My favorite creature of the Pacific Northwest, a rough-skinned newt, is covered with grains of sand making it look like it was frosted with powdered sugar. Predators with a sweet tooth should take note of the bright orange coloring however as it is a warning the newts can be toxic if ingested. Taken in 2006 on a return trip to William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge, a favorite hiking spot when we lived further south in Oregon. With today’s cameras I could have both gotten this shot much more easily and with more depth-of-field, but it’s still a nice reminder of my longtime home and neighbors.
The wildlife refuges near me are converted farmland and to my eye this is most evident at the William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge in Corvallis, Oregon. There are several barns around the property, such as this one near the old fruit orchard, and the headquarters is in the old pioneer house. Or at least it was, I can’t say for sure if it still is today. We used to live near Salem and driving to Finley was reasonable, but since we moved to Portland over a decade ago it would now be a two hour drive (four hours round trip). So I haven’t been in many years, but perhaps I should make the pilgrimage one day to get reacquainted.
“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Exodus 3:5
My sacred ground isn’t a remarkable place. People hike past it without so much as a second glance. But from the first time I hiked the Mill Hill Loop Trail at William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge, there’s a spot on the trail that’s always stopped me in my tracks. After hiking through some open forest, there is a sudden, immediate transition from the sunlight of the open trail into the darkness of moss-draped firs. Little light makes its way past the canopy and the thick moss seems to dampen all sound.
This little section of moss and firs isn’t impressive for the size of the trees (toothpicks compared to the old growth and second growth giants elsewhere in the Northwest) nor for the size of the forest (it lasts just a short while before the trail enters more open forest). It’s a little pocket out of place compared to the surrounding woods at this refuge of reclaimed farmland. A throwback to another time and another place.
Stepping into this part of the forest almost always brings a smile to my face, brightens my mood, quickens my pace but then slows my steps, to look up, to breathe in, to listen, to be. I’ve seen a coyote slink off up a forested hill. Laughed at sliding hoofprints of deer where they must have slid coming down a muddy slope. Compared the size of the deer prints next to much larker elk prints. Further up the trail I’ve seen deer, elk, quail, wood ducks, although sasquatch has yet eluded me. But mostly I love this part of the forest not for what I see but for what I feel.
There’s only been one time in my life when this enchanted forest couldn’t lift a darkest mood, but that’s a story for another day. The picture above was taken on a rainy day in April. A little earlier on the trail I had been photographing my favorite creature in the Northwest, the rough-skinned newt, but that too is a story for another day.