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Making Good Progress

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Making Good Progress

We are walking through the cornfield we didn’t think looked promising—and it isn’t—when I realize it, at least a little bit. He says to me, “I think I’m going to start carrying my gun this way,” he shows me, the muzzle pointed to the ground, “so I can get it up to my shoulder faster.” No, I say after a second, when something has clicked. 

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Stories for a Rainy Day

This rainy day is spurring other rainy day remembering, so here are two shorter stories from a very rainy day and a not as rainy day, but I’m counting it, because we thought we were going to get wet all day. Dry Creek Falls

10923237_10152733821084538_3727117722329835797_nWe know it’s crazy but we go anyway, as one should in the face of reasonable risk. All through the Gorge it rains, at first just a drizzle, but then earnestly—a hard steady rain, a good winter rain. We know water though, don’t we, native Oregonians that we are. If you let water stop you here, you may never go outside. So we load up our kennel—three Shorthairs is a lot of Shorthairs—layer up in waterproof gear, and hit the road.

Ironically, we’re headed for Dry Creek Falls, one of those little gems tucked back into the Gorge, tumbling down over the abrupt stop of the many jagged edges that characterize our little wet valley. A geographic miracle, did you know? We get on the trail, a portion of the PCT (so hot right now), and start walking. My sweet puppy is immediately soaked and increasingly distressed, his lamentations voiced in rather pathetic puppy yowls. Dexter and Remi race ahead, biting and snapping at each other while they run. Cedar stops trying to keep up after our first half mile, staying doggedly at my heels for most of the hike.

We wind through a second-growth forest, the trees thin though abundant, each branch swaying under the weight of a wet that is almost incomprehensible—the word for this day is saturated, our steps squelching, our hair curling from the damp, every exposed piece of skin shiny from the water. Ferns drip pearly beads to the ground, the earliest, most daring shoots peek little green heads from the dark earth. We stop for a minute and puppy hides off the trail under a tree, shaking and cold. I am starting to feel a little nervous about him. We don’t talk too much, just keep moving. Too soon I start listening for the roar, or at the very least the familiar rush of a creek, and this makes the hike seem unending, as anticipation will do. Until finally, we get there, Dry Creek proving to be anything but. It’s beautiful—soaked in color and raging with the new strength that this storm has offered. We are bolstered by the sight and the sound, and so we push on to the falls. The rock forms an arc around the back of the fall, an amphitheater for the performance of the water, falling not from grace but to it.

Cedar has worked his way into a burned out tree and starts licking his wet fur, the pink of his skin visible underneath his soft puppy fuzz. Wow is what we both say, because it is worth it, our wet faces turned in admiration to more water. We’re daughters of the valley, rain runs through our veins. To see a river, to find a fall, is to know where we fit in the grand scheme of things—both an anchor and push off from shore, a guiding light and a dizzying release. I pick up puppy, tuck him into my jacket, and we start the walk back.

By the end we are both soaked, and tired. Puppy is shaking on my lap in the car, wet and terrified, pressing hard into the relative warmth of my middle, hoping to burrow right into the very hot heart of me, and I wish for a minute I could too—recede into my inner self and away from the cold damp of everything around us. Heat on full blast we pull out of the parking lot—we need to find like a drive-in espresso place, I tell Rachelle, because neither of us are wearing pants but we both desperately need something warm—and the universe does us a favor by having exactly what we need a block down Cascade Locks’ main street. Back on the road, we clink hot chocolate and sit in companionable silence. That was wetter than anticipated, Rachelle says. At least we have the decency to not whine about it, I tell her, that’s some good Hobson stock. And we both laugh.

The real beauty of this day is not in Dry Creek Falls or the gentle arc of a wet fern leaf, or the solitude of a trail no one else wants to walk. It’s in the easy company I find in my sister, the steady companionship I’ve known for as long as I’ve been alive. Here is both my very best friend, a choice I’ve made, but also the light and love of a person who will never leave me, so wrapped in each other’s fates are we. This kind world granted me the honor of having a sister who leads the way in earnestness and grace, hard work and unfailing love. We generally are two sides of the same coin, similar in speech and mannerisms, different enough in thought and perspective to challenge each other and keep things interesting. But I don’t think anyone could know my heart of hearts like my sister does, or understand and appreciate the delicacy that are clean sheets, or recognize when to push and when to let be. These things, this day, a reminder of how lucky I am—in family, in place—a life full of good green things and fine company.

 

Clackamas River

IMG_4375I sometimes forget that Darren is not from here, that he doesn’t have the same history of place grounding him to all the secret spots Oregon has to offer like I do. Which is why I exclaim, incredulous, when we round the curve outside of Estacada to drop down closer to the Clackamas River—met by a spread of mountainous green rolling away from the startling blue ribbon below us—and he tells me he’s never been to this river before. What a delight to have the taste of discovery laced through most of our adventuring together, and what a joy to be able to share places that I’ve grown up loving with him.

Rolling down the highway we pass mostly kayakers out for an easy Saturday spin on the river, their little boats flashing neon as they bump and dive through the rapids. I’ve done a time trial here, I tell Darren as we pass by a flickeringly familiar boat launch, I show him where I got lost, and we are both transported by a memory I would’ve never thought to share otherwise. It is quiet out here, winter time solace to us solitary souls—were it summer, we would work to get away from the masses, hike far and hard to be alone (and then, never really alone). But today it is just Darren and I and our little puppy, out for his first long hike, the first of many. I have a dream of reaching Pup Creek Falls today, what I think will be a reasonably quick 8 miles, but I start hedging my bets when we get Cedar out of the car. Here, amid these soaring trees and thicker than me trunks, his legs start looking very short.

The trail is thick with fern, shored up on one side by plant life and falling away on the other to meet the river, tumultuous and churning below. We are happy walking—except for puppy, who whines almost the entire time—I take pictures, practicing with a camera that I’ve gotten a little rusty on. Darren cajoles the little one into following us, though I know he wouldn’t let us leave him, no matter how tired he was. The denseness here is breathtaking, if you know to appreciate it, the lushness of this forest worth hiking for, despite the threatening black clouds overhead. They’ve been hanging low all day, making the air sweat with anticipation. I’m sure it’s going to break any minute, but it doesn’t—not until we get back in the car and curve back up the highway, taking one last look over our shoulders at a now obscured view in Estacada. Fern crowd each other out for the sun along the trail, I recognize some of them—here is five finger fern, I want to plant it this year in my yard, here is swordfern, here is lady fern—the names a talisman of sorts to my tongue. What I love to see is fern growing on tree limbs, from dead stumps, tiny fiddleheads peeking out from patches of moss, and here there is a wealth of good ferns, waving their graceful fronds as if to say hello, come in, and keep going.

We cut in close to the river after two or three miles, aware of puppy’s weakening resolve and a desire to see the water we’ve been courting from above for so long. The tree roots are laid bare along the shore, the ground eroded away from beneath them by the water, revealing the complex web that is usually secreted away under foot. The river echoes up the canyon, a loud, rumbling beast of a thing—power made tangible, a thousand years on display for us to see. We sit, perched on rocks overlooking the Narrows, as the icy blue of the water swirls up and around rocky fins jutting out to the water. Creeping closer we move onto the pebbled beach, testing each step, slipping down into the caesuras between the rocks. Louder here, I shout and puppy whines, but the repetitive crash of the river is too much to resist, an ocean tide caught in a bottle. We flicker fingers into the edge of the water, sucking in breath at the cold—water so clear you can see the river rocks underneath, reds and greens and oranges teasing from beyond our reach, flashing in the depths.

I look over to see Cedar curled up on a Darren’s dropped sweater, trying to sleep—stick a fork in him, he’s done. We pick him up and pack out, the falls forgotten. On our march back to the car I keep my eyes on the sky, and still nothing. Apparently, the river, roaring like thunder, was our weather for the day. We cut into the rock, hugging close to the wall as a different waterfall tumbles down on the other side (I think of the Disneyland Jungle Cruise ride joke, look folks, the back of a waterfall!) the spray that blows in on us an icy surprise. We tromp across sawn-log bridges and rivers tumbling down the mountainside to meet another river—water, water, everywhere—we listen for the birds we can see darting through the trees, black shadows flying against a darker sky.

Finally, just before the littlest one’s inevitable collapse, we get to the car and drive on home. The day before marked a year that Darren and I have been wrapped up in each other’s lives, a time that has felt both much longer and much shorter, and that is, either way, a drop in the bucket of a lifetime. Talk is easy and idle going home, the way it so often should be, and when the rain starts dropping I smile, because I know this place, and I knew it would rain—it always does.

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Bird in the Bush

IMG_4535The sagebrush is singing a golden song today as we creep towards the chukar, urging Cedar along. I am aching deep in my chest, a hollow feeling—I want so badly for him to find this bird, to lock up when he hits the scent—but the lessens while I listen to the sweet hymn that rises as we walk, each step stirring up the quiet harmonies of a world grateful for the bright mid-winter light. He is excited, looking back at all of us, a crowd for what we hope will be his first point. His little spotted body quivers in anticipation of something he doesn’t understand yet, his wee snout tests the air. We walk him out a little farther, bring him a little closer to where we think the bird is. Mt. Hood looms over us, a deep, resonating bass line to the many melodies weaving their way through the valley floor—and then, the music stops. Cedar smells it, suddenly, his head whipping to the left. He is confident, sucking down scent in ways that we cannot imagine, as he heads for the bird in the bush. The whole world goes still, waiting—until he freezes, drops his shoulder, locks his body with unerring tenacity at that chukar, and what feels like all of creation erupts back into joyful noise. My bird dog’s gonna hunt.

Later, on the drive home, my Dad will say it gave him chills, and I’ll admit that I teared up, and my Uncle will even go so far as to say that it was pretty cool. I am proud to have witnessed that moment, when my puppy—that little life that I have been responsible for nurturing—found his place amid the grand order of things. He was born knowing bird, hardwired for one smell, and it was on this golden-song day that he was celebrated for it.

We cheer as he holds his point—good boy, good boy, Cedar!—and then I creep up behind him, forcing the bird to flush. The sudden burst of energy, all those feathers in motion, surprise him and he startles, looking back at us for affirmation. That’s such a good boy, Cedar. Such a good boy. We are ebullient, the sky cheers too, we are all so happy to be here and witnessing this soul-stirring moment.

One puppy’s success does not define the rest of the bird-hunting day for the three big shorthairs waiting in the truck (we couldn’t let them steal his thunder), so we keep moving. The big dogs are rambunctious and rowdy, they know what’s out there and what’s to come. They are eagerly anticipating that smell—that most satisfying of all stinks in the world—and they are none too patient in the car. We release the hounds, Darren takes Cedar further away from the guns, and the rest of us head up the road to see what else we can find.

We are walking towards Mt. Hood now, a little chaotic as a group—I walk next to my Dad, Michael out to our right, and my Uncle to the left. The dogs are running wild, free of the truck and eager to burn some of that excess energy that built up while Cedar was discovering his reason to be. A small price to pay. We fan out over the sagebrush, get lost in the rippling shades of sun that the light breeze is turning the grass to, and watch the dogs. I am always too eager, they say—I want my gun (the Verona, you know her) on my shoulder while I’m creeping up behind the dog. Patience, then action, that’s the key. Remi is holding a stiff point, and I move slow, getting conflicting directions from my Dad and Uncle. Then the bird flushes and instincts take over, a magnificent rooster hanging—suspended for a heartbeat—against the backdrop of Mt. Hood rising up to meet the sky, Mt. Jefferson and Adams close behind, and then the drop when my aim is true.IMG_4598

Hank brings the bird back, beady black eye now shut, feathers no less shiny for death. The gentle weight of the bird settles into Michael’s vest, one scaly foot still lightly clawing the tan of the canvas. The dogs nose the back of the vest as if to ensure the bird is really there—that it all worked as it should—then they move on, a job still out there to do.IMG_4562IMG_4551

All day—from sun-up to sundown, it is surreally beautiful, a privilege to be where we are. Do you know that feeling, to look around and see people you love in a place you feel lucky to be in, doing a job you feel proud of, connected to a universe larger than yourself—do you know that feeling? All day—even when it’s a cluster and the dogs are chasing a pheasant through seven-foot tall reeds and no one can get a shot off, even when we hit the dirt so Michael can shoot over us, even when Remi gets heat-sick—I feel so content.

And all day I go back to that little puppy, how proud I am of him, and how excited I am for us to learn and grow up a little (maybe a lot) together. He points again and again, incorrigible when it comes to smell, he comes back with a face full of feathers from a different fallen bird, he whines whenever the big dogs get too far away. By the end of the day he’s out with us, fine with the noise of the guns. His velvet ears fly above the sagebrush—sometimes the only visible part of him—as he bounds through, still too small to even get close to seeing over it. Everything in this light is magic, the camaraderie palpable and the pride overwhelming, all of us a part of one timeless tune.

Darren and Michael a shot they shouldn’t have and go off in hot pursuit of the bird, unwilling to admit defeat. Or unwilling to endure the taunting that’s sure to follow a performance like that, which they might still deserve. All three big dogs follow them, afraid to be left out, while my Dad and I sit on a rise over the creek, watching their progress. Cedar takes one look and instead seeks the shade my back is making, one quick sniff to the wind and then he flops to the ground, asleep before he can catch himself.

Little legs fluttering, even in his dreams he is chasing birds, and I know we’re about to have a thousand more days like these—or close. The view may be different, the company might change, but there are a few things I know for sure—my dog and I will chase golden song days and the rush of bird flights, together, a team.IMG_4610IMG_4538

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