A Hike with Washington's Poet Laureate

Pass Lake, Deception Pass State Park

Last Sunday, August 10th, I took part in a unique event at Deception Pass State Park.  I joined a group assembling at the Pass Lake Parking Lot.  We would hike to the top of Ginnett Hill with Washington State Poet Laureate Elizabeth Austen.  Park Manager Jack Hartt would be our host.

Meeting Washington's Poet Laureate Elizabeth Austen

This was a writing workshop that incorporated a three mile hike in the woods.  The Ginnett Hill trail is one of my favorite places in the park so the event was irresistible.  I have the hiking part nailed.  It was the writing part, with a celebrity no less, that I wasn't sure about.  I have become comfortable writing for my blogs.  Writing for schoolwork, however, was always difficult and stressful for me.  I wondered how much like schoolwork this would be.

...boat bleached anonymous    herons
disperse like sentries along the tide line..."

As we got started, my anxieties were quickly put to rest.  Her instructions were "Don't worry about results.  Focus on engaging with your surroundings, and finding words that express something about what you perceive."  I kind of do that now in prose form.  Maybe this won't be like school after all.

To get us in the groove, we looked at some poems about nature by Elizabeth, Emily Dickinson and Charles Simic.  Before setting off, we were asked to take note of the things we see and smell and feel along the trail.

Pass Lake from Ginnett Hill
Writers at work

Writers at play
Heading back down

At the end of the trail we took in the views of the valley below us and Pass Lake where we started the hike.  It was a warm day, so we sought out some shade.  With some quiet moments, we would organize our notes, take time for reflection and begin our writing.  After visiting with new friends, we headed back down the trail.

This turned out to be an enjoyable day and I am glad I participated.  Meeting Elizabeth Austen was a special treat.  A hike in the woods is always fun.  A hike at Deception Pass State Park with Washington's Poet Laureate was something extraordinary.

Elizabeth Austen has a full schedule of events all over Washington in the coming months.  Try and catch one of these if you can.

Mahonia nervosa

The Ginnett Hill Trail passes through a closed canopy forest.  Giant Western Redcedars, Douglas Fir, Grand Fir and Western Hemlock tower above us.  Here and there, beams of dappled sunlight would reach through the canopy and light up a spot on the forest floor.  This Mahonnia nervosa, Low Oregon Grape caught my eye.  Those purple fruits glowed in that little beam of sunlight.  I don't recall ever seeing one with fruits this fat and brilliant.  It was a startling contrast in the deep shade of the woods.  About the same time, a Steller's Jay scolded us from the canopy.  It was obvious that bird was not pleased to find this crowd of people in his forest.

I decided I would write some verses using the image of that glowing purple fruit.  To set the scene, I threw in the big trees and the harsh calls of the Steller's Jay.  Keep in mind I am several yards outside my comfort zone, but here goes anyway:
Quiet cedar trees
Gracefully sing to the wind
Children of the sun

Murmurs of the earth
Awakening to sunlight
Dreaming of the sky

The cedar trees leaned
Quietly sang of the past
Awakening us

Vivid purple lights
Dancing brightly in the sun
Heartbeats of the sky

Offspring of the rain
Glowing brightly in summer
Music of the clouds

Fruits of summer sun
Writing a song for the woods
Thinking of autumn

Songbird in the trees
A messenger of the woods
Discovering us

Forest guardian
Noisy blue jay of the west
Taking flight with me

Lord of the forest
Writing anthems on the wind
Spirit of this place

The visitor speaks
I am singing with the wind
Breathing in with her

Whispering breezes
Shadows drifting with the sun
I hear the rhythms

The scent of cedars
Melody of the forest
Understanding me