Driving into the Hoh Rain Forest, ever deeper, I was at first excited, then totally enthralled, with these huge trees. They stood naked, disguised as over-sized furry monsters; draped and dripping they were with long, heavy masses of mosses and lichens - ocher-green, luminous with back-lit sunlight. Long limbs and gnarled fingers reached down, like characters from some spooky stage play.
But we were not afraid, viewing them somehow as kindly giants, willing to share their braches, trunks and exposed roots with a myriad of other living things.
The Bigleaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum), North America's largest maple is the only native large maple in the west. Superbly adapted to the wet, mild climate west of the Cascade Mountains, this is the trademark species of the coastal rain forest.
Huge they do become - up to six feet across and up to one hundred and twenty-five feet tall. Their leaves are the largest of any maple - up to a whopping eight to twelve inches across.
In the temperate rain forests of western Washington, the moss and lichen coats on these trees can weigh up to four times as much as the tree's foliage, even more when saturated with rain or laden with snow, which is much of the time.
Although relatively tolerant of shade and competition for growing space, Bigleaf Maples are gradually shaded out by conifers that eventually tower over them. They don't mind occasional wet feet, but cannot tolerate long-term flooding.
These looked dead to those unfamiliar with them, I suppose, but closer inspection showed them ready to burst to life, buds swollen and unfolding into translucent, yellow-green new leaves. Shelf fungus lined some of their massive trunks, bright green licorice ferns sprouted in groups on the limbs and moss-covered boles.
Copious clusters of fragrant yellow blossoms, four to six inches long, dangled among the green. On warm spring days, these teem with honeybees and other insects gathering their nectar and pollen. These trees depend on insects to fertilize their flowers and the system works well.
Huge numbers of seeds sprout everywhere in the spring, but only about one in a million new seedlings is able to root into mineral soil in a spot with adequate growing space for it to grow into a tree.
Their fallen leaves contain high levels of potassium, calcium and other important minerals. Fresh new Oxalis, Trillium, and wild Violets sprout around their feet, drawing nourishment from the decaying residue of last year's leaves, lying thick and heavy on the forest floor.
Each giant truly is one in a million.