The Pacific Northwest is a dynamic region, blessed with moisture-laden air delivered across a Pacific Ocean fetch of a few thousand miles. Toss in the Olympic Mountains to further magnify the region’s dynamism. Pleasant weather accompanied our time on the Olympic Peninsula. I drafted an essay shortly after the trip, revealing insights and reflections that fit well in this book of essays on nature-inspired learning and leading. I am pleased that five years ago, I had already embraced and had begun to articulate how I draw strength, insight, and illumination from nature’s wisdom.
Even the name evokes ferocity, danger, and power. At more than a mile above sea level, Hurricane Ridge stands at the northern rim of Washington’s Olympic Mountains. Fully exposed to the incessant winter storms that pound in from the Pacific, conditions on the ridge can be ferocious. In excess of 30 feet of snow annually pummel, pelt, bury, scour, ram, and suffocate Hurricane Ridge! Life exists in seasonally extreme ebbs and flows.
We drove to the ridge from near Sequim, ascending through full forest and within a narrow elevational band of thick fog (clouds). Douglas fir towered above us and thickets of sword fern flourished in their shade. As we continued upward, the forest began yielding to alpine meadow and stunted trees. Summiting a final rise, we absorbed the stunning vista into the heart of the Olympics. Mt. Olympus and her surrounding peaks seemed within reach. Snowfields, glaciers, and magnificent beauty proved hypnotic.
Deep green meadows splashed with summer’s explosion of wildflowers greeted us. We followed a trail to the ridge summit. Coarse, lee-deposited drifts of residual snow still stood 20 feet deep. Ravens lectured us from treetops; others foraged in the grass, occasionally joining the conversation. Deer grazed within touch, accustomed to human presence; they feasted on the abundant growth, knowing at some level that now is the time to grow fat with summer’s bounty. The old drifts certainly provide direct evidence of nature’s wintertime fury. The stunted trees bear testament that life can be tough, even at this elevation 2,000 feet below Mt. Olympus. Branches flagged to the east. Each tree wore a skirt of layering greenery, where under the deep winter snow they escape the wind’s blasting.
Three solitary bears foraged in the alpine buffet; they, too, seemed indifferent to our intrusion. Summer is short; fat is the ticket for surviving what lies ahead. Autumn will soon signal withdrawal from the mountaintop for the deer, bear, and the all-knowing wise one: the raven. This place of bounty and feasting will transition to inhospitable. Flora will begin shutting down, dormancy protecting it from winter’s ravages. The annual cycle is rapid, predictable, wild, and everlasting. The mountains themselves seem uncaring and unaffected; yet their role is seminal, for they generate the extreme conditions and yield to their agents over the long sweep of time. Ageless tectonic processes continue to lift the Olympics. The weather wears them: heavy rains and snowmelt erode, avalanches and mudslides carry debris ever downward, freezing and thawing shatter and break surface features, glaciers scour powerfully.
Our lives likewise are shaped by our surroundings and experiences. We bend to the cycles of time and events. We retreat and advance as the seasons of life stimulate action and reaction. Like the mountains, we are shaped by countervailing forces lifting and eroding our faith, our character, our service to the future. Unlike the mountains, we can plan our future to some extent, choose our course, and envision the future we seek. The mountains know not tomorrow; they are simply there. However, we humans must be committed to tomorrow even as we navigate today. Like the bear and deer, for us a lapse of nature-directed judgment can lead to suffering and death, both literal and actual. We too must observe and respond properly to the cycles and rhythms that swirl about us.
Nature both teaches and inspires. Even without the explicit and metaphorical lessons from our trip to Hurricane Ridge, the beauty and wonder were sufficient to renew and reward us. A mountain odyssey pays dividends. Wherever we live, nature provides treasure and inspiration. But for me the mountain yields are greater, enriching me for the moment and adding a seasonal layer of life-sustaining and fulfilling memory and emotion: the spiritual “fat” to survive the winters of life.
I now bring another several years of deep living to my perspective of visiting Hurricane Ridge. I have fruitfully explored and probed the concepts of nature-inspired learning and leading over and over again, especially these past two years. I am jubilant to see my own words from a 63-months distance, “Nature both teaches and inspires.” In fact, I wonder how many decades ago my mind already accepted that same sentiment, albeit perhaps not so explicitly and succinctly. Today, I preach the gospel of nature-inspired learning and leading—accepting, embracing, and applying nature’s wisdom to life and work.
I once owned a canoe, only infrequently launching it when we lived in central Pennsylvania. I stored it under our back deck, drawing great comfort in knowing it was there, ready to rack and escape to a stream or lake. I look at the Hurricane Ridge trip in a parallel fashion. I know it is there; I can close my eyes and see summer’s tranquility, and at the same time imagine winter’s ferocity. I can only “see” that pleasurable terror through the lens of visualization. Even that view is powerful and compelling. The summer’s brief immersion, along with my knowledge of what winter actually brings, is sufficient. I know I will never experience winter on Hurricane Ridge. They shutter the building and stop plowing in late fall. Yet I can still experience its lessons and find inspiration in its beauty, awe, magic, wonder, and ferocity.
Nature both teaches and inspires. These essays encapsulate nature’s wisdom, amplify her inspiration, and seek ways to employ the lessons to living, learning, serving, and leading.