It feels like fall is behind us. The leaves have done their brilliant transformation and returned to the earth. Now that rain is in the forecast, everybody is hunkering down to stay warm, drink hot chocolate, and contemplate snow.
I’m not there yet. My mind is still focused outwardly. This is the time of year to experience the forest in a glorious state.
Sure, it’s raining and you might get wet. Sure, you may have to deal with that annoying swooshing sound that comes when you’re dressed head to toe in rain gear. But, your sacrifice will be well worth it.
While fall begins a time of hibernation for many species, much of the region’s biota comes to life after a few strong rains. Fall chinook salmon make it up our streams to spawn. Salamanders come out from under rocks, downed logs and other forest hiding places. Mushrooms are popping up from under the duff on the forest floor, in all different shapes and sizes. The mosses and lichens are bright and alive. Watch your step, or you might find a banana slug under foot.
I especially like how the mosses and lichens are bright and alive this time of year. If you’re likin’ lichens like me, you may have noticed the leaf like loberia that appears like a grey-green version of salad lettuce and usnea that dangles off of trees branches. Look close — lichen is a not one organism, but is actually two species living in a close relationship, one algae and one fungi.
Bath in these damp, mossy, lichen filled old-growth forests long enough and you will start to see many other wonders popping up all around you. You will feel comforted by the pitter-patter of the rain. And if you don’t already appreciate this time of year, you just might begin to do so. Here are three of my favorite late fall/early winter forest-bathing hikes, and one event that will keep you dry.
For something really close to Ashland, Oredson Todd is a great place. While it is not wilderness experience, there is a lovely trail right along Clay Creek. The creek-side vegetation is protected from searing summer heat and hosts Siskiyou forests full of large pine, fir, madrone, along with mushrooms, ferns, and lichens. Stay along the creek and make it to the waterfall before the trail leads you back toward town. There are a few trailheads, including one at the very top of Park Street.
Hiking any portion of the 40-mile Lower Rogue Wild and Scenic Trail is a favorite in the wet weather, with the awesome river canyon and lush older forest along the streams feed the Wild Rogue. The Siskiyou Mountain Club recently opened up the a 27-mile Wild Rogue Loop that combines the Rogue River, Panther Ridge, Mule Creek, and Clay Hill trails. The main trail starts at the Grave Creek Bridge, about 45 minutes northwest of Grants Pass, but check the Medford Bureau of Land Management office for up-to-date information.
There is something truly special about the towering coastal redwoods in the rain. The bright hues of green from ferns and mosses are so alive in the rainy months. The mushroom diversity and abundance is just incredible. I highly recommend the 5-mile Boy Scout Tree Trail, which is only a 2.5 hours drive from Ashland. Take Highway 199 from Grants Pass to Redwood National and State Parks. The trail is off Howland Hill Road. Contact the Park Service for up-to-date information.
If I have not convinced you to get wet, don’t worry. Join KS Wild’s Rogue Riverkeeper out of the rain for the fifth annual Wild & Scenic Film Festival this Friday, Nov. 10. Here you will find award-winning films about the natural world. This year’s festival kicks off with Tim Palmer presenting his latest book, "America’s Wild and Scenic Rivers: An American Legacy."
Doors open at 5 p.m. at the Historic Ashland Armory for a social hour, silent auction, music, food, and fun. Presentations and films will run from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. You can enjoy the wonders of nature indoors. I promise, you won’t get wet.
— Joseph Vaile is executive director of the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center (KS Wild, 541-488-5789, www.kswild.org). His Wild Side column appears every three weeks.