By Stephen Quinn
Just north of here I get my bicycles muddy on a piece of ground that sometimes breaks my heart. It is a tract of timberland two miles by four, with views from its ridge of the Olympics on one side and the Cascades on the other, from Baker to Rainier. Its circulatory system of logging roads is but the beginning: the capillaries between them span scores of miles through fir, alder, maple and carnivorous berry vines. On my weekend rides I share the trails with horse- rider and dog-walker, rabbit and deer, coyote and the occasional bear.
Most of the time this partnership seems ideal: the timber company clears the roads, trails are trimmed by horses, bikers and black-tail, and brush-pickers take salal and fern for our holiday bouquets. Trees grow and communities commune.
There is one section, an easy walk from the northern access point, where the trees are particularly straight and tall. Filtered light through the canopy illuminates a broad hillside of well-spaced trunks the size of hugs rising from huckleberry, rhododendron and scattered stone. People I encounter there are often looking up, as if in a cathedral, breathing in the moist, rich air.
But lately the partnership seems strained. The last souls I met in that magical grove were also looking up, but with board-feet on their minds and staple guns on their belts. “Timber Harvest Boundary” read the orange tags nailed to the textured bark. My heart constricts, my mind reels with impossible alternatives: handcuff myself to a tree; raise the money to buy it all; boycott lumber products; stick to pavement, where heartache is not part of the cycle.
I knew it would come to this. Trees are a crop, the raison d’etre for this four-thousand acre wood. Around the bend from the lumbermen I pause and touch a perfect fir just below its day-glow sign. Would I really rather not ride here than witness the harvest? If there is a virgin wood somewhere, I pray this partnership protects it by letting our appetites overlap. For this tree by the trailside, I have nothing to offer but good-bye.