Way out off the well-worn but forgotten trail, just beyond the snag alders and the lazy lupine meadow a sea of ferns unfurled beneath the shade of a stationary giant.

The giant was born after the ice retreated from the ocean’s edge but before the belch of steam engines thundered into the last desolate stretch of land before the mountains tumble into the sea. It grew moss like mats of steel wool where it’s arms connected to its hulking trunk and a burl warts knotted the the canvas of its skin. Green ferns rose up around its feet like faux shag carpeting for a real rain forest monster.

Each morning after the sun had completed its slow summit of the crumbling mountain range to the east the monster would rouse slowly from its slumber and turn its cascading curtain of scales to face the rays. Songbirds perched out of sight among its many folds and filled the empty air with an avian chorus.

Over the years scores of children had discovered the magic of the giant in the middle of the sea of evergreens. Over time they came to know its intricacies, it’s hard to reach places and its soft spots. They became familiar with its mood swings and learned how to walk softly when drawing near so as to not shatter the stillness of the air that hung like vapor clouds around its expansive crown.

The older children would lead the younger ones down the trail by daylight and then lay down at the giant’s calloused feet. They would sit silently and soak in the fungi smells of the woods that sprout doggedly like a logger’s five o’clock shadow while the heart beat and breath of the sleepy giant kept time to the earth’s eternal rhythm.

Whenever the weakest and youngest of the children began to battle to keep their own eyes open the big kids would brazenly recite tales of the murderous beasts that had long been rumored to hide away in the unseen alcoves of the old bristle bearded giant.

Mountain lions, and forest tigers, and black bears. Oh my!

Nobody had ever seen them climbing in or out, but didn’t mean they weren’t real in the minds’ eye of youth.

As the decades rolled on and the river grew tired while the children grew old the giant persisted and appeared altogether unchanged to anyone who had ever seen it. Sometimes it creaked and groaned under the strain of life, but mostly it just dug in deeper and convincingly commanded a sense of reverence for commitment to place and consistency.

Eventually the adults would allow their memory of the giant’s captivating spell to fade from their memory, but the children never forgot.

Over time though the children stopped coming to visit the giant, but it wasn’t their fault. The gates to the old farm were locked and old arguments of no consequence had frayed the family’s patience until the grown ups finally stopped coming around altogether. Time began to move faster and the giant grew lonely before it grew decrepit.

One day a crackling thunder bolt crashed from the clouds that halo Mount Olympus and struck the giant below its head near the top of its spine. As cinders and ashes wafted with big energy the last of its rusted leaves let go and fluttered lazily to the mycelium bed down below.

Later that night a cagey old cougar climbed the body of the elder maple tree and began inspecting the damage. Near the top it found a black soot crater where the Thunderbird’s clap had emptied the trunk of its sweet pulp and sent a zigzagging fissure plummeting toward the sea of ferns that rolled like waves in the wind.

Tired from its climb and from weathering the storm that had crippled its favorite tree in all of Cougar Flats the big cat stretched out and curled up inside the cavity for a subconscious communion with its long standing sanctuary.

When the cougar’s tail twitched and its ears pivoted it snapped awake and instantly knew something was wrong. The smell of two-stroke smoke and hollering humans signaled the inherent danger at hand. As wood chips began to fly and a lumberjack spit a wad of dip chaw on the trembling roots at ground level the cougar began to slink away down the back side of the tree. It’s heart burned with rage but it had no will to fight.

Humans always forget until it’s too late, it thought.

Turning back for one last look at its old friend the giant the sentimental cougar remembered the words of the last little girl who had ever come to visit the old maple grove in Cougar Flats.

“When you lose your head and seek refuge in the hollow of an old tree, hoping against hope that no one will see...”

The cougar hoped that the girl had already forgotten to remember the place that had nurtured her soul for so long. He was nervous that her tears of sadness would flood the valley. Sometimes it’s better to forget, or at least, to just not know.

FISHIN’

Anglers are starting to try their luck for winter steelhead on the mainstem Chehalis as the run begins its way upstream from the great salted waters beyond Grays Harbor.

“It’s not on fire quite yet but guys are starting to put their time in,” said a walking man who grew up on the flats of Independence and took some time to wet his line again just last week. “There have been a few caught though, including one that was 15 pounds.”

That old son of Independence insisted that contrary to common sense the winter steelhead bite is actually best when the Chehalis River is one the rise.

“It’s best when it seems like it’s too muddy and full to fish,” he said. “If the water is rising six inches you’re gonna want to get out there and be plunking.”

River flow has been dropping in recent days due to a frozen dry spell but the rains were slated to return before the weekend. On Wednesday the Wynoochee River was running at 1,690 cubic feet per second above Black Creek and at 862 cfps at Grisdale.

On the mighty Columbia River anglers are currently allowed to target hatchery Chinook up to the I-5 Bridge in Portland, and fish for hatchery steelhead all the way up past the dam gauntlet in the Columbia River gorge.

Fishing on the Cowlitz River hasn’t been anything to write home about lately anyhow. Last week the WDFW sampled 12 bank rods with no catch below the I-5 Bridge over the Cowlitz River and three bank rods closer to the Barrier Dam were also skunked. At the salmon hatchery last week crews recovered only two coho adults, 23 coho jacks and nine winter-run steelhead adults. Those crews also relocated five coho jacks into Lake Scanewa in Randle along with two coho adults, 22 coho jacks and eight winter-run steelhead adults into the Tilton River at Gust Backstrom Park. Another two coho jacks were dropped in at the Franklin Bridge release site in Packwood. On Monday river flows below Mayfield Dam were reported at approximately 9,520 cfps with 11 feet of visibility and a water temperature fo 44.6 degrees. By Wednesday that that flow had increased to more than 11,000 cfps due to operations at the rivers labyrinth of power generating dams.

Elsewhere the reel results were also depressed. Four bank anglers on the Grays River had no catch to talk about and two bank anglers on Abernathy Creek were also shutout. On the Elochoman River 33 bank anglers bonked six steelhead and another steely was released, but two rods on one boat had no catch. Seven Germany Creek bank anglers kept one steelhead and 34 bank anglers on the East Fork Lewis River had no catch while four boat rods released one steelhead.

Anglers who are discouraged by those statistics but are still hoping to hook a big fish should head up to the Columbia River dams along the Oregon border where white sturgeon retention is open. In the Bonneville Pool anglers are allowed to harvest sturgeon measuring at least 38 inches and no more than 54 inches. Anglers in the John Day Pool can keep sturgeon between 43-54 inches. Last week above Bonneville 45 bank anglers released one small sturgeon but 36 boats with 102 anglers kept eight sturgeon and released one legal size fish. Another 151 small sturgeon were tossed back along with two oversize sturgeon. In the John Day Pool 17 bank anglers had no catch but 56 rods on 27 boats released five sublegal sturgeon.

Area lakes and ponds continue to get the stocking treatment here in the new year. On Jan 8 Lake Sacajawea in Longview received 75 jumbo rainbow trout weighing about 10 pounds each. The day before 13 trout of a similar size wound up in Kress Lake. Additionally, Kress Lake received 2,000 tiny trout on Jan. 3 and Silver Lake was planted with the same number and caliber of fish on Jan. 2. In Thurston County on Dec. 21 Lake St. Claire received 741 cutthroat trout weighing more than a pound each and 300 similar cutties were put into Munn Lake the same day.

HUNTIN’

Recently an anonymous source provided the FishRap command center with an unsolicited copy of a large game animal study conducted on state land near the conversion of Lewis, Thurston and Grays Harbor counties.

The study area was located on state land and Weyerhaeuser property between Pe Ell, Brooklyn, Garrard Creek and Lincoln Creek. However, 97 percent of the observations were conducted on gated Weyerhaeuser land north of Pe Ell with observations conducted over the duration of 2018.

No bull elk were observed at all but four cows were observed along the 7,000 line and the MC main line. Three other elk of unknown sex were also observed.

A total of eight buck deer were counted between May and September. The study noted that no buck deer were counted twice, but despite efforts to prevent the practice, that author is “sure some (does) were” documented multiple times. A total of 105 does and 15 fawns were counted between January and September.

The census found 52 ruffed grouse with at least one bird spotted in every month other than May. The study noted that, “All were very flighty; would not set; would not perch in a tree; would not hold. Immediately either flew through the trees and kept going or flew into the trees and landed on the ground running.”

Two distinct black bears were counted, with one being significantly larger than the other, along with two bobcats. However, the study’s author noted that “It may be possible that the same Bobcat was observed twice even though the areas they were observed in were miles apart.”

The study conductors also tallied nine cottontail rabbits, three adult bald eagles, five red tailed hawks, one barred owl and one coyote.

Off the rutted path into the boardroom the WDFW is seeking public comments regarding proposals for the 2019-20 hunting seasons. Written comments will be accepted from Jan. 23 through Feb. 13.

“We encourage everyone interested in the upcoming hunting seasons to check the proposed changes and send us your comments,” said Anis Aoude, WDFW game division manager, in a press release.

A full slate of the propsals can be viewed online at https://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/regulations/seasonsetting/.

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission is set to meet on March 1-2 in Spokane and will also take live public comments on those days. A final decision on the proposals is expected to be announced during the public meetings on April 5-6 in Olympia.

Written comments can be submitted online at https://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/regulations/seasonsetting/.

Looking back outside there are several hunting season still beating the brush.

The annual 10-day brant hunting season in Pacific County began last Saturday and has already knocked three days off the sheet. That hunt will continue on Jan. 17, 19, 20, 22, 24, 26 and 27. Elsewhere, hunters in Skagit, Clallam and Whatcom counties can still take aim on Jan. 19.

The ever popular general hunt for geese and ducks will also continue for at least a few more days in southwest Washington. In Goose Area 2 (Pacific County and Grays Harbor County west of Highway 101) geese are fair game on Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays through Jan. 20, but will then reopen from Feb. 2-16. The inland section of Goose Area 2 east of Highway 101, as well as Wahkiakum, Cowlitz and Clark counties closed on Jan. 13. In Goose Management Area 3, which covers Lewis, Pierce and Thurston counties, among others, the goose hunt will continue through Jan. 27. Hunts for ducks, coot and snipe will also continue through Jan. 27.

Opportunities for deer have almost all turned the page except for some master hunter openings. However, bowman and musketeers are still allowed to stalk elk in area 407 until Jan. 20.

Cougar hunts have been subject to emergency restrictions based on harvest numbers in particular areas since the New year. In areas where the take remains below the quota hunting will continue through April 30.

Bobcats, fox, raccoons, snowshoe hares and cottontail rabbits all need to beware the Ides of March until those hunting season end that day. Similarly, trapping season for beaver, badger, weasel, marten, mink, muskrat and river otter will continue through the end of March.

Roadkill salvage is also legal in Washington with the use of an emergency permit provided by the WDFW via phone call. And, as always, coyotes are fair game year round but can’t be targeted at night in any areas where any big game seasons are still open.

Permits for spring bear hunts went on sale recently. Those sales will continue through the end of February. Additional information can be found online at https://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/permits/spring_bear/.

All hunters are required to report their activity from the previous year no later than Jan. 31. Those reports are due for each special permit, as well as any deer, elk, bear, cougar, moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goat and turkey tag purchased in 2018. A $10 fine is assessed on the next license purchase to anyone who fails to comply. Hunting reports can be filed by phone at 877-945-3492 or on the WDFW website.

CLAMMIN’

The long anticipated bad word finally came down from the WDFW on Wednesday afternoon — The federal government shutdown has forced the closure of Kalaloch Beach during the upcoming razor clam digs slated for later this week..

“We are closing Kalaloch beach to razor clam digging in response to a request by Olympic National Park,” said Dan Ayres, WDFW coastal shellfish manager, in a press release. “Olympic National Park staff are not available to help ensure a safe and orderly opening in the area.”

That announcement comes just over a week after Ayres expressed some doubt about the likelihood of the digs, but stated that the department was planning on going ahead as planned with the razor clam openings. Where WDFW employees are responsible for monitoring digs on other beaches in Washington, the sand at Kalaloch Beach falls under jurisdiction of the National Parks Service.

The last time Kalaloch Beach was open for razor clam harvesting was January 2017. On Wednesday Ayres said that the WDFW and Olympic National Park will consider alternative dates to open the beach in order to make up for the lost opportunity.

While those three rare openings at Kalaloch have been canned the rest of the upcoming digs will go on as planned. Those digs, which have been approved following marine toxin tests, will take place on the following dates, tides, and beaches:

· Jan. 17, Thursday; 3:39 p.m.; 0.4 feet; Twin Harbors

· Jan. 18, Friday; 4:30 p.m.; -0.4 feet; Twin Harbors

· Jan. 19, Saturday; 5:18 p.m.; -1.1 feet; Twin Harbors, Mocrocks

· Jan. 20, Sunday; 6:05 p.m.; -1.6 feet; Twin Harbors, Copalis

· Jan. 21, Monday; 6:51 p.m.; -1.8 feet; Twin Harbors, Mocrocks

As always, Ayres suggests that diggers hit the beach about an hour or two before low tide for the best results. No digging will be allowed before noon and diggers will need to come prepared with their own light source.

“Diggers should always keep an eye on the surf and come prepared with good lighting devices for the digs that occur after dark,” Ayres said, in the release.

Another set of razor clam tides has been scheduled for Feb. 1-3. Those digs will be dependent upon the results of marine toxin testing conducted closer to those dates.

Anyone age 15 and up must have a fishing license in order to dig clams and state law allows individuals to harvest as many as 15 clams per day. However, all dug clams must be kept regardless of size or condition. Additionally, each digger must dig their own clams and carry them in a personal container.

MEETIN’

During a public meeting on Jan. 11-12 in Olympia the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission communicated its support for a plan by state fishery managers to take into consideration the appetites of whales when setting salmon fishing seasons.

The new policy would also instruct the WDFW to begin taking action to reduce the burden of boat traffic on resident orca whales. But, it’s the allotment of salmon for hungry whales that’s drummed up the most attention.

“While state fishing seasons have long been subject to federal review, this new policy confirms that WDFW must play a leading role in orca recovery,” said Ron Warren, head of the WDFW fish program, in a press release. “This year we plan to work with the National Marine Fisheries Service to develop new tools to assess the effects of fisheries on available prey for endangered orcas.”

Following the recommendations of the state’s Southern Resident Orca Task Force, the WDFW has submitted a request for additional funding that would:

· Increase salmon production at state hatcheries by 24 million fish during the next two years – and increase production to 50 million fish in the 2021-23 biennium.

· Fortify WDFW patrols that enforce boating regulations to protect orcas.

· Improve habitat essential for salmon survival.

GAZIN’

On Jan. 20 a blood moon will drip its sanguine beams all over North America as a super moon collides with a complete lunar eclipse.

The show is slated to start just before midnight and last for up to an hour. It will be the first full moon and the first lunar eclipse of the new year, as well as the first super moon on the new calendar. A super moon is when the orbital orb comes closest to earth.

Another full lunar eclipse will not come around until May 26, of 2021.

Experienced moon peepers advise onlookers to dress warm, bring a blanket to lay on, pack some libations and invite good company if you are so inclined.

SNOWIN’

The winter revelry continues way out Highway 12 up at White Pass where the conditions have crystalized into some of the finest conditions of the year.

The ski area is currently open daily for operations with expanding offerings for terrain. Progression Park is open along with a reconfigured Ribeye feature. The Nordic area is open Thursday through Sunday and Tubing is open weekends along with special offerings on the Martin Luther King Jr. and Presidents Day holiday weekends. Night skiing is also open Saturdays and holiday weekend Sundays through March 2. The purchase of any general lift ticket allows riders the opportunity to hit the slopes until 9 p.m. during those late night offerings.

At 5 a.m. on Wednesday at White Pass temperatures were 20 degrees at the base and 21 degrees at the summit. However, a new storm front was expected to move in overnight and raise those temperatures a bit while shuttling in the arrival of new snow. No new snow had fallen overnight coming into Wednesday and by end of the day the summit had fallen from 70 inches of snow pack to 68 with about 40 inches stacked at the base.

Lifts currently in operation include Great White, Far East, Basin, Couloir and the surface lifts. Up to date conditions and other mountain information can be obtained by calling 509-672-3100.

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