Snow Pack

It seems, during the 31 years I have lived in or near the Olympic Peninsula, that in the fall there are always articles worrying about the year’s predicted snowfall, claims that the snow pack, which supports water supplies for lowland urban residents, will be lower this year because of increasing warmth, climate change, global warming. These fears are real, and, twice, were borne out – there have been two years when the snow pack was very very thin at the end of March, when seasonal melting generally begins. One of those years, 1991, I chose to hike the Skyline Tail in the southern Olympics, and had the snow pack been normal I’d not have made it, become lost up high. But that year there was virtually no snow.

The pattern seems to be this – there is a final warm Indian summer week or two in early to mid October and then the rains begin, which become snow up high. Several times there is enough snow to open ski areas by Thanksgiving week in the Cascades, Mt. Baker, Crystal Mountain, Stevens Pass, and, on the Olympics, there is deep snow as well.  However, then it seems, usually in the January-February time frame, that snowfall nearly ceases, and by the end of February there are, again, stories and articles predicting drought, lack of snow, lack of water, climate doom.

Then March comes. And, nearly every single March, a ton of snow falls, tons and tons,  often well into April up high, feet on feet of snow, replenishing the snow pack such that by the end of the snow season there is usually sufficient snow cover to make it through the summer. Cliff Maas wrote about this a couple of weeks ago, pointing out that the average snow pack depth and supply had not changed much over thirty years, and, from this occasional hiker’s perspective, that is correct.

Some times there is enough snow to delay opening the road out to Obstruction Point in the Olympics, which is usually plowed free by mid June, and usually before July 4th weekend. A few times the road has not been cleared until late July, and once, maybe 15 years ago, not until the first week of August. It seems that this year will be one of these “late” years, as the current snow pack is 135 percent of “normal” and with a coolish spring predicted likely to last well into the summer.

So, up high, above say 3500 feet in the Olympics, the ground and plant life is covered with snow from mid to late October all the way until June or July, and, higher still, even into August. This means that there are 90 to 120 days only when the ground is bare and exposed to sunlight, and during this incredibly short time the entire life and reproductive cycle for plants and many animals must occur – budding, flowering, seeding. There are these little tarns up high which hold little frogs, and somehow these frogs emerge from beneath the chill and snow and mate, bear eggs, the eggs hatch, tadpoles swim, and become frogs – all in three months before the next snows fall.  If you’re up there during that time – and this is the time most people get up there – it is impossible not to notice the productivity of the plant life, the flowers, the blooms, the insects and birds and marmots and mice and voles, all filled with life, energy, making the most of the short, SHORT season. I have to believe that on a per acre basis the productivity up there in the sunlight and warm winds is as high as any rain forest.

Then, after that Indian summer week of hot sun, still air, heat, and the meadows bright red with the coming cold time, it rains and, up high, snows, the ground is covered and the eight to nine month sleep begins again.

I wonder, too, does the eight to nine month snow cover essentially freeze time up high such that anything deposited up there effectively ages at one third to one quarter speed? A few years ag someone found a woven basket melted beneath snow up toward the end of Obstruction Point Road. It was dated and found to be 2700 years old.

What else might lie up there?


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Magic?

The stories that come to me fall in the category of adventure/magic realism, and I confess to treasuring those things in life that remain unexplained, mysterious, and hence magical. To me, one of the mist powerful indicators that magic might be real lies in dowsing.

Perhaps I should have written this yesterday, April 1, as my guess is most people think dowsing – finding water with a stick or using a metal rod to find underground pipes and metals – is a complete hoax.  I first heard about dowsing when I was a little boy, maybe four years old, when we were living in Shutesbury, Massachusetts, a tiny community up in the hills behind Amherst. This was back in the days when roads were repaired using a truck filled with thick oil and a bed of pebbly small gravel. The truck would roll down the road and a wagon holding pebbly small gravel would drop the gravel in a thin layer on the road surface, and behind the wagon would be pulled another tank wagon holding hot thick oil, which would be dribbled into the gravel to soak in and then harden. But this was also back in the day when most of the roads up in the hills were still dirt.

Someone a few houses down the way was trying to dig a well, and had already sunk two holes without success. One day my dad grabbed me and took me on his shoulders to the property to watch a dowser, because the guy digging the well had called in the dowser to find water, find a spot to dig the third hole. The dowser seemed ancient, and his stick was completely clear of bark and shiny, and he held it in his hands before him, a forked “Y” of a stick with the two wings of the “Y” pointing down, one wing in the palm of each up-facing hand, fingers curled around. The man walked across the property holding the stick before him, single end pointing at the sky, arms straight before him. Then the stick turned down, the up-facing end turning down toward the man carrying it, which explained to me why he was holding it so straight away from himself, to give the end room to pass his face and chest.

“Here,” he said. This is a vivid memory to me, even all these years later. I also remember my dad announcing, one day after that, with great satisfaction, that the neighbor had found water where the dowser indicated. My dad, who was a wildlife biologist, and scientist, remained fascinated all his life that there remained this thing – dowsing – which defied explanation. It still does, it seems.

The year after my freshman year in college I had a summer job in the hills of Western Massachusetts removing the brush beneath a power line right of way running from the Connecticut River to the Yankee Atomic power plant in southern Vermont. It was hard work, the summer was hot, the brush thick. There were six of us on the crew, all kids 18 or 19 years old. One day during a break one of the kids, Alan, announced he was a dowser. I said to him, remembering my four year old memory, “Prove it.” He marched off to some thick brush and cut a living branch from a willow-like small tree, Y-shaped, and he held it just as had the old dowser years before. We all watched him as he walked back and forth until the stick began to turn down, and it was easy to see he was fighting it, trying to prevent the stick from turning. But, once it started, as he moved, it kept going. By the end his face was red. I thought he might be playing a trick, so I cut a branch from the same tree, held it just as Alan had, and I started walking.

When the stick began to move it pulled toward me and then down, and, try as I might, I could not hold it back. It was unbelievable, that power. The stick was from a living bush and I was strong and I fought it, holding as tight as I could, and yet the stick kept pointing down. The force was so strong the bark surrounding the stick ripped off the stick in my hands. Peter, and Neil, two of the other guys tried it, too, but it didn’t work with them. They didn’t believe Alan or me at all when we spoke of the force.

I imagine you, too, may be rolling your eyes, as so many do. Some of you, those who have tried it and felt the power, are nodding, others may be intrigued, but I suspect most are shaking their heads.

I became a believer that day, had to, because the power of that force was astounding, unmistakable, and real. Whence came it? Some kind of charge between the water in the stick and water below? Perhaps some twisting of gravity? A mental force, perhaps?

Of course we didn’t dig out there in that rocky right of way to see if there was water there, so we never knew, then, exactly, but that force was real.

It was later, and another story, or two, that I learned what that stick was pointing toward.


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More on the stuck ship as of Sunday 3/28

I came upon this absolutely terrific video about the stuck ship in the Suez Canal. It really covers all the elements and in a very informal but informative style. The guy even uses his son as the aviation expert discussing the use of helicopters to lift containers off the ship. To my utter astonishment and delight, the helicopter discussed is the exact same model found in the story Totem I just finished – the Russian MI25. It turns out the ship ran aground near the southern end where the canal is very narrow, 300 meters wide. They had hoped to drag it free today and failed. Tomorrow the tide is highest yet (the tides there are about 6-7 feet it seems) so their best chances will be in the next couple days. I hope you enjoy this video.


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Manis Mastodon spear point

This doesn’t look like much but it is astounding. This is a piece of bone found about 40 years ago in Sequim, Washington – a mastodon skeleton was discovered when Mr. Manis was digging out a pond on his field on the Olympic Peninsula. A mastodon is sort of like an elephant but a little smaller. The little lighter thing in the middle is actually a spear point, stuck in the bone, also of mastodon bone.  There is a sweet but tiny exhibit in Sequim that displays the bones and this point and I took the picture when I visited  few weeks ago. Here’s the thing. This bone, and spear point in it, have been dated to 13,800 years old. It is one of the oldest, if not THE oldest, proven evidence of early humans in North America, right here on the Olympic Peninsula in the shadow of Olympic National Park. People used to think the great ice covered this area that long ago, but apparently not. Apparently parts of the peninsula were a refuge from the ice, and maybe the hunters who took this animal lived there.

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A brief summary…reader reviews

The Strong Heart Series – three linked but stand alone tales set in the Pacific Northwest, Olympic National Park, and the Gulf of Alaska

Strong Heart:   An ornery 13 year old girl appears at Tom Olsen’s door and announces she is his granddaughter. Tom and his friends take her with them on a camping trip because she has nowhere else to go. She hates it. They hate her. She sees something. They don’t believe her. Then she disappears…..

…a beautiful and heart-warming story…

…fabulously plotted…

 …this book gripped me and would not let go…

 …this is a must read for everybody…

…the perfect blend of the deep-rooted legends and harsh realities of life…”

 …I would recommend this book to anyone…

 …it’s as if you are immersed in the story….

 …one of the most incredible fiction novel I have ever read…

 …if you are an adventure lover, this will make a wonderful read…

 …this is a must read book…

 …makes me wish I had listened to stories my great-grandfather and grandparents told a little more closely…

…if you are into folklore, dreams and magic, this book is a definite must read…

 …a fictional story of learning about one’s past heritage and how that knowledge can assist us in our lives today…

 …themes…so universal that I believe they will speak to any reader of any age…

 …if you are looking for a story with suspense then this is the book for you…

 …this unique story is a book of fiction, or is it? It is similar to science fiction or fantasy, the difference being that this story just might have actually happened. Is it the author’s  vivid imagination, or is it based on actual data?… Mr. Sheldon’s ability to describe scenes makes one think he vividly sees them in his mind and then is able to translate those pictures into words. I was able to visualize what was happening to Sarah, where she went, what happened to her on the way, in a way I have not experienced before. The beauty of Alaska and the Pacific Northwest comes to life on the pages…

 …absorbing…alternates constantly between the past and the present and before long you lose yourself in a beautiful world with beautiful people whose experiences you joyfully share. You go through pain, anger and even helplessness with the characters…..

 …the simplicity of the writing makes it for an easy read, and the charts and landmarks noted in the first few pages gives the story an authentic feel and helps you as the reader to understand the layout and journey that was taken. It is not only a voyage and adventure, but also a building of character and the display of our most basic and ferocious instincts; survival and procreation. We all want to live the best lives we can and leave something behind for the generations to follow by which they can commemorate us and remember us by. Be it in drawings, skills or just legends and stories told around a warm campfire…”

 …more than a wilderness adventure, the book is good in bringing out the value of traditional knowledge in a world where scientific facts sometimes overshadow reality itself…

Adrift:

When the Seattle Express goes adrift…
The Seattle Express, a 700-foot container ship bound for Seattle, is on fire in the Gulf of Alaska.

Three hundred miles away, on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, Larry and Louise fire up their old tug, Warhorse, and head into the open ocean to salvage the burning vessel. The money from a salvage claim might just save their business. But it’s a race against time, the elements, and the secretive, powerful Buckhorn corporation, owner of the Seattle Express, who launches its own high-speed tugs hot on Warhorse’s tail.

Onboard the crippled ship, William (whom readers of Strong Heart will remember), fears this disaster may become a dark homecoming for him on the jagged shores of Haida Gwaii, the remote islands off British Columbia, where William was born and where he now may meet his fate. After William’s lifeboat goes missing for days, William’s daughter, Myra, and friends Sarah, Tom, and Sergei form a desperate plan.

Strong Heart took readers deep into the storied wilderness of the Pacific Northwest. In Adrift, Sheldon, a veteran of the sea himself, carries the story into a beautiful, brutal frontier of ice, wind, slicing cold, roiling waves, and ancient, mystic faith.  

“Thank you for writing such a wonderful story. Makes a person think about how we all came to be here and our first peoples. Anything is possible with his our earth seasons change. I loved the flow of his it read, the history. Loved this book. I would say it’s an amazing, awesome read and anyone would enjoy it. There wasn’t anything I didn’t like. I will enjoy reading this again. A new favorite to add to my collection. Sheldon is a great writer. Keep them coming and I will keep reading. Your added to my favorite Authors. Thank you for a wonderful book.”

“Life is a grand story…this slice of grit and love is amazing! Adrift is about life challenges. Family, friends, tribes, and businesses clash with all their forces as people face fire, snow, ragging waters, loss, and picking up the pieces of all that life can deal. It holds out a hand to those searching for grit to hold on and hope beyond what we can logically see. It reminds us all our stories are precious, and they best told roundabouts with friends. Adrift invites all to great adventure!”


Totem: Coming later in 2021: Sarah and her friends, about to embark on another adventure deep in the Olympic wilderness, suffer a life altering event just as they enter this land of myth, magic and mystery.


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Your scribe

Charlie went to Yale University and UMass, where he received a Masters Degree in Wildlife Biology/Resource Management. He worked in the fishing industry for 15 years as a deckhand, mate, skipper, and consultant, then relocated to the Pacific Northwest in 1990 to be near Olympic National Park. He worked at seaports for nearly 30 years as a planner, project manager, and executive. When he retired from seaports in 2012 he returned to sea as a merchant sailor for four years, working on various container and military vessels as Able Bodied Seaman and Bosun. He retired in 2016 to work full time at his writing. Nowadays he hikes in the Olympic National Park whenever he can, cooks for his wife, pesters his grandchildren, and continues to scribble tales.


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Becoming lost in the woods….

Have you ever been lost in the woods? These days most of us, when we become lost, are more likely than not wandering an airport or big public parking garage looking for our vehicle. Right?

I’ve never been really lost out there. There are stages of lost-ness, I think. There is the “lost the trail” lost, which means wandering off a trail without realizing and then trying to find one’s way back. This is how most people get truly lost, this way, I think. I met a guy in my writing class in 2013 who went into the Olympics and started up the Three Lakes Trail toward Skyline ridge in the southwest Olympics, off the Quinault, and somehow missed a turn and ended up lost for five days. He got out OK, chilled, but that’s a long time to be missing. So he went from “lost the trail” to being really lost, but of course knowing the general area he was in. Then there is the totally lost condition, not even knowing the general area, this coming when say a plane crashes in the wilderness somewhere and you survive.

But, three times, I wandered off trail and was for a time “lost.” I wasn’t lost for long the first time. I was hiking up to Dodger Point and, low down, the trail jogs sharp left and up to start up the ridge after crossing the Elwha (I think that’s where it was, it was 25 years ago) and I kept going ahead, on the open forest floor, until say thirty yards in I realized I wasn’t on the trail any more. That was startling. An interesting thing happens to you when you lose a trail, or to me, anyway. Everything shifts. That first time I backtracked and sure enough found the jog right away.

The second time I was lost could have been more serious. I was alone, up on the Skyline Trail, July Fourth weekend a year with little snow, absolutely alone, my second day in, way up high past Kimta Peak, the next pass, maybe Hee Haw Pass? Anyway its rocky and bare up there, cairns, but enough snow to cover the cairns, and the trail there wanders down this rocky defile a ways then also jogs left over a little deep creek, but the ground is open and well trod and so I missed that jog and wandered this way, then that, and always the trail petered out. I am way in, it has just started to rain, and it then rained for three days, never been up there before, and now cannot find where the trail goes. That time it took me a half hour to find the jog and the trail. I knew enough to know that when you lose the trail you backtrack, first, and second you don’t go wandering off without a real clear idea of how to get back, because it’s rough country up there and if you get off far enough, down say a steep side hill, then you can get turned around and then you are lost, like my classmate got lost.

The third time is embarrassing. I had a new pair of boots, and hoped they were broken in. I had walked in them and gone up and down gravel sidehills with them, but they were new and I knew they were not yet ready, but it was a nice day, sunny, dead clear, I had the day off, and the Brothers beckoned, so I drove to the trailhead to Lena Lake, was on the trail by 6am, and tried to climb the Brothers. This, like the two events above, was the first or second year I was out here, maybe 30 years ago. I was younger than now and felt strong and was really stupid because right away I knew the boots weren’t ready but, dammit, the day was FINE, so on I went. The climber’s path to some campsites in the Valley of Silent Men is pretty easy to follow, and then you get above trees and I climbed up and up and up, in the hot sun, feet starting to burn, now, but dammit I was close! I reached the final summit block, where it gets a little exposed, and by now I know my feet are gonna be a big problem. I turned around maybe 200 feet below the summit and worked my way down to the campsites off the rock, which took a damn long time, several hours,  and when I got down there I got all turned around. I stopped and thought, I should take my boots off, but knew if I did I’d never get them on again. But somehow I got turned around and could not find the path down to Lena Lake. This took me two hours, wandering and looking. I was in a lot of pain and feeling stupid and not too rational, probably seriously dehydrated, nobody else around all day, afraid to remove my boots. That time, for a half hour, I was afraid I was really lost, wandering the woods, maybe getting further and further from the trail, and that was scary and sobering. I stopped and sat and took some breaths and relaxed, drank water, and checked the sun, the slopes, and found the trail.

I got back to my car at 7pm, 6000 vertical feet up and 6000 vertical feet down later, and when I took off those boots the skin on my feet up to my ankles came off too.

This was the first of several embarrassing boot stories, but (hopefully) the last of my lost stories, all of which were many years ago. But, still, that shift, that change, when you realize you don’t know where you are –  that gets your attention.


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Picking up the pilot…..

ALL IN A DAY’S WORK….


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Ancient Underwater Footprints

This article from Hakai Magazine talks about ancient footprints found around the world, including (at the end of the article) a site in British Columbia along the coast.

Where Our Human Ancestors Made an Impression


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Dowsing for fish

Every fall the bluefin tuna run into Cape Cod Bay and people go out with their boats to harpoon them. The boats are anywhere from 30 to 50 feet long, there’s a stand on the bow you go out on to “stick” the fish, which can be seen on the surface sunning itself. These fish are BIG up to 1,000 pounds and worth big money. One fish can be worth $ 20,000 and is sold fresh in the Tokyo market after being flown there overnight. So this is a short but big money fishery. One year my first skipper Sten was out there trying to get tunafish, with one sternman, but he got nothing. Not a thing, and he was a good fisherman.  Meanwhile my friend Gerry, who like me was first taught by Sten, was with one Elmer Costa on his big black boat the Columbia, and Gerry and Elmer had two fish. Sten was dying of curiosity, what was Gerry and Elmer doing that Sten was not? It bothered Sten. A lot. Meanwhile the season went on and Elmer and Gerry got another fish, and by this time Sten was sort of following them around, hoping to see their trick. Their technique.

This was the same year I had shown Sten with a dowsing stick where his well was, and found his gold coin, and this also perplexed him greatly, but not as much as being outfished by someone he had trained. Gerry and I had a discussion one afternoon because we both wanted to further excite Sten, and then I called Sten and said to him, “Listen, Sten, if you want to see the trick Gerry’s using, you follow Elmer tomorrow, close, get up right by their stern and take a look.”

This Sten did, it being a foggy morning so he was able to nose in real close, and he came around the stern of the Columbia and peered through the mist and saw Gerry on the stern of the Columbia holding in his hands a dowsing stick, facing aft, the stick standing upright and held in his two hands. Sten peered closer and realized that on the end of the stick Gerry was holding was an empty Bumblebee tunafish can.

This incident gave us much amusement, but then a strange thing happened. Sten began to catch fish and Gerry and Elmer were skunked, as we used to say. Sten ended the season with one more fish than Gerry and Elmer. This confused Gerry, and me, too, and one day that winter in the coffee shop we saw Sten and asked him, what changed for him? Sten gave each of us a long heavy-lidded look and cracked a slow smile.

“You were using the wrong can,” he said. “I caught my fish not with Bumblebee but with Chicken of the Sea.”

Sten passed away in 1998, brain tumor, but until he was across the bar he always said, with a perfectly straight face, when we asked, “Of course it’s true.”


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