When we rolled into our campsite outside of Forks, Washington last night, the temperate rainforest weather was doing what it does best– dumping rain like a sonofabitch.
We made camp in a deluge, skirting pools of muddy water in search of tent sites and shuttling our camp stove and dinner fixings from the bus to the picnic shelter like rats trying to save scraps of moldy cheese from a drowning ship. We’ve come for a couple of days of schoolwork and backpack prep, before hiking out into the Hoh rainforest for four nights. We will do this hike rain or shine. We will do this whether our tents are dry or wet when we shove them into our packs, and despite the fact that the elk are in rut, the bears are stocking up on calories for their winter snooze, and there is (according to the ranger) a coyote along our route who thinks nothing of sauntering into camp during mealtimes to demand his due. This is our curriculum.
Forks sits in a little valley cupped by foothills, which sport very bad haircuts due to clearcuts that feed the timber industry. Spiky mohawks of Douglas Fir and Hemlock stand in strands across the ridgelines, bracketing denuded slopes dotted with raw stumps. These are second, third, and fourth generation trees, farmed and felled to provide the bones of homes and office buildings across the country. They rise and fall in the mud, sheltering nothing. The oldest, biggest trees in Forks now sit in front of the Forks Visitors Center and Logging Museum. Here they are:
Looking at these old behemoths, I think about the Trump/Clinton debate that my students and I watched, arrayed around a picnic table in plastic chairs at the edge of a meadow on Whidbey Island. Trump spoke of deregulation. “Total deregulation of everything” was the flavor of it, I believe. When I heard those words, I heard the last behemoths falling. I heard oil glugging into distressed seas and smokestacks belching black clouds and the grating, grinding noise of buildings going up up up while everything left of nature comes down down down. I heard museum docents pointing out the impressive diameters of trees as they used to be, and admonishing wide-eyed groups of school children not to touch.
Trump is everywhere in Forks, a community that has survived and (before the northern spotted owl debate brought an end to the heyday of logging) thrived on the timber industry. Signs still hang proudly in front of businesses declaring that they are supported by logging dollars and Trump signs adorn the town’s many empty lots.
Forks got a boost from Stephanie Meyers’ Twilight series, which was set in and around the area, but that, too, seems to be fading into the past, leaving Twilight tour guides with few would-be vampires or werewolves to shepherd down the main drag, and this guy glowering at no one in the gift shop…
A walk around Forks doesn’t take much time, all the better for our students to complete their mid-semester assignments in the time we’ve given them before we undertake our “Learning Celebration” in the backcountry. We’ll leave the empty lots and struggling storefronts of Forks behind, and not look back, there being no raving Twilight fans or would-be loggers among us. But I’ll think about Forks as my absentee ballot makes its way back east to be counted in favor of the behemoths, the seas, and the skies. Because there are vampires on the loose out there, and with one election they could drain this whole world dry.