Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Day 2: Three Forks to Falls Camp

By Madison Smith

The second day of the trip started in Three Forks with a lazy morning. We slowly repacked our bags. The rain held out- hooray! The two women from Mexico left for Deer Park and we had a brief goodbye with them.

The class stands in front of the shelter built by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
Before we began our day, we gathered around the fire pit. We learned about the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) shelter. We learned that FDR sent young men into the wilderness during the Great Depression to build trails and shelters and that many of these trails and shelters can be found in the Olympic National Park today. For instance, the shelter at our campsite was built by a CCC crew hired by the US Forest Service (before Olympic was a national park), and hewed from the very trees that once filled this now clearing. Recently, however, a likely protester burned down several of Olympic's shelters, possibly viewing them as antithetical to a modern vision of wilderness. The one at our campsite survived possibly because the protester knew there was not enough snow on the ground here to keep the fire from spreading--the one at our next campsite burned in the early spring when there was still likely snow on the ground, as there is no damage to surrounding vegetation.

Tim found an old rusty cross-cut saw left by the CCC at our campsite and presented it along with some leaves and lichen found in the clearing. From left to right, top to bottom: Lobaria pulmonaria (a N fixer), red alder (also Sitka alder is in the clearing), Douglas maple, and on the saw: western hemlock, grand fir, Douglas fir, Pacific yew, western redcedar.
Tim had organized the leaves and lichen in an Instagram-worthy manner and we stood around the campfire and discussed how to identify different species of plants. We learned certain identification markers like the ‘mohawk’ shape of the silver fir twig or the type of toothing on the margins of the leaves. We also learned that there is three parts to Lobaria pulmoria, aka dragon skin lichen- algae, the cyanobacteria spots, and fungi and that these different parts grow together and depend on each other to survive. The bacteria fix N from the air, and this N becomes available to the forest trees when the lichen falls to the ground.

The class crosses one of the many bridges found on the trek that day.

One of the many toppled trees that the class climbed over during our nine day excursion.
We left camp soon after our discussion and started along the path to Falls Camp. That day we crossed a lot of cute bridges and countless toppled trees. There were a several of frogs as well- most notably a couple primitive tailed frogs. Tim told us that these are somewhat rare and can only be found in and along steep streams in the forest. At another point, we found wild ginger. The wild ginger leaf had a heart shape, but when the leaf was crushed, it smelled like ginger.

A relatively rare tailed frog that we found along the trail. The tail is a copulatory organ. These frogs necessarily have internal fertilization, otherwise their spawn would be washed away in the swift streams where they breed. Tadpoles suck onto rocks with sucker mouths. This is the first of many tailed frogs we would find this year.
Near the end of the day’s hike, we entered an old growth forest. We talked about spirit organisms and spirit quests. There was a discussion about how some people, particularly the Native Americans, view plants and animals as equals, rather than just resources to utilize. Before using the plants and animals they ask permission from the plants and animals. While in this old growth forest, we also spent some time journaling. We spread out, and took some solo time to reflect on our experience in the wilderness thusfar, and what we were experiencing around us, especially what wisdom we might glean from centuries-old trees. After journaling, we continued our solo reflection time with a solo walk. For our solo walk, we hiked separately- a couple minutes distance between each hiker for about an hour.

Madeline stands at the base of one of trees in the old growth forest.

Abby journals at the base of the tree in the old growth forest.
One of my favorite parts about the trip was the journaling time and solo walks. During the trip there was always something to do so it was nice to slow down for a bit and think. I enjoyed the solo walks because there were fewer distractions and I spent more time looking around. When we were walking in the group, I tended to get caught up in the discussions around me and on solo walks, without all that discussion, it was easier to notice the bits of wilderness passing by.

A view from a section of our solo hike through an avalanche track. The patch of recovering forest across the creek was knocked down by the air blast caused by snow coming down the slope behind the photographer.
Soon after our solo walk we reached Falls Camp- the campsite where we were going to be staying that night. The site had a nice clearing by a lazy part of the river as well as several covered flat spot for tents. At the site there used to be a CCC shelter but was burned down by an arsonist.

Abby, Tim and Emi (left to right) cook dinner at Fall Camp.
That night was our first student-led discussion. We began by talking about being alone in the wilderness on our solo walk. Some people found that they enjoyed the silence and the solitude they found while being alone while others found it lonely. Then Kelly led her discussion about minorities’ access to National Parks and other wilderness experiences. We talked about why people come to the National Parks and why more white people come to the parks than other races. Some people pointed out the barriers to access- particularly time and money that prevent people from accessing the park. We talked about the legacy of discrimination found in the parks and the implicit and explicit discrimination that can be found today. Several people mentioned backpacking and our desire to pseudo-survive in the wilderness may not appeal to all people. Kelly added some of her own personal experience and pointed out that people who grew up in war-torn areas and who actually had to struggle to survive, or even escape to wilderness, may not want the pseudo-survival experience. We also brainstormed about how the Park Service might get more minorities in the park. One idea was to hire more minorities into Park Service positions because at the moment, the vast majority of Park Rangers are white.

Our first academic discussion on barriers to minority participation in wilderness recreation, around a fire in the fire ring at Falls Camp.
I particularly enjoyed Kelly’s discussion. I had always assumed that nature was one of the few places that did not discriminate and was open to everyone regardless of their background. But through our discussion and our pre-trip assignments, it has become obvious that while wilderness and the original mandate of national parks are not discriminatory, our society creates many implicit barriers (as well as occasional overt discrimmination) to participation.

The class discusses minorities and access to the parks (Minji, Hailee, Jacob, Kate, Lucas, and Emi from left to right)
The discussions we had were some of the most eye-opening parts of the trip. When I had gone hiking previously, it was just for fun and I did not bother to consider the philosophical questions that went along with wilderness. However, through the discussions, I began to consider the concept of wilderness more closely. These discussions opened my eyes to a whole new way of considering wilderness- the privilege it takes to go there and enjoy it, the gendered side of nature, and how we divide ‘real life’ from ‘wilderness.’

The Grand River joins the Cameron River in this photo, which in turn joins the Gray Wolf River, hence "Three Forks". We hiked along the Gray Wolf for most of the day. The last Gray Wolf on the Olympic Peninsula was shot in 1926.
After I came back from the trip, I realized the importance of wilderness in today’s society. For instance, my experience in the wilderness has made me more aware of my own decisions and their impacts on the environment. Sure, before the trip I knew I should make environmentally-friendly decisions, but my time in the wilderness has made the importance of these decisions more obvious. When we were hiking, I could not help but think about how Seattle once looked more like the Olympic National Park than how Seattle looks today. It is evident that while humans are so small compared to these vast landscapes, we dominate and exploit so much around us. However, the decisions we make can change how much we exploit the environment. For instance, my decision to buy something with palm oil in it has an impact on the environment. While I may never directly see this impact, it is important to recognize that it makes the impact no less real. Overall, experience in the wilderness will lead to some more eco-friendly decision practices and some more awareness about non-sustainable growing practices. I believe that if people spend time in the wilderness and directly see the impacts that humans have on the environment, that the importance of our everyday decisions to recycle or to buy sustainably-produced food will become more real to them.

Kelly, Madeline, and Hailee stand along the trail.
Wilderness is also important because it is freeing. Sure, everyday tasks are a lot harder than they are in a more urban place- hot water does not just come through a faucet, but at the same time that is what makes the wilderness freeing. Instead of worrying about missing the bus or finishing homework, the only things someone has to worry about in the wilderness are the essentials. However, that freedom is sometimes scary. Without all the clutter it is obvious just how vulnerable we are and how many security nets we tie around ourselves in day-to-day life. But at the same time, without all those security nets, life is so much simpler.

The class walks along the trail.
Personally, I also think that my time in the wilderness gave me a lot of empty space and this empty space has made me more aware of how I structure my life. In everyday life, I feel like I shove something into every minute of the day, whether it be homework, music or emails. But in the wilderness, all of that was gone and it left a big space in my life. We just had to focus on the necessities of life- water, warmth, food, and sleep. In the place of all that clutter, we placed companionship, reflection, and learning. I think that this made me aware of the value of these things and how the clutter in our lives prevents us from truly enjoying or pursuing them. As a result of this new appreciation, I want to strive to make more space for these things in my life whether that be through turning off my phone once in awhile or make the effort to look up from my schoolwork and talk to the person next to me.

Tim lies in a moss bed in the old growth forest.

Through this experience, I also learned to pay attention to the details in nature. I tend to be more of a big picture sort of person and so when I have previously spent time outdoors, I just enjoyed the views and the big landscape changes. But after this class I learned that I missed a lot by just focusing on the big picture. Where particular types of trees are, where ice worms can be found, and where types of flowers are tell a story- you just have to pay attention to the details.
There was a patch of uprooted trees along the path. This is a dynamic ecosystem.
One of our first assignments in this course was to create a definition for the term ‘wilderness’. I decided to define wilderness by two different factors. The first was that wilderness was somewhat out of human control and the second was that wilderness was rooted in nature. I wrote that humans can still maintain nature as long as it's not considered ‘civilization’. Looking back, I am not quite sure if I agree with my previous definition. One of the important distinctions that came up implicitly in our discussions during the trip was the difference between ‘nature’ and ‘wilderness’. In our discussions, nature was often considered a tamer version of wilderness and I do not think that my initial definition accounts for that distinction. If I were to do that assignment over again, I would want to define wilderness as nature with minimal human intervention and any intervention that occurs must serve to bring back wilderness to some sort of previous baseline.

Here are a few additional pictures from day two:

Pine-drops, another mycoheterotroph (see post from Day 1)

The flower of Wild Ginger.

Bunchberry, a dwarf dogwood.

Jacob journaling next to a >500 year old tree.

Emi journaling on a nurselog.

One of the giants of the forest, a 500+ yearold Douglas fir. A relict of another climate period.

Pine sap, a mycoheterotroph.

Look carefully and you can see Minji in this picture. She is journaling from a perch on a log above the forest floor.