‘Tribute to a Fallen Giant’ – an homage to a fallen tree at Camp Waskowitz
By Kent Horton
As far back as I can remember I have had a “thing” for big trees. Perhaps it comes from visiting my grandparents’ farm in tiny, tiny Neosho Rapids, Kansas, where they had a big ol’ cottonwood shade tree in their back yard with a rope swing just made for an 8-year old to run and grab onto and sit on the huge knot at the bottom.
This fascination with big trees was strengthened when our family moved to Seattle from Wichita in the summer of 1962, while my father worked on Boeing’s TFX program. Since we were going to be here in the Pacific Northwest for only a short while “18 months to two years,” my parents made sure we visited as many places as we could. This included trips out to see the Pacific Ocean. Driving along highway 101 I would see logging trucks loaded with but a single huge log.
That was some 54 years ago, those big logs are long gone but my family stayed and most are still living here in the Highline community.
I first met Big Fir on the traditional Sunday hike of Waskowitz’ Leader Training Weekend in the Spring of 1968, when I was a sophomore at Mt. Rainier H.S., and was preparing to become a High School Leader a few weeks later. I had seen big trees before, but I recall Big Fir being a truly magnificent tree, the likes of which I had never before experienced up close and personal. For some reason it was left standing in the virgin forests around North Bend, when its brethren were cut down and sent to the local saw mill. Most likely big Fir remained to be a “seed tree” to help reforest the land as was a common practice in 1910, after area was logged. Or, as I like to imagine, perhaps Big Fir was left standing because it was just too darn big and not worth the effort to cut down and wrestle out of the forest. After over a hundred years, no one can know for sure why it was left untouched. For whatever reason, this tree towered over the destruction left behind the logging operation. Being the tallest structure for miles around it was a prime target for lightning strikes and was hit repeatedly over the next few decades, eventually destroying the top 40-50 feet. Somehow the tree survived through fires. rain and drought.
Over the years this tree was one of many must-see stops for classes attending Outdoor School at Camp Waskowitz as they explored the different trails weaving through the “300 Acres.” For many of our students this walk in the woods was, (and still is), the first time they had been away from home and experiencing the natural forest environment. Even today you can see the remains of some of those old trees from the logging days, but alas, the spring-board notches have all but disappeared as these stumps slowly rot away. A favorite activity at Big Fir for about 45 years was to see how many students with out-stretched arms touching fingertip to fingertip it took to circle the tree. Those same students would then line up in a straight line along the trail to demonstrate in a practical way the concept of circumference. It usually took seven or eight 5th and 6th graders – depending on if they came to Outdoor School in the Fall or the Spring (when many of them had grown quite a bit during the school year.) This activity was stopped a few years back with the awareness of the harm that soil compaction has on the roots of plants – even big trees! When the soil gets compacted around the roots the plant is no longer able to get the air and water it needs to survive. I am hoping that this activity did not hasten the death of our beloved Big Fir.
In a recent email from Roberta McFarland, the Director/Principal of Outdoor School at Camp Waskowitz, I learned that a few weeks ago, sometime in late August, this giant of Waskowitz had fallen. It makes me very sad to think that Big Fir is gone. Plans are underway to reroute a trail atop what remains of this behemoth and provide our students the opportunity to experience the forest from yet a new and different perspective. I am so looking forward to getting back up to camp and taking a good look at what remains of this giant of the forest.
If you remember Big Fir from your own experience at Camp Waskowitz, I encourage you to add your thoughts to the Camp Waskowitz Alumni page on Facebook.
The Waskowitz Foundation had a booth at the Brot Trot/Bavarian Fest on Sunday, where they celebrated 70 years of Enviornmental Education at Camp Waskowitz.
– Kent Horton
Waskowitz Foundation President and long-time Fan