Hikes: Old at Heart

Image shows a person in the woods

Thursday was my birthday, making me sixty-nine years old. I have lived for the better part of a century and seen drastic world-wide changes in those years. I’ve been a part of the birth and growth of my children and grandchildren. I have had a career caring for special places and the people who visited. It also means that wrinkles dominate my face, aches and pains slow me down, and my years now passed are more than my years remaining. But hey, I'm still hiking, living, and loving. Compared to a giant sequoia, I’m still not much older than a sapling.

To celebrate my birthday, Kath and I went for a walk at Heart Lake. The day was glorious, sunlight sparkling on the lake, and glistening in the golden glow of maple leaves underfoot. We hiked carefree, soaking up this fall beauty before the rains return.

At the south end of the lake stands an old-growth forest where trees are far older than me, even older than our nation. A forest where time seems to stand still. The soft whispers of a light wind aloft became a soothing background to our thoughts and conversations.

As we walked among the towering trunks, I felt small and insignificant. These trees have weathered storms, fires, droughts, diseases, and human encroachment. They have provided shelter, food, and oxygen for countless creatures. They have stored carbon, filtered water, and stabilized soil. They have been here long before me, and they will be here long after I am gone.

We stopped by a monstrously majestic Douglas fir, with thick bark and a soaring crown. It was a sapling during the dark ages; a mature tree when Columbus discovered America, when Galileo observed that the earth goes around the sun, when Shakespeare wrote his plays. It was already an ancient tree when Vancouver anchored in Guemes Channel, when Amos and Anna Curtis settled nearby, and -- what to me seems so long ago -- when I was born.

This tree and I share much in common: we are both still alive. We have both experienced joys and sorrows in life. We have wrinkles and defects, have faced challenges and opportunities, and have offered something to the world.

But we also have a different perspective. This tree has seen the long view of time, and how everything is connected, how life is a cycle, death a transition, growth a process. But it has only experienced the events and environment of Heart Lake.

I have only experienced a short span of time, but also the broader context of the entire planet, the march of history, and world-wide environmental and cultural conflicts and changes. But seeing a wider picture doesn’t make me wiser.

This tree will leave a legacy of life, of beauty, of wisdom. It has passed on its seeds and genes to its offspring and kin. It gives its gifts and services and lives in harmony with its neighbors and the earth. Heart Lake will benefit from this tree for centuries after it is gone.

As we hiked back, I observed fallen logs and rotting stumps, with mushrooms and seedlings sprouting abundantly from their remains. I noticed the undergrowth of saplings and maturing trees seeking the sunlight above, with centuries still ahead of them. Someday they may become the ancient ones, just as our generation will soon give way to the generations rising up among us.

We followed the lakeshore back to the parking area. I felt a year older and much younger at the same time. 


Directions: From H Avenue in Anacortes, take Heart Lake Road south to the parking area at the northeast  end of the lake. From Whidbey Island, follow Highway 20 north from Deception Pass, drive about four miles and turn left on Campbell Lake Road. Turn right on Heart Lake Road. To avoid using the roadway to make a loop hike, take trail 215 from the Mt. Erie parking area, then trail 320, then trail 21, then trail 313 that parallels much of the eastern shore up through the forest lands. 

By Bike: Heart Lake Road is narrow, winding, hilly, and with minimal shoulders in places, but a posted 35 mph limit.

Mobility: the lake shore is easily accessible; the trails are steep in places, narrow, and have uneven tread.

Republished with permission.View the original article.