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Postcard from the Evergreen Forest

Mount Rainier

July 2015

Jonathan Young and Anne Bach

Mount Rainier hovers above the evening mist in the view from our Seattle hotel at the start of a visit to the Northwest. We glimpse a small pontoon plane rising steeply from a nearby lake, heading for the outback. We have come to the right place, to savor the verdant landscape, during long days of midsummer. Three hours ago, we were in Santa Barbara. Still, this is another world.

Our first hiking expedition has us heading eastward, up into the Cascades, to Snoqualmie Falls. I've been eager to explore this area ever since seeing the waterfall prominently in the cult TV series Twin Peaks. We hike down into the cool glade, and turn to get a good look at the tumbling water. The old lodge clings to a nearby cliff, as if to guard the river from change. We pick blackberries, thimbleberries, and salmonberries. We exhaust ourselves climbing around the steep banks, but it is pure splendor.

Northwest forest lilacs, Christine Norstrand, photo

Another kind of immersion awaits us at the Seattle Art Museum in a special exhibition of masks and ritual dancing. Entering the tribute to Shamanism is like participating in the energized ceremonies of the healers. Of course, we all enact roles and have our personal rituals. Tribal masks could be seen as mirroring our inner vitality.

Fremont Troll

We cruise Seattle's neighborhoods. Anne likes the charming old houses in the Queen Anne area. We pay homage to the Fremont Street Troll. Much of the Northwest is reminiscent of Scandinavia, so it seems appropriate that a Nordic shadow figure skulks under a major local bridge. There are many crossings in this city of waterways, but just one has a visible troll. Of course, this is merely an ogre we can see. Perhaps it hints at those more significant demons that lurk in the unconscious.

Our biggest outing begins with a ferry ride to the Olympic peninsula. This is the heart of the trip, to hike in the great rainforest beneath craggy, snowcapped peaks. Mount Olympus hovers up over us. It is named for the home of the ancient Greek divinities. I'm imagining Artemis, goddess of the forest and hills, is up there receiving our devotions. Okay, it's a bit large to think of hiking as consecrating oneself to nature. Still, trekking along timberland trails can be seen as a sort of earth-centered contemplative practice. Hey, the sacred is wherever you find it.

Jonathan Young and Anne Bach, Snoqualmie Falls

Creeks and small waterfalls abound. The songs of robins, wrens, and warblers come and go. A cool breeze brings the distinctive scent of fallen cedars and giant spruces. The towering trees are near damp culverts with pungent moss. Open areas have patches of foxgloves and blackberry blossoms, which delight Anne, the botanist. All these aromas conjure childhood adventures. It is the freshness of deep down things. It is home.

Back in the emerald city, we take a day for a different kind of adventure. To start, we explore Seattle Center park, site of the 1962 World's Fair. Many of the buildings are still in use, relics from the early days of the space age. Anne came to the fair as a girl.

Anne Bach, Seattle Art Museum

She remembers wearing leopard print pedal pushers and going up to the top of the Needle. I recall a corny Elvis Presley movie set amidst the festivities, and a later thriller with Warren Beatty about conspiracy theories. The whole park looks a bit like a period movie set.

Seattle Space Needle

The most dramatic structure is in the shadow of the Space Needle. The massive Frank Gehry building is all undulating stainless steel. This is our goal, the EMP (for Experience Music Project) — which has now expanded into a broader popular culture extravaganza.

The EMP has absorbed the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. Entry, by way of an air lock, opens into a giant space ark. The flight deck allows visitors to take command and interact with other spacecraft. A display on alien morphology traces the image of extra-terrestrials through various incarnations, including Mr. Spock. It's a busman's holiday for me, providing useful notes for future appearances on the Ancient Aliens television series. A special exhibit on Star Wars allowed for an encounter with a dark character. I've done several interviews recently for upcoming documentaries on the force, so it was timely to visit iconic figures from the series.

Wizard of OZ at Seattle EMP

The entry to the Fantasy wing of the museum is a massive oaken door leading to a warren of hobbit holes filled with dragons, fairies, and other archetypal beings. Displays on The Wizard of Oz, The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones and other mythic tales conjure up realms of mystery and darkness.

The Horror exhibit is, appropriately, in a dungeon. Artifacts include Jack's axe from The Shining, and the dagger from my favorite dark film, Pan's Labyrinth. I have mixed feelings about terror in movies. Psycho, Carrie, and The Exorcist got to me. The Omen, The Sixth Sense and The Others were genuinely spooky and raised some thoughtful issues.

Jonathan and Darth

But, I don't have much use for slasher films. Still, horror movies do help us face our fears — of the unknown, the uncanny, and death. They reflect the landscape of nightmares. Freud thought such tales revealed our primitive impulses. Jung thought the shadow must be faced. So, I do think there can be value in watching frightening films, if we are reflective about what they represent in our inner lives.

Jonathan Young, Anne Bach, Northwest Rainforest

On to the music section, the core of the museum. I take a look at Woody Guthrie's guitar. Anne watches footage of Jimmy Hendrix. She even finds a poster for the concert in San Francisco where she saw him perform back in the sixties. It is affecting to revisit the music that was important in our formative years.

The range of topics included in the EMP keeps expanding. A newer installation features the art of Chuck Jones, the animator behind Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig and other cartoon icons.

So, we wrap up our holiday. The hikes have opened us to the wisdom of the body and the enchantment of the wilds. It is not hard to fancy woodland sprites watching us wander about. The museums have sparked the imagination.

It is good to be in another place, to get a little break from daily routines. Most travel includes some element of pilgrimage. We seek neglected parts of ourselves. Vacations can be about more than they seem. Anne thinks we all yearn for the spaciousness of summertime. If for one day, we can enter into the slow carefree time of childhood, we can be renewed.

That's All, Folks!