My return last Monday to the Navarino Wildlife Area for the first time since backpacking the Washington section of the Pacific Crest Trail disturbed me.
I knew that a large portion of the forest surrounding the flowage closest to the Navarino Nature Center had been nearly clear-cut last fall. I had actually been visiting there the day the slaughter started. It was appalling to watch a machine wielding some kind of saw-toothed jaw leveling trees. One every fifteen seconds.
The final result of all that arboreal carnage is still hard to look at. I don’t know if I can go back again. The few oaks and pines who were spared stand bereft among the stumps of the fallen. Limbs torn from their neighbors as they fell are scattered around them. Clusters of oak saplings are exploding from stumps and crowds of basswood and poplars, their over-sized, heart-shaped leaves attached directly to their thin, bending trunks, infest edges of trails and other open areas.
I had seen this devastation last in January when the sight of bare and dismembered trees felt consistent with the dead of winter. And snow covered the killing fields, conjuring up for me the illusion of a lovely, hilly meadow of lone oaks. But in the summer, winter’s pall having been shredded by the sun, the juxtaposition of heaps of corpses and twisted limbs among saplings as thick as blades of grass accentuated Creation’s desperate attempt to heal itself. I thought, heaps of teddy bears and wilting bouquets after a mass shooting.
Oh, I know state officials are practicing responsible forest stewardship here. We must clear the woods from time to time, so a diverse new forest can grow from seedlings and saplings who had been waiting to enjoy access to sunlight. I know it’s not going to look like a diverse new forest right now. It takes time. It’s just temporary, I reassure myself. But I’m also thinking, hadn’t God and the people of the First Nations here done just fine for tens of thousands of years without our Responsible Forest Management?
During my visit last Monday, other elements of human intervention at Navarino seemed to add up in my mind in a more negative way than usual. There’s quite a bit of environmental management in evidence among Navarino’s five or six large flowages and in the surrounding forest: giant water control valves at the bottom of corrugated steel silos, dead end trails, sagging, rotting boardwalks. The purposes of which are mostly inscrutable. Last fall I met a man operating a “crawler excavator” scraping one of the Wolf River Flowage berms right down to the earth’s flesh. It was raining that day. I had a walk planned that included the entire Wolf River berm, so I took a pound of mud on the sole of each of my boots most of the rest of the walk. Monday I also noticed that some of the trails seemed to have been significantly widened since my last visit – maybe for an enhanced cross-country skiing experience. Or maybe just to get the tree-killing machines deeper into the woods. One trail had telltale pick-up truck tracks down it which had transported a crew with a chainsaw to clear a tree or two that had blown down over trails during this summer’s storms. Yet other roads and trails I have used often the past few years have been completely abandoned, overgrown, flooded out. One trail looks as though it may have been mowed earlier this summer, but hundreds of not-fully mature goldenrod, milkweed, and bee balm have bloomed in the trace of the trail’s lavish, bending grass. None of these plants had been disturbed, and though I tried to avoid doing so, I left a trail of bent and crushed flowers. There was little other evidence that anyone had taken any of the paths I traveled Monday at any point during the summer. Several fallen trees are, in fact, still sprawled over the gravel portion of Townline Road which borders the northern reaches of Navarino, neglected by some entity duly appointed to care for them.
Simultaneously abandoned while being managed to death, I’m not sure what saddened me most.
While I was invigorated trekking through the Cascade Mountains, writing at night, not napping by day, I was worn out Monday having only cut the grass that morning. I cut my trip short taking the train tracks running through Navarino as the homebound leg of my loop. Loping tie to tie is an unnatural gait for me, so I tried walking on the sharp, blue rocks over which the tracks run. The blue rocks gave way under my weight, which I found even more taxing. Watching frogs leap away into the dead algae floating in the black ditch water made me wonder that they were alive at all.
After falling down a mountain slope upon catching sight of a single, relatively tasteless raspberry while hiking the PCT, at Navarino I discovered that God has made a feast of blackberries along the trails. Most of them are still ripening and are inaccessible unless you were to shred your clothing trying to pass through their bristling canes. Paradise guarded by angels with swords (Genesis 3:24). Still enough ripe berries were within reach to lighten my heart as I wandered through the state-sponsored ravages of a wildlife area.