April Photo of the Month: Seeing Nature Through the Lines

Photo © Laura Norsen

Photo © Laura Norsen

“Nature and books belong to the eyes that see them.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Photo and writing by Laura Norsen

My lifelong passions for hiking and reading have always been undeniably intertwined. For me, a hike is almost incomplete without the perfect book to spend an hour with while sitting in the sun by an alpine lake shore, under a canopy of ancient trees or perched on a mountain summit above a panoramic vista. Through my reading, I've also been able to explore countless places, both real and fictional, that I'd otherwise never see.  

When a friend mentioned her plans to start the Alpine Trails Book Club, where our monthly meetings would happen not in a home or café, but on the trails of Washington, I couldn't wait to sign up. Hiking with a group that shares my love of books has been rewarding for many reasons. The group has led me to trails I would have otherwise never chosen. And on each hike, I find myself impressed by the collective knowledge of my fellow readers. Best of all, each month, the book we've read alters my experience on the trail in unexpected ways.  

Our book selection for the month was "The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries from a Secret World," an informative and surprisingly entertaining tribute to forests and the individual trees that populate them, written by Peter Wohlleben, a German forester and author. Knowing that parts of the Blanchard State Forest are set to be logged, the trail through that forest to Lily and Lizard Lakes seemed to be the perfect spot to discuss a book detailing the importance of old-growth forests. As we hiked, I saw the forest through the eyes of Wohlleben as a vibrant community of trees with complex relationships and complex lives.  

If preserved, the Blanchard State Forest would continue to develop into a beneficial and beautiful old growth forest. While true, old-growth forest is known to be restorative to the health of our planet, it's also restorative to me on a personal level. I find walking through a healthy Pacific Northwest forest to be calming in a way that I've yet to experience anywhere else on Earth. Hiking through the quiet beauty of moss-covered trees forces me to slow down, to appreciate both the enormity of the trees and the miniature landscapes of moss and fern.  

On the day I captured this photo, my husband and I left home to overcast skies. But as we drove north through Skagit Valley, the clouds burst and soon we found ourselves driving through a downpour. If it hadn't been for the group we were due to meet at the trailhead, we very well may have turned the car around and opted for brunch or a beer over a soggy hike. Thankfully, the torrential rain had relented a bit by the time we were ready to set out, but a light rain persisted as we climbed. Suddenly we noticed the rain had turned to snow — we'd somehow wandered back into winter! At first, we hardly noticed the cold, but as soon as we'd reached Lily Lake, the chill caught up with us. Instead of a long break to discuss the book over lunch on the lakeshore, we ate a quick snack and headed back out.  

As we descended from the lake, the rain finally let up and sun began to filter through the misty trees. The moment we felt the sun hit our cold, damp faces, we all paused to soak in the moment. We hiked slowly as the fog obscuring the trees burned off and streaks of sunlight burst through, each hiker stopping repeatedly for photos. After our cold adventure, this moment was our reward. 

Laura Norsen fell in love with hiking while tagging along with her father on his many fishing expeditions to Washington's alpine lakes. She hits the trail whenever she can, and never leaves home without a book in her pack. You can follow her adventures on her blog: tinypines.com and instagram: @lauranorsen