By Maverick Ryan, American Forests

Most recently in June of 2016, my father and I decided this time, our travels would take us through the Enchanted Valley in the Olympic National Park. He devised a plan that would take us up through the valley, over Anderson Pass and out through the Dosewallips River Valley. A 40-mile trek that would span some of the most beautiful and remote sites in Olympic.

Of particular interest to my father was getting to see the largest Western hemlock in the U.S., fixed on the banks of the Quinalt River Valley between the Enchanted Valley and Anderson Pass. The trip would not be a success without seeing this mammoth tree, which, according to American Forest’s Champion Trees National Register, stands a towering 237 feet, with a massive circumference of nearly 23 feet.

However, over the course of recent years, erosion has eaten away at the banks of the Quinalt River Valley, and, once we reached the fork that signed the hemlock was near, the amount of carnage baffled me. I had never seen land so untouched by human hands look so decimated. We searched every bit of canopy around the outcropping where the path seemed to lead us, but the path ended with a vicious bank created by a washout. There didn’t seem to be any trees that stood out from the rest.

Perhaps nature had taken its course and washed away the prestigious tree, perhaps nature had obfuscated our path, deceiving us into thinking we were heading the right way or perhaps we stood at the foot of the tree, irreverent, deciding that its size wasn’t enough to be impressed by and refusing to believe that it’s physical form was remotely close to what we’d conjured in our heads.

Regardless, we left disappointed. But, I believe in my experience there’s a valuable lesson to be had, that nature works in spite of our own machinations. Despite our hopes, dreams, desires or needs, nature has a funny way of ditching the individual’s sense of self-importance in favor of a more sophisticated cycle, a lesson that perhaps transcends nature and applies to life as well.

And, that’s ultimately what led me here specifically to American Forests. Already having finished my first year at American University, and needing a formal direction for my policy work in the future, I found myself beholden to that potent reminder that nature will go about its own bidding without regard for our personal plans, and that the best plan is to respect this ambivalence, as well as plan according to it. American Forest’s mission echoed this lesson and was easy for me to jump on board with.

I’m humbled and eager to have the opportunity to combine two of my greatest joys in the world, nature and policy, in my internship with American Forests. On the cusp of a new and uncertain administration, there’s no better time for me to be here, nearly 3,000 miles from home and those gorgeous vistas on the Puget Sound, helping to further the progress American Forests has already made in protecting our forests.