Sunday, September 27, 2009
Wash Your Spirit Clean
Near dusk. Down, down, down old uneven stairs, and out to the little deck. Aerobatic flyers, silent and agile, one, two, three, and more…the bats emerge to go out on their nightly rounds.
The lake is smooth, the air is silent. A splash, a flip of a tail, and I see an otter, diving down into the nearly black lake, the reddish pink sky silhouettes his tail. Out over the lake a large being flies, flapping wings appearing black in the near darkness. A heron moves down the lake.
Off in the distance, a sound, long, low and piercing….elk. We have arrived at Quinault.
Not wanting to miss a thing, we sleep with the doors and windows of the little cabin open. We promise to wake one another if one of us hears the elk first thing in the morning. I fall asleep after looking at the bright stars and perhaps Venus in the southern sky. I wish I didn’t have to sleep at all…
Did you hear that?! Out to the deck, holding my breath listening. Yes, there it is again – the piercing call of the bull elk, perhaps challenging one another. Smile. After a few more moments of listening, coffee is made and we settle into the deck chairs to listen, and watch the sun rise from behind the mountains. The sky is purple, pink and yellow. The mountains are black in silhouette. A bald eagle flies down the lake, and I hear the call of the raven from the woods behind the cabin. A fish jumps. The splash is enticing to the fisherman, who is gathering his gear.
We head over to the next valley, driving up into the mountains. Hiking down to the river we point out mushrooms and other interesting bits to each other on the way. I set up a chair and have my bag with sketchbook and camera near by. The fisherman heads downriver, casting at each hole until he is out of sight around the bend. I settle in for several delicious hours of solitude. Although my things are with me, I simply wander up and down the bank, looking, occasionally choosing a pebble to put in my pocket. I see the berries the black bear had obviously been eating, based on the sign she has left. An elk had been here not all that long ago. Perhaps one or both would be by again this day. The sun is warm, and I notice leaves fall from the maple with each small breeze. The individual leaves tumble to the river and slowly ride the current down stream. Yellow alder leaves are caught on rocks at the edges of the small river. The sound of the water over the rocks is soothing and constant. A flicker comes by and feeds on bugs in an old snag across the river. I gather a little wild strawberry vine and weave a small offering on bleached drift wood, which I leave under a tree. But mainly I am Being, and not doing anything. The word peace comes into my mind. Hours later the fisherman returns, enough fish for a meal, having released the rest. We hear a pileated woodpecker as we begin the climb out of the ravine. As we climb, we stop to gather a few wild red huckleberries to go with the fish.
That night the rains begin to fall, sounding loudly on the metal cabin roof. After all, this is the rainforest where up to fifteen feet of rain can fall in a year. Dawn brings mists over the mountains. The rain has stopped, perhaps an inch and a half accumulated in the rain gauge. We hear the early morning elk calls, and listen as we enjoy the day’s beginnings. We plan to head up the Quinault Valley, and up the north fork of the river. We will hunt for elk, using cameras as our capture device. We spend time preparing for the day. We enjoy a leisurely breakfast on the deck, and I notice out of the corner of my eye a movement down on the lake. It’s an otter! I call Kurt and together we enjoy watching four otter dive and swirl, occasionally eat a small fish and generally have a great time playing together. The show lasts for more than half an hour. Heading up the valley, while still driving by mail boxes belonging to the locals, we have just gone less than half a mile when suddenly Kurt says "Elk!" And there they are, crossing the road in front of us. Elk are to the right and to the left of us. I was so surprised to see them this soon, I wasn’t prepared. Kurt stops the truck and we both grab our cameras and begin shooting. Several cows cross the road. Click, click, and click. Kurt notices a few cows are still on the other side. And then a sound, not unlike an Orca whale, emanates from the deep woods on the right. The bull is calling his cows. It’s absolutely primal. The cows hesitate and Kurt gets a few more photos. And then as quickly as it began, it’s over.
We drive up along the north fork of the river and stop and take pictures of giant trees, moss and ferns, always on the look out for more elk. We spy a woods grouse, but it is shy and doesn’t pose for the camera. Coming back down heading towards the cabin we stop at the Kestner Homestead Trail. It’s a short hike to the old homestead site were we take a few photos of rusty bits and old weathered things. Kurt notices there aren’t any apples under the trees, just elk sign. We start down the next section of trail, and Kurt signals quiet and waves me forward. He has found another small herd of elk, the light colored rumps standing out against the green of the fields and trees. Quietly we move towards them as they graze in one of the old fields. We take photos and move forward until the bull, a nice two point, can’t tolerate it anymore and moves his herd of cows and this years calves off into the woods. We follow for a little ways, listening to them move through the brush. The trail back is full of interesting things- mushrooms, ferns, bogs and such. The cameras click; click until we arrive at the truck.
Back at the cabin we hear loons calling – that sound like no other, wild - ethereal and peaceful all at the same time. Ducks and sea gulls fly up and down the lake, and a kingfisher is busy near the shore. While some of the birds are leisurely flyers, I’ve noticed the king fisher is a speedster; zooming from one snag to another.
Dinner tonight is across the lake at the Lodge, a stately and venerable place made famous by the visit of President Franklin Roosevelt when he arrived to determine if the place was worthy to become a National Park. We are dining in the Roosevelt dining room, over looking the lake, where we can just pick out our cabin across the way. There is a fire in the big old rock fireplace, and we enjoy a beverage prior to dinner. It’s a cozy end to an exciting day of elk hunting.