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)

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Hike 29: Recovery

July 23, 2011

It began innocently enough.

I was told I was low on iron. Low is, of course, a relative term. I was unable to meet the requirements for blood donation, though I was by no means below average. If I wanted to continue my habit of regularly depositing at the blood bank, I needed to take action. I was given several options. Iron supplements are reliable, but tend to cause nausea. Wanting to avoid unnecessary side effects, I chose the second recommendation given to me. Molasses, when taken regularly, can accomplish the task at hand.

How should said molasses to be consumed? By the spoonful? Over pancakes? No; I needed something more appealing. Cookies seemed to be precisely what the doctor ordered. And so it was that a week of binging from which I’m still recovering commenced.

A spoonful of sugar...

I knew precisely which recipe to use. The following is one that I had baked several times before. I was aware of the dangers associated with these particular delectables, but felt confident in my ability to resist consuming the entire batch. How we overestimate our mortal shells!

The cookie waits, knowing it is to soon be removed from its sterile environment.

Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 cup of flour
  • 2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon of sea salt
  • 1/2 cup of raw sugar (Any vegan sugar will do)
  • 2 teaspoons of unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2/3 cup of maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup of black strap molasses (unsulphured)
  • 1/2 cup of canola oil
  • 2/3 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips (dairy free)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Mix dry ingredients in one bowl.
  3. Mix wet ingredients in other bowl.
  4. Combine all ingredients into one bowl.
  5. Form into balls and place on ungreased sheet pan with at least an inch between each ball.
  6. Cook for 11 minutes and take out to cool.
You can find the original recipe posted at the bottom of this page.*

My short, debilitating struggle with prescription cookies ended as my supply dwindled, but make no mistake: the temptation remains. Ever vigilant, I’ve returned to life. I am hopeful that remission will remain.

 

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.

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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