In the Shadow of Grandpa

September 2012

People come to Goldmyer to soak, relax, and to find healing in the hot, mineral-laden water that flows out of the ancient rock. When visitors are turned away because we have reached our preservation limit for the day, the most commonly asked question is “can I just take a quick peek at the springs?” The answer is always no (for privacy and conservation reasons). Instead, we show them photographs of the springs and other attractions, but they only care about the hot water. However, Goldmyer has another natural wonder to boast about, one that holds as much healing power as the water that pumps from the heart of the Earth. A giant has put down its roots in the last remnants of these wild and unruly woods!

Grandpa, the lone giant

Coastal Douglas-firs (Pseudotsuga menziesii), are the second tallest conifer in the world (after coastal Redwoods). Photo by James Blakely

Among the dark green woods of Burntboot Canyon, an ancient veteran of the Earth towers towards the sky. His shadow falls across limber saplings of yew, hemlock and cedar, all competing for the sun’s golden rays. Meet Grandpa: our seven- to nine- hundred year old Douglas-fir tree. (In order to determine Grandpa’s exact age, a core sample would have to be taken. Since that could leave a pathway of vulnerability for insects or diseases to further damage the tree, we rely upon an estimated age range instead.)

Many times a day I walk beneath the canopy of old growth, always in awe of this magnificent behemoth. Unlike the hot springs, the novelty of seeing and experiencing Grandpa has not worn off. I often feel the need to touch him as I walk past, finding comfort in the feeling of his rough, weathered bark against the palm of my hand and the side of my face as I wrap my body close to his. It is like embracing an old, long-lost friend.

Grandpa stands alone as one of the last remaining Middlefork giants. The rest were felled by the hands of progress: industrialization and capitalism. I can only imagine the things he has seen – the events he has lived through over the  course of his lifetime. Grandpa was just starting out his life in the 12th or 13th century (approx. 1100 AD – 1300 AD.). As he grew, the black plague was sweeping across Europe, wiping out 1/3 of the population! He was here before Leonardo da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa (1503) and before the first printed edition of Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet (1597). Fast forward to the birth of the United States; when George Washington became President in the spring of 1789, Grandpa was already upwards of  four or five hundred years old. Our towering giant weathered through diseases, fire, drought, and storms. He has watched and heard the shattering screams of his brothers and sisters as steel teeth ripped through bark, flesh and heart. Although, Grandpa was spared the ax, the titanic woods of the Northwest are no more.

There are days that I dream about strolling through the Northwest’s old growth forests of the past, hearing spotted owls hoot from the treetops, and watching a grizzly bear pluck salmon from a babbling stream running red with thousands upon thousands of migrating Sockeye. I can only imagine the feeling of being surrounded by such towering trees and abundant wildlife. I am sad, but also relieved that this dream cannot come true. Seeing the disparity between what we used to have and what remains would be too difficult to bear. It is heartbreaking enough to watch what little we have left disappearing at such alarming rates (it is estimated that approximately 200 species of plants and animals go extinct every single day due to human activity).  As farmer, author and environmentalist, Wendell Berry so eloquently puts it, “The thought of what was here once and is gone forever will not leave me as long as I live. It is as though I walk knee-deep in its absence.”

Photo by Erick Brunt

NWWP Board Member, Eric Brunt marvels at the sheer size of Grandpa. Photo by Eric Brunt

Sitting on a bench across from my elder and looking up, I think about the more positive joys Grandpa has witnessed: birds perched on his mossy branches singing to a rising sun, wild chattering chipmunk sex, and baby owls taking their first flight. Seeing and touching this magnificent tree sends joy coursing through my veins, filling my heart with even more gratitude for this magnificent place and getting the opportunity to spend day after day living here. Now and again, I come across a visitor also taking in the splendor of Grandpa and I am reminded that not every visitor is just interested in the springs as the main attraction; there are many who admire and appreciate Grandpa as much as I do, and that realize he is part of what makes this place magical.

It is here at Goldmyer that you can walk and see a world that is all but gone. Grandpa too will fall one day (hopefully, with old age, and not for many years yet) and become a nursery log, giving birth to a new reign of forest giants.  It is here, along this trail to the hot springs, that I don’t “walk knee-deep in absence”; instead, I walk in the shadow of ancient wisdom, the shadow of Grandpa.

Photo by Dick Craig

Wet caretakers, James & Lissa pose in front of Grandpa’s 10-foot diameter base.
Photo by Dick Craig

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3 thoughts on “In the Shadow of Grandpa

  1. Even here in Graham, close to where you grew up, there are the last remnants of huge tree stumps. I take a walk down our road most days and they are there yet!! But not for much longer!!

  2. Yeah, there are few in the back of the parent’s house too that are slowly rotting away. There’s also a bunch dotted near and around Goldmyer and the Middlefork Valley too.

    • It’s shocking to realize how close we are to those pioneer days — there were even some stumps when the kids were little where you could see the notch cut for the plank the men stood on to saw. In the blink of an eye…….

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