Adventure Follows Quest for Giant Doug Fir Near Albany

Tom Bode and companion Luna

I start the hike with false urgency, excited after hours in the car. It is late fall and snowing, which I am not expecting. I watch the flakes melt into my clothes. “Cotton kills,” they say, because it won’t keep you warm when wet—but here I am, in jeans. 

Crabtree Valley, deep in the foothills of the Cascades east of Albany, is a place where winding logging roads stitch together patches of clear-cut. I’m on a quixotic trip; I have driven hours to see Douglas firs, which grow in my backyard. But there’s a story of a giant tree here, called Nefertiti, surviving through the years by luck or fate. There are still magical places in Oregon. I’m hoping to find one. 

My dog, Luna, trots alongside. The unexpected flakes are a visual delight, turning white the browns and greens of the dark forest. At the shore of Crabtree Lake, fresh snow outlines dark firs and the still water inverts the earth and sky. My map shows an informal path to Nefertiti. We find a faint trail leading into the forest. Luna runs up it, and I follow. 

The trail rises nearly straight up the steep valley wall. Out of habit, I categorize the growth as we walk: mountain hemlock saplings, dark-leaved huckleberry, sword fern. 

After 20 minutes, abruptly, the trail ends. We stand on a hillside in a beautiful forest, dense with wet life, growing and rotting, but there are no giants here. It is silent in the falling snow. Luna sits down and looks at me. “Where do we go now?” 

I sit under a tree to think. I can’t make sense of the map and my GPS app isn’t working. Maybe the dense trees are blocking the signal. Sitting in snow with no navigation tools, I feel a swell of worry. I  turn to backtrack on the path and Luna sprints down the hill with the speed of a cold, wet dog going home. I forget myself for a moment and joyfully run with her. We dodge bushes and hop onto the wide trunks of fallen trees, highways above the thick undergrowth. When we stop, the trail is gone. I’ve been lost before, but never alone, and never in weather this bad. The snow is beautiful and cold. Are the flurries a light prelude to winter or the opening salvo of a storm? My skin prickles as my mind races. 

I push down panic, and carefully walk toward an unexpected change in the pattern of the forest—the lake?—a quarter-mile away, downhill. We emerge into a cliff-top clearing. But this cliff is on my map. We are found. 

Luna and I return to the lake, not giving up on finding Nefertiti. I see the same faint trail leading into the forest that we’d followed earlier. Luna starts to run up it again, but I call her back. Not this time, dog. 

Just past it, the landscape changes and we enter an ancient part of the forest. The undergrowth is gone and huge cedars, hemlocks, and firs rise from the flat ground. Luna and I are in the heart of Crabtree. Thick nurse logs support new growth that is itself hundreds of years old. 

I realize I no longer need to find Nefertiti. The whole grove is itself a wonder. Luna may live 10 years. I may live 100 years. These trees may live 1,000 years. Of all the magical places in the world consumed by progress, this one has been spared. I sit on a log and rest. Luna is too excited to eat from her bowl. Under the tall trees, I feed her like a puppy from my hand. 

—Story and photo by Tom Bode, BS ’09 (Clark Honors College, economics), a writer in Milwaukie, Oregon