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January 2014, vol 9, no 4

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Doris Lynch

Elk Land

On my third visit to the Hoh Rain Forest, I bring my husband wanting to share with him its lush, wild beauty. We plan to get there by noon so we can score a river camping spot. In Forks, we stop for fruit, dried salmon, almond butter and crackers, and take the requisite photo in front of the Twilight-inspired “vampire truck” at the Chamber of Commerce.

Perfect weather, high sixties, foggy near the La Push beach, and as we turn up the 18-mile road, sunlight filters through spruce and Douglas fir. We find the perfect site, next to the Hoh at its widest juncture, its white water hurtling past. However, right after we pull in, two annoyed women drive up waving their registration. Alas! Just missed. In loop B, we find another river site. Here the Hoh is only half as wide, bifurcated by a large island, yet it still races toward the sea. Tall weeds sway in a long meadow that extends from the gravel road to the pebbly beach.

At dinner, a band of elk ventures near. Meandering around us, they begin nibbling on the scenery. A three-year-old child from the next campsite plows his tiny bicycle toward a buck; his father runs to rescue him.

As we crawl into the tent, we notice elk bedding down in every corner of our borrowed meadow. Twelve ungulates turn their pale backsides toward us. I joke about taking a butt photo.

all night the river
hums over stones –
your rhythmic breathing

At first light I leave the tent although my husband lingers curled in his sleeping back. While gathering granola from the car, I hear a commotion at the next site. A large buck bangs his antlers –one, two, three times against their tent. People yell, “It’s a male. Run. Get the hell out.” I think No, stay low to the ground. Wait him out.

The buck eventually tires of his game. Minutes later, I wonder whether I should shout a warning to my husband because this same elk is now feeding just yards from him. Instead I snap a photo of our backpacking tent in the midst of dark greenery with ten elk grazing around it.

pointing the way
to a black-raspberry patch
banana slug

barefoot old man
lowers his cane into the Hoh
the smoothness of stones