Friday, August 12, 2011

great grandfathers by the sea

Eighteen days ago I was stepping off of Captain Charlie Clark’s drop-bow skiff and onto the rocky beach of a small island at the mouth of Ford Arm that would become our new home for the next two and a half weeks. We left the dock in Sitka crazed and anxious to get back to the forest. The weather was testing us, disabling us from flying into Slocum Arm. But to our relief Charlie came to our rescue in his rusty beat up pick-up truck, which at the time and through our tired and frustrated eyes resembled a shiny black stallion ready to carry us off to his boat and into the woods.

The sea was fierce and we all swallowed down some Dramamine as Charlie charged through the outer coast swell. I chatted with him to keep my mind off the bumpy ride and soon found out that he had a jack russel terrier named Tackle. He then held up his right hand to show off a rather mangled thumb and matter-of-factly said “he bit off my thumb last January.” I think I sensed a hint of pride in his voice. I was so caught off guard that the only thing I could think of to say was “Do you still love him?” What a weird question. He replied that yes, he still loved Tackle and the recovery wasn’t too bad. A couple hours passed and soon we were off-loading our gear onto the beach of our island and waving to Charlie as he motored off into the misty white atmosphere surrounding our cove.

The next couple days were real “limit-testers”. The kind of days when you just want to give up and say “I quit!” The rain was relentless. Our hands were disgustingly pruny, our only clothes were soaked and even the “waterproof” electronics were failing us. I remember climbing into the tent after the worst of the “limit-testers” and crawling into my sleeping bag. Lauren sidled in next to me and just when I thought I was safe from the rain I touched my sleeping bag and it also felt wet. I frantically started to touch different parts of the bag and worriedly looked over at Lauren to ask “is this wet?” She touched it and reassured me that no, it was not wet but my hands were so saturated that everything I touched felt equally drenched.

The next few days the rain gods gave us a break (thanks to Odin who ceremoniously pours out a couple of drops of our precious whiskey to the earth to show our respect). The sun felt amazing and soon our clothes and electronics were the driest they had been since we left Sitka. We hiked around sans rain gear feeling the sweet but salty southeast ocean breeze on our skin (through our long undies of course) and Odin mentioned how the islands in the distance looked somewhat tropical. After a slight moment of silence we all started laughing and agreed that Odin has got to go further south sometime. The remainder of the trip was spent measuring plot after plot after plot….after plot. We really are lean mean measuring machines.

The forests are becoming increasingly interesting and exciting as we discover more and more of their secrets. We are becoming accustomed to their different structures, shapes, colors, smells, and components. The trees tell us stories and we are merely trying to understand and interpret this knowledge so that others can understand how to manage and maintain these changing landscapes. During this past trip we learned that the healthy forests have a very different story to tell than the dead ones, but they are all interrelated, and hopefully by sorting through our stacks of soggy, dirty, and torn data sheets Lauren will be able to decipher a complete history as well as some insight into the future. We encountered some of the biggest cedars we have seen yet. The great great great grandfathers of the forest. We take turns guessing their diameters and when Paul yells aloud the exact measurement we all let out one big synchronized “woahhhhhhhhh.” This experience has been so many different things it’s hard for me to come up with a clear and precise way to describe it, so for now I will just sum it all up by saying “woahhhhhhhh.” - kate

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