So this is what August is like for normal people. The anointed that leave the office and life’s tetchy demands for a summer respite in the Hamptons. The chosen who, for six weeks or longer, remain away until the kids must return to soccer practice. It seems that except for Lutherans born in northern Michigan, the entire universe has always had the chance to savor this month (I have actually been to the Hamptons in August, albeit briefly, where I confirmed that the entire Universe actually goes there during this month. And they all drive). However Lutherans from Michigan have always worked in August. We are that way.
I am still home and life’s demands have not even remotely evaporated (indeed I am still canning tomatoes, making blackberry preserves and putting up hay) but I took a day, in the middle of the week no less, to enjoy life at the zenith of summer. The skies were crystaline and I was celebrating the final submission of a manuscript, to be published next spring. This morning, my online United Plus account confirmed that I indeed have not overlooked any itineraries until my departure for China, Vietnam and then Japan this autumn. With a triple grande’ latte between my thighs, literally, figuratively, I headed west from Indianola. To the trailhead of Mt. Townsend. Again.
Though I am comfortable with the lowland flora of the Puget Sound, not so voluble is my grasp of the rich assemblage of Cascadian and Olympic highlanders. Within an hours drive from our home are numerous trailheads to the upper elevations of the Olympic Range. Here awaits, upon each hike, another species to admire and learn (and then, of course, promptly forget until the following year when a day can be garnered for a long hike).
The alpine environment, with such a compressed season and yearly climactic folly allows for the casual hiker’s ongoing entertainment for decades. A hike on August 5th one year is never, ever, the same hike again. Our lengthy- i.e. nearly unbearable- approach to spring this year constricted even further the season of flowers.
What does not seem to change, from year to year, is the severe rise of the trail. Many years ago, I somehow assimilated into my consciousness an embryo of thought that the Mt. Townsend trail was easy, which has only continued to morph into a wicked lying child. A climb to the Everest base camp it is not. Neither is it a walk in the woods. I will remember this next year, along with all of the plant names.
Yet a walk in the woods it begins, with a sublime assemblage of Northwestern aristocrats of the shade; Achlys triphylla, Disporum smithii, Smilacina stellata, Streptopus roseus, Oplopanax horridus and Acer circinatum amidst native conifers that rise like granite columns holding a translucent vaulted ceiling above.
At one juncture of the trail grows an astonishing congregation of our coniferously minded minons; Xanthocyparis nootkatensis, Abies nobilis, Abies lasiocarpa, Abies amabilis, Tsuga heterophylla, Taxus brevifolia, Thuja plicata, Juniperus communis, Pinus monticola and Pinus albicaulis; all visible without moving my feet. The pleasing acidic fragrance of the Xanthocyparis pervaded the air along with another honey scent whose identity I could not determine; I smelled many things today, on my day off in August.
One soon enough, but on such an ‘easy’ trail not soon enough, if you know what I mean, breaks out into the open. On this year, during such a squeezed season of floristic frivolity, it was a somniferous experience. I was awakened over and again by the Scarecrow begging me to buck up and press on towards Oz. The meadows were a blurry smear of red and blue, creamy white, muted pink. The heat wave of the lowland had been effectively extinguished by this elevation and the air possessed a delicious, silky quality.
I was thirsty and hungry when I reached the summit, though that is an itch I often like to scratch with the precise tool at the perfect moment. I searched for the right rock on which to sit with the perfect vantage of the Puget Sound surrounded by the most sublime of floristic companions. At last I sat, sitting amidst colonies of the Olympic endemic, Campanula piperi in peak blossom, while making a sandwich and thoroughly, completely, utterly enjoying my summer. It was so unlike the highways of The Hamptons on an August weekend.