LOCAL WALKS: BIG CEDAR

Here I am, having arrived at a place

deep enough

to lose myself

among exultant Sword fern bouquets

unfurling in the dim light as far as the

I can see.

There it is again,

that pesky “I”

but no problem, it will

get lost soon.

*

We breathe together, the “I” and

this verdant ravine where Redcedar soars,

roots, opens, and sits

as still and profound as two in the morning.

Just this, redcedar whispers.

Who hears?

*

A cool breeze scatters leaves. Was it from the ridge-top?

The jagged, black edge of the island? Or

did the wafting breath arise

fifty miles east,

in the center of the dark, cold Salish Sea?

Here, now, air manifests 

in gentle waves of cedar boughs,

flutters of tender huckleberry leaves,

prickly bumps on old arms.

Air and mind

focus and release in shuddering waves

like the darting squirrel

that was perfectly still a second ago.

Back and forth,

we’re eachall centered in herenow

in the bottom of the green ravine

where the I loosens and

dovetails into the forest.

*

Note: This poem appeared earlier this year in a slightly different version, with different photographs.

*

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In Washington state’s Deception Pass State Park, a double loop of intersecting trails climbs in and out of a dry, coniferous forest and a deep, wet ravine. In the depths of the ravine, a massive Western redcedar tree (Thuja plicata) stands. This is the tree in the first photo and the photo below (with a person for scale). Well off the beaten path, the trail that winds down into the damp, fern-filled valley where the cedar grows is quiet. It feels remote from the built environment. Fallen trees coated with thick layers of moss from which younger trees sprout vie with ferns for the weak light that filters down through tall conifers. One can relax into the feeling of losing oneself in this forest, with only the sound of a distant raven and a nearby woodpecker punctuating the silence.

If you continue past the big cedar you’ll find more trails; go one direction and you climb out of the park, past the remains of an old mine and a decrepit log cabin, and back down to a quiet road. Walk another direction and you’ll emerge into a rough, cut-over area where blackberries thrive in the sun. I usually climb a steep, rocky trail leading out of the valley to a gentle ridge above Pass Lake, pictured above. The small lake’s cold water provides food for Great blue herons, Bufflehead ducks, River otters, and other beings who are intimate with the shoreline’s nooks and crannies. Humans must fish from non-motorized boats and throw the fish back to the water. We protect the lake, a breathing being itself that loves fog and holds it close on cool days before it floats away, nourishing the forest as it goes.

The old Western redcedar. Not a true cedar, this species belongs to the Cypress family. It was, and I assume still is, the most important plant to many Pacific northwest indigenous people, providing everything from clothing to canoes.

***

Local Color, Quietly Evolving

“When you paint Spring, do not paint willows, plums, peaches, or apricots, but just paint Spring. To paint willows, plums, peaches, or apricots is to paint willows, plums, peaches, or apricots – it is not yet painting Spring.”

Dogen, Plum Blossoms; Baika.

Dogen, Moon in a Dewdrop, Writings of Zen Master Dogen. Edited by Kazuaki Tanashi. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1985.

Rosy pink buds on a Red Huckleberry bush (Vaccinium parvifolium) grace its smooth green twigs.

In the forest, Sword fern (Polystichum munitum), Salal (Gaultheria shallon) and moss, though evergreen, are looking more verdant these days.

The bark of a noble old Western Red Cedar glows with color.

Under a sunlit Fir and Hemlock canopy, a fern lined mountain stream tumbles quickly over mossy rocks.

Away from the forest, a slough behind the tiny town of Edison reflects a promising cerulean sky.

In town, blue sky bounces off a window as green grass pushes through last year’s dry stalks.

On a high spot in a field, an old Big Leaf Maple festooned with mosses and Licorice fern (Polypodium glycyrrhiza), shines greener each day.

Delicate lichens adorning the branches of smaller trees reach toward increasing light.

Along Puget Sound the rocks have their own colors.

And as the sun sets beyond Samish Island, the clouds seem a little pinker as the waves softly roll in.

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I enjoy sharing images. But please take Dogen’s advice and feel-see-smell-hear

this subtle, in-between season for yourself, before it passes.

Information about Dogen, a thirteenth century Japanese Zen teacher, can be found here.

The photographs were taken within the last week or so at these locations near Seattle, Washington: on Samish Island, in the Snoqualmie Wildlife Area in Carnation, in Edison, and at Wallace Falls State Park.

The Edison photos were taken with a phone (Android); the others with a Sony Nex 3.