The Law of the Sea.

And so, another rafting season passes astern. The glaciers in the high Olympics are shrinking at an increasing rate, which is reflected in the low water.

The river is the boss. When the old man says quit, we do — causing reflections on the past season and the people that we met.

One thing you can say for sure is that kids these days are tough. It is not unusual to see a 5-year-old pick up a paddle and pull downriver 10 miles and ask for more. Or dive right into another feat of human endurance, swimming in the Hoh River.

A lot of Peninsula pioneers never learned to swim because the water was too cold. The nearest some of my old friends got to swimming was the Saturday night bath in a horse trough.

Inevitably, some of the glacial swimmers suffered the effects of hypothermia. Which was treated by burying them in hot sand. It seemed to work. Mostly, it was a pretty nice bunch of kids this year. There were, however, exceptions to the rule.

She was what some would call “an old soul.”

Or what others might call a spoiled brat.

In other words, the kid was 7 years old with an 80-year-old attitude stuffed inside.

She stepped into the raft like she was boarding a yacht, asking the question, “Do we have to do this?”

To which I replied, “What a coincidence, I’m asking myself the same question.”

“I’ve been riding in the car for so long it feels like a coffin,” she said.

“Do you know what a coffin is?” her father asked. She admitted she didn’t.

“It’s where they put dead people,” Dad informed her.

“I feel like I’ve been in a coffin,” she confirmed.

Her name was Tallulah, or should have been. Her interests were shopping and fine dining.

Travel was not on the list.

Although it seemed like at the age of 7, she was a jet-setter hopping from New Zealand, Costa Rica, Disneyland and Disneyworld before gracing us with her presence on the Hoh River.

“She’s not my mom,” Tallulah said, pointing to the woman sitting with her dad.

She continued to delineate the intricacies of the modern blended family as the parental units sitting in the front of the raft visibly squirmed.

One thing was for sure, Tallulah was not going swimming. In fact, just getting wet was out of the question due to her wardrobe issues. She was wearing a silk blouse and had no intention of getting it wet, wrinkled or both.

Just then disaster struck. The inevitable splash came and errant drops of water came in contact with the silk, causing an outburst from Tallulah.

“Calm down,” a parental unit pleaded with predictable results.

“You’re not my mom!” Tallulah replied.

“I can have it dry cleaned and back to you by morning,” I lied.

The best I could do for laundry was to stick it in a bucket and swish it around with a plunger, but by then, we had a different problem.

“My tooth is loose,” Tallulah informed us, causing a sense of panic for all aboard.

It was then my duty to inform the party that, due to the maritime law of the sea and the powers vested in me as captain of the vessel, I was entitled to a share of the Tooth Fairy money.

The crew greeted the news with silence.

Tallulah said she’d never heard of such a thing.

I told her it was in the waiver form — and just like that, getting wet was not such a big deal any more.

A Short History of Fire.

IT WAS ANOTHER tough week in the news, but we still have plenty of fresh air.

Washed by the ocean, the rain and the trees, our air is perhaps the purist on earth.

It’s a blessing we should not take for granted, given the history of fire on the Peninsula that sometimes made it seem like we were living in a smokehouse.

Maybe we’re just lucky, but according to fireweather avalanche.org, there are no fires on the Peninsula to pollute the air, endanger our homes and devastate our woods.

We should count our blessings.

The entire Olympic Peninsula has burned at one time or another.

Legends tell of a great fire about 800 years ago that burned from Lake Quinault to Cape Flattery.

That would have been during what paleoclimatologists call the Medieval Warm Period.

By studying ice cores, tree rings and lake sediments, they determined it was a period of drought in the Western United States that could have been caused by increased solar activity, decreased volcanic activity and changes in ocean current circulation.

Fire scars on old growth trees tell us the east and south sides of the Peninsula also burned 300 to 500 years ago.

These fires could have been caused by lightning or humans.

Native Americans burned prairies every three to five years to clear land, attract game and cultivate camas, cranberry and bracken fern, and at least 80 different plants used for food, medicine and technology.

On June 9, 1852, Col. Ebey, the Customs Collector for Puget Sound living on Whidbey Island, observed a great deal of smoke coming from the Olympic Peninsula which was probably caused by the S’Klallams setting fires.

That’s how they maintained the Sequim Prairie for thousands of years.

European homesteaders looked upon the inexhaustible forests as weeds that got in the way of agriculture.

In his book, “The Northwest Coast,” James Swan described a forest fire started as part of a Fourth of July celebration in 1852 that burned until the fall rains.

Our pioneers used fire to clear their stump ranches and these fires got away.

A book about Sequim, “Dungeness, the Lure of the River” describes a neighborhood feud in the 1890s, where one neighbor tried to burn out another by starting a forest fire. The wind shifted and the fire burned all of the foothills above Sequim and Port Angeles.

Old photographs of these towns show bare hills in the background. All you have to do is look at a map of the Olympics to notice names like Burnt Hill, Burnt Mountain, Mt. Baldy and Baldy Ridge.

With the invention of the automobile, motorists started forest fires by chucking cigarettes out the window.

That’s how the 12,000-acre Sol Duc Burn of 1926 started west of Lake Crescent, burning trees that had been planted in the previous Sol Duc Burn of 1907.

That was nothing compared to the Forks Fire of Sept. 20, 1951, when buried, smoldering logs from another fire that was supposed to be out were fanned into flames by an east wind that pushed the fire 18 miles west in eight hours.

It burned 38,000 acres and almost incinerated Forks.

Since then, we’ve seldom had a summer when the woods were not on fire somewhere around here.

But there are no fires now.

Let’s keep it that way.

Most forest fires are caused by people who refuse to follow these simple rules.

Please keep your campfire to less than 1 acre.

If you are not sure you can do that, do not have a campfire. It’s really OK to camp without fire. The tree you save could be your own.

Real Questions From Real Tourists.

THIS MUST BE one of the busiest tourist seasons ever. It has the locals hoping that school will hurry up and start so everyone will go back where they came from.

Schools in Texas and Arizona have already started, but that has not slowed the tourist invasion.

That’s because the beginning of school can cause a whole new wave of tourists to hatch out of somewhere and hit the road.

Those are the people who waited for school to start so they could go on vacation without being stuck somewhere with a bunch of kids.

In a continuing effort to provide accurate information to the tourist hordes, allow me to take this opportunity to share some real questions asked by real tourists about the Olympic Peninsula in this past summer.

As a fishing and rafting guide, I’ve had the opportunity to act as an ambassador to the tourist industry by providing helpful, accurate information to visitors to our area in a manner that helps them enjoy this recreational wonderland by answering real tourist questions such as:

“How long does it take for a deer to turn into an elk?”

This may seem ridiculous, but to be fair, it should be noted that many of the tourists asking these questions are suffering the combined effects of jet lag, dehydration, sleep deprivation, mixed medications, self-medication and a diet of chips, gas station sushi and energy drinks.

Try it sometime.

In all probability, it will eventually have you asking how long it takes for the marmots to turn into bears.

While there could be a smidgen of alternative evolutionary theories in these inquiries, please remember to be gentle with our tourists.

Consider, but for the grace of God, we might all be a tourist someday.

“Does the Hoh River come from Alaska?”

Yes. The Hoh River flows underground thousands of miles from the Arctic Circle to bubble out of the Earth’s crust way up on Mount Olympus.

Efforts to trace the actual path the river takes from Alaska to the Olympic Peninsula have been unsuccessful, due to a lack of funding and the resistance by modern science to the theory that the Earth is actually hollow.

“Why is the water blue?”

This is a common question that tourists often ask about Lake Crescent and the Hoh River — one that should be answered with the knowledge gained from the best available science, which can be pretty boring.

There’s no reason we can’t have a little fun with tourists to make their vacation more memorable.

In the state of Washington, it’s against the law to bait bears — but there’s no law against baiting tourists.

Let your conscience be your guide.

I like to tell the tourists that the color of the water is determined by what type of dye the Park Rangers dump in the water each morning when they get to work.

Water by itself can be clear and boring. Dyeing the lakes and rivers makes them more colorful and scenic.

It’s a real aid to the photographer trying to shoot a dramatic nature scene that captures the ephemeral beauty of the lakes and rivers amid the surrounding forest of majestic trees.

“Is there any gold to be found in the Olympics?”

With the increasing price of this precious metal, inquiries on where to find it are becoming more frequent.

I tell the tourists that, of course, there’s tons of gold here. The government just doesn’t want you to find it.

Good thing I’ve got a secret map to a number of lost gold mines, for $5.

“How can I find Bigfoot?”

You can’t.

Bigfoot has to find you.

 

The Bug Sacrifice.

Of the many phobias I cultivate, such as the fear of the government, fear of the mailbox and the fear of work to name a few, it is the fear of bugs that is the most debilitating. With the frequent rain and the warmth of the summer sun, we seem to have a bumper crop of bugs. Which can transform the most relaxing walk in the woods into a symphony of suffering the moment you stop moving.

Where you sit to catch your breath amid the hum of bloodsucking mosquitos and their miniature fellow travelers, the no-see-ums. While you try to swat the mosquitos, the no-see-ums crawl in your nose, eyes and ears. Then there is the silent stalking of the blackflies and their sneaky cousins on steroids the vicious horseflies. While one horsefly gets your attention, another horsefly creeps up from behind to bite a bit of tender flesh where you least expect. That’s when you need the buddy system. Someone to watch your back and swat the bugs sneaking up from behind. It is during this time commonly referred to as bug season one can observe campers swatting each other with hats and tree branches even before the booze hits.

It’s a bug battle that gets worse with every passing day. Then there is the ominous buzz of bald-faced hornet and yellow-jacket nests. They are getting tired of being waffle-stomped by the hordes of hikers on our trails. The first hiker to pass by is liable to get off with a warning. The next will receive a full measure of the hornet attack with devastating results that can ruin your day.

Still, it is the mosquitos I hate the most. They can transform your wilderness adventure into an unending torment of biblical proportions. Animals such as deer and elk will travel to the river bars or migrate to the ridge tops and snow fields to escape the bugs but most people are not that smart. They tend to stay in the woods and heavy brush where they soon become bug bait. People become savage and desperate with a helpless anger against an enemy so small with such a large appetite. Which can call for desperate measures.

While some outdoor enthusiasts use a variety of chemical bug repellants to repel biting insects the results can be disappointing and temporary. Water or sweat may wash the bug repellant off. Or you may miss a spot on your hide where the bugs will target the ripe flesh leaving a variety of nasty welts. Other outdoor enthusiasts look for a better solution.

Anthropologists have documented a long tradition of human sacrifice back in the dark ages of human history. Some prehistoric cultures were said to sacrifice virgins to propitiate the animist spirits of unseen forces that ruled the lives of primitive societies, protecting the majority at the expense of a minority. With the difficulty of finding virgins this far upriver this late in the season, with supply chain shortages and all, we are not suggesting the return of this controversial ritual to deal with the mosquito problem, no. However, a modern variant of this ancient practice could alleviate human suffering in the present era.

Among any group of outdoor enthusiasts there is invariably one person to whom the insects are more attracted to than the rest. The first person to slap a mosquito and complain about the bugs is the designated bug sacrifice. Have them sit apart from the group so the hordes of hungry bugs do not victimize the rest of the campers. It will all be worthwhile when the s’mores are roasting over the coals.

Safety First on Vacation

There’s no doubt about it. I’ve got to stop picking up women at the bar. It’s not safe.

The last one put a lump on my head and almost broke my back. I knew it was going to be one of those days, rafting large, cranky, overweight old people down the river until it was time to get back into the van.

As her husband and son stood by, big mama stepped up into the van and collapsed backwards where I caught her. We both collapsed on the rocks. It knocked the air right out of me. I should have known better, but what could I do?

It has been a summer of tourist mobs intent on hurting themselves and others.

Such as the folks who ran out of gas on the Upper Hoh Road, causing a traffic jam that had people swerving into the oncoming lane around a blind corner. I drug them up to a wide spot, where the pilgrims explained how they were the victims of too many construction zones where they sat in the car with the engine idling and the air conditioning on as the fuel gauge bottomed out.

“We’ll just call Triple-A and get more gas,” they assured, leaving their four-way flashers on until their battery died. Triple-A didn’t come.

We gave them some gas just to get rid of them.

If only it was that easy.

The Hoh Rainforest is so crowded there is, at times, a three- hour wait to get in.

Once you’re in, look out!

Last Friday saw a demo derby with a motor home plunging into the pond at the end of the road for no apparent reason.

It was a feat only outdone by the truck stuck in a tree at the intersection of State Highway 112 and Graul-Ramapo Road that the Clallam Fire District 4 Chief called “quite the interesting rescue.”

Rialto Beach is so crowded people are parking in the road, blocking traffic — until the Park Service tows their vehicle.

The Lake Crescent boat launch is so crowded with picnickers you almost can’t launch a boat.

The road around Lake Crescent has seen the usual accidents, where people just drive off the road and out into the woods.

You’d think you could get away from the drama and the chaos by going into the backcountry, but you would be wrong.

This summer has seen a number of tragedies and rescues.

The body of a solo mountain climber had to be airlifted out of the rugged back country of the upper Dungeness River near Mount Mystery — the real mystery being why someone would go mountain climbing by themselves.

A dramatic air rescue was performed by the awesome crew of the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station Search and Rescue helicopter up in the Hoh Lake country, where a 13-year-old girl fell out of, or was dropped out of, a hammock — the details were sketchy, the injury severe. We hope she gets better soon.

These crews specialize in high-altitude mountain rescues where few other helicopters dare to go.

They have already done 19 search and rescue missions this year and they really don’t need any more, thank you very much.

Another tragedy was narrowly averted by some observant campers on Allen Bar along the Hoh River, where a 79-year-old lady was wading. She was swept off her feet and around the bend into a log jam.

A handy Samaritan jumped in my raft and we picked her up and put her ashore, re-tweaking my back.

No doubt about it, I have to stop picking up women at the bar.