Blug Slog, I Mean, SLUG BLOG
The rain did not hold back. When the clouds were ready to let loose, the raindrops that fell were no smaller than marbles. This is the inaugural trip for Un-Cruise Adventures on the Coastal Washington itinerary and our first visit to the Olympic Peninsula. We took a short skiff ride from where the Wilderness Adventurer was anchored in Hood Canal and jumped onto a bus for a scenic drive through the lowland temperate rainforest to the Olympic National Park.
Despite the drippy weather, our intrepid travelers were ready for a hike on the Staircase Shady Loop Trail. My personal quest: Find a banana slug! Slimy. Slow. What else do you call a slug?
I guess I was determined to find one because it would be the first one I’d seen this season, I find their mysterious appearance exciting. Signaling spring, sighting the banana slug is probably a more accurate reading of season change than a ground hog running from his shadow. The first slug of the year ranks as high on my list of seasonal wonders as the first snow at my mountain home and the spotting of fireworks stands nearing Independence Day.
Today we would see one! I was certain. Rainy, cool, and just into May, the chances were very high. Starting at the Staircase Ranger Station, we set out clad in rain gear on the east side of the loop trail headed north. The trail was moderate terrain with quite a bit of standing water. With all the green and sogginess, I imagined this place never dried out. The Olympic National Park is almost a million acres today, and the original section of land around Mt. Olympus was designated a monument in 1909. I had never been to this section of the park. Most visitors find a way in through the northern or coastal access points.
Following along the bank of the Skokomish River, we learned about the surrounding forest of mostly red cedar, western hemlock and the wet mosses and lichens that covered absolutely everything. I could see why the Skokomish Tribe of Twana people would want to call this place home. Beauty aside, the food supply of fresh salmon and nearby shellfish in Hood Canal would be my favorite meals, but land animals and birds would be pretty good eating too.
I pointed out interesting mushrooms and fungi that I spotted and kept my eyes glued to the ground looking for the sneaky banana slug. Yellow to brown to a sort of 70’s era olive green, I knew that sighting one would take a good eye as they blend into the ground cover well.
The species of banana slug that calls the Pacific Northwest home is the second largest species of terrestrial slug. They feed on the fallen detritus, trash and are fairly fond of fungi. Some would believe that this native species is the culprit for the ruins of gardens from the central California coast through the tips of southeast Alaska, but they are probably blaming the wrong land living mollusk. Other species of slugs introduced to the Americas quickly spread through habitats because they have no natural predators, and these are generally the types we find in gardens and have all shaken salt on.
The trail crossed the river over a bridge formed by a notched log and similarly fashioned hand rail. I knew we were nearing the end of our journey. Where, oh where, was my little banana slug? We sighted a pair of harlequin duck diving into the eddy on the edge of the river. If slugs swam, I bet the couple would have been searching for my friend for their breakfast.
Nearing the parking lot the disappointment began to take hold. Was it too rainy? Not possible, right? Maybe I missed them? I had fervent plans to discuss immediately with the other guides on the trail if they had spotted one. To my relief, I learned later they had not. Well, I thought, we should have several more opportunities to spot this famed creature over the coming days on the Pacific Northwest itinerary we were following. The planned destinations included a stop on Whidbey Island, Friday Harbor and Sucia Islands. If it wasn’t for my soggy pack and growling tummy I may have pouted a bit more. Thank goodness for the awaiting warm bus and granola bars I carried to hand out.
The search will continue.