Woodlands trek experienced by touch, smell and hearing

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Swampy land is seen at Silver Lake, near Mount St. Helens in Cowlitz County, Wash., the location of Ernie Jones’ first off-road foray with his guide dog, Randy.

Although a light coat felt good as we started our walk this late spring morning, there was a promise of a warm day.

Entering the woods I felt the gentle brush of a small cedar tree, its dewy branch drying itself on my coat sleeve. The path was soft and spongy from years of decaying vegetation, as my wife, Dorothy, my new guide dog, Randy and I started up the hill to the first fork in the trail.

This, taking place a few years ago, was my first such walk with Randy; I was apprehensive, but I wanted this walk. I felt Randy take me around a stump before he paused to allow me to crawl over a fallen tree trunk. He hesitated just a little as he searched for the best route across a narrow, swampy section of the trail. Finally, with a confident stride he took me safely to the far left edge of the path, allowing my feet to avoid the worst of a puddle that covered most of the path.

The trail took us around giant bigleaf maple trees, their bark partially covered with the delicious licorice fern I had long enjoyed. We passed huge old-growth fir whose girth would take at least three grown men to reach around.

I will add here that, since I had lived many years in Western Washington, I had learned to tell trees and plants not only by sight, but also by feel. I could identify the bigleaf maple by the feel of the bark, the shape of its leaves and the small fernlike plants that I knew were licorice; the only trees I knew this licorice fern grew on were these maples. In the same way I knew the large fir trees, as well as the cedar trees — by feeling the bark and needles; the cedar also had a distinct odor.

Leaving the soft forest trail we headed down a paved road that served the secluded camping site.

The trail next took us through a tunnel that extended beneath the busy highway that cut the park into two halves.

Exiting the tunnel we veered right to walk down a long boardwalk that meandered across the swampy shore of Silver Lake, a beautiful lake lying west of Mount St. Helens. In a couple of places, the boardwalk even extended out over the edge of the beautiful crystal-clear water. Our feet made distinct hollow sounds with each step. Although most of this boardwalk had wooden rails on each side, there was a long section with only a nine-inch-high plank along the outer edge of the wooden trail to protect the hiker from the water below.

Dorothy saw a muskrat slip into the murky water ahead of us, and we heard the bass voice of a nearby bullfrog as he croaked to another bullfrog across the swamp. I heard a pair of Canada geese honking as they drifted through the bulrushes nearby; Dorothy said they had several goslings with them.

The land lay peaceful, blissfully dreaming of the newly born day with no sign of the heat that would shine down a few hours later.

“Ah,” spoke Dorothy as we paused. “There is a great view of Mt. St. Helens; she is beautiful with the snow dazzling in the morning sunlight. I feel I can almost reach out and touch her.”

We paused for a refreshing moment before starting down the last stretch of boardwalk. No longer did I fear that the enjoyment of walking woodland and mountain trails would be denied me, for I knew that with Randy I would once again be allowed this exciting adventure.

Later, my brother took us up the highway towards the mountain. A river, far below us, rolled like a thin chocolate ribbon as rapidly melting snow fed it and also colored it. Whereas 30 years before, the highway had meandered up the valley floor close to the river’s edge, today it climbs the mountainsides far above the racing river, spanning chasms cut deep into the earth.

We found new life growing where only some 30 years ago only desolation and ruin could be seen. Young trees, some already 20 feet tall, greeted us as this land once again tried to make itself into a beautiful home for birds and animals.

Even if you can no longer see the beauty around you, you can still enjoy it by getting out in it and touching, hearing and breathing in the fresh aromas.

Ernie Jones, a registered nurse who retired due to vision loss, can be reached at 529-9252 or at theolcrow@charter.net.

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