A wide swath of land opened up off the main trail and led to an offshoot whose entrance immediately plunged into a thick canopy of forest. This was the Kwis Kwis trail and the hiker was looking forward to its undulating path that wound through the lush temperate rainforest of Sitka Spruce. Her dog, an eager explorer, ran ahead with tail wagging in joy over this new adventure before abruptly stopping.
“What’s up Junior?” Her dog turned to look at her, then back at the trail. Hiker and dog paused and listened. Only the sweet song of birds calling out to each other could be heard, so the two travelers continued only to stop short again at the sound of crackling of twigs. Caution gave way to relief when a couple emerged from the shadows. Gentle greetings were shared, and everyone continued on their way.
Whisperings of undistinguishable conversations drifted down the trail from fellow hikers. Traveler and dog occasionally paused to enjoy the view. The whisperings followed them and seemed to draw closer, until traveler and dog decided to step aside and let the hikers pass. The voices seemed just around the last bend, so traveler sat on a nearby log to wait. Soon, the whisperings faded, yet there were no hikers who came.
Silence fell around them. Not even the birds could be heard. Nor the rustling of leaves. Junior whimpered ever so softly.
The Kwis Kwis trail was named for the sound squirrels make, but the word is very close to Kwas Kwas -- the Chinuk Wawa word for fear or being scared. Kwas Kwas is to be terrified. Having hiked the Kwis Kwis trail a number of times, I have definitely felt kwas as unseen spirits seem to inhabit the forest surrounding the trail.
According to Native American Legends of the Pacific Northwest, everything has a spirit – from animals to rocks, trees and even the wind. In fact, wind was thought to be the breath of someone who was far away. The spirit of a dark forest was thought to be evil, a demon that slept during the day and caused harm at night. During my travels through the Kwis Kwis I never felt the whispering spirits were harmful. What I often felt was they were more of a warning. My brother-in-law, who seems sensitive to things of the spirit world, confirmed my own thoughts on the matter when he told me he felt that there were Native American spirits present who did not like people traveling through the forest and that the whisperings were their warning to keep us on the path. After reading about the spirit demons of the dark forest, I’m wondering if perhaps the whisperings were a warning to take heed – that evil lurks within.
Clark, Ella E. (1953). Indian Legends of the Pacific Northwest. University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London.
Kwis Kwis Trail is an offshoot of the Fort to Sea Trail located near Astoria, Oregon, and is part of the Lewis & Clark National Historical Park. https://www.nps.gov/thingstodo/kwis-kwis-trail.htm