If someone had told me there was a grove of ancient cedar trees on a 6-plus mile stretch of island near Long Beach I might not have believed it. Or even that there WAS an island near Long Beach. But there it was and I was invited to see it for myself this past Saturday.
My friend Cathy invited me to join she and her sister for a Friends of Willapa Bay Refuge event. A barge trip to the uninhabited (by humans) island and an opportunity to hike to an ancient grove of cedar trees. There is a lot of history here. You can read more about it here. The Western shore is a public shellfish beach where famous Willapa Bay oysters are found. There are five beach campgrounds with a total of 20 campsites scattered among them. You can only reach the island by boat, kayak or barge. There is known to be an abundance of wildlife on the island including deer, elk, black bears and porcupines. You might also spy a rough-skinned newt! Fascinating creatures.
In the parking lot, before piling onto the barge across the highway, I smear bug repellant on my exposed parts. I wear long pants and long sleeves and dab the scented lotion on face, ears, neck and hands. I’m as prepared as I can be. The mosquitos and biting flies are vicious this year. Best to be prepared. The barge ride is beautiful. I’d guess there were over 60 of us but plenty of room for everyone to grab a seat and take in the views. There is something wildly alluring about coastal air.
The path is carpeted in moss and the understory here is as rich as anywhere I’ve ever been. Deer fern, wild huckleberries and salal. There are nurse logs and a “hugging tree”. Lichen and fungus are growing everywhere.
Along with several guides from US Fish and Wildlife leading smaller groups, there was Naturalist Rebecca Lexa, leading a group through the woods. She is a unique combination I would call part Master Naturalist and part storyteller. There is nothing better than being engaged by someone who clearly knows and loves what they do. You can read about her and sign up for one of her many online and IRL tours of Washington and Oregon here.
The scattered old growth cedar trees here are as much as 800-1000 years old. It isn’t really as much a grove like you might conjure hearing the word, so much as a remnant of a once thriving cedar forest. A little imagination helps to see this place as it might have been several hundred years ago. This over six mile stretch of island was logged a generation ago and as recently as 1986, Weyerhauser came in with the intention of logging the remaining cedars. They were met with much resistance. Don Bonker, a congressman representing Washington’s 3rd District was instrumental in helping to preserve Long Island’s cedar grove ( the Cedar Grove Trail bears his name) as a part of the Willapa Bay National Wildlife Refuge. His preservation efforts also included the Grays Harbor Wildlife Refuge, Protection Island and the establishment of Mount St Helens as a National Volcanic Monument. He also helped ban the export of Western red cedar.
I stayed with my friend at her home near the coast overnight so I would be able to relax fully into the day. We talked about the experience of being in this old growth sanctuary and how the woods were filled with scent and quiet. As I mentioned, the understory here was as stunning as the forest floor, as stunning as the giant cedars sprinkled among the much younger Sitka Spruce and Western Hemlock. The soft, carpeted moss paths were like walking on air.
We talked into the wee hours about life and practice. We shared with alarm about the raging world outside of us and all the things that trip us up in our own lives. It’s been a very long time since I’ve been up intentionally past midnight and even longer since I was able to engage with another human with such ease about the things I am both passionate and curious about. Such a wonderful time.
On my drive home, I finished the book I had been listening to shortly before I headed to the coast. Bittersweet, by Susan Cain, is based on the concept that light and dark, birth and death, bitter and sweet are forever paired. The book took me down the road of grief and longing and the idea that we need both to make us whole. I learned some things about myself. I was able to come away with new permissions in my own mind about the value that melancholy or bittersweet feelings have, both on my everyday existence, and in all things creative. As someone who all too often seeks validation from others, I found a new comfort in being exactly who I am in the world. That is, exactly who I have always been, only now without apology.
“Whatever pain you can’t get rid of, whatever joy you can’t contain … make THAT your creative offering” – Bittersweet/ Susan Cain
Last night I realized that for all my diligence around bug repellant, I was still eaten alive. I have a couple dozen bites from skeeters that went straight through my long sleeves. Kelly slathered me in Calamine last night and I took a half dose of Benadryl. The bugs this year are relentless. With more stagnant water and rising temps it is an ideal breeding ground for mosquitos. I’ll wear my pasty pink arms as a badge of honor today, although next time out, I’ll plan differently. When we know better, we do better. At least that’s the theory.
It was such a great weekend. Summer feels like it’s in the long homestretch. How can it be the 15th already? With an epic hike on the horizon this week and several shorter ones before the end of the month, I am eager to get back outside and take in all of the gifts nature has to bestow.
Thank you for being here. I probably don’t say it enough, but those of you who follow me and engage here mean so much to me. Enjoy these extended dog days of summer. So happy to have you along.