Coastal Green: The Pacific Northwest

Oct 27, 2016  By Albert Knapp MD & Ruth Oratz MD

The Olympic Peninsula in Washington State is the furthermost northwest tip of the continental United States. Nearly one million acres of this wilderness are protected lands, 95% of which are within Olympic National Park.  Dense old growth, multi-layered forests are home to ancient cedars and spruce, fir and hemlocks. Trees as old as 1000 years, as tall as 300 feet with circumferences of more than 50 feet tower high in the canopy. Fallen trunks become the “nurse logs” upon which new growth take root. In the Willaby Creek, Hoh and Sol Duc Valley Rainforests, temperate habitats with up to 200 inches of annual rainfall, lush beards of club moss drape the curvaceous boughs of ancient trees.  The forest floor is a luxuriant carpet of ferns, maple saplings and groundcover.   All hues and shades of green sparkle in the dappled light or recede into mysterious shadow. These trees assume a wraith-like, eerie character. Hiking into the Sol Duc River basin brings us to bright shiny streams and thundering waterfalls set amidst emerald mosses and water slicked boulders. 


In contrast to the overgrown verdant forests, the Olympic Pacific coastline is expansive, rugged and spartan. At Karaloch and La Push beaches, tides and wind pound the shore driving fallen trees up against rock cliffs, creating huge piles of weathered logs. In their worn and beaten texture we find abstract forms and hidden eyes. 

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