Alone on the trail in the early morning, all is silent except for the soft foot-falls of our boots on the path and some distant bird calls. The peaceful solitude is deceptive and only relatively recent in terms of the age of this area. In the bank along the trail, a line of ash below the topsoil level betrays Mount St. Helen's eruption 500 or so years ago. Further down, a darker, thicker line indicates Mt. Rainier's eruption 1,000 years before that. Geologic turmoil is nothing new in this area, but seeing this tangible evidence makes me appreciate the value of what is here now.
We pass by huge trees - some upright, still growing towards the sun; others dead and fallen - their giant bodies mute testimony to their years and years of growth.
We pass by, under, over, and through their bodies and experience an intimacy totally unexpected. The different kinds of trees - Western Red Cedar, Douglas Fir, and Western Hemlock - may all look the same to the casual observer, but on close inspection show their differences.
Western RedCedar & Douglas Fir growing CLOSE together.
The linear bark of the Cedar, deeply furrowed of the fir, and scale-like bark of the hemlock with varied pattern of growth and appearance of needles show each one as different from the other as spaniels are from collies or poodles in the dog world.
The sound of rushing, gurgling water reveals a fork of the Ohanapecosh River. The trail leads downhill and we come upon a rabbit, seemingly unafraid and unperturbed, which casually hops into the underbrush.
One at a time, we cross the foot bridge to an island and into the midst of giants - the Patriarchs. They grow singly, as twins, or in close "clumps". (If anything that massive all growing together can be called a "clump".) There are six in one place; Some are 35 feet around! The fallen ones are wider than we are tall.
The forest floor supports ferns, vine maples, and some baby trees - the only ones that can survive and thrive in the shade.
These huge, magnificent, ancient ones are 500 to 1,000 years old and soar up to 200 feet above us.
We have the feeling of being dwarfed, sheltered, protected, but in actuality the opposite is true. For it is we who need to do the protecting of these rare, ancient ones.
For more on Grove of the Patriarchs: