The Abundant Life of the Hoh Rain Forest
Abundant waters, abundant green, abundant life. You stand before us as a patient guide, a moss-embroidered forest of wisdom, lined with ferns and storied over with trees older than memory.
You welcomed us into your quiet. We entered gently with open eyes mesmerized in your thousand shades of green. A miracle of ice fell that afternoon from your sky, little frozen crystals that gathered on your fronds and branches, that huddled in shaded bowls at the base of your trees. Soon enough the sky opened to sun which struck the momentary crystals into brilliant arrays that sparkled your trails. When the old elk bull ambled out of the forest, we stepped aside.
Your genius is best seen up close in the smallest details. We see the forest only in a careful pondering of every inch of your ground, in every centimeter of your upward thrust. Perhaps the dappled slug has the best view of you as it inches along your fecund earth.
Much like the banana slugs that populate your moist ground, so you too crawl through the centuries. You see, feel, know, experience in and through your every creature and plant, every stone and element. From mute slugs sliming along among the fallen needles to the tender new shoots branching out from the tips of your tallest trees, in the sporous plumes of mosses and ferns, in the rapid cascade of foaming waters tumbling down your slopes, in the cool air moving through you, these are your knowing, your perceiving, your experience. They each are themselves, but also they are you.
How many superlatives sprout along your winding valley? Quietest square inch on the continent. Tallest, thickest, most vibrant collection of life exploding in all directions. Life giving more life, with no death, only transitions to novel bursts of abundance.
Weather delivers life to you. The fog wafting up your ridges, the rains pouring in from the sea, the warm rays of occasional sunshine penetrating your canopy, even a rare falling of tentative balls of crystal ice, all make possible the green hope of earth.
A trail leading into the thick heart of your forest brings human life into your sanctum. Some people experience you and are changed. Too many never pause long enough to lose something of themselves in your presence. They emerge as they entered, climb into their cars to speed off down the narrow road winding beside your river. They have taken nothing of you.
When I walk into your green shadowed light, do I become you? I ache for your equanimity, I listen hard for your wisdom. I take your breath into my experience. But I cannot be you even as you teach that I have already been you for eternity. There can be no me or us or other without you.
Your trees know this. As do the slugs, not self-consciously as humans pretend to know, but in their compulsion to move, and in your endless motions of light and air and nourishment. Even the rains that soak you know that their return depends on your healthful thriving, just as your flourishing must have the rains.
The ancient tree falls to become the long root-bed of a hundred new saplings, shelter to a thousand species of plants and bugs and microbes, food to a hundred billion organisms. Soon enough over the decades the old log disappears beneath the tangle of abundant green it has birthed. Fallen trees become the air, the fog, the rains that dissolve their decay into the rich soil of new life.
What truth is in your name? Hoh is a people and a river, and then you, the Hoh Rain Forest. I know little of the Hoh people who persist on their tribal lands along the lower stretches of your river. They no longer occupy your forests and ridges. But are you still the Hoh Rain Forest without the Hoh people?
And what of the rest of us—do you notice our dilemma? What wisdom might you offer to a desperate, frightened species dying more rapidly than it wants to admit and taking too many others with it? Human life spins in desperate fear, a terror masked from itself in the busyness of lives intent on denying the imminence of its suicidal demise.
Our suffering will be immense, like the birds hatching into a world of disappearing food sources, like insects withered in poisonous clouds of pest control, or the infested forests browning up and down a thousand mountainsides. Human life awakes to an apocalyptic world of its own making. This is the legacy of five thousand years of civilization, the final bars of a glorious symphony breaking into a dissonant susurrous whisper fading into sudden silence.
Few people in recent times awake in your woods, but many amble along your trails. We went a way further than most of the casual tourists who drive the narrow road to the Visitor Center and stroll for an hour or so on the nature trail in earshot of the parking lot. We marshalled our ambition to hike a longer trail that sauntered through the dense tangle of vegetation until it delivered us to an empty camping site sprawled in the forest. We scrambled across to the stony banks of the river to eat lunch under a raven’s hopeful gaze. The forest above the valley disappeared into a low cloud that fogged your ridgetop. The river sang its constant melody.
We returned on that same trail, the landscape viewed in reverse. We took our leave, but you remain, nearly empty of human feet, absent our thin voices. The rain, the fog, the elk, the river persist in making harmonies that human ears refuse to notice.
You ask nothing of us. You wait fully contained in rhythms of growth and decay. Your only purpose is life itself. You are your own glory.