Lately I've been drawn to Mt. Hood, an irresistible urge toward the monolith that dominates our skyline. Maybe it's the weather, which has been more August-y than June--the mountain "is out" almost every day, a spearhead of white against bluebird skies, looking almost like a backdrop, so impressive it's surreal. Visibility keeps it at the forefront of the mind, drags out the desire to seek higher ground. Maybe it’s the season itself—heat makes us all a little cagey, summer is the season for wandering. Or maybe it’s just me, and the particular penchant I have for Wy’East.
I know there are many places ringed by mountains like Hood, but I've never met one so dominated by a peak like Portland is. Even Seattle, with Rainier, has the Olympics competing for attention. Unless Mt. St. Helens is also out, Hood is the one we all turn to face in awe, the almighty made real in stone and ice. I feel adrift when there is nothing in the landscape to anchor myself to, no landmark to count on. Though I'm terrible with directions, anyway, it is comforting to have the mountain always at your shoulder, as a testament to the idea that the world is much bigger than me, and I am so lucky to be one small part of it. In Louisiana, the city spread out to meet the horizon--you could fall into the sky it was so flat. I was plagued by a kind of uneasiness that is born of instinct, an internal animal part of my heart that couldn't settle down in a place with no elevation.
It’s no wonder to me that the Native Americans in the area, from the Puyallup to the Klickitat, had myths around the creation of Mt. Hood and the spirit within. One of the sons of the Great Spirit, Wy’East, was made into Hood after a particularly heated argument with his brother over a beautiful woman, Loowit—all three were smote, but mountains were raised in their honor (Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams). I say this because you can feel it, when you’re on one of them—that feeling that something is alive in the bulk beneath you, a great power suppressed.
We've found ourselves on the mountain's flanks a few times this past spring--once, so hot and clear of a day it was almost alarming, and once, so deep in snow we hardly believed we were still in Oregon anymore. The hot day came first, oddly--we packed up the car with all three dogs and headed up old forest roads until we were all tinged with carsickness and exhilarated by the suddenly thin quality of the air. The sun shone down greenish through the trees, so dense was the forest when we started, until we broke out onto a steep cliff, the trail a narrow ribbon winding through to meet the West face of Hood, looming so hugely we could almost touch it. We marched through, a line of dogs and people, until we reached Muddy Fork—the split in the river that roars out of the belly of the beast, Wy’East, himself. We spread out on rocks and listened to the clamor of the water over rocks, let the sun sink into our desperately pale skin and felt deep calm sink into our bones while we sat and basked in the glory of the white peak above us. On the trail home, I kept looking over my shoulder back at the West face growing smaller, the uncomfortable feeling of being watched tickling the back of my neck.
By the time we hit snow on our second trip up this year, we had already tripped our way through the old dollar lake fire burn zone—our teeth set on edge by so many ghostly trees, the forest rendered eerie without the familiar smell of pine, the shade of gently waving green and the absence of bird chatter. It was a relief to breathe in the sharp, wet feel of ice, when we broke out from the burn and surveyed the valley from our position, knee-deep in snow. But then, looking up with eyes on the verge of snow-blind, the top of the mountain, where we meant to go, was shrouded in a thick shawl of white, a rocky face jutting up into air barely visible through the cloud.
I’ve been flying a lot lately, and it gives me shivers to see the string of them—Mt. Hood, Helens, Adams, Jefferson—lined up on the fault, their white-capped peaks like a string of pearls across the green of the valleys. If the light’s just right coming in you can see the shoulders of the others sitting ghostly beyond Hood, a haunting reminder of the power of the earth below our feet. My tension from travelling always eases, seeing it though, a stalwart bulwark that tells me I’m home.
Of all the mountains in the world, the millions of peaks that range out forever, I know which one is mine—in the same way that we all hold in our hearts the landscape of our roots. Surrounded by mountains in Montana a few weeks ago, my Dad says to us, a little wistful—it looks just like Baker Valley, but bigger. You can see it in the way my Mom gravitates towards paintings of Southern Oregon, you can tell in the way Darren lights up at the ranch, which looks so much like the mountains in Utah. None of us can escape the topography that shaped us, we carry it with us, seek it out.
For me, it is here—the sun on the river at dusk, the sound of rain on a wet street outside, the Mountain on a clear day. I love many places dearly, hold so many clutched to my chest, but there is only one place that tugs inexorably at my being—only one peak etched into the verdant green walls of my heart.