I didn’t intend to fall in love with the rain forest. It crept up on me, imperceptibly at first, because the West Coast was never a place I had intended to stay. My roots were nurtured in the farmland, lakes and forests of Ontario before transplantation to the West, an alien habitat of strangely mild temperatures plus rain, rain, and more rain. I anticipated my westward migration as a transient phase. So I kept my emotional distance from this adoptive habitat, or so I thought. But recently, my strong attachment to this lush green place has become impossible to deny.
I spent my childhood in a land of predictable and obvious seasons. Summer was humid, hot, and thunder stormy. Autumn was crinkly, red-leaved and crisp. Winter was snowy and eye-icicly cold. And spring was muddy, rainy, and greenly profuse. So as I adapted to my new surroundings, one of the strangest, most disconcerting experiences was a momentary loss in time. In that mind-wandering zone that runners know, I would be suddenly, though momentarily, enshrouded in uncertainty — unclear of the season. Was it November, August, or February? Punctuated only occasionally by a blanket of snow, the rain forest of the Pacific Coast is a stable, seldom fluctuating palette of green. Moss green. Fern green. Cedar green. Salal green. It’s hard to imagine a place with greater subtleties of color change, without changing colors.
I start nearly every workday with a run through the rainforest. Though I’m often treading the same path, the view is ever-changing. Tethered to technology, smart phone in pouch, it’s both a blessing and curse that I can rarely resist the urge to stop and photograph the micro-scenes. Ferns unfurling, dappled in sunlight. Moss clinging to tiny drops of mist. Lichen clubs bursting skywards like tiny heralds’ trumpets. My favourite gaze is moss and ferns creeping ever-upward on the towering trees. Form-fitting moss petticoats with ferny lace, they coat the trunks so thickly that bark is obscured. Even the sticky-slimed banana slug is a creature of beauteous quirks, this hermaphroditic recycler one more reminder of wondrous diversity.
There is something truly magical and mysterious about mountain running through the mist. Often in early winter, a temperature inversion – cool air below, warm air above — wraps a doughnut ring of cloud around the mountain. Then, beginning my run at low elevation and gradually gaining altitude, I creep out of the fog, breaking into dazzling sunshine. It’s an empowering reminder that no matter how cloudy and gray things get, with enough patience and perseverance, it’s possible to break into the light.
Yet even the mist is calming. Monotonally subduing the already limited palette of colour, mist heightens the deceptive sense of isolation — deceptive because this forest trail is only a stone’s throw from busy roads and the soul-sucking conformation of low-density suburbs. Though the majority of the inhabitants I gaze upon are green ones, I am occasionally gifted with the trills of a Varied thrush or the sighting of a Pileated woodpecker. If I’m lucky, this master wood-chopper drills at a volume louder than the incessant drone of construction and reconstruction in the neighbourhoods below.
This morning’s run, purposely devoid of gadgetry, brought me eye to eye with a Douglas squirrel, clinging to a tree trunk, its quiet throat-purrs allaying its evident conflict between caution and curiosity. “Aren’t you scared,” people often ask me, about running in a forest where bears are known to roam? It’s a curious thing, this ancient fear of “natural” predators, out of proportion to the more mundane risks of our mechanized lives. I’m not naïve. The risk is tiny, but it is there. Death is a natural consequence of life, and for me, far better in this place I adore than in that far more likely dying place – a heap of mangled metal on uninspiring gray asphalt. In fact, the only large mammal I’ve ever encountered while running is a young buck, antlers still nubs of velvet, engaging me in a staring contest just beyond arms reach.
In a world so disconnected from nature, this almost daily sojourn is my anchor of psychological stability, my creative fuel, and perhaps an investment in longevity. But none of those things explain the emotional depths to which I now feel connected to this verdant place. The rain that nourishes this lush green forest pours down in torrents, drops, sprinkles, and floats down in mist. I once developed swimmer’s ear not from swimming, but simply from running in this rainy place. Where I grew up, when it rained, we often stayed inside. Now living in a rain forest, the rain draws me out. In the rainforest, the rain gets into your pores, and trickles unbidden into your consciousness. Over time, I’ve become accustomed to the subtle similarities of the seasons. This phenomenon too is a mooring of stability, calm, and wonder in an unstable, damaged world.
Lesley Evans Ogden has a penchant for natural history, life sciences and animal behaviour (including ours). She is a freelancer based in the burbs of Vancouver, BC, Canada. Follow her @ljevanso.
Photos by Lesley Evans Ogden.