September 5, 2013
"One does not simply walk into Mordor." Indeed! Nor does "one simply go to British Columbia and see a Spotted Owl."
The immense weight of entering the land of Sauron that laid so heavily on Frodo and Sam begins to rest with me as I write. While I am of course not going into Mordor to destroy the one ring and save the whole of middle earth, I am on a quest to find Spotted Owl, the last true sentinels of a world that once was, in the province of British Columbia. At the moment, both seem equally as daunting, especially with less than 20 individuals left in the wild.
So why would I embark such a seemingly ill-fated quest? Because folks, I am a man possessed, seeking the elation that only comes from moments where nature's hidden beauty is revealed to those that choose to look.
With the owl's imminent demise in Canada looming, this is my shot. I procured some good intel within the ranks of those in the know. I had wheels thanks to my old swashbuckling companion Tim and his trusty Nissan Sentra, and of course the determination to venture forth in pursuit of those mysterious wraiths of the old growth forest.
So venture forth I did.
The location lay thirty-four kilometers off into the wilderness. The trail to gain access to their domain was but a mere footpath, overgrown and neglected. With steadfast determination I stepped down on the dirt track, soon to be transported to the world somewhere between here and there that comes with solo hiking in the wilderness; abstract thoughts blur with the surroundings like a dream. The first night I chanced upon another solo traveler out in the woods and we shared a tale or two by a damp fire. Rising strong, I plodded onwards constantly being checked by the neglected trail. As night time approach on my second day, I arrived at the spot. With the sun setting, and burning with anticipation for that glorious hoot to reveal the presence of a Spotted Owl, the breadth of the task I was undertaking hit me.
I had it on good authority that the owls could be found within a stretch of 3.5 km, give or take 1 km off in a perpendicular direction from the trail. In the dark, with a trail nearly impossible to follow in the daylight, that would be quite the task, I despaired. I realized that I would get lost within a second should I venture from the path. Of course with a GPS, it would have been no problem, but such a tool was not at my disposal. Nonetheless I had to try, so carefully I crept along the trail, listening and hooting at various intervals. Miraculously I made it back to my tent having covered the 3.5 km without straying, but I did not find the anticipated owls. In the blackness of the night I reflected; often something seems so simple from afar yet once you near the ultimate goal, it always seems that much harder, an impossible task.
Empty-handed, I did not have the guts to venture back out. Fear of losing my way held and I went to sleep.
At 4:30 am I arose. I would attempt it again. Still dark, I set out. I immediately lost the trail and became sopping wet and snagged in the horribly over-grown vegetation. I would not get far that morning and I knew that I would not have a chance encounter with any Spotted Owls that morning. With the arriving light I re-found the trail and returned to my camp defeated, faced with the following choice: Stick around a whole day and make another attempt at night or power out right then and there and make it to the next possible spot by nightfall. I chose the latter, and already being past 8 o'clock in the morning I trekked out. It took me seven hours and 15 minutes to cover the 34 kilometers, no small task. Up and down I went, slashing through the overgrown trail, scurrying across scree slopes and braving the devil's staircase. I strode with purpose, intensity and speed. I did not falter. Perhaps it will be the greatest hiking feat of my life. Only time will tell.
At the parking lot, the Sentra was waiting. I had a two-and-a-half-hour drive to my next destination. I made it before nightfall, and with systematic precision I owled the logging road. But the woods were silent. The sound of the rushing creek in the distance was all I heard. From the side of the mountain I looked up at the stars. What secrets do you hold I wondered? Why do I do what I do in the great vastness of the universe? What compels me, a simple human, to be there at that precise moment to look up and ask those questions. And what do the owls think? Does a Spotted Owl look at those same stars and have strange thoughts of its own based on its own understanding of life and of itself?
The next day, being today where you find me writing, I have driven to my final destination. The sound of thunder echoes in the distance, but blue skies peek out overhead. Will this night be the night?
The thunder roared out its warning, and the rain fell. For 3 hours I steadfastly held to the believe that I would hear a call through the rain. It did not come. That was the end. There would be no Spotted Owls on that trip, and perhaps I will never have the chance to see one in Canada. The world is ever changing. The march for “progress” and everlasting growth blunders on at the expense of things which should last for time immortal, the mighty forests to which the owls call home.