Category Archives: wilderness

The Pulling Force of Evolution

Posted by David

I broke the tip of my finger this week, which has limited my ability to type and has given me a new respect and compassion for those who are disabled in profound ways. My injury has also brought back the memory of a deer leg bone that I once found in a pinyon forest in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristos.

Little flesh remained on this deer leg, but the joints were still intact. It had all the normal number of bones, except the upper leg bone had an ‘extra joint’ which was a bit larger than a baseball. This was a mass of bone growth, hinging a bit, which had developed from a full fracture.

What was truly amazing was how both sides of the fracture had sent calcareous projections toward the other side, like two hands full of fingers grasping at each other. Since the deer had spent much time walking on the injury, the growth never made a full connection, so the mass of bone kept getting bigger and bigger.  How did it die? I can only guess that a mountain lion got it, since I couldn’t find the rest of the skeleton anywhere.

Bodies are truly given an amazing gift of healing, aren’t they?

This idea of growth mechanics being directional and having two sides is important. I think of evolution in particular (the mechanic of gravity also provides an example of another important misconception). In classic and neo-Darwinism, the driving force of evolution mechanics come from the bottom-up, i.e. random mutations and the ‘desire’ for survival in the individual. But not only does the mechanics, the force of evolution, come from a pressure from the bottom part of the equation, but it also comes from a pulling force from the top.  Evolution has both bottom-up and top-down force mechanics. Once side pushes, the other side pull. Traditional evolution seems to be only concerned with the bottom up pressure and disregards the pulling force from the top.

As the deer bone healed, there was growth from one end of the bone to the other. But there was also a pulling force that said in effect, “here I am, your mate, the other end of this bone onto which you must adhere.” The same is the case for the process and driving forces behind evolution.

There is a pulling force from the ‘top’ which says for the jaguar, for example, “Time to become a great forest cat.” Or in the case of a temperate montane forest, the pulling force says, “Time to become a forest of pointed, snow-shedding trees.” Then the genetics, creatures and communities of organisms below respond and evolve into those species characterized by those morphological traits. This is the greatly overlooked aspect of evolution. Evolution is a pulling force rather than a pushing force from below. There is a pushing force from below, but that’s not what drives species directionally into their particular morphology. The pushing force is simply what we call life.

Tragically, this component is overlooked in our high school textbooks. We overlook the Great Pulling Force in science, because that pulling force is the love of God. Modern science won’t accept that kind of force. On the other hand, oddly enough, it will accept ‘randomness’ as a force or ‘chaos’. This is because man does not wish to go toward that great pulling force. All other forms of life grow naturally toward that pulling force, but in the human’s ability to choose, a.k.a. our will, we responds by not growing into that great pulling force, but choose to grow into our own particular egocentric bubble. We grow inward rather than outward toward the pulling force. Jesus came to change our direction of growth.

I’m hoping for a speedy recovery in my finger, that those little filaments of bone are starting their journey across the great gap!

See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess…Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Deuteronomy 30:15-20

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Huck Finn

Posted by Mike

I’ve just finished reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I honestly don’t know if I’d ever read it before. What’s clear is that if I did I didn’t remember any of it. I didn’t read any of the critics’ comments in the preface prior to reading the novel; I didn’t want to be influenced. As you probably know it’s a picaresque novel, a series of adventures and misadventures, held together by a tenuous story. The central theme is that Huck is accomplishing two things at one time: he’s helping the escaped slave Jim to find his freedom at the same time that he is obtaining his own freedom from a life of convention with the Widow Douglas. Some of the adventures are pretty realistic; some are downright silly and so exaggeratedly over the top that this reader was put off by them. I’d call it a comic romance. The comedy part comes from the humor inserted by the writer into the situations and speech; the romance is falling in love with freedom, with the open road in a sense – in this case, the big wide, slow-moving, inexorable superhighway, the Mississippi River.

Like a lot of today’s readers I’m sure, I had some problems with Clemens’ frequent use of the “N” word. The review I read concluded that Clemens very definitely wasn’t a racist, and I’m convinced of that myself. Despite his upbringing as a poor white Southerner, Huck was out to help save Jim; that was apparent from the beginning, and his attitude toward the outcome confirmed that. In his ruminations, Huck vacillated regarding whether or not he was doing the right thing, but this was the writer’s way of reflecting to the reader the ingrained learnings of the white Southerner re race relations. If it had been a tragedy, which would have been a more realistic outcome of the events, given the time and place, when the two finally would have been caught, Jim would have either been returned to his owner or sold again into slavery – or worse. And Huck would have taken his licks, too. But we don’t have a tragedy, do we, so such a dark, more realistic ending wouldn’t do.

I don’t read novels very often. If you’ve read my earlier postings, you may remember what I said about reading Of Human Bondage last year. That’s a really long novel that reads like an autobiography, which it is to some extent. I got so involved that I was terribly worried about the protagonist when he was having some rough times. Well, can you believe, it happened again! Towards the end of this story, when Huck and Jim were nearing the end of the road, which would have been New Orleans, I began to worry: “What’s going to happen to Jim. There’s no way out, now.” That would have been the tragic ending. Clemens couldn’t do that, so he injected kind of a deus ex machina to help wind things up. Also, at the very end of the story, Tom Sawyer (yes, he’s there, too) is trying to lure Huck into another hair-brained romantic fantasy scheme of his. I practically said out loud, “No Huck. Don’t listen to him! Get away. Get away!”

If like me you’ve never read Huckleberry Finn, or you did but it was long ago, take it up again. It’s a good read.

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The Last March of the Ents and Oil

Posted by David

I am presently troubled by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf and it has reawakened a love for the planet—for God’s creation—that has been with me as long as I can remember.

When I was in my early twenties, like many passionate, justice-desiring youth, I was spellbound by nature, forests, rivers, oceans and living creatures in general. But as the pressures of human life (and sin) burdened my mind and body, I took less notice of the problems our planet faced. I still have taken notice, but not as an activist, more like a seabird that has been pressured out of his coastal home or a young Doug-fir surrounded by intersecting overpasses.

But even though part of me looks in scorn towards man’s greed and the things we do, I suppose I have matured in that I feel more long-suffering than I did when I was younger. I feel less like an environmental activist and more like an ent.

Do you remember Tolkien’s Ents? Ents are patient forest-dwelling creatures found in the Lord of the Rings. They are a race of men that resemble trees.

“Hoom, hum, I have not troubled about the Great Wars”, said Treebeard; “they mostly concern Elves and Men. That is the business of Wizards: Wizards are always troubled about the future. I do not like worrying about the future. I am not altogether on anybody’s side, because nobody is altogether on my side, if you undertand me: nobody cares for the woods as I care for them, not even Elves nowadays.”

After lengthy deliberation in The Two Towers, the Ents decide to take action against the evil wizard Saruman. They march against Saruman’s Isengard and eventually become so enraged that just the power of their voices alone help destroy Saruman and Isengard. “If the Great Sea had risen in wrath and fallen on the hills with storm, it could have worked no greater ruin.”

As oil gushes up from the seafloor, I feel like Treebeard in a quandary. Our world is controlled by a Saruman archetype and he and his brood cause suffereing to our planet, its creatures, and us. Thankfully, the damage is not forever. But like the Ents at Entmoot before they marched, I am still in deliberation about what to do.

As the oil bubbles up, I think to myself, will this event is a turning point for mankind? Is this the point when the stones cry out saying, “Look, you humans! Look what you are made of. Look at the black, slimy filth that fills the sea. Take a good look. Can’t you see covetness, the false god of profit, and murder in your own heart? Who have you heard say, ‘I wish gas prices weren’t so high‘?”

Folks, it does get better, but only in the man we know of as Jesus of Nazarus, for it is to him and only him that the stones cry out in tears of black.

I can hear Treebeard now, “Hoom, hoom, a-hoom…”

As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”

Luke 19:37-39

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His Word ‘Gravity’

Elwha River in Winter

Elwha River in Winter

Posted by David

Daddy, “How does the water move?”

Yesterday we took a walk up to Goblin’s gate along the Elwha River, where the river funnels into a towering grey rock canyon. The naturalist in me would have wanted to say to my 3 year old son, maybe even with a minor nasal lisp for fun, “There’s a pulling force between bodies of matter called gravity. We don’t really understand it, but we can certainly see its effects.” But I didn’t say that.

I responded, “God pushes the water.”

He came back with, “Does he use his arms?”

I said, “He uses his Word.”

I continued, “God tells the trees to grow up and they do.
He tells the birds to flock and they do.
He tells mountains to rise and they do.
He tells us to love and we do.

Do you send the lightning bolts on their way?
Do they report to you, “Here we are”?
– Job 38:35

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Hurricane Hill at Night

Posted by David

For me, Helfa didn’t cross my mind, not once. Our trip up Hurricane Hill at night was a movement into the Sublime. I wanted my dad to go there with me. I have been there, at night in the wilderness, so many times before. I wanted him to experience it with me.

Walking at night in the wilderness at night has been an important part of my life for many years now, at least as long as I’ve been an adult away from my parents. It makes no difference whether the moon is full or new, if there are at least a few stars visible in the universe above, the experience is the same. I walk out into the vastness of God’s creation and feel as if the universe and I are of the same ilk.

I can touch the moon. I can touch a star. I can reach out and touch the hazy blur of Andromeda. The light in my eye from these distant places is just that: in my eye. Their light is in me. I am a part of them and they are a part of me. In the sublime, I find that the speed of light is irrelevant. Time and space is irrelevant. The stellar bodies, their space, and me are of one body: God’s creation with Christ as our head, as Teilhard de Chardin would remind us.

On that special night, when my dad entered the sublime with me, the stage was set with a grand sunset. The fiery ball had sunk beneath the edge of the earth minutes before we arrived at the trailhead. In its wake a sea of crimson and orange faded upward into the earth’s blue shadow. The light-sharpened and serrated western mountainous horizon provided a pure Gestalt form for my time-boundless psyche to explore. The brilliant light in the sky above and solid-opaque Olympic Mountain below tunneled into my subconscious sparking memories unresolvable, memories that are more akin to the dream of an infant. Those are feeling-stories spoken in color and form, without words, without names, and without knowledge, but full of wisdom. They are the stories worth telling. I wish I could tell them with words or more plausibly with music. They shatter my worldly reality. They are the words of God himself. Jesus tells these stories. Jesus is this story. I am only an infant yet a brother in the Sublime.

The horizon of which I consumed followed us all the way to the top of Hurricane Hill, waning as the stars and quarter moon waxed.  At the top we could see long horizontal lenses and tails of Zephyr cirrus clouds over a small corner of the Pacific. The curve of the earth was detectable, maybe only through logic. I tried to take some photos for my dad. There is no justice in those picts.

I write this now and hesitate to describe what was on the other side of Hurricane Hill. I hesitate to mention the lights twinkling in the cityscapes below. I hesitate to cast your eyes northward upon the array of lights spreading in a linear scatter plot, mapping out the landforms and massive waterways from Port Angeles to Victoria and onward over the San Juans to the metropolis of Vancover, British Columbia. I hesitate because I don’t want to look back into the choppy sea of humanity, but to look forward to the peace and sublimity of the Kingdom of God.

But I cast your mind’s eye on those lights in the cities, towns and houses, because those lights represent the sublime too. Just look beyond the facades, push aside the pride and prejudice, throw off the rose-colored glasses, clean up the self-pity, rip off the dead skin and look. There it is. See. See all the stars. Focus in on one, on yours. It really is.  You’re right. It’s not all that much different than Alpha Centuri nor our sun for that matter. But your star is very special. Keep it uncovered and you’ll see where it takes you. It’s the most important thing God ever gave you. For it is you. No you don’t! Don’t you dare hide it under that bushel.

This little light of mine. I’m gonna let it shine…Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

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Filed under Astronomy, Christianity, wilderness

Helfa Reigns

Posted by Mike
Helfa, a Rhode Island Red hen

Helfa, a Rhode Island Red hen

She’s brown, round and plump, but clearly the “alpha” party in the group.  She had flown the coop one time too many that day. If some chickens insist on being free range, Helfa was one of them. I wasn’t aware that free range chickens actually stick around the home turf, but learned that from Helfa. Generally she would range the yard up to the street or even crop a few bites from the neighbor’s grass, but she never went far.

In exasperation David tried several techniques using additional chicken wire in likely escape  hatches and he clipped her wings so close that she now had little penguin wings. Before that, when we shooed her in from atop the stone wall behind the pen, she was able to slow her landings a little, but now coming down she looked like a 747 with twenty foot wings.  It was always a hard landing.

Along toward evening David reminded me that this was the day, after dinner, that he and I were to drive up toward Hurricane Ridge. He wanted us to be successful in climbing the “Switchback” to the ridge beneath Mt. Angeles. Two years ago I had given up on this hike – apparently with only a couple of turns to go. I think he believed that if I made it to the top this time, it might have some kind of salubrious effect on the aging process – in me. At his suggestion I was immediately guarded. “You know, I’ve been thinking that it’s just too much for me. Let’s just stay down here tonight.” Down here was Port Angeles, Washington, at around 500 feet in elevation. Up there was near the top of Hurricane Ridge, at about 5,000 feet.

David doesn’t take “No” for an answer. “Dad, if that’s too much for you, we can climb to the top of Hurricane Hill. It’s not nearly as steep. It’ll be wonderful.” Sometimes it’s difficult if not impossible to disappoint such enthusiasm. Besides, he needed to get away for a few hours, from both a crying baby and from Helfa.

By the time supper ended Helfa, the other hens, and the maybe rooster were safely ensconced in their coop, secure from the claws of local raccoons and other predators, and David and I were ascending the road to Hurricane Ridge. The ridge tops out at about 5,200 feet, not far from the tree line in the Olympics. It actually is a ridge. The road rides along the very top for a mile, then dips down and rises again ending at a parking lot where the trail to Hurricane Hill begins. I had hiked the first quarter mile several years ago. It’s flat with little rise. The only problem is that there are places not more than five or six feet from the path where the drop-off is — shall we say — only a few thousand feet or so.

When we arrived at the trail it was already dusk. It was a relatively clear evening and the sunset to the west over the northern edge of the Olympic range was spectacular.238 - Copy It was the autumnal equinox and fortunately at that time of the year (actually probably most of the year) at that latitude twilights and sunsets last a long time. I had hoped that we would turn around at the end of the flat trail – about a quarter of a mile – but no, we were going “to the top” of Hurricane Hill. “It’s not very far, just a few switchbacks. Nothing like the steepness or distance on the ‘Switchback’,” said David, providing the reassurance that would prevent me from refusing to budge at the end of the first quarter mile.

We trudged onward – and by now steeply upward. At six-two David was ambling. Being shorter and a  flatlander I was taking what seemed comparative baby steps, grinding away at the gravel, pacing my breathing and steps so I didn’t start puffing – and beginning to think that I’d show this whippersnapper Western guy, my son,  that despite all I had what it takes.  I want to say here and now for posterity that I only asked, very calmly, “How much further is the top?” twice. If you hear anything else regarding that issue you can disregard it immediately as disinformation. We continued to trudge onward and upward. The light and sunset were really fading now. The valley to our west was pitch-black. Fortunately there was slightly more than a quarter moon in the western sky that would be good for another four or five hours and it provided just enough light to see the path. The trail switched back and forth. It steepened. I asked if that clump of trees above us was the top – where we were headed. “No, we’re not going  there.” No! We were going further up!

Finally, the path narrowed, became indistinct and strewn with much larger boulders and we arrived at the top of Hurricane Hill. By now it was almost completely dark. But we were indeed on the top of a peak, with a commanding view of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. From our perch at 5,757 feet, we could see beneath us to the right all of the lights of the city of Port Angeles.121 Across the Strait were the lights of Victoria, B.C., and it seemed like we could see beyond the western edge of Vancouver Island to Barkley Sound and the islands beyond as well as half of Vancouver Island, though I know that couldn’t be possible (it’s 300 miles long!). It was striking that to the north of us there was visible the lights of at least several hundred thousand people. To the west and south of us there were no lights. The vast wilderness of the Olympic Mountains was essentially uninhabited for 30 miles to the west and at least 50 miles to the south.

The time exposures David took really don’t do the scene justice. The ghost in one of the pictures is me! 123The trail up had been 1.8 miles and I had stuck with it.  The result was rewarding. The next best thing would be to do it again, next time during daylight, when you really would feel like you are on the top of the world.

I’d like to say coming down was easy. And I guess it was. I had prepared for emergencies by secreting a very small flashlight – like someone might carry on a key chain. David was ambling back down the path seemingly with the night vision of a cat. I never let on, but I was unable to see anything but his vague shadow ahead of me, at times fading out completely in the shadows only to reappear later in a minimal shaft of moonlight. Later I said that I only used the flashlight briefly three times coming down and intend to stick to that story regardless of any other opinion. We arrived back at the car after hiking about three and a half miles in two hours, with the flatlander none the worse for wear. Driving back down to Port Angeles I heard tales of mountain lions and other animals bounding across the road on previous late night forays, but alas the only thing that crossed the path of the rented Ford Focus was shadows.

The next day Helfa was at it again. David was constructing yet another Maginot Line. That one too was not effective. This all occurred only a week ago, so I don’t have current information regarding Helfa, but it might not be a pretty picture!

[see map at http://www.nps.gov/PWR/customcf/apps/maps/showmap.cfm?alphacode=olym&parkname=Olympic%20National%20Park Enlarge the section of map south of Port Angeles. You will see the road to Hurricane Ridge and the trail to Hurricane Hill to the northwest of the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center.]

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People at Last – Chapter 8

Previous Chapter

Reading my notebook, I saw that Mr. Davis once again gave me a suggestion:

“The gifts of sustenance lay upon the land for the tribes of the past. Food, clothing, tools and shelter were available everywhere. The generosity was overwhelming.”

I sat staring up at the canopy of leaves overhead and realized that the sun had returned and was spraying light into the forest and causing steam to rise from the mossy forest floor. About a hundred feet away from my shelter, sunlight streamed into a small clearing above a massive fallen tree. It looked as though some tall bushes had grown up around the great log. They were full of yellowish-red salmonberries which were wet with sparkling rain drops.

I was very hungry so I climbed over a series of mossy logs to get there and gather berries for awhile. After I had my fill and collected some for later, I made my way through the forest, mostly by walking log-bridges toward the river, which seemed to be straight ahead.

At first I thought I was hearing things in the roar of the river, but I wasn’t. I heard voices calling out slowly yet repetitively. As they came nearer, I discovered they were calling my name!

I yelled back, “Over here!” And they came. They were two park rangers, who looked exhausted, almost as tired as I was. They seemed truly happy to see me, which for a moment I thought a bit odd, because I had never met them before.

We sat down in a clearing and rested. One of the rangers talked to his headquarters on his radio and the other asked me questions. They gave me some food and water. Finally we got moving and slowly made our way alongside the stream, over fallen trees and through the thick undergrowth downstream to a place where the river moved quietly. There we met others who seemed to be waiting for us—including Mr. Davis! It was wonderful to see his face in the crowd.

By the time we got back on the trail, the sun had long been set and everyone was wearing headlamps. We traveled for a couple of miles down the trail until we reached camp—which incidentally was the same place from which I had recklessly abandoned my classmates six days ago. Mr. Davis was happy to see me also, but he did give me the ‘evil eye’ when he first saw me down by the river. I knew it would be my parents and not him who would ground me, for how long I could not imagine.

He told me that first thing in the morning, we would walk out to the trailhead to meet my parents.

All the people and the barrage of questions were overwhelming, but eventually we ate a hot meal and I was able to go to a tent to sleep. But before I slept I couldn’t help but do the last activity in my notebook.

That night I dreamed of the eagle once again. We flew to the top of a tree which stood beside a broad curving river. In my mind I heard him say,Eagle “Copernicus may have discovered that the earth travels around the sun, but that doesn’t mean that the earth is any less important than the sun—all parts have their special significance. Flee as far as you can to the east and you will return to this tree. Run away to the north and all the way around the earth and you will return to where you stand now. There is no escape, for one day we return to that which we abandon. We are all bound to our homes.” I supposed he was teaching me a lesson about staying with the group. But before the eagle vanished I listened to him say, which also contained Mr. Davis’ final piece of advice: “Thankfully, we are all bound to dream. Listen, seek and ask for clues and your dreams may lead you home.”

I awoke to the bustle of camp traffic. Shortly after I emerged puffy-eyed from my tent, we all ate a hot breakfast, after which Mr. Davis and I promptly set out on our hike to the trailhead. We spoke very little during our journey out. I did apologize to him for abandoning our group. I felt really terrible for making everyone worry and work so hard to find me. He said that apologies are good, but actions are better and that he had a big project in store for me. (The writing of this story was that project.)

My parents were at the trailhead parking lot. They were thanking all the search and rescue folks for all their hard work before they noticed me. When they saw me, they both came over and gave me a huge embrace. “I’m so happy you’re home,” my dad said softly in my ear as he hugged me in his arms.

I replied, “So am I.”

We all got in the car and began driving the highway westward, around all the tight curves that parallel the Skagit River on our way back home. Out of the corner of my eye I saw an eagle gracefully pull a fish out of the Skagit’s water and return to a tree perch. Mom saw it too. We pulled the car over into the pullout and watched the birds—there were others.

Finally, I said aloud, “I feel a bit homesick.”

After we returned to the car, I opened my journal to the last page where Mr. Davis had written:

“We are all bound to become lost and bound to wonder how to get home. Never cease to wonder, because in wondering we find our home.”

The End

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One for the Other – Chapter 7

Previous Chapter

It was a good thing I learned about bats that evening for I would have confused all the bats that were feeding on insects in the avalanche chute for night birds. I watched those bats dart and dive back and forth in the clearing from my cozy, log hideaway until I fell asleep.

A mist arrived with the morning and all the bird songs seemed dampened by the moisture. I was horribly stiff-legged. All the favoring of my right leg must have strained both of my legs. I got my day-pack and slowly hiked downward, parallel to the avalanche chute, just paces inside the forest cover. Some would think hiking down would be easier than up, but each downward step sent my weight into my thighs, making them ache terribly. I passed a huge hollowed out tree and wondered if bats lived deep inside that tree—even I could have slept there, the cavity was so large.Snag

“I suppose stewardship goes both ways,” I thought, recalling that stewardship was the last note from Mr. Davis that I had read . “Bats are responsible for eating insects, even some of those that bite us. And we have the responsibility to take care of bat homes.” I passed out of the forest and reentered the chute while continuing my slow, determined descent.

By noon the fog had lifted, but I was stopped in my tracks. The trickle down the center of the chute had gained strength and had become a steep cataract which plunged a hundred feet or so down. I stood upon a cliff facing only air and treetops. The only feasible way seemed to be to my right.

Once again I entered the forest. Inside the forest the trees were immense, wider than I was tall. After I walked in far enough that the sound of the falls eased and became indistinguishable from the deep background murmur that seemed to pervade all of the wilderness, I heard the tiny chirps and trills of birds. Some were flocking high up in the canopy, a couple of hundred feet above me, while others darted around the forest floor, almost seeming to be taunting me to follow them. I had glanced ahead in my journal  in the duff and took a break.

After I had completed the activity, the bird songs that seemed to surround me had vanished and had been replaced by the creaking of tree against tree. A wind was buffeting the canopy. Blue and marbled-white skies were soaring above in the strong, midday breeze.

I had yet to discover a way down the steep mountainside, and was forced to go south, deeper into the forest. So onward I hiked, not able to descend. With my legs continuing to weaken, I hiked for more than an hour and ran into another gully. It was similar to the other avalanche chute, so I chose that route down. It was steep, but not nearly as sheer as the precipice that had redirected me before. Far across the valley, I could make out what looked like a trail winding through a clearing in the forested mountainside. My heart started to pound with anticipation. But my pulse retreated as I started down, for the difficult footing and my sore legs slowed my progress. The wind seemed to be carrying a summer afternoon thunderstorm, for the sky had become mottled and dark gray and I could hear deep rumbles in the distance.

With the thunder growing nearer, I began to feel like a human lightning rod, standing on the open slope. I wanted to find some shelter, so I picked up my pace.

At last I was nearing the bottom—maybe 500 feet to go—and I came across a huge melting snowfield which continued all the way to the valley floor. A few small branches were scattered atop the snow, but otherwise it was clear of hazardous debris and I could clearly see that I was in no danger of careening into a tree, for the snow flattened out onto the valley floor. “Finally, one of Mr. Davis’ notes is going to come in handy!” I remarked out loud excitedly. The previous note was enjoyment.

I sat down on the steep snowfield and began my slide. The speed was tremendous.McMillian Peak

My boots sprayed wet snow in my face. I lost my balance a few times, but otherwise my course stayed true. I ended my ride face up with my arms and legs splayed. I lay there soaked under a darkening sky. But it didn’t take long for me to get moving, because the breeze was still strong and I began to be covered with goose bumps. Only moments after I had slid down the melting snow pile and entered the deep forest, pelting rain fell from the sky.

I found an deer trail and followed it toward the roar of the river. This sound was becoming overshadowed by the chatter of rain in the canopy. I soon came across a very large boulder, at least the size a house, which probably came tumbling down the avalanche chute long ago. On one side its angle created an overhang where I took shelter from the canopy’s water droplet bombardment. Behind me, black soot covered the face of the rock in a wide vertical swath up and out of the overhang, which was otherwise covered with various green mosses. It seemed as though a campfire lay here in the past. The rain still fell and thunder crashed all around. When it calmed a bit, I opened my journal.

Final Chapter

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Harbingers of Hope – Chapter 6

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Courage will strengthen you.” Mr. Davis had written following his previous entry in my journal.

I glanced around at the old-burned forest. “Courage, huh. I wonder how much courage these pitiful trees had as that fire roared upslope toward them. They couldn’t even….” I stopped myself in the thought. “I suppose, if trees could have courage, it sure would be courageous to stand amid a fury of fiery onslaught. And what’s even more amazing is that they did survive. Their seedlings are building a new forest.” I began to backstep in my mock pity.

Before, I saw just dead silver trees all across the barren landscape, but after learning about wildland fire, I saw a refreshed wildflower garden hosting purple lupine, red Indian paintbrush, yellow groundsels and many other high country favorites that were bursting into life beneath the fire-scarred snags. Scattered here and there seedlings were building a new forest.

I began thinking about a time in middle school when this kid was lofting fiery insults at me, I had the courage to stand up for myself. And in that case, I must have been strengthened because that brat never did it again. And I didn’t even need to toss any punches. All I did was stand up like one of these trees and then I walked away. I didn’t even say a word.

I had my last granola bar and refilled my water bottle in a seep coming out of the hillside where yellow buttercups and purple daisies were poking out from among a carpet of sedge. A ways to my south I saw a grassy chute coursing down the mountainside like a lush river of green ground cover. Patches of snow were still melting out in the upper part of the chute. It looked like it may have been where avalanches carved out the forest. The green path seemed to reach all the way to the valley bottom. “Maybe I’ll find a trail down there,” I thought as I began a long descent; eventually I did find the same trail from which I had left my group. But once again, the sun was beginning to set and my walking was still awkward and slow because of pain in my bruised and torn leg.

I found some patches of sweet, watery salmonberry and kept my eyes out for a good sleeping place. There was no way I would be down before it got dark.

“I’ve made the wilderness my home for four nights, I can do it again,” I repeated to myself. A sense of strength began to well up and drown out the weaknesses of my body. I paced myself down five hundred feet or so, using Sitka alder as safety ropes in the steep rocky areas. I was met by the whistles of marmots along this steep meadow—which were not nearly as annoying as the high pitched chirps of those pikas. The marmot sentries stood tall and proud on their entrance mounds. I even came across a bear feeding on summer berries. Staying motionless yet trembly, I watched him for a full minute before his glance, or nose, caught me. He bolted—in terror I guessed. Up the avalanche chute side he shot, straight up and into the dense forest. I never saw such raw strength. Why he was afraid of me, I could not imagine.

Once again I found a nest of fallen logs in the forest nearby, under which a soft, mossy nighttime retreat could be padded down; I practically had a routine established. My nest looked out into the chute’s clearing and I listened to water trickle down the center of the chute. I fed on some of the berries that I had collected and swatted at a few mosquitoes. Using what was left of the evening light, I started the next activity in my journal.

Black BearThe black bear I encountered was of the brown phase, such as the one pictured here.

                                                                                                     

Chapter 7

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Two Steps Backward – Chapter 5

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All the clouds had disappeared over night. The sun was beating down and I hadn’t seen even a trickle of water since the previous day. I retreated from the company of subalpine firs and walked to the top of the ridgeline to search for water. What I got instead was an unimpeded view of Mt. Klawatti and its magnificent northern glacier.Klawatti Lake The dirty, blue glacier snout snaked its way downward and sent a thin white stream winding down the rocks into a milky, blue lake—ahh, water.

My mouth was so parched that I had difficulty even swallowing the other half of my granola bar. I quickly scrambled down through a talus slope. Too quickly; for one of the rocks slipped from underneath me and a sharp piece of schist ripped a gash in my lower leg as I fell forward.

Looking back on that day, if I had listened to Mr. Davis’ last clue, patience, I would have made it to the lake much sooner. My leg was gushing blood. Even as I was in teeth-clenching pain, I took out my handkerchief and applied pressure to the wound. The bleeding stopped and I managed to bandage it up with the cloth. But it wasn’t until the late afternoon that I got a drink of that delicious glacial water. The distance down from the ridge was so deceiving. I kept thinking that I was “almost there,” but seemingly small rocks turned out to be nothing less than house-sized boulders. The limping trudge down was painfully slow.

When I finally reached the breezy lakeshore, I dunked my entire head in the water and gulped from below. I regretted that too, because not only did water go up my nose, it was also so cold that after I resurfaced it gave my head a weird feeling of pins and needles. Eventually I drank my fill and I refilled my water bottle. “I sure hope this water doesn’t have any of that giardia that Mr. Davis warned us about,” I thought uneasily. I also washed my wound thoroughly and rinsed the handkerchief and set it out to dry. I enjoyed the warm breeze and later, after I reapplied the bandage, I opened my journal once again.

I sure wish I had listened to Mr. Davis  or I wouldn’t have gotten into this mess.Pika

It’s up to you. It’s your responsibility.” Mr. Davis had written in my journal. He underscored responsibility three times. I supposed that was the clue.

“But why are mountain lakes my responsibility. I have a responsibility to take care of my injured leg, but why is this mountain lake my responsibility? That’s absurd. I might have the responsibility to clean my room and take care of my home, but I’ve never been here before, and if it’s up to me, I’ll never return! This is a long way from my home,” I preached to myself.

The sun had once again gone away. I gathered my wits and my stuff and headed toward a clump of trees to the south. A green meadow stretched out before the trees. It seemed completely filled with avalanche lilies. Mr. Davis had said they were edible, so I delighted in a large dinner salad that tasted like ‘plant’. “Better than nothing,” I supposed.

That night I had a series of dreams that I will possibly remember for the rest of my life. They seemed so real.

I was flying high above the North Cascades with an eagle who guided me to all of the places he lived: from the oceans to the rivers, to great lakes in the far north of British Columbia, and finally to the top of Mt. Klawatti where he told me he had never been. He spoke in my dream, “Even though I have never been here, this is also my home for I can see the top of this peak from the great river below. If I can see it, it is my home.” With that he disappeared and I was left alone atop the peak. Around me, I could see for hundreds of miles with only a few nearby peaks breaking the encircling horizon. I realized that I was in the center of a great circle.

Avalanche LilyThe thought of my family far away broke the spell and I awoke to darkness. The moon must have set also. Shortly after, I fell back asleep only to have the eagle take me on flight after flight to his favorite fishing spots until the sun once again broke my slumber.

I quickly opened my journal and wrote down all that had happened in my dreams. I determined that the only logical way to proceed was to head east. That way I wouldn’t be retracing my steps, nor would I be forced to go over the massive, daunting ridgeline to the west.

Sometime around midday I reentered the miniature forest, but this one was different than before. All the trees were dead, they shone like silver in the noon sun. I picked up my journal to see if Mr. Davis had an explanation.

Chapter 6

 

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