I first fell under the calming influence of the ancient primal forests of the Pacific Northwest some years ago when I first learned about the “stories” waiting to be found in a little-known roadside park on Oregon’s highway 26. Made famous not so much by the pioneer family who gave the place its magical name, as by a giant tree which had for 750 years called that generous nesting ground nursery and home, it has been for me a spiritual magnet ever since. Struck by lightning years ago, and then felled by hurricane winds that followed in December of 2007, the giant first lost its majestic top which has since become a “nest” log for future descendents even now taking shape, leaving behind a many-scarred but still majestic “monument” to a history reaching back to the journeys of Marco Polo, spanning the birth and death of kingdoms.
At its zenith the giant Sitka Spruce at Klootchy Creek reached 200 feet in height, with a diameter of 18 feet and a circumference of 56 feet. Over it all presided a crown of 93 feet casting a rain shadow which effectively protected it from too much competition while fostering the growth of nitrogen-producing undergrowth. In its day it is believed to have been the largest tree in Oregon and perhaps the largest Sitka Spruce anywhere.
My father was himself a product of this country, and in fact had grown up in a family of timber men and in the remote timber camps of an era which had shaped him inside and out. After being flooded out of one Skagit County home, the young family had lived for a year inside the hollowed-out trunk of a huge fallen Douglas fir, not unlike some of the “monsters” with which I communed in my Klootchy Creek visits. Perhaps something in the strings of DNA encircling my own chromosomes were speaking to me in the fetid silences which embraced me here.
It was raining lightly but determinedly at the time of my farewell visit, and I took the occasion to walk beneath the towering evergreens on a path virtually clogged to overflowing with new life. So fertile and fecund is the soil and the community of growing materials which fill every square foot of environment that one can’t help but feel touched by the fullness and promise and enthusiasm through which you walk and whose essence fills each breath you take.
Back in my car, writing in my sodden note book and attempting to pat my camera dry, I paused to consider the emotional artifacts which cannot be ignored when I am “at home” in places I love. Out of curiosity I had been noticing that almost from the moment of our arrival at our destination, with the sound of the nearby surf in my ears and the kiss of salt air on my face I found my usual high-speed mental activities being slowed and “gentled” and my underlying doubts and apprehensions being replaced by a sense of peace and harmony. Testing, I found my blood oxygen levels in the mid 90s, my heart beat slowed and my blood pressure itself “better than normal;” even after a 1,260-mile drive.
Another branch of my ancestral family settled on another coast, that one carved roughly by the less accommodating and welcoming cold North Atlantic, buying Nantucket from the Indians and pioneering Maine coastal and island-towns where they built ships, went whaling, and farmed the sea, woods and fields of Maine’s “Down East” country. They also wrote books and poetry. Their DNA also twists its way through my cells. There are places on a particular peninsula in Maine’s mid-coast where my body and soul experience the same sense of being “home”; where just being there has the power to bring tears to my eyes and contentment to my heart.
One sad fact slows the dance of joy both destinations hold out to me: Last week’s Klootchy Creek adventure may well be the finis to both.