Not in South Dakota anymore
One of the treasures of our former home, Rapid City, South Dakota, is that there are wonderful wilderness trails that are easily accessible to anyone in the city. A M Hill, anyone can walk from the city park system onto a system of trails that crisscross a forested hillside and give contact with the rugged terrain and beauty of the Black Hills. Skyline Wilderness Park is on a ridge in the midst of the city and offers spectacular views and moderate trails. We could walk up into the park from our church or, when we wanted a less strenuous hike, drive to near the top and hike for miles on trails right in the city. After a health scare, daily walks have become an important part of our physical and psychological health and Rapid City is a great place for walking.
So far, our new home doesn’t disappoint us in that department. At Lion’s Park, the urban Riverwalk connects directly with a trail through the tall trees of the Skagit flood plain. The Kushlan Trail is a converted rail bed that covers several miles from Bakerview Park down to and connecting with the Riverwalk. Little Mountain, on the south side of the city, is criss-crossed with trails through the forest that are reserved for mountain bikes and hikers. It is easy to walk away from the developed places and explore the rich temperate rainforest, surrounded by huge cedar, Douglas fir, Hemlock and Spruce trees.
Yesterday, while hiking on the lower half of Little Mountain, we had one of those “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore” moments. If you aren’t a fan of the Wizard of Oz, the heroine of the L. Frank Baum fantasy has a moment of realization that a tornado has transported her far from her home. Well, as we were hiking on Little Mountain, we were well aware that we were no longer in South Dakota.
Walking among trees that are 150 feet high was the first clue. I remember having a conversation with our children when we visited Portland, Oregon from our home in Boise, Idaho about how much bigger the trees were and saying, “That’s what happens when trees get all the water they want.” Of course the climate of the coastal mountains is far more complex than simply the amount of water, but rainfall is an important part of the lush forests that grow along the west coast of the United States from Alaska to California. In the Pacific Northwest, the forests are especially lush and gorgeous. As we walked along the trail, we were also walking next to lush undergrowth of mosses and ferns. There aren’t any ferns growing under the pine forests of our South Dakota home. As we walked the squish squish sound of the damp dirt trail was much different from the crunch of walking on dry pine needles. The leaves that had fallen on the trail were, like the trees that surrounded us, a lot larger than anything we would find in the Black Hills. One giant maple leaf was more than twice the span of my hand with my fingers spread. It was nearly the size of the maple leaf on the Canadian Flag.
As we walked, we had one experience that was reminiscent of hiking in the Black Hills. We hear the sound of jet engines overhead as some of our nation’s military hardware flew by at a high rate of speed. As one who grew up listening to the sound of airplanes, however, I knew right away that we weren’t hearing the sound of Air Force B-1 Bombers with their afterburners and wings that can sweep back as the plane accelerates. These weren’t the planes of Ellsworth Air Force Base, but rather F-18 fighter jets from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, about 25 miles west of Mount Vernon. We couldn’t see the jets due to the cloud cover, but know from our experiences in the summer that they are the type of planes flown by the Blue Angels flight demonstration team. In fact, we’ve seen the Blue Angels practice in the skies over Mount Vernon when they were on the west coast at the opposite side of the country from their home base in Pensacola, Florida.
“Susan, I’ve a feeling we’re not in South Dakota anymore.”
However, it doesn’t really rain all the time in our new home. We’ve had quite a bit of rain, as we enter the wettest months of the year in this location, but we’ve been able to walk during periods between rain showers. Yesterday there was just a brief shower in the middle of the day and plenty of time to take a walk when it wasn’t raining. Only once, in the time we’ve been here have we walked in a light rain. Other days, we simply pay attention to the weather and walk when it isn’t raining. Having said that, however, we are well aware that enjoying the outdoors in this place is going to require a few changes. Christmas this year at our house will probably include gifts of new rain coats and waterproof shoes. That squish, squish sound is kind of fun as long as it isn’t inside of your shoes. Back in South Dakota I would sometimes opt for the less expensive walking shoes that weren’t water proofed. They were good for about nine months of the year. I’d just switch to boots when snow and slush demanded waterproof shoes.
We are so fortunate to have been able to live in places of great natural beauty. The magnificence of the forests in our new home take nothing away from the beauty of the Black Hills that we have loved for so many years. We count ourselves as fortunate to have been able to live among the pines of South Dakota. Now we are exploring the natural beauty of a new place as we walk among different trees. Even though we’re not in South Dakota anymore, we are very fortunate to be in the place where we find ourselves.