“I recently hosted my 11- year-old nephew from the East Coast. After a 5.5-hour flight followed by a hotel overnighter, then a four hour car drive, he asked, ‘Why do you live so far away?’ This little piece of writing contains my reply.”
By Shele Kinkead
A resident herd of 40 elk casually saunter down my river, nibbling on the rich greens along the riverbed. Startled by my dog’s single alerting bark, the prong-horned males peer up at the house, wondering if this is indeed a threat. Babies bleat their porpoise-like calls to the cows, making sure they are near their moms or at least the aunties. Gracefully they work their way downstream, crossing to my side of the river to continue their midday meal. All is tranquil until the neighbor dogs run back and forth, barking at river’s edge, excited by the scent of wild animals. The elk turn and bolt across the river, battling the steep climb on the far bank, breaking branches and snapping twigs as they disappear into the woods. They call to each other to guarantee each other’s safe escape. Only their clamor pinpoints their location as they are now totally camouflaged in the trees.
The glacial waters of the Hoh River glisten over rocks and boulders, susurrations of silt and stones singing in my ears. Here in the rainforest, firs and Sitka spruce are wrapped with shawls of hanging moss and lichen. Ferns grow waist high, plinks of rain rebounding off their fronds. Furtive hammering on hollow wood alert us to a woodpecker’s search for food.
A companionable silence surrounds us as we meander through the canopied halls of trees, some over three hundred years old. These grandparents of the woods are living presences and quiet adulation comes easily. Even those whose time has passed, whether from disease or wind, are still-living nurseries to the young new growth arising from their fallen status. Death is not a fearful prospect here in this forest.
A doe leaps quickly from behind a shed as I drive down my road, rejoining her twins who wobble on young legs. Cars slow to a crawl to let her family pass unscathed. Tender grasses in a neighboring yard beckon to them.
The bald eagle startles my morning reverie by landing on a limb just outside my window. Though the tree can easily support his weight, the branch dances up and down as he wing-balances on his perch. Now settled, he sits for over an hour watching the river below, waiting for wrong move of a fish or small bird or Douglas squirrel. Tired of the wait perhaps, he trills out a song and launches himself skyward, beating hard with wings wide for the uplift, shaking off rain as he leaves. A mated pair nest upriver; every year I hear and see their offspring flying the river just beyond my window.
Why do I live so far away? Where else would I find such daily wonders?