Friday, September 19, 2008

Olympic National Park--This Place is WILD!

Sign posted at trailhead

I’ve discovered an effective strategy for overcoming my fear of bears.
Settle in for a week of hiking--in cougar country—complete with details of how to avoid, or, if faced with an encounter, stare one down and escape with your life, posted plainly at every trailhead.
A repeated reminder throughout the Park, for those who might have it slip their mind.

Chances are, I’d never encounter one.
But with 300 cougars within the national park boundaries, I read each instruction sheet and studied it well, then picked up my stick and stepped into their world.

Every scrubby cluster became a point from which one could suddenly leap.
Every dark lump, a crouching form.
Hiking no longer was a mindless trek, but an exercise, carefully plotted and executed.
We must keep an eye on the sun--these deep woods lose light quickly.
Stumbling along a dusky trail would be definitely out of the question.

Having just stepped off a plane from Ohio days earlier, made this new place all the more disconcerting. As if suddenly waking from sleep to find the room rearranged, nothing looked the least bit familiar.

Within the deep, dark woods of Olympic, mostly silence. An expansive, lavishly carpeted space with cathedral ceilings opening to spots of bright blue above.

Arion sp. (?)

Snail-eating Beetles eating a worm
Scaphinotus angusticollis olympiae
of Pacific coastal forests

Along the paths we walked, huge slugs.
And their predators, flightless Snail-Eating ground beetles scurrying to and fro, hoping to catch one, or a snail or other slimy, spineless creature that lives in the dark of these woods.

Douglas squirrel, Tamiasciurus douglasii
of Pacific coastal states
eating Sitka Spruce cone

Douglas squirrels, small and noisy, munching cones of odd shapes and sizes.

The evergreens, of course, were huge--and enough like similar species to hazard a guess. But, there were maples--with leaves the size of dinner plates.

Devils Club, Oplopanax horridus

And a low, lanky, creeping shrub, its ferocious spines hiding coyly behind bunches of lovely red berries—and even larger leaves.
Devil’s Club—nothing a hiker wishes to get into a tangle with.

hot springs of Sol Duc Valley

Sulfur hot springs were covered in a morning’s mist. Their aroma less than inviting—yet, after a day’s journeying, a warm welcome home. Nature’s hot tub, clean and clear. A constant renewal from below the earth’s surface.

coast between Clallum Bay and Sekiu

wild blackberries

One afternoon, a barrier of hefty blackberry shoots teased us from the road’s edge with large and luscious ripe fruit as we stopped to watch the tide slip from dark-covered rocks at the coast. We stole all we could of the bright, dark berries, and filled a hat to the brim—a snack to carry us through.

The table for lunch, reminding us again of this wonderful wildness we had landed in.

Rock Crab
Wilderness Beach Trail connecting Alava and Sand Point

Second Beach
Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, Washington

A place where the sand on the beach bears only your footsteps.
And those that follow, are of another world.

Posted in Camera Critters!

Stumble Upon Toolbar


Tom said...

Now that is a freaking huge slug!


Pat - An Arkansas Stamper said...

Wonderful photo essay, Nina.

I've always thought of cougars as living only in the southwestern states. I live and learn. Thanks for sharing part of your adventure with us.

nina said...

Tom--good to see you among the land of the electrified. And, that slug isn't even a BIG one! You should see the banana slugs here--up to 10 inches! And, of course, yellow.

Pat--me, too! In fact, when we were planning this trip, it never occured to me we'd be watching for cougars!

Michelle's Rambling Woods said...

What a wonderful adventure Nina. I donate to a cougar group and I am happy to see that there are some that won't become problems and shot... Not so sure about the bears though..

Lisa at Greenbow said...

Cougars, Bears and Banana Slugs, yep you were in a different world. Wasn't it exciting and just the most beautiful place!?!

nina said...

Lisa--I'd have to say that of all the National Parks I've visited and hiked, ONP was, without a doubt at the top of my list of favorites.
It offers so much--from wild coastlines to walk, old-growth rainforests to hike and glacier-capped mountains to climb.
What a perfect combination--all packed into the Olympic Peninsula of Washington.
The fact that no one else on earth seemed to know it existed added to its appeal.
A definite trip many should make--land like this is rare.

Michelle--as explained to me, Black bears are not confrontational or territorial unless with cubs. And, as omnivores, they're looking for roots, berries, mushrooms, bark and an occasional mammal that might be available. Backing away and letting it go its own way, usually results in sharing the forest well.
The cougars are the carnivores of this ecosystem. And unless you appear to outsize it by waving a jacket or large stick or fight aggressively against it, you will be seen as its prey.
Hiking alone in this area is a no-no.

Beth said...

That was a lovely post, Nina. I went to Olympic National Park in 1993 and had forgotten about the slugs. Thanks for jogging the memory! I, too, was fascinated by the rain forest and delighted with the solitude of the coast. I'm so glad that you had a good trip and sorry that you returned to a storm.

Toni said...

Nina, one of these days I would love to go to Olympic National Park. Beautiful photos and awesome that you were able to go.

KatDoc said...

What a great way to get over your fear of bears - substitute a fear of cougars! (shivers) I think I'll pass.

I have a recurring nightmare of seeing bears in my backyard; I think you just replaced it with visions of cougar attacks.

Love the Douglas squirrel; so much prettier than our regulars.


NCmountainwoman said...

I loved this post. Such a wonderful area, so different from our usual surroundings. You have captured it beautifully for us. Thanks for sharing.

Cicero Sings said...

It's been a while since we've been to ONP ... when we lived in Vancouver, it wasn't all that far away!

We have cougars in our area ... last fall we even saw one. I always watch for scat now and prefer to have company on my walks! Cougar's fare of choice is deer and we have lots of those so there is some consolation in that. Haven't seen any evidence in a while of one in our close proximity.

Klaus said...

Wonderful post! I enjoyed tagging along!
Cheers, Klaus

Anonymous said...

I love cougars, pumas, or mountain lions, or whatever you call them. At a safe distance, I would give almost anything to see one in the wild. They are just so enigmatic.

Autumn said...

I share a home with cougars. Two winters ago one killed one of our small goats. I don't blame the cougar, we are living in their territory. There are times when I am on a walk that I feel something watching me, it can be unnerving but it's a price to live in this beautiful state.

She sure is strange! said...

Cougar warnings would definitely get me over my (irrational) fear of bears! We have both in our area, though "officials" usually deny it. I saw a cougar almost 3 years ago walking along a treeline at the back of a pasture. It took me several seconds to run through all the animals it could be but I kept coming back to "big cat". They are also reintroducing the black bear to our area but most people know that they never left.

Your pictures are just breathtaking! Makes me want to go there NOW!


She sure is strange! said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
zhakee said...

Your trip sounds amazing and your photos are great! As for mountain lions and bears... well, look at things this way; If it's time to die, you die doing something you love, exploring the wilds. I hope you weren't wearing buckskin clothing!

The Tile Lady said...

It's a delight to visit here after your comment on my blog. Thanks again for coming by there to see my pics. Your blog is wonderful! These shots of Olympic National Park are wonderful! And I am sharing with you NERVES over the lurking carnivores! Really breath-taking scenery, though and some fascinating wildlife (slugs et al) Thanks for sharing this!

Larry said...

Wow Nina! What a super blog you have here. I love it. I too live in Cougar country and wouldn't have it any other way. I enjoyed my trip through your wilderness photos and also your hummingbird series is incredible. I have linked to your blog so my readers may enjoy as well! Thank you very much.

KGMom said...

I'm with KatDoc--my first thought--oh some cure for fear of bears. . . cougars. Yes, that would do it.
But I suppose maintaining your caution at all times is a good strategy.

bobbie said...

Is that a giant, ghostly rabbit at the hot springs? Sorry, I couldn't resist. That's what I saw in the steam right off.
It is a marvelous post.

Tootie said...

Of all the critters, I have to say I liked the squirrel best! :-) That's a beautiful place for a hike!

RuthieJ said...

Wow Nina.....I'm speechless except for Wow! What an amazing place you're visiting. Thanks so much for sharing this story with us.

ratmammy said...

a great set of photos!

Carletta said...

I so enjoyed the journey with you -wonderful photos and a smooth flowing essay that carried me along in anticipation.
Wonderful post.

swamp4me said...

Simply beautiful. Thanks.

Wendy said...

Thanks for the tour of the Olympic National Park. Your pics are awesome!

Mike said...

Fantastic photos! Beautiful slug!