The Hoh River Rain Forest, Olympia National Park, Washington.
Sitka Spruce stand like statues, 200 foot guardians draped in robes of fog, sheathed in velvet undergarments of moss. Contortionist Big Leaf Maples twist and freeze in a belly dance, laying on a lot of epiphytes and dripping with green breath. An old aspen seems to sleep, the knot in its trunk like a slumbering dinosaur’s eye. At any moment the eye may pop open, and the tree could reach up from underground with its claws, now half-submerged roots, and squeeze me like putty. I hike on.
Tilted forests of dark fern sway at the same angle, the same height, like underwater stands of kelp pressured by a storm wave. Every stone and each woody pillar here is blanketed in deep, soft aquamarine. I drown drunken in a fuzzy, haunted world of ground clouds and Triassic wind.
A glimmering ivory slug the length of my palm, with brown tail markings and a matching blow hole, takes its century to cross the footpath. Through cool, green smells of humus rotting, I slash my way to Mount Olympus, its summit ever in shroud. The decay mixed with pine wafts in currents above the understory. I clear the forest and stand at a cold, pebbled river: the Hoh. A rabbi in-training rocks back and forth in davening as he recites his afternoon prayers. At first I thought he was fly fishing.
I’ve learned to accept the jarring juxtaposition of unlikely elements in nature—a prayer to the God of Israel beside a mountain home to gods of another pantheon; a rainy jungle swathed in cool mists and not steam. Which ghosts float here in this easily breathed but ominous atmosphere? It seems haunted still by the spirits of shaman and bears, undyingly potent. What dreams have I heaved up from within me to hew such a fantastic outscape? Only the dreams know, and they hide in the drooling murk here, behind the beads of the mouth vapors of the gods who fashioned the forest, then decayed into it, only to stalk me with eyeless vision as I creep through. I stayed but one day.
© 2014 by Michael C. Just