by Kat Morgan, associate director for Puget Sound conservation
I grew up under a canopy of eastern hardwoods: Maples and Oaks, Hickories and Walnuts, Ashes and Black Cherries. I knew their bark and leaf shapes. I knew that when they were pressed together in the woods, they grew tall and straight—a woodworker’s dream. And when they were left by themselves in a pasture, they spread-out their large-leafed branches luxuriously, soaking up the sunlight.
When I was 16, I interned for the summer in the Pacific Northwest, clearing trails and building trail bridges in the backcountry of the North Cascades, and while I was part of an 8-person crew, my companions in the wilderness included so many organisms I had not known in my home forests. Banana slugs and devil’s club, huckleberries and wolverines, and old-growth Western Red Cedars and Douglas Firs. I had never seen trees like this: Charismatic mega-flora. I could not wrap my arms around a quarter of their girth; I could not see the tops of their highest branches. I had only imagined trees like this in fantasy worlds built by novelists.
Organisms this big – their presence on the earth almost everlasting – how could they not know we were there? How could they not be talking to us? Along with hundreds of years before we arrived, they witnessed powerful firsts for our little crew. First backpack adventures, first sprained ankle, first camp bread from scratch, first naked stream bathing, first kisses (which were against the rules, by the way).
Years later, after I had spent many more years under the broad-leaved Eastern hardwoods, and well past a decade since our crew was released back into the world of video games and combustion engines, I went back to that camp and read the names on the map that framed our time there: 39 mile, Big Beaver Creek, Luna Pass, Challenger Glacier. I also went around and put my hands on all the trees I remembered—next to the tent, sheltering the camp kitchen, leaning out into the glacier-fed creek where we took water. They were the same, perhaps minutely broader, as I remembered. And who knows? Maybe they remembered me too.