The Trek to Oyster Doom

“There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness; that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy, and its charm.” -Theodore Roosevelt

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A friend of mine, let’s call her “Dawn”, often spoke of the wonders of a certain hike.  Dawn and I even had plans to travel the route with a group of our coworkers.  But as these things often go, plans fell apart.  A year or two passed without me ever seeing this mysterious Oyster Dome.  All I knew of this mysterious land was that Dawn and several other friends spoke of the plentiful joys that this scenic escape had to offer.

Now, given those accolades and emotional urgings to explore said land, what could I do?  Early this week I finally made the trip out to Oyster Dome.  However, after my adventure I have found a more appropriate name.  I choose to call that most “exciting” of places, Oyster Doom.

The warning signs were plentiful; I just chose to ignore them.  Caution flag number one was the drive there.  I tend to be a little frightened by detours.  I am sure that the folks who place those imposing and unyielding orange signs know what they are doing.  However I like my roads to run in a straight line.  Therefore, I had some trepidation about driving down a stretch of freeway where there existed an infamous gap in the road.  Oy.  I have issues driving where chunks of the road is missing.  Sure, it worked for Speed, but I was alone.  Sandra Bullock was not behind the driver’s wheel encouraging and coaxing me on to victory.  (A point which I happen to think is a cruel injustice.)

Oops.  But it's getting better?

Oops. But it’s getting better?

To be fair, the detour was just fine.  Personally I think a few more signs would have been helpful.  But when in doubt, follow the semi-trucks; works every time.  Thanks to those multi-wheeled behemoths, I was able to get back on the highway with no problems and two exits later I was cruising down a quiet little paved road looking for a place for the trailhead.

The guide book claimed that there would be parking along the side of the road.  The book and I disagree on the term “parking”.  When I think of parking, I like to have bold white lines spray painted on the ground.  Ideally, there are concrete blocks on the ground or some sort of barrier to ensure that one’s car doesn’t go out of bounds.

The “parking” here was a strip of gravel.  On the edge of a cliff.  With a speed limit of 55.  I’m sorry, what?  In every story I’ve ever heard of a car parking along the side of a lonely road, it tends to end up with some guy carrying an axe and chasing them into the uninhabited woods.  (Showing their courteous side, the planners of the park even gave the crazed woodsman a way to hide the evidence; simply shove the innocent hiker’s car off the road.  No railings to get in the way, just a nice steep drop and tall trees to cover it up for ya.)

You're a lumberjack?  Okay, but explain the mask...

You’re a lumberjack? Okay, but explain the mask…

Now, folks that know me will attest that I am a might stubborn.  I had already driven out to the park.  It was broad daylight.  And I had managed to find the tiny little path of dirt that was to be the start of my expedition.  I figured I’d roll the dice and take my chances.  That was when I came upon the next sign of impending danger, which was an actual sign.

The short version:  "Dangerously dangerous danger!"

The short version:
“Dangerously dangerous danger!”

After reading the entire notice I realized that I had no intention of hiking along the closed route.  Why would I add wet rocks, another cliff, and the threat of angering thousands of bats to the already treacherous day?  Still, the words, “close this area” effectively concerned me.

Having considered and dismissed all warnings, I hit the trail.  It hit back, hard.  I am a tall fellow, but those hills are not for the faint of heart.  Or knees.  Or ankles.  Or lumbar.  Uphill the path led and uphill I went.  As I crested the first ascent, I was greeted by another mighty mound of dirt.  Things tend to happen in threes and so another hill presented itself.  Of course, the more the merrier, right?  Bring another order of steep earth to table one!  Apparently Oyster Dome is one big block party and the hills are only too happy to RSVP.

To the park’s credit, there were plenty of trails.  At least, I think they were trails.  The first few miles were dotted with white splotches on trees.  I can only assume that those white blobs were meant to identify the route as correct and safe.  Of course, those markers were utilized when there was a massive hill or glacier rock on one side, and a steep cliff on the other.  It was much like walking down the grocery aisle and having a staff person ask that you refrain from taking your squeaky-wheeled shopping cart and leaping and bounding over the high shelves.  Further into the woods; when

For all I know, it was just bird poop.

For all I know, it was just bird poop.

the trails started to get confusing?  That’s when the white splotches conveniently disappeared.  (I maintain that the mystery guy from the horror movie is to blame, but I haven’t yet figured out how.)

With or without markers, the routes appeared regardless of my desire for them to c ease.  There was the aforementioned closed trail that didn’t need the professionally-made signs to ward me off.  I think there was a glacial view trail, but the word “glacier” invokes two mental thoughts to me; slippery and sharp.  Needless to say, I declined the invitation.  And then there were the little paths that sure looked like trails.  A patch of dirt here, a wide expanse of forest there; my fear of getting lost only increased the higher up I journeyed.  I prefer not to take the Lord’s name in vain, so I did my best not to mutter, “Dear God I’m going to die”, “Dear God this is terrifying”, and “What in God’s name were these people thinking?”  However, I assure you that statements very similar in tone to curses ran around in my head as I looked at each intersection with concern.

In the end, I did the only logical thing I could think of.  I followed the slugs.  Come on, what animal looks like it prefers the safest path possible?  Slugs, that’s what.  A cougar, a bear; even snakes would have been wildlife that might have sent me packing.  But I am a Washingtonian.  Slugs are our friends.  If a path of dirt is deemed a suitable strolling area by a slug, then I am going to follow along.  Scoff if you must, but much of the success I had in getting up to that summit was from a slug pointing the way with its antennae and sage wisdom.  (And yes, a trail of slimy goo.)

At the end, I would say that I would make this trek again.  It really is not all that far from where I live and now that I know that the terrain’s grade is equivalent to trying to climb out of a well, I am prepared for the climb.  I have an idea of which trails will not lead me to my demise.

Also, I firmly believe that the view is worth it.  Or rather, I choose to believe that what should be the view is majestic.  I could not say myself.  When I got up to the top; when I finally broke free of the tree line?  I was met by a 180-degree view of clouds.  Add in a smattering of trees, some clouds, and then really smother that sucker with another layer of clouds; that is the sort of “picturesque” moment I experienced.

Obligatory scenic photo from early in the hike.  If somebody lugged a bench up that trail, you -must- take a photo there.

Obligatory scenic photo from early in the hike. If somebody lugged a bench up that trail, you -must- take a photo there.

I shall try again.  I was almost attacked by a non-existent axe-murderer, my knees are still sore, and I have never been so afraid of being lost in the woods as I was that day.  The moral in all this is that hiking buddies are highly underrated.  Take someone with you to take in all that nature has to offer; even if it kills you.  Because of Dawn’s recommendation, I have just the person in mind.  What better way to thank her than by taking her along?  No good deed goes unpunished, y’know.

The Trouble of Trolls

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

The Trouble of Trolls

Whatever you are, be a good one.” –Abraham Lincoln

Trolls are everywhere.  I’m surprised you don’t hear them brought up in conversation more often.  I mean, everyone knows about the trolls that live in the forest and eat misbehaving teenagers.  The police would crack down on those troublesome creatures if they weren’t so darn big.  Sure, they’re good at hiding, but they’re not masterminds.  Besides, have you ever tried to hide a thirty-foot beast somewhere that they can’t be found?  No, you haven’t.  And if you have, you’d be the leader of the trolls.

As it stands, their need for hiding places has made them rather scattered.  It is hard enough to find a place where one giant thing can’t be found, forget about trying to hide an entire clan of them.  Out of necessity, they break up their groups and try to make it on their own.  They’re endangered, but that doesn’t mean that people don’t see them every now and then.  C’mon, all those photos of Niagara Falls and you’ve never seen the troll that lives behind the water?  Clearly, you’re just not looking hard enough.  He’s always there.  See how the falls bulge out a tiny bit?  Yeah.  That’s his nose.  The Niagara Falls creature is one of the lazier trolls. He stands there, not really doing anything.  Of course, the lazier the trolls are, the less often they terrorize us normal folks.  Everybody’s happy.  Nobody makes any waves; let bygones be bygones.  (However, I still can’t recommend riding a barrel down the falls.  It’s not the fall that’ll get ya, it’s the troll that will catch you if you fall right past him.  What, you’re going to pass up a candy bar if it happens to fall right in front of your face?  I didn’t think so.)

Let’s put to rest some thoughts that might be creeping in.  Not all trolls are out to snatch up people and eat them.  Granted, there are a few hairy behemoths that like the crunch of human bones, but we can’t judge a whole group because a handful has poor taste, right?  That would be akin to saying all people are scheming, conniving, trouble-making liars; when really that’s only describing politicians.

There are some perfectly nice trolls out there.  It’s just that the ones eating people get all the attention.  “The Three Billy Goats Gruff” started it all with that cranky troll that tried to eat the three brothers.  Let’s talk about a famous, sort-of deceased troll that “lives” in a place you can safely visit.

Take the Fremont Troll, for instance.  He’s rather peaceful.  Well, now he sort of out-does stoic, but he was rather non-violent in his more mobile days.  See, trolls are nocturnal creatures.  If they stay out too late in the daylight, they get turned to stone.

What’s that?  You think that’s vampires?  No.  What’re they teaching you kids in school these days?  See, vampires have trouble with the sun because it burns.  Trolls don’t burn, they freeze.  Get it?  No?

See, trolls are descended from Gorgons.  Medusa wasn’t the only one in Greek mythology, she had two sisters.  The story goes that one of the Gorgons had a great love affair with a Cyclops.  Have you seen the pictures of Cyclops?  They’re pretty buff.  You can’t really blame the Gorgons for being attracted to them.  Plus, since they only had one eye, the Gorgon’s whole snake/spell/stone thing didn’t have the same effect on them.  Before you know it, one of the Gorgons gave birth to a thousand little babies.  Those little tykes grew up to be the creatures we call trolls.  Because of their parents they have some odd traits.  Some of them have nice hair while others would scare of any stylist.  Many of them have only one eye, but it is located on a side of their faces, not in the middle like their father’s.

That’s probably more information than you really needed, but now it makes sense why trolls turn to stone.  It doesn’t?  Look kid, put down the video game.  This is important stuff.  Here’s the thing, since their mother was a Gorgon, they have some stone-aspects in their genes.  If they spend too much time in the sun, then the bloodline takes over and they turn to stone.  That’s why trolls have such sheltered hiding places.  You know how some people get leathery, craggily skin from being in the sun too long?  It’s the same thing with trolls, except that their skin hardens into stone and it only takes a few moments.  (Apparently they’ve tried sunscreen, but it just isn’t strong enough to work for them.  You should still use it, though.  You don’t want to turn to stone, do you?  Or get sunburned?  I didn’t think so.)

The Fremont Troll is one of the nicest trolls that ever lived around these parts.  He was actually very helpful to the settlers when they first started building.  The Fremont Troll only asked that they try to leave him the deep waters as much as possible.  (That’s why the I-90 and 520 both have floating bridges.  Any stabilizing structures underwater would have ruined the Troll’s home.  However pontoons are nothing to trolls.)

Now, don’t get me wrong, The Fremont Troll still tried to avoid the spotlight.  He had all the same anti-social tendencies as most other trolls, he just controlled them better.  If someone fell off of a bridge and ol’ Frem was around, he would certainly fish them out.  After he’d saved them for the watery depths, he’d put them on a piece of wood or whatever debris was around and let them float to safety.  He didn’t want any of these clumsy humans to die, but he wasn’t about to carry them all the way to the shore.  Can you blame him?

Appropriately enough, it was The Fremont Troll’s willingness to help others that got him into trouble.  You see, one early morning a girl named Aurora was walking along the Aurora Bridge.  Oh believe me, I know.  Aurora and Aurora?  What’re the odds?  Somebody must have known this would make for a great story.  Anyways, this girl Aurora is about four years old.  She either wandered away from home or her mom was taking her to visit someone and their car broke down; the story changes depending which local you listen to.  What we know for sure is that the little girl ended up falling over the bridge.

Now ol’ Frem, he happened to be in the area.  It was around sundown and the fella felt like taking a lap or two around the lake.  He was waiting underneath the darkest part of the bridge for the sun to remove itself as a threat.  That’s when he saw Aurora falling.  The girl, not the bridge; but wouldn’t that be a sight to see?

Quick as a flash, without a second thought, The Fremont Troll ran towards the bridge.  He ducked around the concrete supports, he ran down the hill, and just before the land turned into water, he jumped off the top of a colossal tree and dove into midair.  Like something out of the movies, he caught the girl, curled up into a ball, and cushioned her blow as they both landed.  An unbelievable splash flew up into the air as the two cannonballed into the water.

The Fremont Troll knew enough about humans to realize that Aurora wasn’t going to survive for long.  She was young, she was soaking wet, and she was already shivering from the cold.  Staying damp would have meant her demise.  The hairy creature walked out of the water, holding her in the forearm of his right limb.  He let the last rays of sun warm her while he grabbed some trees and collected them in his right arm.

As soon as The Fremont Troll had enough pieces of kindling, he made for the shelter of the bridge.  He knew it was most likely doomed, but he didn’t see that he had any choice.  The Fremont Troll crawled into the most recessed, most sheltered enclosure that the bridge had to offer.  He watched with his one glassy eye as the fire slowly warmed the little girl.

Aurora’s parents, having watched the whole thing in horror, came zooming up in their Volkswagen Bug.  Like any good parent, they wanted to make sure that their daughter was okay.  The two swallowed their fear of the troll and parked right in front of him.  They slammed the doors shut as they ran to their daughter.  At that point, she was almost back to her normal self.  The parents held Aurora close and wept tears of joy.

They turned to thank their daughter’s savior, but it was too late.  The exposure to the sun had done its damage.  The troll felt a sharp pain and he lashed his arm out in anguish.  He clutched the closest thing he could find, the VW Bug, and clenched his long fingers around it as the searing agony took over his body and he was turned to stone.  Oddly enough, due to its proximity to the behemoth, the car was turned to stone as well.

So yes, there are good trolls out there.  Still, we think it makes sense to keep our distance.  Every once in a while, if they’re feeling friendly, the trolls will make themselves known.  But some creatures just have a hard time controlling their desire to eat us.  Live and let live, right?

Oh, and don’t feel too bad for The Fremont Bridge.  There are still people looking for a cure.  Really, all you need is a few red feathers from the wings of a Pegasus.  It may take a while, but they’ll find one.

What’s that?  You’ve never seen a Pegasus?  Really?  Dang.  Kid, we gotta get you out to some bigger zoos.  I mean, that’s just silly.

A Decidely Uncommon Commute

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

A Decidedly Uncommon Commute

It was like lying in a great solemn cathedral, far vaster and more beautiful than any built by the hand of man.” -Theodore Roosevelt on camping in Yosemite National Park

There are things that I do not understand.  Key among them is how the folks on my bus can pass on a free pick-me-up.  People will pay something like twenty dollars to go to the top of the Space Needle.  But put them on a bus and they completely zone out on what they could see for free.

All is quiet.  The last few days of sporadic rain have been swept away.  The sky is filled with the morning hues of light blue and only the perimeters of the sky are touched with clouds.  Like the morning fog that is beginning to fade away, the clouds will soon be a thing of yesterday.  There is a touch of pink in the sky, but the morning doesn’t brag.  The scenery remains confident that those who are looking will appreciate the day without any fanfare or dramatic touches.

Then one comes to Lake Washington.  As the bus drives across a skinny metal and concrete construct, nature shows us how it’s done.  On the right, my fellow commuters and I are granted a brief glimpse of the Olympic Mountains.  Always covered in snow, always majestic; it is a nice “hello” as we make our way downtown.  Then it happens.

It gets me every time.  We drive over a clear blue lake.  The city and the universities do their best to clutter up the skyline; they can only succeed so much.  There is not stopping the Cascade Mountains.  They fill the left side of the freeway.  For a solid fifteen seconds, there is no escaping them.  One hopes for a quick view of the larger mountains on the edge.  Rainier is the diva of the show.  It knows how great it looks and only appears in its full splendor when conditions are perfect.

Even without its headliner, the Cascade Range is jaw-dropping.  It rises and falls with peaks and valleys that any roller coaster would be envious of.  It looks down kindly on Lake Washington beneath it.  Every morning that I am on this first bus of the day, I take in the mountains and hear them calling to me.  I tell them I can’t skip work, I’m “needed” in civilization.

That is usually about the time that I look around at the people riding this bus with me.  They should be enjoying this view; they aren’t.  They sit there staring at their phones.  Whatever has been posted on their e-mail’s newsgroup is more important.  They just have to read that one more page in their fashion magazine.  Spread out before them is a view more spectacular than anything they will see for the rest of the day, let alone in any magazine.  They would pay for a print of this backdrop.  Yet in real life, they ignore it.

I like to think that this story will change.  I dare to hope that all the characters in this story undergo a dramatic shift in their attitudes and wake up to all this wonder around them.  It is only ten-fifteen seconds; surely they have that much time.  For now, the story is still being written and the supporting characters confound me.  Of course, maybe the thing that they don’t understand is how I can possibly ignore my phone for an entire bus ride.

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