Wanderings: Saint Edward State Park (again)

Crow along the Lake Washington waterfront, Saint Edward State Park. Lainey Piland photo

One of the best things about hiking is that you can return time and again to the same place, and not once will you have the same experience. The landscape changes with the seasons, the weather, the time of day. What you notice - hear, see, and smell -  will vary depending on your companions, mood, the pace at which you're walking.

Saint Edward State Park has long been one of my favorite places to visit, and has been featured in many posts here on the blog. It was the place where, on a field trip with my college ecology class, I first forged a connection with nature in a way that piqued my curiosity, commanded my respect, and fostered a sense of stewardship. It was the first place my older sister and I hiked together, the beginning of our adventures which have since taken us to some pretty spectacular places. It was the place my husband and I frequently visited to escape the summer heat when we lived in a condo nearby. It was the first place I took my son for a hike when he was a month old, and the place our family returned to in early September, this time with a four-month old who is already beginning to love the outdoors.

Early on Labor Day morning, we pulled into the parking area at Saint Edward, hoping to get in a quick hike before the day reached its forecast high temperature in the mid-nineties. I'd spent the long, sweltering weekend shut inside my house with my son, with all the blinds closed and curtains drawn, and our faithful portable air conditioner attempting to cool much more square footage than it was designed for. Needless to say, I was going stir-crazy and starting to wonder if my eyes were permanently adapted to dim lighting.

Happily, the air was still a comfortable temperature and I wasn't blinded by the morning sunshine as we packed Lucas into the baby carrier my husband wore and headed for the North Beach trail. It was immediately evident that the forest here was suffering as a result of the hot, rain-bereft summer. The trail was dry and dusty, the consistency of powdered sugar. Dust covered everything: sword fern fronds were caked, and the usually-glossy salal leaves were dull beneath the layer of dirt. Salmonberry leaves withered on their branches, and bigleaf maple were already beginning to drop golden leaves in our path.

The trails were surprisingly busy for this time of the morning. Other hikers seemed to have the same idea to beat the heat as we did, and many were already passing us on their way back to the parking lot and the air-conditioned comfort of their vehicles. We proceeded down the trail at a much slower pace than usual. My husband was being cautious of his footing, not wanting to take a misstep and risk a tumble while he carried our son, and I was ever more aware of the tree roots and rocks poking up, pointed them out on the path in front of us. Lucas seemed absolutely delighted to be outside (he was probably feeling as stir-crazy as me!), and would give us a huge grin whenever we talked to him.

I haven't officially introduced him here on the blog, but here is Lucas, my little adventure buddy who has added a whole new dimension to my life!

After descending to the Lake Washington shoreline, we followed the sedge-lined trail through the cool shade, passing through a grove of indian plum, the leaves of which were beginning to turn yellow as summer wound to a close. I swatted spider webs from my face, spotting them by the glimmer they gave off as the sun rose over the ridge above us and began to light up the trail. The noise from the Kenmore Air seaplanes was especially loud and noticeable this morning, likely because all else was still calm and quiet at this early hour. Again, I was reminded of Thoreau's words in Walden:
"The whistle of the locomotive penetrates my woods summer and winter, sounding like the scream of a hawk sailing over some farmer's yard, informing me that many restless city merchants are arriving within the circle of the town, or adventurous country traders from the other side."
Despite the fact that we were hiking in the forest, seemingly immersed in nature, the sounds of civilization are ever-present. The blaring noise of each successive seaplane takeoff announced the departure of dozens of people, heading out on their own adventures while we followed our own quiet path along the lake shore.

A handful of people and leashed dogs were milling around as we reached the clearing at the main beach. Waves lapped quietly at the rocky shoreline, ducks bobbed bottoms-up in the water, and crows poked around the fallen logs. It was a peaceful and drowsy scene, one that seems common on those summer mornings anticipating the hot temperatures to come.

As is our custom, we picked up the South Canyon Trail - my favorite - to head back up to the park. We passed only two other hikers on this typically quiet trail. Again, the vegetation here looked a bit wilted and tired after the long, dry summer, although the maples in my beloved "maple cathedral" still formed a vibrant green canopy overhead. The creek running through the ravine had slowed to a syrupy trickle through its deep bed of black mud, and I was surprised to find any water there at all. One of the beautiful aspects of this trail is the way in which birdsong echoes back and forth between the hillsides, filling the canyon halls with melodies of a dozen different species. Among the voices today was that of my son... Lucas was telling his own story in his typical high-pitched squeals and delighted shrieks as we ascended the trail.

We reached the end of the uphill climb on this half-mile trail, and I was gasping, trying to move the thick, humid air in and out of my lungs as stars danced before my eyes. I was desperately out of shape, and the warm, humid air wasn't helping. As I tried to catch my breath, I looked at the canopy of cottonwood and maple leaves overhead, stirring languidly in a sluggish breeze. At least I wasn't the only one dragging today.

Emerging from the forest back onto the park grounds, I stopped to appreciate the old orchard tucked into a clearing. I haven't stopped to photograph it before, but today the old gnarled apple trees looked peaceful as they stretched their boughs over empty lawns and picnic tables. This place always occurred in my thoughts as a contemplative place to steal away and write, should I ever have the opportunity to do so.

Lucas was by now fast asleep in the carrier, his little arms and legs limp and flopping with each step my husband took. We followed the asphalt path around the back of the seminary grounds. The vast lawns which were normally filled with picnicking families were now eerily empty. The grass had gone brown and dormant during the dry summer, and the barbecue stations were covered with black plastic garbage bags to prevent anyone using them due to high fire danger.

Arriving at the car just as the morning sun was beginning to feel toasty, we loaded a now-awake and smiling Lucas into his car seat for the ride back home. He wouldn't remember his trip here today, but being able to share this special place with him created yet another new and memorable experience for me. Just wait until he's able to walk... these visits will again be something new altogether!


  1. He will remember more and more with every hike, I am positive of that fact. Our grandson is so lucky he has hiking parents!


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