(Note: This is journaling written with more time and deliberation than the field notes above, but still immediate drafts with little editing.)

April 21, 2004. H. J. Andrews Forest, writing of 20 April. My plan for the day changed when I met Kari O’Connell, the Forest Director, who told me that an old Astoria friend, Howard Bruner, was coming up; that she and he would be making a traverse of Watershed Two (one of the old-growth control areas) and that I was invited to come along if I wanted. I guessed that this trip would be more rigorous than anything I’d do on my own, and that I’d be missing a grand opportunity if I turned it down. So a little after two, we headed up, for what Kari expected would be a couple hours’ outing.

Two cars went up, one left at the bottom of our projected route, the other dropping us off as far as we could go on road 465 off 1507, with John cutting some deadfalls for us, then returning the second car to HQ. Then we set out, walking 465 across Watershed Three to the edge of WS Two, by which time the way had become a small trail. At first it was easy, though it was clear that there’d been a lot of windthrow.

Howard used to host a nature-oriented program on KMUN radio, and he had interviewed me and had me read from Wintergreen, one long-ago Earth Day. We’d first met on a butterfly walk I’d led on the Clatsop Plains. Howard’s a good birder and botanist, and knew most of what we saw, including some plants I did not. He’d gone on to do graduate work in Corvallis, and now works for Kari monitoring permanent vegetation plots and transects on this forest and in related areas. Kari is compact and energetic. She took her PhD at Wisconsin working on boreal forests. Her dad, for whom she had me sign a Wintergreen, brought her up a naturalist and largely out-of-doors.

Our rough trail followed the 288′ contour for a way, then began descending the old-growth basin in a long series of obscure switchbacks. The point was to check on the state of the trail for Jerry Franklin (there’s a photograph of him in this apartment from 1958!), who wants to bring a class down here from the UW to walk and study it (I understand he feels WS Two is somehow more typical than the Old-growth Trail unit). I don’t think they’ll be doing that until a hell of a lot of wood is removed!

What we found were massive amounts of downwood blocking, covering, hiding, or obliterating the trail at frequent intervals. Howard had been over it not that long ago, and Kari on parts of it, and they’d had no idea. So for some hours and miles, we slogged, clambered, crept, and bushwhacked up and over and down and under great logs and through forests of limbs and tangles of rhododendrons, vine maples, and hemlock boughs. Howard is strong and fit from doing such things daily, and Kari is young and limber, but I fancy even they found it something of a challenge. For me it was tough– less than an ordeal, but more than a workout. My size makes it difficult to get through or beneath, and my short, inflexible legs render large logs into major barriers for getting over. I judged my routes carefully, and no doubt held them up, but not too badly. They were concerned for me, and Kari half-joked that it wouldn’t be good if she got the visiting writer lost or damaged! And we did get temporarily lost a few times, but Howard was awfully good at picking up the trail.

Of course, it rained most of the time, and we grew awfully wet and muddy, but stayed warm enough with exertion; and though we were slipping and sliding, balancing and hopping like a bunch of red tree voles, (or two, plus a small walrus), no one got hurt. My hardest hike in years, but truth to tell, I much enjoyed it. Given the setting, it’d have to be a deal worse (uphill, for example; mercifully, we were heading mostly down) to detract much from the overall riches. I’m just glad my hernias were fixed last year!

The birds were chickadees, juncoes, Steller’s jays, golden-crowned kinglets, a brown creeper, a nuthatch, lots of winter wrens, and not many more. Most old-growth birds don’t show off. But the plants can’t help it, and glowed their April extravagance.  Everything you’d expect, plus some surprises. I enjoyed watching Kari and Howard working on the ranuncs and saxes, two groups with which I’m a bit short on real intimacy at the species level. They showed me Anenome lyalii, whose charming small purple-pink wind-flower was reflected in the two or three patches of calypso orchids we came across. Here and there, a luminous Pacific dogwood searchlit the dark wood. On a few drier slopes (almost an oxymoron here, with 90-140″ precipitation), blood currant spurted forth and some golden chinquapin (with feeding damage that might have been from golden hairstreak larvae, but now we were getting worried about time and light, so I didn’t tarry.) Shockingly, Scots broom has become well established on these open slopes, too.

Another instance of “feeding” damage seemed to suggest itself on some (already!) big-leaved umbel coming up in several crossings of the stream, open to the light above. But the only insects we could find on the holey leaves were tiny stoneflies from a fresh hatch, and I concluded that the hail Kari had encountered near here a week ago may have shredded and shot the leaves rather than insects. Howard bought my hypothesis. The trailside tapestry wove trillia, vanilla leaf, and upside-down Vancouveria into deer fern, Linnaea borealis twinflower, and multitudinous mosses.

My hands were raw with wet, cold, bark, pitch, wood, lichen, and moss, and prickled by needles; but they smelled so good–as did all the air, all the down timber and veg. Frequently, we passed trees tagged long ago so their life trajectories and ultimate mortality could be measured; transect plots; and other signs of curious hands on this uncut basin. The responses of this forest, both to management and stochastic events (or, vicissitudes) will have been monitored over a long period, along with numerous other places involved in the LTER project. Much of the linkage and continuity, I gather, is Jerry Franklin’s doing. He is dogged. Maybe he will get a class through there!

I am supposed to be initiating parallel reflections, response to forest time and change. But I am here for days only, and, whereas the experimental design depends upon repeatability, nothing is ever quite repeatable to the poet. Even so, I am having a go, and if I didn’t write a word, just being an organism in this forest for a week would be worth it to me (if not my employers). Anyway, we made it through this much-more-thanexpected crossing. Howard reckoned four miles+; that strikes me as a little long from the map, though it felt like ten or twenty.

When we got down, Fred had come looking for us, as we were later than expected. When these forest research pros are late getting out, temporarily lost, and surprised by what they find, the conditions are extraordinary. I was right to take the chance to go along.

But the best of it was the immersion among the trees themselves! This was true old-growth. More huge–five, six, seven feet DBH Douglas-firs than remain in the entire Willapa Hills, in that one small watershed! And western hemlocks, and western red cedars (much smaller than on Long Island, but grand), and numerous Pacific yews– which, as Kari pointed out, are particularly hospitable to epiphytic mosses and lichens, and to whom I paid due thanks and obeisance (for Thea’s healing last year). On every hand stood, leaned, or lay trees as deep-furrowed as a Kansas cornfield, as tall as a row, as big around as a silo. I felt stunned, all over again, like rediscovering infatuation.

Afterward, we were wet to the bone. We had hot showers and got into dry clothes and reconvened here in Rainbow Right for hot tea and a post vivum. Howard had to return to town, but Kari and I continued the conviviality of the campaign in her cabin, over home fries & eggs and Thea’s good pea soup and the Bridgeport IPA she had kindly brought up for me. It was exciting to me to see how scientists to whom the forest is home almost daily still get so wrapped up in it. And I felt, as I often do when barging into coteries of naturalists, scientists, and writers, a kind of unearned, short-cut inclusion, incorporation without initiation. Or maybe that deadfall scramble was initiation.

I slept hard that night, if waking often to turn over my aching bones. And today I went up to the better known old-growth trail (see notes), was again enchanted entirely, and again put up the alarm, as I could not come in until dark compelled me to. I met LeRoy and Terry, the fine and friendly maintenance men, coming up to look for me. The custom, when this happens, is for the searchee to provide the searcher with a six-pack of the beverage of his choice. They shall have their tall-can Buds, but Kari will have to take care of Fred. Twice in two days! Getting people out to look for me is not what I was brought here to do. At least, perhaps, it shows real engagement with the landscape.

Robert Michael Pyle PDFs:

Writings from the HJ Andrews

Orion: The Long Haul


Robert Michael Pyle is a lepidopterist, and a professional writer who has published twelve books and hundreds of papers, essays, stories and poems. He has a Ph.D. from the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale University. His acclaimed 1987 book Wintergreen describing the devastation caused by unrestrained logging in Washington’s Willapa Hills near his adopted home was the winner of the 1987 John Burroughs Medal for Distinguished Nature Writing. His books include Where Bigfoot Walks: Crossing the Dark Divide,Wintergreen: Rambles in a Ravaged Land, and Sky Time in Gray’s River: Living for Keeps in a Forgotten Place. He won the 2007 National Outdoor Book Award.