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    On Olympic National Park and the Descent of Man

    We’re Johnny-come-latelies. We live in the cosmic boondocks. We emerged from microbes and muck. Apes are our cousins. Our thoughts and feelings are not fully under our own control. There may be much smarter and very different beings elsewhere. And on top of all this, we’re making a mess of our planet and becoming a danger to ourselves.

                                                                -Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space 

    The only Zen you find on tops of mountains is the Zen you bring there.

                                                                 -Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

    Give me silence, water, hope
    Give me struggle, iron, volcanoes.

                                                                 -Pablo Neruda

    Hey, put the cellphone down for a while
    In the night there is something wild
    Can you hear it breathing?
    And hey, put the laptop down for a while
    In the night there is something wild
    I feel it, it's leaving me...

                                                                  -Arcade Fire, Deep Blue


                       Preface:  Due to a discombobulation in the time-space continuum I have not been writing, reading, nor drawing as much as I was in my prime.  I yearn for the days of yesteryear, when I would force myself out of bed at 4am (a time that separates the men from the boys), brew some coffee, sit down at my desk, and then write in the room I lived in in the country under the morning stars.  God was it beautiful.  I am determined to return to that physical and mental place in my life, and hopefully do much more to help those in need, but until then, my mornings shall remain as such:  roll out of bed at dawn, go to the bathroom, look in the mirror, slap myself in the face and say, “Let’s go,” then I’m out the door, flying away on my motorcycle. 

                The following slideshows present photographs taken in Olympic National Park (ONP) over a week in August, 2016.  Within the contiguous United States, ONP is the 6th largest National Park – after Death Valley, Yellowstone, Everglades, Grand Canyon, and Glacier.   Visiting in the summer is worth contending with the crowds, and they can be beaten or altogether avoided if you wake up early, hike beyond the one-mile Visitor Center parking lot loops (at Hurricane Ridge or Hoh Rain Forest, for instance), or visit the park on a weekday.  I did all of those things and within an hour of hiking away from the car and into the backcountry there were few people to be seen.  The entrance road on the north side of ONP originates from the town of Port Angeles and leads to the Hurricane Ridge Visitors Center, about a half-hour drive and 5,200 ft. increase in altitude from town.  The Visitors Center resembles an A-frame alpine chalet and offers spectacular views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, which is the aquatic political border separating Washington from British Columbia, and the snow-capped peaks of the surrounding Olympic mountain range.  After driving to the Hurricane Ridge Visitors Center parking lot from Portland in my aunt’s car (a five-hour drive if you include a detour to get a better look at the incredible Mt. Rainer), I watched the Perseid Meteor Shower peak and then fell asleep in the car in the parking lot.  In the morning I drove along the seven-mile unpaved road (closed in the winter) to Obstruction Point, where the trailhead begins.

              The Olympic Wilderness is an immense landscape of ecological extremes and diverse micro-climates possessing such jaw-dropping beauty that the allusion to the mythological home of the Greek Gods is apt.  The Badger Valley Trail from Obstruction Point to Moose Lake (moose sightings: zero) starts at a trailhead that is surrounded by martian slopes of splintered shale and red tundra harboring endemic plants – geographically isolated flowers and succulents that took root and evolved in the Olympic Mountains after being ferried around the poles during the last ice age (1.8 million to 12,000 years ago and known as the Pleistocene Epoch, a fact that that will be discarded from by brain by the time I finish this sentence).  Patches of snow hug the sides of black basalt ridges and the gradual snowmelt feeds little indigo ponds that have pooled up on the mountainsides.  The trail straddles the spine of a mountain where elfinwood pygmy forests are sporadically perched on various promontories that slope down barren ridges of shattered rock transitioning into dense forest valleys further descending and bottoming out into subalpine meadows and turquoise lakes nourished by cascading streams from melted snowpack.  In the summer a galaxy of colorful wildflowers dot the many meadows humming with bees and other pollinators (butterflies galore) feasting off the nectar of the flowers, which are like dainty ballerinas curtseying toward the sun arching overhead before they close shut as the sun slips beyond the rim of the mountain and the gargantuan moon rises at dusk.   The storybook trail leads through beautiful pine forests of such undisrupted tranquility that had Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, or Snow While and the Seven Dwarves come walking down the path I would have casually stepped aside and made way for them to pass without blinking an eye because I would have thought: yes, naturally, they live around here, that makes sense. And then I would have proceeded with the hike.

              The hike from the Hoh Rainforest Visitor’s Center to Hoh Lake is fifteen miles long.  You can break this up into a two-night camping trip and walk away with having seen some of the most gorgeous serotinal flora and mountain ranges in North America.  One of my goals this trip was to see bears, and after having pitched my tent at Hoh Lake I went on a hike to find them.  Admittedly I was intermittently scared hiking alone on the ridges above the lake because I knew I was in bear country for their shit was everywhere (I would lean down to touch it to ascertain its warmth; I have never touched so much bear shit in my life) and, even though there are only black bears there, I didn’t want them to get the jump on me.  I walked for hours across pristine and sacred hills, ridges, and streams of hitherto unimaginable beauty (the descriptor words I wrote done in my notepad were: Edenic, Elysian, heavenly paradise, followed for some reason by the words Pokemon, pressure washer, weedwacker) but as I wandered around an unrecognizable mountainside far from my tent and the sun began to set I decided to call it a day and return to base camp.  On the way back I saw a bear foraging along a nearby slope.  I was happy because not only had I accomplished my goal, but I did so from a very safe distance.  I pulled out my camera and then there was another bear, this one about a hundred feet away – another safe accomplishment.  Then, I heard a rustling in the trees before me, and a black bear appeared about fifteen feet away.   Like the other two bears, he didn’t pay any attention to me and was strictly focused on what he had been doing the entire day: eating one berry after another.  I backed away as I watched him eat and felt an extreme degree of appreciation toward him.  Ever since this bear was a cub, all he wanted to do was eat berries all the live-long day and then go to sleep under the endless stars strewn about the night sky.  Of course intermittent mating, hibernation, aggression, territorial defense, and injuries were natural parts of his life, but for the most part he was harmless and he just wanted to eat berries all day every day.  I thought about him as a little cub growing up and playing in the mountains, and here he was now, asking simply to be left in peace so he could eat as many berries as possible for the rest of his life.  I imagined him continuing to eat berries until he becomes old and frail, and one day, perhaps under a night sky filled with the stars of cosmic galaxies and solar systems harboring other forms of life, the old bear, having lived his life, will slump down on the grass and breathe out the ectoplasm of his last bear breath beneath the stars, and everything he knew and understood would disappear into a dark and unknown realm of utter mystery and nonexistence. 

                  Instead of attempting to describe the fantastic beauty of the Hoh Rainforest and the mountains surrounding Hoh Lake, I will take the easy way out by drastically switching gears in order to generalize millions of individuals in urban populations and rail against the negative impacts that advanced and digital technology is having on modern man.  While the following commentary about the detrimental effects of phones and computers on the majority of people in the first-world is by no means novel, such thoughts did occupy a substantial portion of my thinking as I hiked backed to the car on the final day of the trip.
               Computers, cell phones, and the internet are primary forces leading to the devolution of mankind.  As of result of our addiction to these devices we have become more obsequious, complacent, absent- and narrow-minded, distracted, clumsy, sheltered, and apathetic. Our sense of gratification has shifted from accomplishing physical and tangible tasks to virtual ones and depends on the availability of a computer and the internet.  Our sense of purpose requires social media affirmation via Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube “likes” and views.  Our dopamine levels spike when we receive text messages in our phones and emails in our inbox.  We feel comforted when we see familiar contacts logged-on to internet chat forums or Skype.  We feel a sense of accomplishment and conquest after we have made an online purchase such as a movie, concert, or airplane ticket – purchases which are shared on social media in order to draw attention to something that we’ve done, are doing, or may do.  Social media posts are often mundane or inane, or are motivated not by a genuine desire to share unique experiences with family and friends but to make the members of your social media network (sometimes comprised largely of people whom you do not know nor are truly friends with) envious of your seemingly productive and fulfilling lifestyles.   In truth we are all too often not living productive and meaningful lives partially due to our time-consuming internet technology addiction, yet nonetheless attempt to present an illusion that our lives are grand and to persuade others of such by using the same time-consuming social media and internet technology platforms that have contributed to the problem of being unproductive and feeling unfulfilled in the first place.  
                  The digital technology addiction epidemic has afflicted hundreds of millions of individuals in society, and has shifted so much of our attention to the screenworld that we lack the time and interest to focus on our immediate physical surroundings or think about something without looking at a screen.  The negative effects of this over-dependency on digital technology are multi-faceted, complex, and profound.  Our efficiency and ostensible happiness has become dependent on the functionality of computers, mobile phones and the internet, and as a result of this dependency the schism between man and nature has rapidly expanded to unprecedented extents.  Once primates, it is as though we have been plucked from the wild and inserted into an air-conditioned world of florescent lights and liquid crystal displays, the pixels of which we gaze into with our monkey-eyes, lost in an epileptic hypnosis and mind-numbing cyber-trance.  We have evolved from ape-man to app-man, into anthropocentric philistines suckling our mobile phones like electronic nipples – compulsive and frenetic like pond-life paramecium under a microscope that can feel the deadly heat of the microscope light but lack the faculties and perspective to comprehend the reason for their demise, yet understand that it is coming for they know they are out of their element – drifting about aimlessly like globular amoebas or single-cell bacterial microbes in a petri dish.  An entire sub-species of incompetent microcephalics, gormless cyborg imbeciles wandering around, plundering the environment and populating the planet, bitching and moaning pathetically about stupid-ass shit and at the expense of natural world – a bunch of crybabies in space.   Our addiction to digital technology and neglect of nature is leading to an increase in cognitive dissonance that is made evident in the following ways:  we cannot read, write, articulate, navigate, or think critically.  Less and less does our satisfaction derive from things like creating a piece of art, reading a book, spending time outdoors, or learning a new subject, skill, or trade, but is based on the materialistic consumption of products and outsourced services - our satisfaction is based on gluttony.  We are gorging ourselves to death, and the realization that happiness does not derive from excessive consumption is being outstripped by the destructive effects of this selfsame insane craze and the forces behind it.  By the time we realize that we were misguided (if we come to that realization at all) it will be too late, and after we have consumed all the earth beneath our very feet humanity itself will auto-cannibalize, and all that shall remain will be a lurid graveyard of fried circuit boards and dead iPhones.    

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