung transplant was a 10-minute walk from St. Paul’s Cathedral.
And the St. Miguel Mission Church, long a photographic backdrop for tourists as they take snapshots of each other in Santa Fe, N.M., is a must-see-and-visit place for anyone traveling to the capital of New Mexico.

Mission San Xavier del Bac is one of several storied places of worship in and near Tucson, Ariz.

And in New York City there is the great Cathedral of St. John: The Great Divine.

To visit one of these places – or any of the dozens like them in our country – is to draw closer to what’s really important.

I felt the same waves crash over me while hiking last week through the Pacific maritime forest of Moran State Park (www.parks.wa.gov/parks/?selectedpark=Moran&subject=all) in Washington State’s Orcas Island, the largest of the islands that make up San Juan County.

To get to Orcas, visitors ride a ferry from Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. The town of Friday Harbor is the county’s seat of government.

Hiking into this cathedral forest of centuries old Douglas-fir, Western Red Cedar, Pacific madrone (www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/sea/pugetsound/species/madrone.html) and trees of several other species was akin to entering a great monument to religiosity. I enjoyed that feeling throughout the hike to Mountain Lake within Moran State Park. And as I am often labeled a “tree hugger,” as if such a moniker is somehow a put-down, I easily accepted my brother’s suggestion (he was my hiking/exploring partner) to pose for a tree-hugging photo next to the trunk of a 400-year-old Western Redcedar (www.oregon.gov/odf/urbanforests/docs/featuredtreewesternredcedar.pdf).

Even simply taking a moment to stand next to an old-growth tree (many conservationists refer to them as “ancient” trees) is to share space with wild, untamed nature.

There are many types of old-growth forests still extant across our country, but generally speaking, old growth means a forest that has not undergone any major unnatural changes (such as logging) for more than 100 to 150 years, contains young, mature and standing dead trees (snags) and provides a home for a diversity of wildlife species. I found many good and newsy articles and essays about old-growth forests in a Google search. One of them, from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, can be read at www.dnr.state.mn.us/forests_types/oldgrowth/description.html

Wildness is perhaps the most sorely missing thing on Americans’ rapidly dwindling natural landscape. As more roads are cut, trees are logged, and drill bits sunk into Earth in search of natural gas and petroleum, the quality of wildness disappears, replaced by noise pollution, air pollution, water pollution and all the other scars that come with industrialization.

Hiking through the cathedral forest in Moran State Park also allowed me to really listen to the sounds of nature (as opposed to the noise of urban America): the territorial song of red crossbills and winter wrens and Swainson’s thrushes chief among those sounds.

In this era of near-constant loss of “wild America,” I look to statements like this from the conservation outfit Wildlands Network: “We want future generations to inherit a continent rich in wildlife, with plenty of room for all species to roam.  We want to feel safe knowing that our environment can weather the effects of growing human development and climate change.  We want to be proud of our natural heritage.  And we want to know that we have acted responsibly by caring for and sustaining the lands, waters and wildlife that enrich our lives.”  See more at: www.wildlandsnetwork.org/about-us#sthash.UcRf8xDE.dpuf

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