May 11, 2015 by Labrys
We arrived at our second favorite beach on the Olympic coast on Thursday afternoon around four o’clock. It was a glorious day, sunny and clear and not too warm…as a few cooling evening clouds began to wisp in just in time to make the sunset a glory. We started to walk to the pathway down to the beach, and then realized we had only four hours till sunset. Clearly not enough time to enjoy Kalaloch Beach adequately and still get to Ruby Beach before sunset. Also, the tide was clearly in, and I feared I could not get to my favorite seastack at Ruby if it was surrounded with incoming waves. The tide would not be out till late in the night. We turned on our heels and went back to the Lodge to inquire about vacancies in the cabins. We got one at half the normal price! We went to the wee store and bought a toothbrush and two pairs of clean socks for the morning. And then we clambered down onto the bone yard of beach logs. The view of the beach seaward of this massive welter of giant dead trees was surprisingly clear, leading me to wonder about the ferocity of the winter storms this year.
The beach logs can be deadly; they are of nigh unimaginable size — giant, ancient trees that have fallen into rivers that carry to the coast. The longshore current redistributes them along the coastline if a heavy wave carries one off a beach. And the storms move these logs — even the ones approaching one hundred feet in length! So walking the graveyard of the forest giants always feels a bit haunted and hazardous in more than just slipping and falling as you climb over the battered ramparts.
This walk, I suddenly froze, looking at a giant root bole that seemed horned and faced — images of “Pan’s Labyrinth” played in my head. I could not get far enough back to capture the entire piece of wood; blocked from steady footing by other logs. But a deep “eye” seemed to stare back at me in a demanding fashion!
Perhaps it was not Pan? Maybe it was more a massive skull from a Minotaur? Because the skeletal face seemed to rear out at the front in a more bullish fashion? But wisps of stories, reputed cries to ships heralding out that “The Great God Pan is dead!” meant to mean the end of paganism — and one can only assume, the triumph of Christianity — came back to me. A sun and salt bleached remnant of a forest giant still bespoke to me the life of the real pagan world — the life and death of Nature.
For only Pan could rule this wild garden with the endless sibilant sighing of the sea in the background. My Pan’s other eye, obscured by angle in the first picture, held a gift. A softball sized round wave polished stone, placed there – this time – by me. But just barely lower on the great tree bone wall are similar stones glowing in dark hollows of great logs not placed by human hands at all. The ocean Herself throws the white/rust/gray stones into decorative framing from time to time, with a nesting of soft sand to catch the pitch. Every nook and cranny holds some secret put away like jewelry at the end of the party.
It calls to mind bits of a Pratchett book when an angle of light makes a upthrust tree end look like the Palace of Bones of “The Hogfather” and a bit of Winter’s chill visits your summery beach walk. And you go back to wondering if Pan is dead, because oh, Nature lies all around you, savaged and done to death by forces you can scarcely understand. /so, Thursday, walking in a strangely too salty breeze amidst the wreck of a forest’s worth of trees became a staring into an abyss. One very capable of appearing to stare back! Each dark hollow became an eye that followed you, or a mouth twisted with pain or anger.
What happens to Nature happens to all within nature, does it not? If simple forces of wind and weather can topple forest trees whose crowns moved in the rain hundreds of feet over our human heads, what can it do to our more tender frames? The wood of hundreds of long dead massive cedars, hemlocks, firs of all kinds, and twisted red limbs of madrone trees was warm and smooth beneath my fingers. Fingers offering homage to lives well lived, well spent, not sacrificed to no purpose.
The length of many a great tree lies there measuring upon the sands — a plank we humans walk, knowingly or not, as we continue to ignore the warnings in nature. Humans argue about climate change as if all it can be is a political talking point.
But it is not a talking point, a liberal “plot”. Don’t tell me your “God’s got this.” Everything dies, that is natural, but death before the normal time — children, creatures perishing of starvation in the hundreds? No, no god has “got this”. These trees, this boneyard speaks of natural death, possibly with Pan’s pipes playing the dirge. They lived for hundreds of years, they weakened or died, and fell or rolled to a stream or river bank. Snow-melt spring torrents carried them impossibly down and left them here to witness Nature on the clear salt-scented beach.
And here, like in the forests where they fell away from streams and rivers, they become havens of life. They hold secure a bit of windblown soil and sand — and catch a passing seed. It could be a fir seed that will rise to be a windswept conifer with time. It could be a salal berry dropped by by a passing bird, and a few spring rains later, it will blossom. The fruit will feed a new generation of wildlife — and perhaps be mixed into a home made jelly? The native peoples here ate salal berries and preserved them for winter, along with other wild berries; like the blueberry twin I found growing amidst the log/bone yard. I wonder when they will ripen, can I be there then?
I don’t go to the coast much in summer, when the “real” tourists arrive. I can’t really understand people who fret over dusty hiking boots and the like. Since I don’t live on the rough coast where loggers seek for jobs and inhabitants worry about their lands being seized to be part of the Olympic National Park, I am a tourist, too. But I am a local tourist, I’ve gone there since the very early 90’s, to show my children the real and un-pacific Pacific, to let them see trees that rival California’s redwood groves, and to experience one of the last temperate rain forests in the world. I just might go this year, to look for those berries….and to hail the Great God Pan!