Drifting off in the drippy rainforest

  • California's coastal redwoods are the tallest and among the oldest living things on earth.

I want to know. Have you ever seen the rain comin’ down on a sunny day? – Creedence Clearwater Revival

I love the sound of rain. Especially on the roof of The Epic Van. And in our current spot in California’s redwood forest, I’m getting to listen to lots of it.

We arrived on Feb. 27, for a three-month stint as volunteers in the visitor center at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park north of Eureka, California. On March 2, when the sun broke through, a fellow volunteer said it was the first time it had been seen since Jan. 28.

So far this season, the park has seen more than 100 inches of rain, making the trails mushy, flooding the famous Fern Canyon, and softening the ground enough that winds brought down some of the huge, shallow-rooted ancient redwoods. One fell on the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, which bypasses U.S. Highway 101, damaging the road and forcing its closure until special crews removed the tree and repairs can be completed. Another giant fell across Cathedral Trees Trail, shaking campers nearly a mile away and registering more than 2.0 on the Richter scale at a nearby residence.

You develop an intimate relationship with weather when you live in a rolling vehicle. And despite our plans to follow 72-degree weather, we have been scorched by 100-degree heat near Glacier National Park in Montana, chased out of Broken Bow, Nebraska, by a tornado, right into a blizzard near Pine Ridge, South Dakota, and pelted with pinging hail near Palo Duro Canyon in north Texas.

We have learned to pay attention to weather reports, and I now have three weather apps running on my phone at all times.

But we also have learned to love the fresh air that flows through our windows, stepping out of the sliding door into glistening dew and hearing the wind rustle tree branches just overhead.

And, oh, the rain.

Perhaps I love the rain so much because I grew up in Hawaii, where my hula teacher taught me a chant about Mount Waiʻaleʻale, one of the wettest spot in the world. In Manoa Valley, it seems to rain nearly every day. Most of the time it’s a warm kiss of rain, and people don’t bother to carry umbrellas or raincoats, just let the rain dampen their clothes and wait for them to dry in the warm trade winds. When we moved to the windward side of the island, the rains came less often, but still enough to feed the plumeria and mango trees, fatten the avocados and bananas, and keep everything various shades of green. I loved to sit on the beach and watch storms roll in over the waves, running the few yards back home as the raindrops splashed on my heels.

When I moved to Phoenix, Arizona, a lot of the 8 inches of annual rainfall came in violent thunderstorms that knocked down trees and made the washes run wild, sucking away cars with the people still inside. Not nearly as relaxing.

So I sought my pitter-patter-rainfall fixes at the movies. I clearly remember, during an extremely stressful work week, going to the theater to see One Fine Day, a goofy, half-baked, rom-com with George Clooney and Michelle Pfeiffer. The opening credits played over a gentle rain falling on a New York apartment building, and I wished they would never end. Afterward, I went looking for a rain CD that I could play as I fell asleep at night. But the one I found had only thunderstorms that sounded more threatening than soothing.

Here in the redwoods, rain by the bucketful is essential to trees that grow to more than 300 feet high. They get about 40 percent of their moisture from the coastal fog which, as poet Carl Sandburg writes, “comes on little cat feet.” The rest of the tree’s needed moisture comes from the sky, soaking the spongelike ground, the excess flowing into ever-widening creeks that make their way to the ocean.

In the two weeks we’ve been here, it has rained nearly every day, and most nights, plip-plopping us gently into slumber. The sound on the metal roof just a few feet above my head is exactly the sound I was seeking when I went looking for that CD years ago.

The rain does challenge our desert-rat wardrobe, though. We quickly realized our dry-weather hiking boots would be overwhelmed by the conditions, and that staying inside during the rain would mean staying inside most of the time. So we slip-slided off to Eureka and shopped at the local outdoors store, which had a wall of waterproof footwear and racks of waterproof pants.

We broke in our new purchases on a day that produced not only rain, but also tiny hail that piled up on the sides of the trail like snow.

I’m sure it’s why I was able to spot a giant Pacific salamander, chilled into slow motion, crawling over the white expanse, then sliding under a trailside fern.

At night, I imagine him there, dozing, listening to the rain plop on the fronds overhead.

2 Comments

  1. Reply
    Nancy Warfield March 14, 2017

    glad you are enjoying the rain and fog! Your story reminded me that we hiked Fern Canyon about 5 years ago when we did our annual vacation up in N CA and Oregon. The place that left the deepest impression on me was Modoc for the history, remoteness and weird terrain. We are coming back up there in July, a good time to be on the coast to avoid intense heat!!

    • Reply
      Judy Nichols March 15, 2017

      Nancy,
      Thanks for the tip on Modoc. We’ll have to add that to our “to-visit” list. And this place will be glorious in July.

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