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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Camping in the Rainforest

There are few things more enjoyable than sleeping under the stars.  I don't know the names of many heavenly bodies but there's just something about looking at the Milky Way that takes my breath away.  You get to wondering if somewhere out there in that big old universe there couldn't be another planet with water on it.  If there was water on that planet, it would only stand to reason there would be some kind of fish. From what I've seen on movies, generally space critters are monsters. The prospect of fishing for monsters on another planet fills me with a sense of wonder.  Even a slow night of stargazing is liable to treat you to a meteor show. On a good night you may even spot a UFO. For years I have built campfires along the riverbanks as a form of beacon to the UFO's in an effort to communicate with intelligent life forms in space, after having failed at the attempt on earth.

Unfortunately stargazing has become increasingly endangered by a form of pollution few care anything about. Just like smoke from burning slash piles obstructs our daylight view, light pollution from the growing human population deprives us of our view of the night sky. It's already too late in some areas. Forget about stargazing in the eastern Olympics. A fluorescent haze of a false dawn from the evil cities across the water permeates the stratosphere. Stargazing opportunities in the northern and southern Olympics have become increasingly endangered as well, leaving only the sheltered valleys of the western Olympics to give us a view seen by relatively few, a star-filled night sky.

This is not a perfect world. The western Olympic Peninsula is a rain forest. Once it starts raining your star gazing opportunities are fleeting and...wet. My days of sleeping under the stars were numbered. I got a little tent.

It was beautiful. The picture on the package showed the tent pitched in a flowering meadow beside a rollicking brook beneath a clear blue sky that must have been manufactured somewhere in the Rockies. The instructions on the tent emphasized in no uncertain terms,

“Keep the Tent Clean.” This would be a problem when camping  in a flooded rain forest. Things went okay until I took the tent out of the box and tried to fit the poles together. This was no more trouble than say, trying to set up one of those giant swing sets for the kids on Christmas morning only by then it was really raining and the wind was whipping up, knocking the tops of the trees together. That tent was not going to be much protection against falling limbs even if I did get it set up. There was only one thing to do, hug in under a big spruce and pray it didn't fall over.

I hoped the weather would make the elk want to commit suicide. It was after all elk season, the culmination of months of planning, scouting and preparation that would all unravel as a violent Pacific storm system battered the coast with torrential rain and wind.

Sitting in a mud-hole in the choking smoke of a campfire picking the spruce needles out of my cocoa I thought that autumn might be my favorite time to camp. The tourists are gone. The weather's  so abysmal no one in their right mind would ever think of being out in it, leaving a few old fishermen to camp along a back eddy in the river.

Rain sprouts the mushrooms, swells the rivers and brings the fish home. Salmon fishing in the rivers has many advantages to the ocean. They don't call our rugged, unpredictable coastline the “Graveyard of the Pacific” for nothing. It's not only  dangerous,  fishing the ocean can be an unproductive waste of fish.

For most of the year you cannot keep a fish with an unclipped adipose fin in the salt water. Some days you may have to catch a dozen or more salmon just to get one with a missing fin, which indicates a hatchery fish. Typically squads of happy seals and sea lions follow the fishing boats around to gorge on the just released salmon that are bleeding or too exhausted to swim away after being released.

While it may be forbidden to keep a wild fish in the salt water, it's legal to kill them in the rivers where they spawn. Even better, you don't need an expensive motor boat to fish the river and I've never heard of anyone getting sea-sick while standing on the shore.

Unfortunately fishing the rivers is not without its hazards. In Washington State you need a variety of Federal and State permits just to be on public land. To be on State land you need a $35 Discover Pass.

It is a great money maker for the State since most of the tourists and a lot of the locals have never heard of the Discover Pass and don't know where to get one. 

I used to joke about the Discover Pass being the greatest tool we have to eliminate tourists. Once the tourists get a $100 ticket for not having a Discover Pass they'll generally leave and not come back.  Little did I know that the joke was on me.

My Discover Pass had been printed with disappearing ink! I was a hunted criminal!  Maybe it was just a coincidence but the reprobates I camped with were also cursed with defective Discover Passes. The ink had faded on all of them! I had no idea this would trigger  an unfortunate chain of events that would lead to a ticket and my eviction from an abandoned campground. It didn't matter there was no one else there, we had overstayed our 7 day limit!

“Why do they hate us?” the old fisherman sobbed. “We cleaned out the outhouse, picked up the garbage and cleared the brush out of the road. We bought every permit and license they sell and spend money in Forks like drunken Congressmen! I stopped at the store to get a package of bacon and ended up spending $170 dollars on fishing gear!  And now they are throwing us out?” 

It's like my good old Uncle Joe who used to chuckle,

“Give me the man, I'll give you the crime.”  America can sleep better knowing our abandoned campgrounds are safe from this sort of criminal element. When camping is outlawed only outlaws will camp.




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