Friday, September 4, 2009

You water rich East Coasters and Pacific Northwesters don't properly appreciate the lush beauty of your surroundings


As we water impoverished Californians followed the PCT into Oregon, and a week or so ago into Washington, we were stunned by the shades of green. First of all, plants covered everything, nothing at all like the sands of the Mojave or the granite of the high Sierra.

One of the first things we saw was the bat winged plant. That is my name. It always has three leaves, each one lobed like the wings of a bat. Sometimes the middle leaf would be smaller, like a head, giving an even more bat winged appearance. Scarce initially, as we got into northern Oregon we saw it whenever we saw Thimbleberries (which was often). Eventually it was identified as the Vanilla Leaf plant. I like my name better.

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And the Big Plants. We would walk by some small wet area, and there would be these giant leaved plants. There must have been a half dozen different species with leaves over a foot in diameter. Some of them were positively evil looking. One had these big maple like leaves facing upward, the entire top surface covered with impressive thorns. Look a little further to see the stem as well covered with thorns. Any caterpillar crawling or dropping on this plant would be impaled in moments. Turns out it is named Devil's Club and is used in all sorts of herbal cures. i.e. rubbing a man's body with the sap makes him irresistible to women, etc.


Walking along the trail, you have the feeling that these big plants are lurking to grab some unwary hiker and stealthily devour him. Possibly I exaggerate, but it really is an entirely different world from most of California. There are conifers, but most are different from the ones we know. Lupine and paintbrush abound, but new strange and beautiful new ones all over. There is this big bunchgrass like thing, but it is not grass. It has huge flower stalks - up to six feet tall - fields of them. After weeks, we found out it is beargrass, traditionally used in Native American basket weaving.

We did a lot of dry camps this last trip, in spite of hitting water every day, the water wasn't where we wanted to end the day. The greenery gave us a new problem. Anywhere we dry camp, we at least need a flat enough spot to put our tent down. In California, at least we could see the ground surface and tell if it were totally covered with down timber, big rocks, etc. In Oregon and Washington, the ground surface was a mystery - in most places probably the sun hadn't hit the ground since the last forest fire several hundred years ago. We walked a few extra miles each day, looking for a place to sleep. The tent was an essential for us, due to the flies and mosquitos. However, some had a simpler solution. For example, at 7:30 one morning we walked by this one hiker still cowboy camping right on the trail.

There are regional attitudes. Our last three days were in Washington. The PCT takes three days to get to Panther Creek Campground. It can be road walked in one day. Several people we met on the trail lived in the Pacific Northwest, and said those first three days were boring. We found them challenging at times, but green and beautiful. Even in the Pacific Crest Guide for Washington and Oregon we saw signs of this attitude difference. In southern California, a water source might be described as a seeping spring. When you got there you would find a green spot of a foot or so, with a true trickle of water, maybe a cup a minute. Some hike would have already scooped out a depression big enough so you could get the edge of your cup in and get a half cup or so, and wait for it to fill again. In Oregon and Washington, a seeping spring might be four feet in diameter, six inches deep, and a gallon per minute flowing out.

My message is appreciate what you have.

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