The Cold Vanish.

IT WAS ANOTHER tough week in the news. A woman fell off the Hurricane Ridge Road and had to be pulled 100 feet up a cliff with ropes. Another woman broke her leg at Lake Angel9es and had to be flown out with a Coast Guard helicopter. A hiker was stranded by an incoming tide at Rialto Beach and had to be pulled off a rock. A young man was missing up the Quinault River but walked out at the Skokomish River after a needle-in-a-haystack search was initiated. Someone started a forest fire at Lake Crescent.

People go insane when they escape the city to enter the woods. I blame the media. We watch nature shows telling us animals are like people with commercials showing SUVs plunging through streams, along deserted beaches and mountaintops like the world is our race track. If we spend enough money and do crazy things, someone will like us on social media.

I used to wonder why park rangers were so cranky. Then I took a couple of them fishing where they talked about dealing with the suicidal tourist invasion bent on causing harm to themselves or others. Like the guy who took off up the trail, ate some poisonous mushrooms and came back three days later with no clothes on until the rangers could talk him out of a tree.

There is a theory that, the more advanced our electronic devices become, the dumber people get. People like to take pictures of themselves with their phones. Selfies can be self-destructive behavior — like the guy who fell off our own Sol Duc Falls. At least someone got a video of it.

This is not an isolated incident. People have plunged to their deaths taking selfies at the Grand Canyon and Yosemite. There’s been an uptick in rattlesnake bites at the Grand Canyon National Park due to people taking selfies with rattlers. Others try to take selfies with bison at Yellowstone and grizzlies at Glacier National Park, and they get stomped and mauled in the process. Here on the Olympic Peninsula, we have no rattlers or grizzlies, but people injure themselves anyway.

Others disappear without a trace for no apparent reason — like the case of Jacob Gray. He disappeared April 4, 2017. Leaving his bicycle dumped along the side of the Sol Duc Hot Springs Road, Gray vanished, causing a massive search effort that covered hundreds of square miles.

His father called me a week later to float the Sol Duc to look for his son. He believed Jacob was alive. I didn’t. Jacob Gray left most of his gear with his bike. It had been storming. He would have been lucky to survive overnight. The Sol Duc was too high to float, but Jacob’s father swam 12 miles of the river looking for his son.

The recent book, “The Cold Vanish” by Jon Billman describes the heart-breaking search for Jacob Gray.He’s just one of several people who have vanished in our wilderness without a trace. This is not a uniquely Olympic experience. There are an estimated 1,600 people currently missing in our country’s wilderness areas, including a park ranger who disappeared in Chiricahua National Monument.

They found Gray’s remains Aug. 10, 2018 — 15 miles away at Hoh Lake. How he crossed the Sol Duc, Bogachiel and the many rain-swollen tributaries to get 5,000 feet up into avalanche country remains a mystery, and a lesson to us all. Tell someone where you’re going and when you’ll get back.  Take the 10 survival gear essentials. Don’t make the rangers come looking for you.

Root Hog or Die.

“Root hog or die.” If I had a dollar for every-time I heard my Aunt Stella say that I would never have picked berries for money. It’s a phrase from the first colonists in America who turned the hogs loose to forage for themselves.

Which lead to conflicts with the Native American gardens that were not fenced. Indigenous gardens grew what they called the three sisters. Corn supported the beans over a ground cover of pumpkins that kept the weeds down. It was a smorgasbord the hogs made short work of. The practice of introducing feral hogs to the environment leap-frogged its way across the country to the Oregon Territory where the Neal’s settled in the 1840’s.

There the hogs made short work of the camas, a staple crop that was the main source of carbohydrates since time immemorial in this vast territory where, “root hog or die,” was a way of life. My aunt Stella employed this phrase to motivate her crew of kids to get through breakfast and pile into the station wagon for a trip to the berry fields.

These days it is considered cruel and unusual punishment to make children work but back in the last century kids were considered farm machinery. Stella would have been up for hours by the time the kids were ready to eat. She had cooked breakfast and made lunch for her husband Len, who was off to the woods cutting timber. Then she had her quiet time until she woke up the kids. Stella baked countless loaves of perfect bread, canned everything that grew in her tremendous garden and made everything else from butter to beer the old-fashioned way with food grown, raised, caught or shot right there on the farm.

“Root hog or die,” she’d say putting out of spread of eggs, venison sausage, toast, jam, and fruit she’d canned herself before we piled into the station wagon for a dusty ride to the fields where there was money to be made picking berries and beans.

In those days there was no minimum wage for kids. Your pay was determined by how much you picked. You could make as little or as much as you wanted. As kids we wanted to make as much money as we possibly could for vital supplies of fireworks and fishing gear. There was only one way to do that.

“Root hog or die.”

After about an hour of picking anything a kid’s knees get sore, it gets awful hot and lunchtime seems about a million hours away. When it does finally come you are about hungry enough to eat a dirt clod so you wolf down a sandwich made with the most heavenly bread that Aunt Stella might have baked that morning, filled with some kind of lunch meat shot or raised in the back field.

Eventually, after what seemed like a million years it was time to go home. That meant a long ride down a dirt road with the windows closed to try to keep the dust out. The heat, the dust and the exhaustion of the day was instantly relieved with a trip to the swimming hole.

Stella didn’t swim. She did not have time. If she wasn’t cooking, canning or cleaning she was volunteering at the church, the school or the community. She lived a life of self reliance and service to others. We miss her now that she’s gone but it’s enough to know that somewhere in heaven there’s a root cellar with gleaming rows of her canned preserves where you don’t have to root hog or die anymore.

Let Them Eat Tuna.

Imagine a small camp fire burning along a bend of the river beneath a grove of big trees, out where the bull trout rise. I only mention the bull trout because that is about all I’ve been catching lately. How many times have I had to endure the slings and arrows of unkind remarks which all boil down to the same thing,

“If Bull trout are so threatened and or endangered, how come that’s all we catch?” There could be many reasons for this. Having been protected for years in our Olympic Peninsula waters where they were never really endangered in the first place, the Bull trout has multiplied to the point where at any given time in can be the most prolific fish in the river. All of which serves to beg the question, at what point would a threatened and or endangered species or subspecies such as the Dolly Varden/Bull trout, (we aren’t even sure what to call it) be considered “recovered?”

Unfortunately, even what is considered “the best available science” is not able to answer this question. It has become one of the greatest mysteries of the natural world. Would the Dolly Varden/Bull Trout be declared “unthreatened and or un-endangered” if this predatory fish was threatening other endangered species like the steelhead and the chinook salmon?

To answer this question. we need look no further than our beloved Dungeness River. Once home to legendary runs of salmon and steelhead the Dungeness, a river that is home to three fish rearing facilities is closed to fishing for most of the year.

At first, we were told the closure would only be temporary. We were assured the river would reopen as soon as the fish were restored by building log jams, buying property from willing sellers and planting native vegetation. Millions of dollars were spent. Millions more are about to be spent on a new innovative experiment in the salmon restoration industry, taking out the flood control dike along the Dungeness River.

It seems that the Bull Trout is a free spirit. The best available science tells us that the Dungeness in its’ present condition is too constricted by the dike. In fact, building the dike was a bad idea in the first place. All it did was protect some farm land from flooding. Now thanks to the miracle of world trade we can purchase our produce from developing third world nations leaving our surplus farmland for its highest and best use, Bull Trout habitat. 

It is hoped that removing the dikes will allow the Bull trout to roam free and swim where the meandering current will take it. There is a fervent consensus of belief that spending millions more on what has so far been a failed experiment will save the Bull Trout but this is not a perfect world. It is a cooperative effort that will need many more studies and consultants.

All of which serves to remind us the more endangered a species becomes the more it is worth in salmon restoration funds. In fact, endangered species have become one of our most valuable natural resources. Meanwhile our angling heritage, a tradition of generations of kids who grew up fishing the Dungeness in the summer, has been exchanged for the only angling opportunity left in the Sequim Dungeness Valley, the sewer water reclamation pond at Carrie Blake Park. They’ll get over it. There are millions of dollars at stake. Endangered fish are worth more than healthy runs of fish. A dead river is worth more money than a live one. Let them eat tuna.

Raccoons.

I’ll have to admit when I first saw the baby raccoons curled up in the middle of the road my first impulse was to run over them. Because if there is one creature on Earth that I can’t stand it is the raccoon. If you ever went out to check your chicken house and found what was left of your pet laying hens after the raccoons ate them alive, or seen an orchard or a corn patch that’s been clear cut by a ‘coon party, you’d understand.

Things could be worse. You’d know that if raccoons ever came down your chimney. Then there were the loggers who lured the raccoons into their cabin after they’d been drinking beer, the raccoons that is. Raccoons were made for wide open spaces and tend to run amuck when trapped indoors for any length of time.    

So, I wanted no part of any raccoons, baby or not. I drove right on by and left them. Still, I thought I should check on them later and sure enough. The poor baby raccoons hadn’t moved. They were getting cooked in the middle of the gravel road. They might have been dehydrated. A raven flew over and gave a lone croak, probably just waiting for someone to run the coons over and tenderize them for a noon day meal. What could I do? What would you do? 

Then there were two ravens circling. I moved the baby raccoons out of the middle of the road to a hollow cedar stump.  The three of them stayed rolled up in a little ball. I drove away thinking I’d done the best thing you can do for baby wild animals, ignore them, they’ll go away. It’s illegal, bad and wrong to mess with baby wild animals.  I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. Still I couldn’t just let the little fellows curl up and starve after their mother hadn’t come back to get them the next day. I poured some milk in a (sterile) rigging glove and breakfast was served. They ate like starving wolverines.  This was very messy but they groomed each other clean in no time. 

After a few days in the cedar stump it was clear the mother raccoon was not coming back.  I thought it was up to me to find the baby raccoons a new home. I took them into town in a box marked “Kittens $5.” They didn’t find a new home but it’s a great way to clear out a Laundromat.

It was too late. By then I had built an emotional bond. They had adjusted to solids, chicken flavored cat food. We spent a lot of time together grooming, feeding and bonding. I tried to train the raccoons by enrolling them in a dog obedience class. I thought with those little hands they could be a lot of help. They could make good seeing- eye coons.

One day at the feed store in town I was talking to a flatlander from down in the valley. Somehow the subject of raccoons came up. The old guy went off. When he began talking about raccoons his fists were clenched his face went red. He became so angry he started spitting so we had a lot in common when it came to raccoons. It turned out he was a retiree who lived on a golf course. The raccoons had made a stinking mess of the golf course.

So, he live trapped a bunch of them using chicken for bait and dumped them up in the woods as it turned out, near my chicken house. It all made sense now. But it was too late. By the time I figured every thing out all my hens had been eaten. It was time for a little payback. I began teaching the baby raccoons how to retrieve golf balls. I started live trapping moles. That’s when things got ugly but like I said by now I was out for revenge. I began collecting slugs from the endless supply in my garden.

By the end of summer the raccoons were shagging golf balls like Labrador retrievers. I had a six pack of live moles ready to dig in and a five-gallon bucket of slugs. I drove into the flatlands with blood in my eye. I dropped the raccoons off in the lobby of the clubhouse to create a diversion while I sprinkled the moles and slugs out on the fairway.

It was good to be alive