Park Happenings: My spring commute

<I>JON SCHMIDT photo</I>

I have to admit; today while I was driving to work, I lost myself in the news on the radio. The BBC was going through the headlines about Israel and Palestine and Bush and Vladimir Putin. Then I pulled into the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center parking lot, opened my door, took a deep breath and started the hike up to "the office." At the bottom of the trail my nose caught the musty scent of the slowly draining water off of the now rotting vegetation. To me, this isn't a bad smell; it is the smell of the woods and its natural processes. It has the smell of a waterfall, though of course, there is no waterfall between the parking lot and the Interpretive Center.

I've heard dozens of comments, mostly criticisms, about hiking the quarter-mile long trail to the center and its challenges. When I first starting working at the LCIC, Ryan Karlson explained to me that when the center was built on the bluff, the designers wanted the visitors to "get into" nature for a little while before learning more about Lewis and Clark. Walking further up the trail this morning I do have to say I felt a bit like Lewis as I noted which birds were singing and how the red elderberry have started sending leaves out at their tips. At the first switchback on the paved path, I saw the huge old red alder tree that has remained invisible to the Grim Reaper for at least 80 years. The stumps of former alder trees lie scattered around its trunk. I've enjoyed observing a half dozen or more species of fungi and other plants taking turns throughout the year slowly breaking down the old wood of these stumps.

After completely making the first turn I was able to make out the dormitory for some of the troops of old Fort Canby. It's one of the few non-concrete structures left standing from the days when that elderly red alder some how avoided being cut down to enhance the visibility for Battery Harvey Allen. Before the battery came into view my eyes were diverted by the bright pink of the salmon berry blossoms. Growing up in Minnesota, the robins were my sign of spring but they often didn't show up until April. Since moving to the coast, where something always seems to be blooming, I have picked the Salmonberry as my signal of spring here. Hello Spring!

As the battery came into view, showing off its patches of new concrete, I felt the breeze off the ocean hitting my face. As I continued up the path the breeze became noticeably stronger and more fragrant. The grasses that were planted along the path last summer are soaking up this morning's dose of sunshine. The spruce cones at my feet reminded me of the work that needs to be done. But before fully "going to work," I took in the view that helps compensate for my meager wages. It's Thursday, so the Coast Guard is out practicing in whatever waves they can find. It looked pretty mellow out on the bar this morning and the cormorants weren't being washed off of their favorite rock on the cape.

Before I unlocked the doors, I look out to the east and saw Ilwaco shining in the sun. It won't be long and the alders will grow their leaves out, blocking the view of the town and Baker Bay. But soon the eagles will be back and the whales will be passing by. The brown pelicans will return to fly by at eye level and the cape will be alive with families and couples and loners taking in the views and the history and we'll be telling them stories. For now, there are emails and contracts to read, maps and icons to edit, and the summer ahead to plan for. I'm thankful for my commute and the opportunity to start the day off with a hike. Next time you walk up to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center think of the path as an opportunity to slow down and see what's blooming.

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