The hen sooty grouse stood on a downed spruce that gave her a vantage above her five mostly-grown chicks. I can’t imagine the stress of mothering such a brood, and that so much of her family had survived to this stage was no small accomplishment. When you are a grouse, most everything wants to eat you. Humans, dogs, wolves—and even black bears—are all threats that female sooty grouse* have attacked in defense of their offspring.
She was alert, but not alarmed, at my presence. I’d been spending so much time alone outside—so much time away from people—that the way I moved through the wild startled humans more frequently than it did non-humans. This relationship went both ways: I felt far more at ease in the presence of animals than I did the presence of people.
I stepped off the trail: as long as she didn’t mind, I wanted to be with her. Walking in, I’d traveled through conversations of getting steps in; of tracking the minutes it took to walk a mile with a heavy pack. I had no idea how fast I was walking—had no goals regarding distance covered. I wished, in fact, that it was possible to experience the entire Olympic in a speed somewhat akin to a banana slug—slither through the underbelly at a snail’s pace. Here, in a forest of old, colossal, cedars and hemlocks, moss and maidenhair, it felt criminal to move fast, to focus on speed and distance. The trail, eventually, would lead to a place called Enchanted Valley, but I think I’d already reached that. There was no destination; this was it.
*Sooty grouse were, until relatively recently, considered with dusky grouse to be one species: blue grouse. Some of the natural history in that first paragraph may have been observed just in dusky grouse…