words + photos by Roger A Ward
We were firmly into summer, which is a sweet time here in the Pacific Northwest. I don't travel much outside the region during this short season because not too many places can call me away from the relaxing warmth of the sunny days and the stimulation of the cool evening breezes. I love hiking and walking in summer, and the Pacific Northwest is scenic poetry. Just a few blocks from my home there is a short trail through Titlow Park where I can escape for an hour or two when longer hikes are not practical. The walk leads down to the waterfront of Puget Sound through a small patch of old-growth forest and a larger area of secondary growth. It ends up at a good fish and chips place with a great view of the waterfront, of the twin suspension bridges across the Tacoma Narrows, and of the hills and trees of the Kitsap Peninsula across the Sound.
This is the only time of year when sun and shade have much temperature relevance. The shade of the forest provides relief from the bright sunlight and reflected heat of the surrounding neighborhood like a cool, wet cloth does in a dry sauna. The meandering trail evolved from a gravel logging road, active from the late 1800's until the 1930's. The weathered foot hills and cliffs bordering this part of Puget Sound consist of huge deposits of gravel left by retreating glaciers. Loggers only had to scrape away the accumulated detritus of the forest cover to build a road. The evolved path I walked is more spongy now than crisp and crunchy. Leaf litter, tree needles and tree bark from the better part of a century have reclaimed the top foot or so. Incursions of shrubs and trees have narrowed the road into a trail that is only a little wider than one originally built for hiking.
Yesterday fragrant dry air penetrated the cool forest as I walked on this winding trail. The musky damp earth served as the background note, sharply spiced by sun-baked evergreen needles. With every gentle gust I imagined I was walking around in a huge cedar closet. The aroma of cedar deepens in the summer, while fir lightens and dissipates. In the wetlands, skunk cabbage assaulted my dignity, but wildflowers and escaped wafts from cultivated blooms in neighboring gardens sugared the mixture with bursts of perfume. The various aromas darted in and out of conscious detection and vanished quickly like a vivid dream upon awakening.
As I walked deeper into the forest, a canyon of towering giant trees limited my view, and a little claustrophobia set in. I briefly wondered, "am I truly free to wander anywhere I choose in this life, or am I destined to stay on a defined path that is getting narrower as I age and a little spongy as my memories litter its floor?" Before that slightly depressing thought could consume me, I turned a curve and the trail burst out of the deep forest. I viewed boats meandering around the Sound creating their own paths. I spied the fraternal-twin suspension bridges over the Tacoma Narrows, and felt possibilities expanding.
As I left the woods, I crossed over railroad tracks on a bridge originally built for heavy logging vehicles. The bridge crosses train tracks set in a deep ravine that bends around the Sound under the twin bridges before the tracks enter a tunnel through the cliffs. The tracks are heavily used, with freight and passenger trains roaring below about every ten or fifteen minutes. I crossed the bridge while a train rumbled under me. My entire body resonated with energy amplified by the bridge.
The bright sunlight above the bridge highlighted the strip of tracks and focused my vision to the train below. I pretended to be a kid again, shaking with excitement as the train wheels chattered and squealed, exuberantly announcing that the train was on an adventure, moving through ever-changing and ever-more-exotic scenery. When I stood on the bridge watching the cars blur by, the kid inside me imagined places its cars have visited and the countryside they have passed through. I projected adventures yet to come.
The kid in me has always wanted to travel to uncharted lands, to stray from the overly defined path, to wander freely among ancient cultures and to see where each little road that turns off the highway ends up, to visit the destination of each road heading into the hills. Most of all, the little kid in me wants to have adventures, and sometimes the adult in me listens and allows that to happen.
Sometimes a walk is just a walk, and sometimes it's a call to adventure.
Roger A Ward explores the scenic poetry of the Pacific Northwest and answers his inner kid's longing for world-wide adventure from his home in Tacoma, Washington. A Texan by birth, the call of the Pacific Northwest's mountains and forests, its lakes and ocean inlets, and its wild and cultivated gardens beckoned early in life. It wasn't until he retired that he was able to answer the call full-time. His favorite 2009 travel adventures include the completion of two solar-heated showers for indigenous Quechua elementary school children in Peru's Sacred Valley of the Urubamba with a day-long fiesta, and a week-long immersion in New Zealand's Maori culture.