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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Hoh River Lavender Festival

Let’s just say the first annual Hoh River Lavender Festival was a qualified success if measured in terms of cultural significance, environmental stewardship and fine cuisine.
What is success anyway but significant progress toward a laudable goal?  Mine happens to be a dream of turning the Hoh River Valley into the lavender capital of the West End. 
It all began with one man’s vision and one little lavender plant in a four inch pot that would in time, with a lot of hard work and global warming transform the rainforest into the next Sequim.  It’s a town so full of tourists the locals have to beat them off with clubs just to find a parking spot.  
Why lavender?  Lavender is hard to grow and a lot of people are allergic to it, but I can think of a lot of worse plants like, scotch broom. 
Lately this invasive species has become so prolific that it’s formed dense stands of abrasive, noxious vegetation that almost nothing can eat.  Scotch Broom is choking the life out of our river bottoms and that is a real shame. 
Maybe some of you old timers can remember what the bottom land was like in the old days.
The river was like a gardener, plowing the soil with a flood every year. The virgin land was planted with seeds washed down or blown in from the four winds.
The birds and bears did their part by broadcasting the remains of every seed they ate. Soon the flood zone would become a garden with lupine washed down from the high alpine country and wild strawberries growing on a carpet of thick moss.
There were blackberries, flowering thistles, native red top grass and a wild flowering pea that animals could winter on when they migrated down from the high country.
The air smelled of nectar. It was good, too good to last. 
Even back in the 1920s some of the old pioneers along the Quinault noticed the river was changing. That was back before there were many loggers to blame. 
The riverbed was filling up with gravel. The channel became more braided. Something was increasing the sediment load being carried downstream by the river. 
Even stranger, the same thing was happening on the other rivers that all had one thing in common.  They originated in the glaciers of the Olympics. 
Native American legends mention a rumbling sound that came from far up in the mountains. This was ascribed to the thunderbird who plucked whales from the ocean and dropped them back at the nest up on the glacier.
Early pioneers mention the same rumbling but they said it was the sound of massive blocks of ice falling off the glacier. These days either the thunderbird is gone or the glacier has melted back but no one has heard that rumbling from the mountains lately.
Then and now photographs of the Olympic Mountain glaciers tell the tale. They have been melting fast for 100 years.  This exposes fresh sediments that are soon washed downriver by the effects  10 or 20 feet of freezing and thawing precipitation on an unstable, near vertical slope. 
This fills the river channel with gravel and floods the valley with a moving sheet of water that makes more gravel bars that begin to sprout scotch broom almost immediately after the flood waters subside.    
That was my excuse anyway, when the river came up and washed my lavender farm away. It may have been only one plant but that is not the point.
It is better to plant lavender than curse the scotch broom.

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