From The Recesses – Ralph Lewis and His Foul Mouthed Philosophy
. . . Or More Than I Could Have Dreamed To Ask
In early 2000, I found myself falling in love with a rare and beautiful woman. We’d known one another for years, but one night, under the influence of Guinness Stout and Fergal the Barman, we talked and drank and laughed and for the first time ended up in a kiss. Truth be told, it was a long time coming. We’d known one another for years — just waiting for the world to give us a chance, but not knowing when or if the stars would align.
I went home alone that night, but I knew something important in my life had changed. I’d long thought that I loved her, but in a moment I saw a clearing in the woods, a chance for a new kind of adventure. Over the coming months we spent more and more time together. She got to know my family and I spent time with hers. Within half a year she was staying at my apartment most nights and our network of friends overlapped as a matter of course. By the summer of 2000, we were very nearly symbiotic, and biochemistry being what it is, our love felt entirely new in the universe. Like something that could stop time.
In June of that year we were looking forward to a vacation together over my summer break. My teacher’s schedule allowed for two and a half months of traveling, but sadly, her part-time administrative job at a sketchy Russian-owned business out in Dyker Heights only let her go for a couple of weeks, and in love or not, I wasn’t going to stick around Gotham City in the summer. Midday in midtown during August is like traipsing through some rough beast’s mouth. If you’ve ever melted into your clothes while waiting for a Queens-bound F-Train during a heatwave, you know exactly what I mean. I hate the heat.
I booked my flight for Seattle and a few weeks kicking around the Pacific Northwest. The plan was to do that for a month or so, and then meet her at Sea-Tac airport for a flight to Anchorage. Through the years she’d heard stories about Alaska and how I’d spent a number of summers hitchhiking, booze-hounding and occasionally working at a remote kayak camp south of Seward on the Kenai Peninsula. We wanted to share some of those experiences together. But before that was to happen, destiny had placed a few obstacles (and one great oracle) along a muddy path that began just outside of Forks, Washington —“The Rainiest Little Town in America.”
While at a hostel in Seattle, I’d heard about an amazing hike in the Hoh Rainforest out on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington. The idea of nurse trees — toppled giants that are driven down into the earth over decades by ensuing generations of fungi, ferns and future megaflora, often rooting from the very seeds of the fallen Big Leaf Maples and towering Sitka Spruce — was enticing beyond the beyond to the Boy Scout still camped out in my hippocampus. After one night in the hostel, I hitchhiked to Forks where I picked up some last-minute supplies and caught a lift to the trailhead several miles south.
It started drizzling the second I set foot on the trail. But, figuring that it would be, at worst, a nuisance, I pushed on for about 10 miles until, happy and exhausted, I found a clearing with a stand of sheltering trees about 100 meters off the trail. The light rain remained fairly steady, with occasional downpours that foreshadowed my coming days. Still, once camp was established I was able to start a fire and keep it burning by concerted attention — a process that quickly became all-consuming as the rains began a crescendo that would build for the coming 96 hours. My life became primitively simple: find wet wood, build a nest of wet wood that would dry above the fire, then become the fire, then find more wet wood, build a nest and repeat. At first it was fun. Then tiring. Then terrible. My feet were soaking wet, so in a stroke of genius inspired by exhaustion and sleep deprivation, I pulled off my LEATHER boots and sent them down to dry next to the snap and crackle of the pine.
Despite all my efforts, on the morning of the third day, the fire was completely out and the fire pit had become an ashy bath about 6 inches deep. The rain was diluvian, a drenching, big-dropped downpour that stung the skin and threatened hypothermia if one decided to do much sightseeing — as if anything could be seen much past ten feet in that weather. And it just never stopped. Vertical waves of rain. Sheets of rain. Flattening rain. Waterboarding rain. I remember thinking, curled in a wet ball in my tent sometime on the fourth day that the Pacific Ocean, surely, must be running dry. This much water was just unnatural. Impossible. I remember dreaming about having a pint of Guinness with my girlfriend or some mythical Australian traveling partner who would lead me to a dry place, buy the first round and listen as I recounted my nightmare of a hike in the Hoh.
On the morning of the fifth day, I crawled out of my tent to heat up some coffee on my camp stove when the monsoon had slowed to a torrent and I noticed that there were several thousand banana slugs surrounding my tent. Banana slugs are approximately 5 inches long and three quarters of an inch in diameter. They look like animate, writhing, hell-conceived custard. Looking about I noticed with actual terror that each and every one was pointed directly at my tent. They had formed circular ranks, like endless platoons of wet, slithering bicycle spokes and I was the axle. It was as if they were launching a slow-motion assault on my person — with advance recon teams having already slithered into the crevices of my gear. The camp stove being a particularly valued redoubt, which I noticed milliseconds before I screamed like a little girl and threw it high into the air in a panic.Page 1 of 4