Can you see in the sky rocks like seeds?

These seeds placed in one hundred jars gave birth to one hundred mountains. Truly the Cascades are the earthen counterparts of the Kauravas. Gurgling choking they rose from their clay catacombs and quickly dominated the land. My Southern Sister, both the size of a mountain and a grasshopper, leads her siblings and every year calls forth hundreds willing to stand at a height normally reserved for Krishna. Come now, reveal yourself as you once did to Arjuna!

Slowly, slowly I approached, weighed down by my pack. I used great caution, for the unpredictable peak can turn at any second. From Kali to Shakti she shifts and changes. Left foot right foot left foot right foot. I emerged from the woods and the veil was lifted, leaving me with a clear view of the summit. It’s strange how distance is skewed when it reaches a certain scale. We look from the coast to the edge of the ocean, and think it might be reached with a simple breast stroke. We butterfly, dog paddle, do all we can to tumble over the horizon like a waterfall, but we never plummet.

At last it seemed I was almost there. The final ridge looked like it might be conquered in little more than two steps. One step, two steps, three steps; I suppose it’s farther than I thought. Four steps, five steps, six steps; my concern grew. Upon closer inspection, the scale became evident. Look closely and you’ll see the people like ants. Two steps forward, one step back. The loose lava slid. I felt I was walking up a conveyor belt. My shoes filled with the liquid rock and threatened to prevent my ascent. Above the flowing burning ground my cinder-block feet continued to walk. Slowly, slowly.

Eventually I did reach the mountain’s peak. Looking out I saw the sikhara’s of the neighboring temples. Dig dip enough and we may just burst the swelling garbhabriha. Linga and yoni lie and wait in the depths of the earth. Indeed, the sisters may give birth in due time.*

Up one side, down the other. I descended via the Green Lakes trail and staggered to my camp sight. Having previously abandoned the flesh and experienced the mountain top, my freshly inhabited body felt a terrible burden. My head ached and my stomach churned. I tried to sleep but was impeded by my pounding heart. It seemed every bodily function, from breath to blood, upset my soul. I tossed turned and tumbled through the twilight.

I returned to my car via circumambulation. Skirting the edge of the South Sister I traveled from the Green Lakes to Moraine Lake, and across the Wickiup Plains. I waved a final goodbye as the mountain dropped from sight. But fear not: on a clear day the Sisters can be seen from the summit of Spencer Butte. I salute my friends daily.

*http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/05/photogalleries/100518-mount-st-helens-americas-most-dangerous-volcanoes-science-pictures/#/most-dangerous-volcanoes-united-states-south-sister_20374_600x450.jpg

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Hikes 63 and 64: The Séance

September 6, 2011

Are you one of my ghosts?

Yellow Blue Red Brown. Colors and Curls, Lake-Eyes and Athena-Gray; these are the apparitions that haunted me. Perhaps it had something to do with the location of my trip or the dead things littering the trail. Blood and bones and lifeless limbs were scattered throughout the short hike to Bobby Lake.

Cerebrospinal fluid drought.

It would be unfair to say that not a single living thing inhabited the wasteland. The occasional flower found nourishment in the barren soil, but the rarity of such a sight made its appearance all the more unsettling. What do you live for, wilting one?

As the roots drained water from the ground, so too did the spiders drain life from their prey. They left behind only empty husks. From life to death to life to death to death to death from death comes life. Join the circle and slurp with the fervor of a thirsty arachnid. Soup will do just fine.

Drink up.

One welt, two welts, three welts, four welts. The mosquitos tapped my precious skin and drained along with the rest of the woods. One quart, two quarts, three quarts, four quarts. So parched were the frenzied flies that even the arboreal inhabitants weren’t safe. They sucked the sap from the trees until their skin mimicked my own irritated epidermis.

My veins ran dry and began to collapse. This once circulating blood of mine now inhabited hundreds thousands millions of buzzing insects that danced and glowed with an ethereal light. The life that had pumped through my very heart projected forms from the cloud of mosquitos and made me ache and pine. From these images came the colors.

Yellow Blue Red Brown. Colors Curls, Lake-Eyes and Athena-Gray; these are the apparitions that haunted me.

Again I ask, are you one of my ghosts?

The spiders are building.

Practical cathedrals threaded needles; they weave in and weave out like sweaters on the plants. Keep warm the reaching limbs, for soon the leaves will succumb to the autumnal exposure. Here in the center of a city is Wildwood Trail, a break from the busy Portland streets and crowded zoo. My arachnophobic inclinations keep my skin crawling and peeling from the ever growing presence of legs. So, too, do the trees crawl and peel until the shedding callus of bark exposes the raw skin.

External scaffolds hold in place the webbed architecture. Gothic in nature, both appalling and appealing, the heights intimidate and fill me with fear. Spires spikes gargoyles, who knows what treacherous holy idols hide in the silken cathedral?

From my vantage point on the ground, it can only go up. Up go the spiders, up go the trees, up go the vines. Lift your weary head, traveler! Why not join the stretching growing world? Limbs raised high, reaching beyond capacity I grow; my arms may tear from the strain but still they seek out the nourishment of the sun and the insects. I am a leaf and a web. We all grope blindly towards the sky.

But no; I am exposed. If I continue, I may burst forth from the canopy. Secrets will spill and be revealed. The dreadful thought keeps me from advancing. What I need now is shelter. I’ve exceeded my limit and must recoil from this intimate interaction. Those that proceed can shelter the needy. I will cower in the midst of a willing tree.

I fade. Pallid and tired I watch the forest photosynthesize. I wither in the shade. My crumbling gray skin is dust from dust to dust I’m dust. The fire was too much for my fragile existence, but still the spiders burn. I blow away and watch the spider-glow. They have no fear and the sun passes, leaving them ablaze from the peripheral glance. Grow strong and sprout your sacred horns! The wind carries me from the woods and drops me in the nearest glass. I am the ash in your tea.

Hike 55 Amended

August 18, 2011

Dear Friends, I come to you remorseful and penitent. Intentionally, and for my own means, I distorted reality and further skewed the digital diorama in which I present my hikes. What I previously labeled as Hike 55 was, in fact, little more than a walk on the beach. I did hike that day, though I had no intention of presenting photos. I decided, against my better judgement, to lump together Drift Creek Falls and Dessert, believing that you, my Reader, would be none the wiser.

I now lay before you prostrate, hoping to amend my wrongdoing. We all stand on this ever shifting planet-like-quicksand searching for solid ground. To add yet another layer of uncertainty only quickens the pull of the pit. You have no way of knowing whether the following account is true, but I hope you find in my confession integrity, and believe that I bring to you my understanding of events as they transpired.

I hold no claim on the forest or the trails, and yet I feel invaded when the population of a given hike exceeds a certain level. I chose Drift Creek Falls only because it was near, but recoiled at the sight of a full parking lot. Still, I have in mind a goal and must continue to move forward, lest I slip. With a certain reluctance, I rode the wave of people down the path.

Lines of people, lines of leaves.

Where people go, structures follow. The regular pattern of trees and rocks was soon interrupted by anomalous architecture. Before me stretched a suspension bridge made to bear the burden of heavy traffic.

Shortly following this disconnecting connecter I reached the falls. I’ll forgo the usual obligatory photo of tumbling water. The crowds quickly drove me away, and I stumbled upon a small reptile as I returned. He looked at me, I looked at him. He wore a mournful expression. The lizard said nothing, just gave me a glance. Just gave me a very sad, sad backward glance.

Unless.

I was glad to have hiked, but relieved to escape the growing mob. If nothing else, I delayed the inevitable rolling.

Standing in the presence of a mountain, its menacing stature looming beautifully terribly, the human heart rings at a resonant frequency capable of tearing apart both flesh and bone. It tolls with a fury matched only by the imposing rocky heights and its bell tower spires. What is a mountain? The bones of a giant? The world placed atop a golden turtle? A geologic anomaly caused by the subduction of lithospheric plates? Perhaps it’s little more than an old tin can being eaten by a goat. I suppose it is, like time and speed, a matter of relativity.

Friday began with a short, unassuming and inconsequential hike from Ramona Falls towards Timberline Lodge. I hiked through rocky beds and crossed the Sandy River. I was joyfully reunited with the woods and continued onward through forest and up a trail that looked very much like Spencer Butte. I grew and shrank with each bite of the mycelium fruit.

Left or Right?

As a black sequined curtain slowly lowered itself over the sun I burst forth from the familiar territory and stood trembling before Mount Vesuvius. It is here that I set up camp, knowing full well the fate that awaited me as I rested in Herculaneum. The pyroclastic explosion buried me in an ashen tomb. Even now a hollow mould of my body rests under the debris.

The morning brought relief from the horrible dreams of volcanic asphyxiation and I packed quickly, anxious to begin the arduous ascent to Paradise Park. Green and fresh, the trees once again welcomed me with a prickly embrace and I slowly stepped stepped one foot in front of the other. Up up up. Up up up. I jealously watched the effortless ascent of a fly.

But I speak too much. I turned this way and that. I lost the trail, I found the trail. Snow crowded the path and threatened to swallow me up. Finally the destination was reached in spite of me. I was treated to a feast. My engorged eyes consumed every flower, every rock, every ice crystal and every blade of grass. The day ended and the ocular snow melted in the sleeping bag warm.

My final day’s trek led me to the summit of Bald Mountain. Covered in clouds, Mount Hood took on yet another identity. Mount Sinai swirled and stormed obscured from view, and I questioned the unquestionable. No commandments were given, no glow was imparted. All I heard from the raging peak was silence. From silence I learned. From silence I grew. Words words, failing words! God has given me something far more valuable. Silence.

And yet here I am filling the page. I’ve gained nothing. Like Gilgamesh, I’ve returned without a boon; it was taken by a snake as I bathed.

As work came to an end, I faced a question with which I find myself daily confronted. It is a question that has broad implications. We constantly strive onward, looking towards the future and hoping to move on to something better and more desirable than was previously had. At the close of each action, we stand suspended in a momentary, fearful, meaningless state and ask ourselves, “What now?”

Instead of surrendering to the building existential angst, I decided this particular day to continue moving. After all, why should life end with the close of work?  I typically drive to Spencer Butte and am left with an evening to do with what I please. An empty evening hardly sounded desirable, and so I set out from my apartment, determined to walk until the sun set and the very soles of my feet burned bright and continued to blaze a path.

I approached the swiftly setting sun and found myself utterly changed into fire.

I walked and walked and passed from rural to urban. The world is filled with bees. They stare, they hide, they lick. I’ve always been wary of their presence, but have lately found them to be agreeable companions. So engrossed are they in their work that they hardly seem to notice me. I present to you yet another black-and-yellow friend. I hope you’ll not find their continued appearance tiresome.

Though I admire the presence of the bees, I find their intensity exhausting. The mien of the ladybugs refreshed my buzzing mind with calm. Nature seems to have a way of balancing. She carefully arranges her compositions to keep from wearing out our eyes and ears.

I traveled the Ridgeline Trail; I summited Spencer Butte. I continued through the streets and stopped by the house of my parents before continuing onward. “I had nothing better to do,” I told them. My mother replied with disbelief, wishing she had the same luxury. I realized as I headed towards home that my comment was deceiving. I made it sound as though I had no other responsibilities, when in truth we all simply make time for the things most important to us. The tub needed to be cleaned, the dishes were building, I’ve been intending to finish reading a novel I started several months ago, and dinner needed to be prepared. All of these things are worthy of my attention, but we must indulge in the activities that renew and refresh our minds.

Give me your answer true.

In the end I returned home, having traveled perhaps 16 miles. Imagine how far I might have gone if my days weren’t filled with work.

“The distance is thirty miles; the fare ninety cents. That is almost a day’s wages. I remember when wages were sixty cents a day for laborers on this very road. Well, I start now on foot, and get there before night; I have travelled at that rate by the week together.

You will in the mean while have earned your fare, and arrive there some time to-morrow, or possibly this evening, if you are lucky enough to get a job in season. Instead of going to Fitchburg, you will be working here the greater part of the day.

And so, if the railroad reached around the world, I think that I should keep ahead of you; and as for seeing the country and getting experience of that kind, I should have to cut your acquaintance altogether.”*

The spider holds a Silver Ball.

*Henry David Thoreau (Walden)

The slow and arduous melting of the snow drove me to abandon my hopes of heading for the Cascades, and I instead traveled west to Tillamook Head. I can’t say the decision offered much respite from the elements. The forecast called for rain, but I, against my better judgement, ignored the warning and followed the siren call issuing forth from the ocean. Initially I faced little more than a drizzle. The bees seeking refuge beneath the plants did nothing to quell my enthusiasm and I journeyed forth.

The curling vines gripped and pulled, gripped and pulled, hoping perhaps to prevent me from going any further, but I pressed on, convinced that the weather would hold. Their tendrils wrapped around my ankles but were hardly a match for my determination.

As I continued I felt the clouds thicken and descend. What once covered only the sun began to touch the tips of the trees and climb towards me with ever increasing speed. I walked, I walked, but still it approached. Surrounded by gaping holes caused by nurse logs and fog filling both the forest and my eyes, I felt myself being dragged down to the fearful machines as the whirling and clicking of cogs lowered me deeper deeper into the industrial depths.

Walk on, Friends. You can’t go back now.

I became a tree.

Wet and weary I approached the viewpoint. I stood towering above the sea, feeling as insignificant as a raindrop. How I might fall from the cliff and be absorbed into the eternal ocean, forgetting the self-imposed division that separates me from you! But for now I must remain. Stay as you are, dear Reader.

Tattered prayer flags hung from a tree that overlooked the water. String by string I watched them unravel.

As the day came to a close, the fog won. I stood and watched the last of the trees get devoured by the unstoppable onslaught and huddled in my tent, only hoping to avoid being dissolved. It rained. I slept. It rained. I dreamed. It rained. I woke. I could have stayed in my sleeping bag and withered away, but again I say, walk on. I hiked. I hiked. I hiked. I drove.

To complete my relatively uneventful weekend, I embarked on a trip I’ve long intended to complete. Several years ago I attempted to hike Mount June, but found myself utterly lost as I drove down abandoned logging roads with signs and warnings that made me feel as though being shot was not entirely out of the question. Needless to say I returned home without having accomplished the goal at hand. This Sunday, after cross referencing several sources to ensure that I arrived at the correct location, I set out, confident that I would in fact make it to the trail.

Mount June evergreens in July.

I did reach the desired location, though I was initially disappointed with what I found. Dead needles and lifeless limbs littered the ground. The color was brown. It was not long before I made my way out of the barren logging grounds and found instead the immortal evergreens, ever resistant to the influence of the seasons. Scattered flowers lived and died in the presence of these giants, curling and twisting their wilting leaves while simultaneously praising the towering trunks.

Soon the conifers parted to make way for deciduous trees whose green, flat leaves glowed in the light. Their way is one that stands in stark contrast to the stubborn defiance practiced by the cone-bearing inhabitants.

The short hike ended on a rocky outcrop that left the peak exposed like the head of a monk. This monastic observation allowed me to see more clearly than otherwise would have been possible. The mountains cessation of vanity turned me inside-out. Blue skies held the majestic Three Sisters aloft and beckoned. I stood and hailed my neighbors, promising to return.

Precariously perched upon the perilous precipice, I perceive people precipitating on a parallel plateau.

The gathering crowds  encouraged me to descend. As I passed the ferns, they waved farewell with their friendly fronds and I reciprocated with a gentle smile. As so often seems to happen on my excursions, the trail ended and I drove home.

Though I was unable to leave town for my most recent excursion, I found a short, simple hike through the marshes of Fern Ridge that adequately fulfilled my specified terms. The trail began as a gravel path that headed straight through the tall grass, trees, and blackberry bushes of the wetland. Marsh Wrens, their dignified tails pointing straight in the air, dotted the reeds and continually called with blatant disregard for my presence. I was, however, unable to respond with similar indifference, and instead watched curiously as they jumped from stalk to stalk.

My progress was soon impeded by the water flooding the path. I was forced to turn around and continue down a wide, grassy walkway that abandoned the rocks.

The birds, the bees, the flowers, the trees; they all vied for my attention. My eyes and ears were quickly filled to the brim with sights and sounds. The orchestra rang out and swept me away in an ecstatic dance. I felt rather like Rumi, compelled to whirl with the banging of metal. He whirled, I whirled, the world whirled. The seasons turned, the leaves fell, water to ice, ice to water, seed to plant, summer once again. The bees watched.

My compound companion.

The bees were not the only ones entranced by my participation. Frogs cautiously, though with great intensity, stared as I passed.

The path then came to an end. I returned to myself. I returned to my car.

40 miles east of Portland, nestled deep between the walls of the Columbia River Gorge, is the well-known Eagle Creek Trail. Typically the first several miles are crowded with visitors who have come to see Punch Bowl Falls, the most photographed waterfall in Oregon, but those willing to plunge deeper into the wilderness are treated to the elusive solitude many both desire and abhor. So steep are the canyon walls, that human intervention was necessary in creating the rocky ledges lining the cliffs. Dynamite was used to carve out the crude sidewalks. It is a phenomenal sight if one doesn’t mind wading through an ocean of ill-prepared visitors.

The wire hand rail is unnecessary, but disconcerting all the same.

The course I followed was a 26 mile loop leading to Wahtum Lake that returns to Eagle Creek via the Pacific Crest Trail across the Benson Plateau. My time Friday was limited, and I began with a 7.5 mile trek to the aptly named 7 1/2 mile camp. The sun was swiftly setting, so I accelerated my pace, knowing I had to reach my destination before dark. I simply had no choice.

The trebuchet that launched the sun.

A snake gently encouraged my steady step. “Quickly now!” I heard him say. It’s best to heed the advice of serpents, for theirs is a life of penitence.

Fire draped the path. Everything I saw seemed to be engulfed in the flame of the evening light. A breeze fanned the coals, helping keep the little light left from burning out and leaving me lost. I hurried on.

A torch to light the way.

Despite my best efforts, the endless waterfalls were determined to extinguish the dying light, and I was left with but a gentle glow. Passing through tunnel falls, I knew I was close to reaching the camp. That did not, however, prevent the dripping from continuing to darken the sky.

I finally arrived and pitched my tent, anxious to start fresh in the morning. I was tired and the ground was hard. Sleep was illusive. I did manage to rest in the end, though the sun rose far too soon. I had once hoped for light; now I mourned the coming day. A warm breakfast managed to shake me out of my stupor. With renewed vigor, I packed my things and headed back on the trail, knowing I had a steep 6 miles to go before reaching the lake. Having passed the more populated section of the trail, only the eyes of the slugs were witness to my struggle.

Stare.

I may have been alone, but the world was far from silent. The fiddleheads played while the birds sang. I lost myself in the music.

But the woods were not without sadness. I encountered a small brook, gently babbling in its melancholy way, carrying the burden of secrets that had passed its worried waters. Indeed, it seemed the very stream that shouldered the weight of Hester Prynne’s Scarlet Letter. It would not be comforted. The ferns changed their tune, and creaked a rusty song more appropriate given the state of our friend, for it has been said, “Mourn with those who mourn.”

Finally I arrived at the lake, but was unable to continue along my plotted course, for unfortunately snow obscured the trail. I was forced to abandon my plans and instead return the way I came.

It may have stopped me, but it proved a poor deterrent for the determined plants.

I arrived at the water’s edge and rested. The remainder of my time was spent gathering energy for the 13 miles left to tread. The following day was one of exhaustion. The trek may have been downhill, but my tired body had no less trouble navigating the path. I walked, I walked, I walked, and with a single minded effort eventually, and with great relief, returned to the trailhead. As I sit now and write, the trip feels distant. I look at the images I’ve taken, and I know they’re little more than pixels. You, too, are seeing not what I have seen, but only colored dots on a screen. I once again urge you to go and experience the world for yourself, for as you know, my life is not your life. Abandon now my futile recounting and live.

"Ceci n'est pas une pipe."

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