Under an ancient volcanic mountain on the edge of the North Cascades, a wide river meanders through a moss-shrouded forest of giant Douglas firs, Western hemlocks, Western Redcedars, and Bigleaf maples. Lumber has been a prominent industry here for centuries, so you’d be correct to think that a healthy forest with easy river access would have been harvested at least once by now. Somehow, part of this verdant lowland forest escaped the cut.
“Rockport State Park” isn’t a place name that excites me. It doesn’t make me want to know more. I had passed by the park sign several times without a thought, bound for places like “Diablo” and “Twisp.” But it turns out, there’s magic behind that sign; after reading about the park, I was determined to go beyond the sign.
Winter is quiet in this corner of the world. Few people are interested in walking through damp woods on a chilly day in January. They’re up in the mountains skiing, they’ve gone south, they’re indoors. So a winter weekday afternoon proved to be a good time to walk the trails at Rockport State Park. The predominantly evergreen forest practically glowed with vivid greens. Leaves, lichens and mosses dripped with moisture, thanks in part to nearby Skagit River. Creeks gurgled, the trees stretched higher than we could see, mist floated in and out of the tree canopy, and shafts of sunlight knifed into the fern-laden understory. The effect was otherworldly. We were smitten.
Two weeks later we returned to walk another trail, where we were treated to a meeting with a magnificent Redcedar tree that has owned that spot in the forest for hundreds of years. Regal doesn’t begin to describe the bearing of that tree.
I wonder what early Spring flowers are beginning to poke though the moss and forest floor litter now. We’ll have to wait until we return from a trip to explore the park again. In the meantime, here are photographs from two mid-winter walks in the old growth forest at Rockport State Park.
1. On the Way
3. Sword fern fronds
4. The green machine at work in January
5. Bigleaf maple trees were leafless but colorful, from thick coats of moss, lichens, liverworts and ferns.
6. Moisture dripped through multiple layers of growth to the forest floor.
7. Everywhere, fallen leaves were caught on branches, and even trapped in lichen clumps. What’s happening between the decaying leaf and the lichen strands is a language I don’t speak, but sometimes I can feel it – that quiet language of nourishment and constant change.
8. Precious drops of water hung like pearls on a slender piece of Usnea longissima lichen. The lichen will use what it needs, and what’s left will drip down to nourish another part of the forest. A sign of clean air, Usnea doesn’t grow in places with significant air pollution.
9. A fallen leaf from a Bigleaf maple tree has laid here long enough for moss to crawl over it.
10. Age and youth.
11. The bench gives you an idea of the immense size of this old Redcedar. Leaning against it was comforting. Circumambulating it, I paid my respects.
12. A certain someone leans in.
13. Water drop magic.
14. Moss or lichen? It can be hard to tell. I think this is a moss. Naming the plants isn’t necessary but it gives me pleasure. It helps keep me grounded.
15. A big piece of foliose lichen, probably lung lichen (Lobaria pulmonaria), tumbled to the ground to rest on a bed of Sword fern and Bigleaf maple leaves. This lichen can be found in wet places in North America, Asia, Europe and Africa, and it’s been used medicinally in most if not all of those continents, as well as for dye and perfume making.
16. Trees could be seen at every stage of life and decay.
17. Mist and moss conspired to create an otherworldly feeling.
18. There was elegance along the trail.
19. A leaf caught on a branch, wrapped around it, and stuck to itself. Then another leaf landed on the first one, and they breathed the moist, forest air together.
20. Either my fingers were too cold, or I was too lazy to switch lenses on my camera. I photographed the river in brilliant sunlight with my phone, which doesn’t handle bright contrast well. But you can get the idea – it’s a big river with an abundance of life all around it.
21. Creeks race through the forest to feed the river below.
22. A tree trio in black and white.
23. Thanks to mild winters and abundant moisture, massive amounts of mosses, lichens, liverworts and ferns live in the trees. Bigleaf maples can actually grow roots from under the bark on their branches, tapping into the nutrients of the spongy mass of life.
24. Another Bigleaf maple leaf caught on a twig, in a most unlikely manner. Such a delicate balance, and believe me, I didn’t touch it!
25. On the drive home clouds shifted over the heavily logged foothills. The pale patchwork shows what might have been, if the forest behind us had been logged too. I’m glad those trees still stand.
When this post is published I’ll be in the air, hurtling east towards Amsterdam for three weeks’ vacation in northern Europe. While on the road I won’t have the tools I prefer to do a proper post. Another post is scheduled for a week from now, and maybe I’ll post a few phone photos from the streets European cities if there’s time. When I return, I hope to get back to Rockport to see what changes the waking-up season has brought to this beautiful forest.
Lens and camera notes: On my second visit to the park, I used the vintage Super-Takumar 50mm f1.4. lens (discussed in this post) most of the day. When I wanted a wider view I used my phone. Photos #2, #3, #5, #6, #7, #13, #15, #19 and #24 were taken with the Takumar. Photos #1, #11, #12, #20, and #21 were taken with the phone. Photos #4, #8, #9, #10, #14, #16, #17, #18, and #23 are from my first visit, when I used a Panasonic 20mm f1.7 lens and an Olympus 60mm f2.8 macro lens. I used an Olympus 14-150mm f4/5.6 zoom lens that day for #22 and #25.