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

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?

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.

“A guy goes nuts if he ain’t got nobody.”*

And so it is that I embarked on a trip not alone, but with a companion. We both, by accident or design, had time off of work on the same day. I had hoped to be able to bring not a prioress, but rather my sister by blood, on one of my expeditions, but we have on several occasions had conflicts of schedule. Finally we experienced constructive rather than destructive interference and, instead of canceling, grew in amplitude.

Together we set out, appropriately, towards Sisters and returned to Alder Springs. Though I had been there before, I was able to see the world through a new pair of eyes. A wish was no longer just a wish, but rather a pappus. Every plant had a name, every part of the anatomy a purpose. The fields full of horsetails were topped by strobilus and the communing apiaceae were exposed for the many-headed creatures they were. Names bring the world to life. Rather than a loose association of weeds, the individuality of each plant sprang forth and vied for my attention.

Summer has marched on in this arid environment and many of the flowers that once were are no longer. I encountered an old friend perusing the umbels, having been forced to abandon the other withering blooms.

We early reached the campsite, but hurried on, hoping to find the end of the maintained trail. I tried to do so on my last visit, though the rain became an unbreachable wall and forced me to retreat. The dark threatened, but still we pressed ever onward towards a potentially disappointing conclusion. Though the destination proved to be far from disappointing, it was the ever-changing landscape that made the trek worthwhile. Plants, rocks, life, death, spirits; birds, bugs, fire, water, dirt; diversity reigned.

The night concluded with an abbreviated game of scrabble in our tent. Meaningless words left abandoned without context accumulated on the board. We hadn’t the energy to question a single one. In the dark the world went on without us. Insects crawled and flew and ate and thought. The trip may have bled into the next day, or it may have ended that night; it’s hard to say. I’ll leave you with the world as it was that evening. The following day was inconsequential. We were too focused on returning to the comfort of the car to think much of the world around us. Let it stay black.

*John Steinbeck (Of Mice and Men)

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.

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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I decided to begin my endeavor with a proverbial “bang.”

To celebrate the coming summer months, as well as my goal to complete 300 hikes during the course of the year, I decided to take a backpacking trip. There is no better way to feel a sense of freedom than to leave work early on little more than a whim, gather only the necessities, and hit highway 126.

Thanks to William Sullivan’s 100 Hikes in the Central Oregon Cascades, I found a remote place outside of Sisters called Alder Springs. Heading through the dense forest felt a little like going down the rabbit hole. Coming out on the other side I was faced with the dry, dusty desert of eastern Oregon.

Dirt: the snow of the desert.

I immediately regretted my decision to forego the sunscreen. The sun is a formidable opponent, and I was ill prepared to deal with the barrage of UV rays. Fortune was, however, on my side, as the canyon walls offered some shade from the afternoon heat. I scrambled from cave to cave hoping to minimize the potentially disfiguring burns I admittedly deserved for my lack of foresight.

Thank you, Brother Canyon.

The canyon was not the only acquaintance I made along the way. A friendly moth stopped for a quick snack on a wildflower and graciously allowed me to photograph her. I warned her that a photographer I am not, yet she seemed none too worried. I must say that despite her being mid-slurp, I think she would find the picture to her liking.

Proboscis.

As I made my descent deeper into the canyon, a transformation of sorts took place before my very eyes. The spring for which the trail is named nourishes what can only be described as an oasis. The sudden burst of green is almost startling when placed beside the barren dusty desert. Mother Nature seems to revel in juxtaposition.

The trail soon comes to an apparent end, but it continues if you’re willing to brave the spring water. The water came slightly above my knees, and the current was faster than I had anticipated, though I made it across unscathed. The other side offers plenty of perfectly suitable campsites, and I soon found a comfortable place to call home. I pitched my tent, ate a simple meal, read, and prepared for bed.

Nothing looks more inviting after a hike.

The morning brought with it rain. I woke early and read, hoping to wait out the bad weather. There’s little more to say. Wet wet wet. Even the shelters of grass inhabited by caterpillars were unable to keep out the rain. We all got washed away.