To be abandoned, literally, means to be “put under someone’s jurisdiction.” Spellbound. Under the influence. Mesmerized. That was the river as a young man – and still as a much older man, thanks to the memories – to me.
Now it may be the Enchanted Valley chalet that is abandoned to the river.
It’s slipping away; the ground near the chalet is, little by little, inch by inch, as the ever-changing course of the East Fork Quinault River once again approaches the historic structure.
In 2014 the three-story lodge, “one of the oldest and largest buildings in Olympic National Park,” sat perched at the very edge, the waters – fed by “10,000 waterfalls” – having found a new and different way through the valley.
The chalet was moved then. This time however the river, literally, may be allowed to take its course. Public comment is being sought and a meeting is scheduled for this coming July 19 whether or not to save the chalet.
When a junior in high school, in 1967, my dad and me – like the river – found our own way.
Sure there was a trail but we were abandoned to, and captured and carried along by, the wonderful pools of the river below every bend of which the rapids created back-eddies where lurked trout: “Surely in this one dad!”
If coming in from the ocean side, the forest canopy ever blocks the sun.
But, of a sudden, at thirteen miles the forest abruptly ends and there it sits.
Majestic, mysterious, whimsical, the picturesque three-story chalet is perfectly situated in a grassy meadow. Though deep in the forest of the Olympic wilderness it cannot at all be described as nestled there among the trees but rather as commanding the most marvelous view anywhere to be found in the National Park.
The Enchanted Valley chalet is the weary hiker’s welcome mat, whether fishing your way in following the river, or coming over O’Neil Pass where nearly 2,000 vertical feet of labored switchbacks make descent into the valley a painful exercise for the unprepared.
From either direction, rest awaits at the beckoning fairytale lodge. Even if you don’t take shelter within, there’s history there evidenced by initials carved on the hand-hewn logs. There’s voices there too if you listen close. With the kind of imagination common to camping stories at the end of the day, you can still hear them, the laughter of hunters and hikers bouncing off the walls and the footfalls made on the stairway leading to sleeping quarters above, all friends you never had the fortune to meet.
Second only to witnessing from the porch of the grand old hiker’s hotel the thousands of waterfalls cascading down into the valley is seeing them as an eagle might.
Far above the Enchanted Valley chalet in a – by contrast – postage-stamp-sized meadow, there’s a small wooden sign designating not only where you are but where you are going once you make your decent down into the valley.
The sign also connotes what the chalet has meant since constructed 86 years ago by a father and his son.
We – my father and I – didn’t see it – the sign, until the next morning. After hot Jell-O – our favorite in the backwoods – around the small campfire, I laid there that night watching the so-close twinkling stars as their lights blinked off, my eyelids intermittently drooping closed.
They say that ‘influence’ is an astrological term, “streaming ethereal power from the stars acting upon character or destiny of men.” Influence also has reference to the flow of water. Like the stars above and the river below, I’ve been forever influenced – my character shaped, my destiny directed – by that hike with my dad.
I awoke the next morning to the sound and smell of frying bacon. Dad was already up, having built a fire and breakfast was near ready. Poking my head out from beneath the tent flap I watched as a creek bubbled nearby. The long-bladed grass bent beneath the weight of the morning dew and the sun peeking out from behind the snow-capped peak above made the dew-drops sparkle like diamonds.
A most beautiful spot in the entire world was this place my dad and I had discovered. Of course we were not the first adventurers to stake their claim as someone preceding us had placed a sign there along the well-worn trail.
Do you know what you can see from there? Everything. Across the valley, and over the top of the cragged peaks of the mountainous range, lies – like a soft baby blue blanket – the haze of the Pacific Ocean. And below, far below, is the chalet where another father and son happily hammered out a home for themselves and countless other fathers and sons who’d make their pilgrimage to the three-story legacy they’d leave behind.
On the pass above or in the valley below the sign says it all, conjuring the memories, and summarizing the significance of what the chalet – now possibly abandoned to the river – means: “Home Sweet Home.”