Though it was only around 5-6 o'clock it already looked like the night was creeping in with the grey skies and shade of the large trees around us it was far darker and cooler than the previous two weeks of record breaking summer temps. The reflection of heat off the pavement in Seattle made our hotter than average temperatures of upper 80s feel like they were closer to 100, and the relief of being in the forest was now sinking in as even with the heat of walking with a heavy pack the group seemed to feel more comfortable. Shortly after our layer break we found a weird plant that was characterized by it lack of colour. Known as a saprophyte this plant did not need significant sunlight to grow and lacks chlorophyll, the pigment necessary for photosynthesis. It was interesting to think about but made perfect sense that a plant here would evolve to grow without photosynthesis, the thick cover of the canopy of young evergreens, a legacy of previous fires, makes the forest floor here dark and cool and seems to promote its own microclimate.
|A young forest, recovering from fire, that has just gone through its "competitive exclusion" phase. The stems that lost the battle for light, litter the forest floor.|
|Dull Oregon Grape was abundant in open burned areas. It is already developing fall colors.|
|The iconic banana slug came out as we descended into wetter forest in the Tsuga heterophylla climax zone. The wet weather helped too.|
|Eva Barth leads an excellent discussion on Native Americans and wilderness concepts.|
|Discussion lasts into the night, and Shane Kelly explains his research interest in nature-based experiential education.|
We had the opportunity throughout the trip to think on the relevance of wilderness in modern society and the importance of it to ourselves personally. Overall I think wilderness within the national park is of immeasurable importance. Seeing what we saw on this trip it became clear that without an environment such as wilderness where the impact of man is negligible on the surface it is impossible to see where we have come from and where we are going. What I mean here is that wilderness is like the control in a science experiment. Being in the Anthropocene we as humans are now affecting every aspect of our surroundings and wilderness can be used as a metric for this. For example the glaciers all throughout Olympic National Park are receding due to man made climate change. Looking at historical pictures from 100 or 50 or even 10-20 years ago you can see just how far these miraculous ice sheets that have been present for thousands of years are shrinking away. And it is not minuscule, it is huge, most of the glaciers we saw have lost significantly more than half their mass in the last 50 years. These are glaciers that were over 1000 feet thick in some places. Without wilderness out here as an environment we would not be able to see and compare our effects on the environment, this type of landscape gives us a very tangible way to look at our surroundings and recognize the changes that are and will be occurring.
Personally wilderness to me is an escape. It is something that brings back vivid memories of my child hood and of the things I value individually. I have a strong connection to nature and love the outdoors and so getting a chance to go into the wilderness and spend 9 days exploring it was a great opportunity for me to recharge and refocus. With the hectic nature of the city and school and family issues, wilderness is for me a place where I can stop and put everything aside and focus. It is somewhere were I can be calm and quiet and alone. It allows you to step aside and set things down and look out and see everything in front of you for exactly what it is. There are no short cuts, no cheap skate ways out, there is in fact nothing. Nothing but pure black and white honesty. The laws of the land are in control and you as a person are left with only the view in front of your eyes and the whole and honest truth of who you are as a person. Whether that be good or bad or anything in between, wilderness is a place where everything is on the table, you don't get to hide. This for me is something I love, I love being honest with myself and seeing where I am weak, seeing where I can improve, and seeing what it is that drives me to do better and then taking a deep breath and tapping into those things. One of the most important things in visiting a place like Olympic National Park is taking the time to breath. Taking a deep breath of the air that is there, it is still pure, it is still clean enough to tell the difference between what was and what is. Breathing this air I feel at peace. The smell of the mountains and the evergreens and the nearby streams have a taste like the cleanest water on earth. As my lungs fill with this air I find my peace, I find that all I really need is just a breath of fresh air.
By Nick Schippers, UW Environmental Studies