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

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.

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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For those of you paying close attention, you’ll notice I made a promise I’ve yet to fulfill. “Where,” I can hear my dedicated few asking, “is the caloric compensation you speak of?” Today, my friends, you’ll receive the first of many treats I feel I deserve for my efforts. Whether or not I have truly earned the rewards I afford myself is debatable, but entry five has come, and to maintain your interest I bring you cupcakes.

This is one of the finest vegan cupcake recipes I’ve found, and I must give credit where credit is due. You can find a link to the original recipe below.*

Once again I hear voices coming from my readers. “Vegan? You’ve lead me through the wilderness to a product which lacks the sustenance and benefit of animal derivatives?” To this I reply, yes, I have. What could be more appropriate? Did we not just revel in the majesty of trees? Did they not shelter us as we traveled? Did the grass not give us a soft place to rest? The plants will now sustain us in an even more intimate way.

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 1/2 cups almond milk
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil, warmed until liquid
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease two 12 cup muffin pans or line with 18 paper baking cups.
  2. Measure the apple cider vinegar into a 2 cup measuring cup. Fill with almond milk to make 1 1/2 cups. Let stand until curdled, about 5 minutes. In a large bowl, Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the almond milk mixture, coconut oil and vanilla. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir just until blended. Spoon the batter into the prepared cups, dividing evenly.
  3. Bake in the preheated oven until the tops spring back when lightly pressed, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool in the pan set over a wire rack. When cool, arrange the cupcakes on a serving platter. Frost with desired frosting.
The original post recommends a simple frosting made of powdered sugar, orange juice, and cocoa powder. I found the concoction to be a bit thin, so I added several tablespoons of Earth Balance (vegan margarine.) The result is a cupcake that lacks the usual density of vegan cakes and has a texture indiscernible from a recipe that benefits from the use of eggs.

Now I bid you all farewell. It is late, and tomorrow I must rise early and prepare for the coming hike on which I am about to embark. It may be several days before you hear from me, but fear not! I will return triumphant, and hope that eager eyes await news of my trip.

Obscured from view, I cautiously stalk my prey.

*http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/vegan-cupcakes/Detail.aspx

Having had to work on Saturday, I was left with an abbreviated weekend. Despite this, I took advantage of the remaining time Sunday to experience yet another new trail. Only half of an hour outside of Eugene is Goodman Creek. Followed to the end, the path leads to Eagle’s Rest and sports a phenomenal view, accompanied by a three-walled shelter. Though I was unable to make it to the lookout due to time restrictions, I was grateful for the brief reprieve offered by the heavily forested trail.

It was not long before I encountered a snail, so shy he was scarcely able to endure my presence. With each approach of my lens, he quickly receded into his shell. I felt a twinge of jealousy as I watched my small friend carry away all that he needed without the slightest regret for things left behind. His self-reliance was admirable, and left me aching for a similar existence. Of course I feel entirely unable to cut the ties with which I’m bound to my apartment, my cat, my computer, and I’m torn between the safety offered by the familiar and the freedom of being unattached.

The admirable snail.

But perhaps said gastropod was not left without the comforts of a stable existence. All that she needed was to be found within inches. Not only were food, water, and shelter readily available, but the extravagant decorations with which we adorn our own dwelling places are little more than cheap replications of the decadent ornaments surrounding my introverted acquaintence.

The enviable chandelier.

The Goodman Creek crossing came sooner than I had expected, and allowed me to sit and cool my feet. As usual I lacked foresight and neglected to carry along the necessities for swimming, but would have gladly immersed myself in the deep pool had circumstances allowed.

In time I may reveal my face, but we've only just met dear Friend.

Perhaps the most striking sight along the entirety of the trail were the orange salmonberries lining the path. Their creamy color was irresistible, and I helped myself despite the slightly bitter taste.

I typically find myself reluctant to commune with travelers passing by, but I enjoyed a most delightful encounter on my journey. A man by the name of Stephan seemed more than happy to sit and talk amongst the moss-covered logs, and his presence was a welcome change from the usual solitude. What good, I ask, are my excursions if they fail to impact my interactions with others? Sartre may insist that hell is other people, but it is separation and isolation that allow misery to feed and grow. There is a time and place for the monastic experience, but a return to social congregation must eventually be embraced. Sit under the Bodhi Tree, fast in the desert, but return, return, return.

And return I did. Like a circle, I ended where I once began.

Did you know that RGB screens like the one currently being used to view this blog are unable to accurately replicate violet?*

I realize there’s a certain cruel irony to presenting these photos. They may not all be “violet” per se, but how are you, dear Reader, to know? Your experience is dictated by the medium through which you view a blog that has already been filtered and altered by my perception, as well as by the lens of my camera.

I hope you can forgive me for my intentional deceit. The point is simply this: to see the world as it is meant to be seen, the computer must be tossed aside in favor of less processed experiences. If you care to know more than a shadow of the sights I’ve shown here, go to Spencer Butte, feel the sun on your face and use those beautiful eyes to enjoy the view.

*For more information, see the following: http://www.sjsu.edu/faculty/watkins/violet.htm