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Mt- Hood

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Hood Dreams

IMG_6435Lately 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.IMG_6391

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.

We found a patch of bare ground below a tree, ate, and left. We were the only ones up there for miles around, but I had the feeling someone wanted us to go.IMG_6579

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.

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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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How Bad Could It Be?

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How Bad Could It Be?

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  photoWe decide to go to Lake Timothy on a whim, while we’re out sitting on the patio at Swagat Indian Restaurant sipping mango mojitos, a light breeze rippling through the trees and making the shadows of the leaves dance in the dapple sunlight just beyond us. Sure, we think, let’s go on a little trip—Darren doesn’t have to work, it’s Memorial Day, we’ll rent kayaks and wake up in the tent. Nothing doesn’t sound good about that.

On Sunday, when we’re strapping kayaks to the top of grocery getter in what begins to be a driving rain, it seems less likely that there won’t be anything but good for us waiting on Mt. Hood. It’s already late, 5:30 or so, we rent kayaks from a guy who told Darren a horrifically crass joke, and I’m taking shelter from the rain in the shadow of a dumpster while they put the kayaks on. Do we have reservations at the campsite? Of course not. Have we every kayaked before? Kind of. But we were armed with faith and good senses of humor, and a little bit of preparation. Besides, as I told Darren when we finally got out of town, if we always waited for guaranteed good weather we would literally never leave the house. Thanks, Oregon!

We did have some things checked off the list—a tent we knew we would stay dry in and very good raincoats for the next day, and the knowledge that we had recently made it through another very wet night while we were in Yosemite.  That night we built a tarp setup that would’ve made any bum proud, and Darren spent three hours in a deluge nursing a fire that sputtered magnificently and even threw off heat. It was a valiant effort that included, but wasn’t limited to throwing gasoline on the fire that resulted in a reaction so explosive it blew holes in the aforementioned tarp, and nearly asphyxiating on smoke midway through the process. I should also mention that to add insult to injury, the camp next to us—a couple who brought a tent that would’ve rivaled the Taj Mahal and spent most of their time in it—emerged for about 45 minutes with those chemically logs that are bizarrely waterproof and had a fire going in seconds.

This time—facing the rain—I bought a pack of those logs to avoid the rage and frustration of our last trip, but! I also brought a pack of regular logs (couldn’t risk sawing off D’s antlers completely). On our way up, the rain stopped and as we wound through the dark green of the forest towards the lake and watched everyone else on their way back to Portland, I felt that the next two hours would find us either foolhardy or genius. The jury was still out.

When we pulled up to the campground, one of my favorites on all of Mt. Hood, we lucked into a site immediately. It was fate, if you believe in that kind of thing—a lakefront spot with a big white OPEN card on the front. Should we keep looking? No, too good here, even though we are right across from the camp hosts—an aging military couple who aren’t there when we pull in but who immediately come to check up on us when they come back, and who appear to spend most of their time trundling around in a golf cart emblazoned with PGE logos—so we stay, setting up the tent in a familiar routine, each falling into our roles easily. Still no rain, and when we walk down to the shoreline, out of the trees, there are patches of clear sky amid a rolling cloudscape reflected back to us in the bowl of the lake. The bulk of Mt. Hood is hidden, but we see the bottom of the top of her revealed, too early to be that rocky, I think, but oh well.

It sprinkles for a minute while we’re pulling out dinner, but other than that it stays clear and cool. The trees whisper and whoosh above us while we sit by the fire and eat off our knees. It’s camping the way it should be, reassuringly easy—nine times out of ten I’ve found that the answer to how bad can it be?, my favorite rhetorical question, is not that bad. That’s the experience that makes it possible to throw kayaks on the roof of my mom car and head up to the mountain on memorial day weekend with few qualms. Granted, there’s been a couple of really bads that’ll teach you to think twice—but not so many yet that I’d refuse to go at all. Especially when we’re looking up at a patchy star sky ringed by the dark outline of trees, so tall and so perfect they look fake, it’s hard to imagine there never being a bright spot to a bad camping trip. Maybe I’m jinxing myself, but so far so good.

The next morning I wake up early and watch the trees again through the roof, then fall asleep again hard for another hour until I feel Darren start to wake up and make noise. Incredibly, there’s blue sky backing drifty white clouds and we’re spurred out of cozy sleeping bags for this reason only. There’s a good routine to getting up in the morning and packing up, a dance learned through many days of working hard to hit the road—except this time it’s the lake. It starts raining while I’m mixing oatmeal—it appears the blue sky was a lie. We have to at least get out there and find out for sure it’s terrible, I tell Darren. We can’t come all this way and not at least get on the water.

A couple is fighting when we get over to the put-in spot, the lady is trying to hook a chain up around a boat trailer, or something—there’s a lot of one-way yelling from her, a lot of COULDJA JUST GIMME A SECOND and WILL YA JUST HANG ON, but it’s a cheese grater on the nerves as we start off. We start ankle deep in water before hopping in the boats, a half second spent suspended with one foot in the boat, balancing balancing before a soft landing into the seat, and we’re off.

We stay close to the shoreline—it’s stopped raining but I don’t want to get out and drown in the middle of the lake, understandably. A kind of giddiness comes over the two of us, happy to be out of the city, on the water, to see the trees from this side. We’re going to try and paddle around the lake. When we start, going with the wind, laughing and paddling along, it seems very possible. Fun, even!

Then we make the turn around the lake, and it turns out the wind is actually blowing really hard. Enough to create waves, fairly significant ones, big enough that when they break over the bow of my boat I get splashed. Plus side—I’m working so hard to keep moving, can’t stop paddling or I get blown off course, I don’t get cold! Downside—it feels like I’m in a one-on-one battle with mother nature’s full ferocity. This is difficult, at best. Still kind of fun, a different kind of fun, test your mettle kind of fun. Even when it’s raining though, and blowing so hard, there’s still a lot to see, a different kind of view. The rain on the water was my favorite part—for a few minutes I was surrounded by a thousand, a million, concentric circles dropping onto the surface of the lake, and the colors were overwhelming, dark blues, a flashing streak of light.

We stop for lunch at Meditation Point at 11:30—we started at 10. But it’s time for a break, two rain storms have slightly dampened our enthusiasm. There was just enough time in between them to dry off and remember why were out there, but achy arms and hunger are strong motivating factors. Meditation Point is pretty peaceful, a pine tree sticks out over the water and gnarled roots jut out over the water, sinking into the lake itself. We’re about halfway, if that really is the parking lot we started from across the lake, which we’re pretty sure it is. D says we’ll make it easy. I think so too, although finishing this side of the lake going into the wind will be challenging.

It is, but the sun has come back, so now it’s just windy, but still, it’s an improvement. And when we do reach the turn, so we can start going with the wind again, our battle becomes downright relaxing. We easy paddle down what’s left of the shore for us. We’re back to laughing into the sun, taking pictures, running fingers through the top of the water, let it slip and slide around us, no waves to speak of.

The parking lot—correctly identified on the other side of the lake—welcomes us back as paddling champions, so much so that we’re soon talking about permanently investing in kayaks. Hauling them out of the lake, dripping wet, changing in the car as we twist down the mountain’s windy roads, everything is we should do that again! Because how bad could it be, really? A little wind, a little rain, no problem—we’re hardy folk. We’d go all the time!

As it turned out, the good feeling we had about hitting the road on the patio at Swagat didn’t prove wrong—kind of incredibly, but still. The good times will always hopefully outweigh the bad, and if they don’t, oh well. Another story to tell.

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Winter

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Winter

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winterCold, when it finally hits, is pervasive and brutally unforgiving. We're still only in the parking lot, the dogs freed from a tight squeeze in the kennel, and I'm rushing to layer on as much as possible to try and retain any of my rapidly depleting body heat. Once we get going I'm hoping I'll be moving enough that I'll wish for the parking lot, but I have my doubts. Rachelle has come before so she takes the lead, and I trail behind her and my Aunt and Uncle. Dexter and Remi go primal, bounding and leaping through the snow and biting at each other--mostly Dex biting Remi, if we're being honest--and we start our hike into the woods. At first, the world is made anew by the snow, heaps of glimmering white coat the trees and rocks and dirt and make them somehow cleaner and fresher than they were before. We trot along and laugh at the dogs' exuberance, knowing that soon they'll be dragging behind. I feel slightly smug that I have the ability to recognize a need to conserve energy, things are light, and happy and fun. I love snowshoeing!

Soon though we get higher, and as we get higher the weather gets worse. This is relative, of course, but it really gets pretty nasty. The wind picks up and it starts to slush and rain, which turns to ice, and we're all soaked before we're halfway through. This is not good. All the snow-covered limbs seemed to say mighty, mighty, mighty with every twist of the wind, as if the elements themselves were reminding us who's boss. There is no serenity in this snow-covered landscape, I think--although as we continue I find myself envisioning every "next stop" as one that will be peaceful, out of the wind and rain, and more along the lines of what I envisioned for this trip. It isn't, of course--the lake is bitter, icy and impenetrable when we get there, the top of the ridge even worse. The last time my Aunt and Uncle came to this lake, birds came and landed on my Uncle, in a Disney-esque scene of nature and mankind coming together in harmony. This time, we pit ourselves against the elements to try and make hot chocolate, huddling along the lake shore, using a jet boil that rapidly turns our cozy drink into something carcinogenic. Disappointing, to say the least, but at least we're laughing at our really bad beverage luck as we head up our next obstacle, a ridge whose steepness is compounded by the rain, and the wind. But here we are, and the only way out is to keep trudging forward.

Before we stopped for lunch, I was anxious to get where we were going--frustrated by how little ground we were making, frustrated by the turn in the weather. Too much energy was spent on hating the belabored motion of my body, the smash of the shoe against the ice of the slush, hating not knowing where we were or why we hadn't gotten to the lake yet. But after awhile you realize the inevitability of what you have to do--I realized, with a moment of startling clarity, that if I didn't get myself out of there I probably wouldn't.

And this is what I asked for! Here is winter like I want it to be, cold and miserable, mittens full of water and a frozen nose. Give me a season with grit, weather with teeth--the crispness of fall should be followed by the ferocity of  winter. In my mind, at least, I want weather that will remind me of the fearsomeness of nature in a way that a sunny day in summer can't. Sun is celebratory, but difficult to appreciate without the starkness of the following dark months to highlight all the decadence of heat.

I'll admit, I come to this conclusion much later, after I've changed out of my wet clothes and I'm surrounded by the relative warmth of my home. There it is though, a reminder of the gift of light, why we all strive for it and seek it out, that's our very lives at stake. The ice age wasn't messing around! After the ridge had been conquered and we started to descend, it was simple to get back to the car. All I had to do, despite wet long underwear and curled frozen fingers, was step directly where Rachelle stepped and it would be fine. Actually I trip twice. My  mind could've gone forever; my legs, however, were big sissies. They were also frozen, but that's neither here nor there.

We make it back to the parking lot, a heap of sodden clothing and limbs that don't quite work, and turn the heat up. I appreciate it then, but we all fail to pack dry clothes (who would think we'd get that wet) I am not warm until later, burrowed deep into the flannel sheet lined nest I call my bed. I appreciated it though, I appreciated it so much.

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