Back to Olympic (by James Andrews)

I first met Don O’Brien out here in the Pacific Northwest wilderness three summers ago. We were both fresh college graduates working among the mossy trees and misted mountains of the region’s National Parks -- he as a nature documentarian and I as a science writing intern.

Don has revisited the area plenty of times since then, predominantly to film projects in Olympic National Park. Since I’m in Seattle and little more than a ferry ride away, he always asks me to come back out, but I have never been able to take him up on the invitation until this time.

Don working at our first camp along the Olympic coastline.

Don working at our first camp along the Olympic coastline.

We’re just finishing up a five-day tour of Olympic to complete some remaining work for Silver Fir Media’s upcoming film, Tide. The film showcases the work of Dr. Steve Fradkin and his team of coastal ecologists who monitor the conditions of Olympic’s intertidal zone, the small strip of land that the oceans cover and reveal as the tide advances and recedes twice a day.

Low tide reveals the rocky landscape of the intertidal zone.

Low tide reveals the rocky landscape of the intertidal zone.

The intertidal zone is home to the smattering of organisms you’d likely find in a city aquarium’s petting tank: seastars, anemones, hermit crabs, barnacles and mussels, and even the occasional nudibranch. But however much touching they might sustain from aquarium visitors, in the wild intertidal zone, these organisms can be incredibly sensitive indicators of climate change and oceanic acidification.

Mussels & Green Anemones near Sokol Point

Mussels & Green Anemones near Sokol Point

Steve’s work at the National Park Service revolves around studying this delicate ecosystem, and the film provides a first-hand account of the lengths some scientists go to in order to understand the human impact on the environment on a measurable scale. (I’ve seen the rough cut, so you can trust me on this. My journalistic integrity is on the line here.)

Our tent and the night sky at Hole in the Wall.

Our tent and the night sky at Hole in the Wall.

But we’re all human, too, and the film captures some of Steve off the clock. He’s an avid salmon fisherman, and we were fortunate enough to go out on the Strait of Juan de Fuca in his boat one evening. Unfortunately, we didn’t catch anything but some Rainier tallboys and a dozen glimpses of cocky Coho jumping a few yards away. Salmon-on-hook or not, the experience was a bright highlight of the trip.

Steve preparing a rod while salmon fishing in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Steve preparing a rod while salmon fishing in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Sunset on the boat.

Sunset on the boat.

It’s been a real privilege to return to Olympic with my friend Don and see some of the same wonderful people out here with whom we first worked three years ago. These are some of the last remaining wild landscapes in the country, and they are under very mindful watch

Don and I at the second campsite, with Hole in the Wall behind us.

Don and I at the second campsite, with Hole in the Wall behind us.