The Hoh Rainforest - Dec' 2016

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This web site came into being after an encounter with the Wild in the Hoh Rainforest. I spent just two nights camping in -15 degrees centigrade, beneath clear skies and a full moon. Embraced by the profound beauty of the forest and invigorated by the cleansing air, crystalline light and the primal fear of being utterly alone in the silence amplified by the ever present reality of mid-winter bears. Being unarmed and several rungs down the food chain is a humbling experience.

The Hoh rainforest is charmed by the Hoh River which flows from the meltwaters of the Hoh Glacier on Mt Olympus, in the Olympic National Park, Washington State. In better times plentiful Coho and Chinook (King) Salmon and Steelhead Trout carried the conversation between the high peaks of the Olympic Mountains and the vast depths of the Pacific Ocean. Eagle, Bear and Mountain Lion also travel this river valley, under the ever watchful eyes of Raven, Elk, Sitka Spruce, and Western Hemlock, who lunge up out of the earth reaching 95m tall and standing 7m in diameter, just some of the indigenous inhabitants who live along this wild path between two mythical worlds.

After lingering too long past midnight photographing the unpolluted starry full moon sky, I retreat to my small tent and shivered into my never-summer sleeping bag. The sound of the river a few feet away masks any other sound. Inside the tent is pitch dark. Bears are closer in proximity than people. If out of their dens, at this time of year they are looking for food and likely to be very interested in me as a good menu option. I'm warm and comfy and need sleep and I'm becoming hyper-vigilant. My adrenalin is ramping up, my senses on high alert, my mind failing to match the stillness of the forest. I find some ear plugs in the tiny zipped pocket of my sleeping bag. After an hour more of listening to water and expecting to hear a bear, I surrendered and put one in, the other ear deaf resting on my arm. 

As a way to calm myself down, I say prayers of gratitude to the ancient Hoh for sharing its beauty. I remember being moved to tears earlier in the day. Watching the sunrise above the opposite ridge and slowly pierce the dense forest, its shafts of light greeting the frozen white branches before illuminating my heliotropic face caused a spontaneous release of awe...a deep gasp and tears; the consequence of something deep inside being caught in this ritual of mutual witnessing. Humility seems the only offering. In this moment of surrendered to the fate of sleep, to the fate of the wild forest and the honouring of my place on this floor amongst my fellow creatures, I feel the invitation to trust Life itself to carry me whole into a new day.

The adrenalin drains away and my body relaxes. As my breathing steadied I began to drift toward sleep and this phrase arrives; 'wild river chronicles'.

No bears came to my tent although they passed close by, leaving fresh prints in the thin layer of day old snow as a welcome.

I stand watching my breath turn into clouds of condensation, the stove is taking forever to boil water for my morning coffee. I've eaten three days of food in a day and a half to keep warm. How can I feel so alive, so wide awake, and so out of place yet so at home in the same breath...I laugh and talk out loud sharing my thoughts with the trees, the river, the unseen bears, and the mountain peaks that carve the skyline into a horizon. I make sure to listen - not just for the echo of my own voice, but for the Hoh to reply in it's original voice. 

May each word, idea and story here be worthy of that sunrise, may it remind me of the day of wandering through the giant pristine rain forest along the bank of that wild river, and may it celebrate the gift of deep trust, rest and sleep at the end of it all. 

You can see a selection of larger images here.

Paul J Howell