The roar of a creek as it tumbles over a cliff in a waterfall. A wildflower field splashed with colors from a painter’s palette. The sharp, resiny scent of pine in the woods. There is nothing quite like a hike in the wilderness to engage the senses and bring me into the moment. I recall many hikes in vivid detail because multiple senses were involved.
Last summer my partner Steve and I hiked to Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground, a magnificent alpine meadow in Mount Rainier National Park. Indian Henry’s has a storybook quality to me, with its historic log patrol cabin (the first one built by the park service in 1915) framed by majestic evergreens and “the Mountain.”
The air was so saturated with the sweet scent of wildflowers that, at times, I could almost taste it. The meadow was painted with splashes of color, especially the intense blues of lupine. It was peak flower time and we were surrounded by the insane buzzing of mosquitoes and bees, at times nearly drowning out any other sounds. The mosquitoes were barely annoying as long as we were walking thanks to long sleeves and effective insect repellent. A memorable hike indeed!
Our hike in the Hoh Rain Forest several winters ago was a different but equally memorable experience. This coastal forest lies in Olympic National Park and receives 140 to 170 inches of precipitation annually. It’s a lush, ancient world dominated by towering trees draped in moss and lichen.
It wasn’t raining on this day, but the forest was drippy and moist from a previous rain. The air felt clammy and cool. The sun was shining but little of its light or warmth penetrated the forest canopy.
I try to absorb this enchanted environment as I hike. The forest floor is littered with logs and vegetation in various stages of decay, enriching the soil and filling my nose with an earthy aroma. Ferns line the path, gently brushing my legs as I pass by. A log blanketed in moss invites me to sit on its soft, cushiony surface. I detect movement out of the corner of my eye and turn my head. Standing just a few yards away, quietly munching on leaves, is an elk. I am in awe.
The next time you go for a walk in the wilderness or the woods near your house, fire up your senses. Pause to look, listen, touch and smell. You may be surprised by what you discover.