(Note: these rough bits are not intended as finished writing. They are transcribed directly from my field notebook almost unedited, with small changes made only for clarification. After-the-fact commentary appears in brackets, but parentheticals are original.)

April 21, 2004. Wednesday afternoon. Forest Road 1506 near 330, going toward the Old-growth Trail, lower section.

Underlie: water tumble through roadside rivulet, maple flowerfall.
Overhead: distant jet rumble, rain.
North side: winter wren blows bubbles on a pennywhistle.
South side: pileated takes time off from hammering to yammer shrill runs.
In the ditch: red steel post, bent by snow, or?
On the moss-swaddled maple trunk: a geometrid moth that would be cryptic a few inches down, against the bark.
Up high: Steller’s jay calling.
Down low: Douglas squirrel calling.
All around: western red cedar, vine maple, bigleaf maple, western hemlock, Douglas-fir, hazel, alder, willow.

Old-growth forest opening to columnar-tilted basalt with cupric facets, Amelanchier, and one tall incense cedar alone on top. Water falls generously from above, is caught by a basalt outcrop, drips luxuriantly through mosses, succulents (a long-leaved, softish Sedum I don’t know?), and tiny brassy monkeyflowers. It’s like a rock wrapped in a knobbly washcloth.

Tall cottonwoods down in the canyon shower balsam; when I find a small one by the road and smell it, I am almost overwhelmed. A buck leaps. High Doug-firs triangulate, rhodies hung with Usnea bunting.

Up past lower trailhead, in the rain, into snow. In a borrow pit (and log dump) on the left, snow spackles brown earth and rust rot-logs, and amongst it all, a single red currant stands out in full bloom [= blood currant, Ribes sanguineum].

Into the snow, on foot, and sun comes out, catching a moss-buffered boulder back: dark flowing ravine, only briefly.

Two sets of glyphs: the paired boundings of Douglas squirrels across the snowy road and back, and sapsucker Braille on overbrook alders. [In the sapsucker holes] you can make out numbers and letters, like pix in stars [constellations], till you wonder if the sapsuckers aren’t on the hydrology team [taking readings].

Evergreen violet blooming in the snow-rags. Pachystima & pipsissewa beside. Slight bird peeps, and a pileated woodpecker. They all spend the night out here!

6 p.m. Personal Plot # 2, where FR 1506 comes up against the bare angle of repose: Looking across Lookout Creek Old-growth to the horn of the west summit, hump of the east summit of Lookout Mountain. Blue and silver skies mottle the gray above the mountain, wisps of mist float up the steep valley.

What is the essential difference I perceive looking over the old-growth/Andrews Forest/Mack Creek etc. watersheds, and the forests I wake to every day? Obvious: age, complexity, diversity, depth, variegation, individuality, stability, wildness, grandeur, and all that. Perhaps less obvious: Capacity to hold surprise, e.g., why does that snowy avalanche field [on the high side of LO Mtn.] have one large fir standing in the middle of it? Also soil, water, mystery, the possibility of wolverines, Bigfoot, and DB Cooper.

3-D: the vertical here is not understated! Depth, too. Unruliness! These forests defy easy answers.

7 p.m. Heavy sun hitting summits now–avalanche slopes could be ski runs–upper forest saddle is flocked.

Down into Long-term Site #1 on the Old-growth Trail, lower end. Immediate immersion. Out of snow, trillium, vanilla leaf, bunchberry; Linnaea tendrils form a bower under a nurse log arch [beneath a nurse log lintel]. Classic moss wonderland.

Down to the bridge as light wanes–and such a bridge! Two [horizontal] fir giants at right angles, both scored by sawyers to give purchase to soles, approach and cross Lookout Creek. Exquisite islands, streambed rich in coarse woody debris! Several huge cedar snags & candelabras dead, rise from water, flares accentuated by water and moss; [with the] soil around their roots washed away, [they look] like cypress knees almost. Maple and fir snags also drowned, other giants still alive just bankward from flood. Rain and dark come together, with me at the bottom of the trail.

Coltsfoot, Montia, Tellima, moss on islets. This crossing, one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. At south end of bridge, a great triad of snags: one Doug-fir, one cedar, one hemlock. Last sun, up in the canopy. Can a forest as big as a mountain be said to have alpenglow? Forest floor, heading out, full of the glow of trilliums.

April 22, 2004. Thursday morning. 10, to Personal Plot # 1. Sun! Now the dogwood is in shade. Has almost retracted into the forest, while backlit shoreside alderlings and river chips assume all the borrowed brightness of the sun. I take hydro samples from rhodie boats [sip drops from curled leaves].

Every moment of every reflection is responsive, allusive, and subject to mood and how wet my butt is–just the opposite from long-term ecological observations with numbers. How the cold current persuades that root, already talked out of its bark, to let go; how old trees and rootwads form islands that redirect the pummel for each downstream riffle-making rock. How organisms adapt to all this, and what they look like, doing so. How those things touch on our own sense of fitting, bending, releasing, resisting, hanging on.

A big pollinator visits a garnet vine maple flower; I see it is a red-bummed bumblebee. How many more days of rain would have doomed it? How long will this sustain it? Above it, dogwood flowers and fresh, tender Cornus leaves sunstroke against blue sky: benignity, or my sense of it? A winter wren sings me out the path of the greenblack old-growth puzzle, where softest chartreuse vine maple and red huckleberry leaflets carve sharp relief against dark and still ancient boles. A piece has just revealed itself with a tiny movement in the sun: rufous hummingbird building a nest on a mossy branch of a large Pacific yew extending into the sun over the stream. What has she been doing, these cold, rainy days, and does she forage upstream all the way to the blood currants? Do the vine maples have nectaries, or is the bumblebee coming solely for pollen? Her spot is between an immense Douglas-fir and a massive western hemlock.

Among the puzzle pieces below, the jigsaw of Trientalis, queen’s cup beadlily, and oxalis, in the matrix of salal. Sword fern, Oregon grape, and roses. Do roses ever bloom in here [in the deep shadows]?

11 a.m.–tumbling rill on the way up FR 1506–What is hard to accept for a writer, but unassailable, is that this needs no words.

April 23, 2003. Morning. Going for gas, I pass a man in a day-glo chartreuse windbreaker coming up the Blue River road on a bike. I feel equally clothed in bright lime, just being here at this season.

Back up to the upper Old-growth Trail. Cloud, dry, ~60 degrees F. No moth on the mossy maple [so it was alive and alit before, rather than prey]. Douglas squirrel crosses woodpiles, scamps up a diagonal down hemlock, and watches. That smooth hump of back, alert curve of tail (like a “?”), hands held up in importuning posture. I make a move, and both tail and hands come down, ready to scarper [Brit. for “getaway”]. Looks like it’s looking straight ahead (90 degrees to me) but it is of course looking right at me with that one black, glistening ball. Does it take in what the other eye sees too? How does it integrate the images? Can it double track, like me? Loses interest, creeps up log, scratches, noses vine maple leaflets, and moves off into endless tangle.

Snow-level is much higher today after yesterday’s sun-melt; can drive to trailhead (Old-growth Upper) and a little beyond. Walk some way in the snow in my new Sorels (running shoes last time, feet got cold!). Snow: Steller’s jay investigates, gray jay and a ? peeper too, but they don’t show. More squirrel crossings, and deer, and grouse with two poops (eating buds). Black cottonwood and small soft pussywillows, subalpine fir and mountain hemlock appear.

Snowshoe hare crossing. Ruby-crowned kinglet, chestnut-backed chickadee [in forest edge]. Turn around (4 p.m. +) where snow gauge off road says ten feet of depth and pussywillows are exploding with yellow stamens and honey scent. Small fly lands on notebook [but little spring niveal insect fauna, nor “snow worms” or “snow fleas”]. Cool here, ~45 F. Possible bobcat sign, single sit-leap crossing. [Continually peeping, following] birds won’t show. Varied thrush in distance, down-canyon, and a jet above: antitheses. Nice snow walk! Sorels work A-1! One fall, knees wet, but not feet.

Into the upper Old-growth Trail. The start is under snow, then just patchy in the forest. Golden-crowned kinglets pipe in high western hemlocks. Can’t go far–a recent Douglas-fir fall seriously blocks successive switchbacks. Sorels not as appropriate for up-down in slash and forest. The floor here is a carpet of bunchberry, pipsissewa, and rattlesnake plantain–right up the bases of the giants’ duff aprons–with much sky-canopy debris. A cedar frond heavy with cones smells conifer-sweet but more terpy than cedary. Boles of these great trees straight, but off-shapes are as appealing: a mossy Douglas-fir burl that’s a perfect bison head; an annealed-over stump with excrescences that could have been designed for Middle Earth.

I’m sorry not to see the river up here–it sounds near–but I don’t think it makes sense to try; I’d have Terry and LeRoy out after me again. My reflection here is that access to wild places is nothing to do with our convenience or ease. And, again, how utterly useless most of us would be out here, unassisted. To be called old-growth, a forest ought to be able to offer up serious impediments against intrusion of writers and scientists and anyone else lacking the evolutionary PIN number.

Personal Plot # 2, second visit: 1506 overlook, < one mile down from upper trailhead. There’s obviously been melting on the avalanche tracks, as there are hollows around the trees and snowball tracks down the slopes, like stretch marks. The [Oldgrowth] trail goes through over there somewhere–I’d guess it’s blocked in many places. Thought I saw a bird flying in the distance, but it was a little hatch of midges in the foreground.

You can start with your eyes at the top of the treetops on the ridge, below the summits (4800′ or so) and drop your view 1600′ to the river, and never quite be sure when one tree leaves off and another begins–1000′ tall trees! [This, through binoculars.]

You could almost map the winter wren territories on the old-growth north slope of Lookout Mountain from here, listening to their songs arise from various coordinates.

Back to Long-term Site # 1 at the lower end of the Old-growth Trail. Double schoolmarm yew; great sealed stump with hollow, stripped cone cores [falling out, showing that squirrels have used the hollow as I’d imagined]; put nose in recently split Doug-fir–wow! [the sharp terpy smell of recently shattered wood]

Ah! Here is where I would sit and reflect forever! On the stony-mossy peninsula below the great log bridge. Another gargantuan log extending across the stream diagonally below; a cedar, and out from under it, a solid moss seashorse [or rather, merhorse] with Douglas-fir seedling ears and hoof upraised, midstride, mouth open to gulp air, mossy forelocks, great muscular moss-log torso stretching back. Such a dipper place! Not yet seen. Bird lime on the cobble behind me beneath high broad moss bough–marbled murrelet this far inland?

I have only minutes by the clock till I must leave, but how can “dark” be near when I see sun on high firs upstream, blue sky-dapple above? I lean back into the mossy pebbles; my blue-dapple view is surrounded by the spikes, spires, and sprays of oldgrowth tops. I would spend a whole day here, and see what happens. I would be one of these moss-daubed presences. I could do that–it suits my somewhat saturnine demeanor. A whiff of wintergreen on the downstream draught of air.

And how does the creek sound? That would take a long poem in steno, like Kerouac at Big Sur with the sea.

Devil’s club twining out of the vitals of the Big 3 [trees at the south end of the bridge]. Unfurling buds briefly tender; trilliums line the path up and into the trail not taken. Mossy bosses above [on the big bridge-end Doug-fir]. A rivulet issuing from cedar knees [in midstream], and a winter wren sings me out. Finally, down the road in the last dim light, see the dipper, crossing from Lookout Creek to a side-brook.

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.