A gray fog sneaks its way up the valley, winding and twisting around the mountain peaks and trees, slowly enveloping the forests of Goldmyer and casting its water droplets upon the bearded trees. In the mists of the fading light I begin my evening rounds up to the hot springs. The woods are silent and dark. Not even my footsteps register a sound as I walk as light as an elf from Mirkwood along the moisture-laden path.
Mimicking my tall, slender, 6-foot frame, Devil’s Club towers above me, peering ominously down over all those who pass by. Armed with diabolical spines running down its skinny trunk all the way to the roots, this native plant creates an impenetrable wall. Even the maple-shaped leaves contain thorns, warning all those that dare not to come to close. Although menacing in name and looks, Devil’s Club was once used by the Native Peoples as a charm to protect against evil spirits. Here at Goldmyer, it helps ward off uninvited guests that go sneaking about in the shadowy forest.
Beneath the thorny stalks of Devil’s Club, Vanilla Leaf creates a lush green carpet along the decaying floor providing a sweet scent and a dry place for scurrying wood mice and other tiny creatures. Upon closer inspection, the flower is supported by a second delicate stalk that rests between its blunt tooth-shaped leaves. The darkening cloud-filled night decides to let loose her arsenal of rain drops. The leaves repel the rain save for a tiny droplet that remains in the center of each plant. It has been raining for weeks now, but what else can be expected when you live in a rain shadow? There is a reason why Washington is called the Evergreen State.
Two months have passed since starting my job as steward of this gem of a place, tucked away up the Middle-Fork Valley outside of North Bend. Two short months, and I am leaving in a few days. Not for good, mind you, but for a short break. As I continue up the trail towards the springs I begin to second guess my request for time off. My boss, Don, says we should get out at least once a month; it will be good for us, he says, but now I don’t know about that. I love the woods, seeing the seasons change and experiencing the slow arrival of summer. And of course I love living here, away from all the hustle and bustle of city life. I’m not ready to go back into civilization to hop in a car or be attached to a cell phone, even if it is just for a weekend to participate in an event that I’ve wanted to do for many years: the solstice naked bike ride in Seattle.
I have wanted to do this bike ride for as long as I can remember, but it’s been many years since I’ve lived in Washington, or have had the gumption to ride naked among a lot of people, especially in a parade with onlookers (living and working at a hot springs has helped mentally prepare for it). Lissa will come out with me, but refuses to ride her bicycle naked. We have scheduled other time off for the summer as well, and while we are excited to go on all of our planned adventures, entering a city will take away our claim of having never gone out. I like that claim, and want it to be my claim. I enjoy seeing the looks of shock on people’s faces when they ask if we ever go in to town. Plus, it feels a little more like we are “roughing” it by not leaving. We came out here prepared to not leave for six months. We don’t need anything. Living off the grid, the remoteness and seclusion of the place was all part of its appeal to us. After two months here, this place no longer seems as rustic or as primitive as we originally expected. In some ways that is both a relief and a disappointment. Leaving now almost feels like cheating. I think in order to be really roughing it we would need to experience Goldmyer in the off season.
I break away from my thoughts as I make it up to the hot spring. All is well, and crowded! It’s a full house again tonight. I chat with a few of the visitors before heading back down to my cozy little cabin. On the way down, mice (our most frequent wildlife sighting) scurry underfoot just missing my shoe coming down on them (by accident, of course). I return to my previous thoughts about coming out. I am excited to ride naked in the streets of Seattle. And I can’t wait to get my lips around a straw to suck up the sweetness of my favorite drink: a milkshake! I guess I’ll just have to return to spend a snow-filled winter in paradise.