28 Mar Ancient Trees

I’ve always been fascinated by old forests. I guess it probably goes back to childhood fairy tales and of course Disney films that conjured towering tangled webs filled with dark giants, malicious vines and sharp brambles. A real forest can seem a dark and foreboding place, particularly after dark. The outside world does not seem to penetrate these spaces. There is a quiet stillness, a heaviness in the air, it’s silent except for the occasional birdsong or the tap of a woodpecker. Midday the sun is there, just not on the forest floor. The heavy canopy overhead denies the light entry and all is in shadow though dappled rays  light the forest ceiling high above.

It’s rare to find old growth forests in the world anymore. They have been cut, often many times. But left alone, old trees can grow to prodigious heights and live methuselahian lives of hundreds if not thousands of years. (Old Hara a Bristlecone Pine in the White Mountains of California is estimated to be 5,065 years old). When left alone you end up with a place like the ancient forest at Rockport State Park, a 670-acre park at the base of Mount Sauk, itself another wonder, in Skagit County in the Northern Cascades of Washington.

Astonishingly this forest has never been logged. While talking with another visitor he remarked that he had driven by the entrance countless times but had never stopped. I can relate as I have done the same, always on my way into the mountains further east. It was only through chance that I found out about the park by Googling the term “old growth forest” to see if any still exist in Washington.

Walking the Evergreen Trail, a three mile hiking trail that wanders through the park, was one series of mind-blowing moments after another as each new vista came into view. Some of the Douglas Firs in the Park reach up to 250 feet in height. And they are everywhere. Because this forest is unmanaged it’s fascinating to see how a real forest behaves and what it really looks like when left to its own devices. In many places it is just a wild tangle of life growing manically. Ferns, mosses, mushrooms, budding wild flowers, massive fallen trees littering the landscape and completing a cycle of life and dying and life. Well maintained and beautiful trails and pathways make the transit an enchanting and easy walk. Because so many people drive right by we had most of the Park to ourselves. In the solitude you can feel the collective power of the place and ponder the strangeness of the towering life surrounding you and try and grasp this community of trees and plants and how they inhabit a world unto themselves, an ancient rain forest, dark, damp and fertile. We are fortunate that some such places remain. They can teach us more about ourselves and our place if we just seek them out.