Friday, September 13, 2019

Portland 2019: Pictures from Yellowstone


Zach and I just returned from a whirlwind five-day trip to Montana, where we visited my brother Christian, who works at Yellowstone National Park (department of inventory— you never think about how many office jobs are needed to sustain a park of that size). Although it rained on and off the whole time we were there, we still managed to get in a few hikes and a bit of sightseeing. Here are some pictures!

The next several pictures are from the Beaver Pond Loop near Mammoth Hot Springs









Beautiful gumweed was growing everywhere!

Driving toward the Midway Geyser Basin in Yellowstone

Grand Prismatic Spring! We had never seen it before. Although we weren't able to get parking at the boardwalk that takes you to the edge of the spring, we were able to hike to this overlook. 

Grand Prismatic Spring from ground level

We drove past this smallish male right after seeing a gigantic bull further up the road (and a stupid tourist standing ten feet away to get a good shot). 

Driving down toward Mammoth Springs

Mammoth Hot Springs!

Looking up a hill toward the mountains swathed in clouds— this was on a hiking trail just outside of Gardiner, MT

Cactus!

Sunset on the Columbia River on our drive home

Friday, September 6, 2019

This Month: Cards, Hiking, and the Way Home


View from Harry's Ridge at Mt. St. Helens National Monument: Spirit Lake and Mt. Adams


Whew, it's been a while since I've posted a general life update! I've been so busy waxing eloquent about our backpacking trips and rambling about random things that I've let several weeks go by since the last "this week" post. 

The most important news is that Zach and I are officially on the last leg of our time out west; we're heading home to St. Louis in just over two weeks, and have been trying to cram as much Northwest into our remaining days as we possibly can. On Sunday we're heading to Yellowstone to visit my brother Christian for a week, and after that we're hoping to do a short camping trip with Gary, as well as see everyone one last time before hopping the plane.

The end of a trip is always surreal, and especially this one. Seven months is a long time to spend time in a place; I still don't quite feel like I can say we "lived" here, but realistically speaking, I suppose we have.

Now, at the end of our time, I keep on struggling with all the things we didn't do, all the places we didn't visit and events we said we'd attend but didn't. But I keep reminding myself that this is not the last time we'll be out here.

In the meantime, here is some stuff we did do over the past month…

Single Candle Card Productions

I've always made cards for people; one of the reasons I looked forward to Christmas, Valentine's Day, and birthdays was so I'd be able to make cards. When I was about seven, I thought it would be cool to draw a logo on the back of my cards, and I chose a single candle, along with the inscription "Single Candle Card Productions" on the back, because that sounded impressive to seven-year-old me.

Fast-forward twenty-three years, and I'd started drawing more consistently. After kicking around the idea for a few months, I finally took the plunge by setting up an online shop and ordering some prints. Single Candle Card Productions was "real!"

If you're interested in checking out my work, hop on over to my Facebook shop. I'd love it if you liked and followed my page, along with sharing any of my posts that catch your eye. (Thanks so much to all of you who have already done that!) And of course, if you'd like to buy some cards, that would be great too!

Hiking Mt. St. Helens

A couple Sundays ago, we hiked the eight-mile out-and-back trail Harry's Ridge at Mt. St. Helens National Monument. I'd seen the mountain on the Portland skyline for years, but never visited up close, and it was a perfect day for a hike: chilly and sunny. I highly recommend the hike; in addition to winding through some beautiful wildflowers and huckleberry bushes heavy with fruit, it took us up on a ridge with incredible views of Spirit Lake, which is lined with the white skeletons of trees destroyed by the blast. 






Exploring Ape Caves

Zach had visited this 2.4-mile-long lava tube as a teenager, and it had been on our to-do list for years now. We drove up to the park with our friends Tyler and Adrienne, and spent a couple hours hiking through the frigid hallway of the lava flow. Sometimes it felt like we were hiking in catacombs (we sang some Gregorian-chant-inspired improv), sometimes like the belly of a whale, sometimes a cathedral, sometimes a chamber lined with enormous eels. The Lower Cave route was smooth-floored and open, leading to a dead end tucked far beneath the surface. We returned to the Upper Cave route, which headed toward the surface and required some serious boulder-hopping and clambering over loose rock. It was the longest I had ever spent underground, and when we climbed a ladder through a skylight out into the sunlight, I felt like Jill emerging from the underground realm in The Silver Chair. It was an incredible place to visit— if you're ever in the Northwest, check it out!

Playing Xfest

Zach and I spent last weekend at the Xfest Christian music festival in Stevenson, Washington, visiting old friends, watching bands play, and taking lots of walks along Rock Cove and the Columbia River, watching gaggles of snow geese dabbling in the water, ospreys wheeling overhead, and huge bevies of California quail scurrying like cartoon roadrunners across the road into the blackberry thickets. We played with Insomniac Folklore on Sunday night, which was a lot of fun, too!

Morning at Rock Cove

Downtime

Since we're going to be traveling a lot the next couple weeks, we tried to take some downtime this week. We went peach- and blackberry-picking with Gary at Sauvie Island, played a house show with Insomniac Folklore, and took an eight-mile walk to downtown Vancouver (Washington) to hang out in the park and read books at the library. Now Zach is finishing up his last few days of work before his vacation days kick in.

Right now, going home doesn't feel real. I'm just floating along, trying to soak everything in, letting the current of events take me wherever I'm supposed to go.

~~~

Sunday, September 1, 2019

The Greener Year Challenge: Move Beyond Cars (September)


Why don't we have propaganda posters like this anymore?!
For most of us, getting around town— to work, to the store, to friends' houses, to church— is a huge part of our lives. And far too many of us have designed our lives so that most of that getting around involves sitting behind a wheel, chipping away at fossil fuels. Transportation (including, to be fair, trucks and planes as well as cars) accounts for 29% of the US's greenhouse gas emissions, so it's a good place to look at.

As with so many green habits, many of these suggestions are not feasible in countless circumstances. Many people live in neighborhoods without public transit, or have disabilities that prevent them from walking or biking. Some people are scrambling to get a job and keep food on the table and can't worry about carbon emissions right now. That's totally okay.

But many of us have none of these challenges, and are still wasting a huge amount of precious gas on unnecessary trips. We can do better, and it all starts with little shifts in habits. Find what works best for you.

BEGINNER: 

Notice what kinds of transportation options you use. I mentioned this in the Energy post, but it bears repeating: paying attention to where you drive, walk, bike, or bus helps you understand your transportation habits. Think about your driving patterns: how much of it is unnecessary?

Combine car trips and plan ahead. If you want groceries today but also have a dentist appointment by the grocery store tomorrow morning, it's better to whip up some food from the pantry instead of making two trips. Planning ahead— making a comprehensive grocery list, combining errands with your commute to work or other essential errands, and so on— can save a lot of gas and time. 

For short distances, try walking or biking. If you're capable of walking and live in a safe neighborhood, look for a place to walk nearby that's similar to a place that you drive to. For instance, do you drive to the gym to run on a treadmill? Maybe you can walk to a nearby park and jog laps around the walking path. Do you drive across town to buy groceries? Perhaps you can walk to a nearby grocery store instead when you only have a few things to buy. If you have a bike, you have even more options. 

Learn about public transit in your area. You don't even need to ride it at this point— but if you live in a city, pick a place that you often drive to, and look up the route on Google Maps, using the bus icon to check for transportation options. Chances are, the route is incredibly long and complicated; however, depending on where you are, there might be a direct route that is actually more convenient, especially if you're in a big city where parking is expensive. Just be curious and think about it. 

INTERMEDIATE:

Think about how wasteful cars are. We take cars for granted, and rarely stop to think about their consequences. I love the analogy that Mr. Money Mustache uses in his article "Curing Your Clown-Like Car Habit" (he's sardonic and really likes swearing, so don't click if you don't like that): "When you use a 3500-pound car to transport your 150-pound self around, 96 percent of the weight of that clump of matter is the car. You’re moving 25 times more junk around than you need to, and thus using 25 times more energy to do it." He likens it to buying 25 blackened salmon salads for lunch, eating one, and throwing the rest away. This perspective shift is key to helping us see why other forms of transportation are important, even if they are less convenient.

Try out a bicycle. If you don't already have one, this is a good time to make the leap. You might be able to find one for free or secondhand for cheap, or you could show up at your local bike store and ask for help choosing one. I was able to buy a nice bike for slightly cheaper from St. Charles's Bike Stop CafĂ© because it was a refurbished rental bike. Be sure to buy a helmet as well. Then start looking for places to bike. Are there any greenways in your city (like Great Rivers Greenway in St. Louis)? Any quiet streets that lead you toward where you need to go? Pick a route that looks good and give it a whirl.

Take public transit. If you have public transit, try giving it a shot, if nothing else just to see what it's like. Use Google Maps on your phone (pick the "Public Transit" option or bus icon) or get a bus schedule, and go somewhere when you have gobs of extra time. Bussing to a farmers market is a fun first trip. It may be a great experience, a terrible experience, or somewhere in between, but it will raise awareness of your options. 

Carpool and share rides. If you have an office job, a traditional carpool may be a good idea, but carpooling can take other forms: offering a ride to a neighbor when you go grocery-shopping, meeting up at a friend's house and then carpooling to the party, or simply coordinating schedules within a family so you can take one car instead of two. 

Do a car-free experiment. Figure out the essential car trips in your current lifestyle (20-mile commute to work that has no public transit option, for instance), then go for a week or two without using a car for anything else. After a week of walking, biking, and using public transit, how does it work out? What was not too bad? What could you keep doing in order to live more lightly on the planet?

ADVANCED: 

A transportation option not feasible in many
 circumstances... but boy, was it fun!
Live close to where you work. If you are committed to cutting your transportation use, this is probably going to be the biggest leverage point— and the hardest to change. But if you're looking for the next big step, this is it. (Plus, living close to work saves you a ton of money! [It's another MMM post— swearing alert.]) 

Introduce other people to alternate forms of transportation. Whether inviting people to walk or bike with you, share a carpool, or try out the city bus with you, teach other people the joy of alternative transportation! Many people actually enjoy the leisurely pace of a walk or the adventure of riding the train— they're just on autopilot to take a car everywhere. If you can get them to step outside their comfort zone, they might not be converted, but at least you'll get them thinking. 

Write your city about public transit and bike lanes. Are you frustrated by the lack of public transit, bike lanes, or other alternative transportation infrastructure in your city? Making this your pet cause might be the answer. See if anyone in your area is already working on this (for instance, in St. Louis, Great Rivers Greenways has done a huge amount of work making the city more bike-friendly) and help them out, or find some like-minded people and strike out on your own. How can you get people excited about having a more walkable city with less traffic and more fresh air? Who can you get on board to help out your initiative?

Go car-free. This is a big step, but if you have the means to design your life this way, it's a huge win for the planet. See this post by Leo Babauta of Zen Habits for an idea of what that looks like. 

Which of these challenges would you like to take on this month? What would you add to the list?

~~~

Previous posts in this series: 

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Thoughts on Turning Thirty




Well maybe it is just the time of year
Or maybe it's the time of man
I don't know who l am
But you know life is for learning…
~Joni Mitchell, "Woodstock"

When I turned thirty almost two months ago, most people immediately divided into two camps:

1. "Well, I guess you have to start lying about your age now!"

2. "Congratulations, you survived your twenties! The twenties are the worst." 

It's funny how an arbitrary human measurement of time can create such a sense of significance: I'd been feeling the weight of my upcoming birthday for months beforehand. I was excited, but not in a rush to get there, and I definitely didn't fit into either of the two camps.

Now that I've been thirty for a while, I'm still happy about it. My body is still strong and in good working order. I love the bright silver hairs starting to show up on my head and the wrinkles around my eyes when I smile. I have better boundaries and a better sense of self than I did in my twenties and I like to think I'm at least slightly more mature.

On the other hand, my twenties were absolutely incredible. They began with my first solo trip, a month in Bellingham, Washington full of vivid memories of walking alongside the bay and exploring Northwestern forests and eating Belgian waffles at five in the morning. My twenties continued with a string of solo trips, a devastating heartbreak, then wider and more interesting adventures. Always on or planning for the next trip, blowing into town for a few months and then hitting the road again. I promised myself that if I was still doing that when I was thirty, I would reconsider my life.

Then Zach entered the scene, and life took an unexpected twist. Getting married, then years of planning for the Pacific Crest Trail. A six-month hike. A nine-month period of house-hunting. Buying a house, settling down, putting literal roots in the ground, wanting a baby, not getting a baby, getting restless, taking a trip, trying to put roots down again, failing at that, escaping to Portland for seven months. 

My twenties ended in July with another solo trip of a kind, touring with Insomniac Folklore back to Missouri for a visit. Fresh off an exhausting and elating and incredibly intense road trip, I was emotionally undone. I cried a lot. I spent most of my actual birthday bawling— but not because I was sad, but because I was so grateful. 

That day, I sat on the bed in my parents' spare room and wrote this in my diary: 

Thirty. It fits. It suits me. It feels right. It feels familiar. It feels inevitable, because, I guess, it is. And yet there is a sparkle of magic to it, a sense of gratitude that I've made it this far. So much has changed. I've learned so much.

And yet I feel that the past few months have not been about learning, but about remembering. Remembering to live in the Mystery. Remembering to come begging to God because I am not strong enough. Remembering that people like me and that I have so much to offer. Remembering to stand tall, express myself, take up space, be an inconvenience. Remembering how much I enjoy nurturing people. Remembering that I'm happiest in a group. Remembering how much it means to me when my friends are willing to let me go.

I want to be a vagabond, an earth mother, a healer, a giver, a dork who is unafraid. I want to bring magic to a world that desperately lacks it, and I want people to find the magic that draws them closer to God.

I have no idea what the next decade of my life is going to look like. I have no idea whether we'll settle down or take flight again, or where our interests will lead us, or what we'll feel called to do next. 

I had assumed that my life path would get clearer the older I got, but the opposite is happening. Grace is given to us moment by moment, and sometimes our plans for the future have to happen that way, too. This summer has been about learning to rest in uncertainty, to embrace it, to find joy and excitement in it. Step by step. Just keep walking. Wherever it is we're supposed to go, I believe that we'll get there.

~~~

Sunday, August 25, 2019

What I've Been Reading: "Braiding Sweetgrass" by Robin Wall Kimmerer


I read Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants on the recommendation of pretty much every sustainability blogger I follow, and I was not disappointed. This collection of essays— all loosely related to plants, but covering everything from short memoirs about Kimmerer's life as a Native American botanist to in-depth discussions of Potawatomi mythology and the value of indigenous ways of knowing— is a true treasure. She writes with grace, beauty, and a sense of wonder that is simply captivating.

With a PhD in botany and a patient history of studying Native American teachings, both from her own Potawatomi tribe and from nations across the continent, Kimmerer weaves together science and mythology, observation by microscope and by generational knowledge. 

Every essay is an invitation for the readers—and especially, I think, for white readers— to listen. Listen to the plants. Listen to the earth. Listen to the traditions, the mythology, and the indigenous wisdom of this continent that we live on. 

White people barged into North America insisting that they knew everything, and we haven't stopped since. From the European-inspired agriculture (treating everything like a bog, even the high plains) to our sensibilities about how much to harvest (we want to take everything, not let the salmon run for four days before we start fishing) to our ideas about what the Natives even believe (hint: they don't worship the sun, moon, trees, or animals), we have been clueless from the beginning. Kimmerer's writing quietly shows us what we missed by this refusal to listen, and the irreversible damage we did, and still do, by keeping our hands over our ears. Through stories and essays, through scientific explanation and myth-weaving, she invites us to sit down, close our mouths, and actually learn how we can belong to the land.

Most of all, I appreciate that she smashes the (again, extremely white-centric) notion of "untouched wilderness" vs. "human exploitation," showing that this is an unhelpful binary that we must discard. Humans are part of nature, not separate from it, and we must learn to live in nature in mutually beneficial ways: ways that have already been tested through centuries of living with the land, rather than away from it. Our presence in our habitat is not assured destruction for the wildlife, but can be a benefit; it's an invitation to learn from our elder brothers— the animals, the plants, the lichens and the mosses— how to exist.

Being "in harmony with nature" may call to mind "Colors of the Wind" from Pocahontas, but we must discard this sentimentality as well. Harmony with nature looks like hunting and fishing, chopping down trees and burning prairies. Europeans arrived in America and waxed eloquent about its "untamed wilderness"— when reality most of what they were looking at were landscapes heavily guided by human hands. And we never took the time to figure out how these "wildernesses" were deeply benefitting, and benefitting from, the people who worked them. This book beautifully describes many of these human partnerships in various scenarios. 

I could keep rambling for days about the themes that I love in this book— the common grace revealed in nature, the concept of the Creator who gave each living thing a gift and a responsibility to use it, the problem with the "native plants restoration" concept, the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address— but I'll let you read it for yourself. 

Please check out this book if you're interested in plants, the environment, nature, agriculture, climate change, beautifully-told stories, mythology, parenting, teaching, or just really well-written essays. You won't regret it!

~~~

Saturday, August 24, 2019

A Jaunt on the PCT II, Day Three

A mountain with grayish splotches of burnt trees


August 20th, 2019:

I awoke in the earliest watch of the morning, when the sky was gray with a few stars still lingering, to the sound of a barred owl hooting in a tree nearby. I took out my earplugs to hear him better, listening to the rhythmic Who-cooks-for-you, who-cooks-for-you-all echoing across the lake in the morning stillness. Then I immediately fell back asleep.


I woke up a little while later, when the sky was still gray but a flaxen light was starting to paint the rim of the eastern mountain ridge that rose up as part of the bowl that encased Wahtum Lake. Zach and I packed up quickly and were on the trail by 7:15, just as golden light was pouring onto the uppermost trees on the far ridge.

My shins and calves were super sore, and we both knew that the hike today would entail a lot of downhill, as we were heading into the Columbia Gorge to meet Gary at Cascade Locks. The hikes of the past two days had been difficult, and I'd never felt like I'd gotten enough sleep, and that, combined with my muscle aches and the weather growing sticky and warm, made me feel leaden with exhaustion. We walked slowly and took lots of breaks, but I could not push myself harder.

Checking out this huge mushroom!

Although the forests were similar to the ones of the past two days, we wound in and out of distinct ecosystems, such as fir forests where the ground was carpeted almost entirely with waxy, bluish clumps of beargrass. 

Soon we began ducking in and out of burned areas that stretched from the gorge up onto the hills like fingers. I grimaced at the rows of scorched trunks, but Zach reminded me that the forest is supposed to reset every couple decades— and if a single spark from a firecracker was enough to set the entire gorge ablaze, it meant that the forest was past its due. Wanting the gorge to be only lush and green on our terms was pure nostalgia, not actually what's best for the woods.

"Still," I said, "it's sad that there are people around who will never live to see the forest in full glory again."

"But that's just a human perspective," Zach said. "An old forest that hasn't been burned in too long isn't a fire ecosystem in its full glory. Every stage is important. Humans just like certain stages less than others."


I looked around at the blackened trees, which had a handsome ombré effect due to the scorched bark giving way to sun-bleached wood above. Clumps of beargrass and whips of huckleberries were slowly retaking the ashy ground, and among the shards of burnt bark on the ground you could see fir trees half an inch tall, bristling like green stars. Black-and-white hairy woodpeckers flitted between the dead trees, rattling the silence with their pecking. The forest was still very much alive, just not in the way we're used to. The glory of a fire ecosystem is to be what it is, no matter what stage.

Still, I was glad we had hiked the Eagle Creek Trail when we'd had the chance.

The day grew hotter as we hiked back into live trees and started a never-ending downhill that hurt my tense muscles so badly that I groaned with every step (Zach was faring no better, with his knee hurting). Popping some Ibuprofen helped, but it was just a matter of getting through it, switchback by switchback. We got some last beautiful views of Mount Hood and Mount Adams before we disappeared behind the ridge of the mountains that stand right at the banks of the Columbia River: the blue water called to us from a thousand feet below, and we limped toward it.


After a couple hours of tedious and painful downhill, we paused by a spring to gather water and rest our sore legs. Unlike the still warmth of the forest, this cleft in the rock was a channel for cool air, which tumbled down from the mountain heights along with the water. Here we revived a bit, and felt better as we headed toward the last several miles of the hike.

The trail more or less leveled out now, winding us alongside the mountain shoulders, past twenty-foot-tall triangles of volcanic rock, and through woods that became full of familiar plants: cat-ears, Oregon grapes, big leaf maples, licorice ferns. 

We popped out into a gravel parking lot, followed PCT blazes on telephone poles down the road, ducked under a bridge, and came out at a little park right next to Bridge of the Gods, where Gary was waiting to pick us up.

We collapsed in the car, aching, sweaty, and stinky— and satisfied that we had completed this breathtaking section of the PCT. That night, I slept twelve hours straight.

 ~~~

Friday, August 23, 2019

A Jaunt on the PCT II, Day Two



August 19th, 2019:

I woke up the next morning feeling completely better, although quite sleepy from lying awake so long. I didn't have much time to snuggle into the sleeping bag, though; we were hoping to cover 20 miles today, and our aching legs reminded us that this terrain was more difficult than the section of trail we'd hiked in central Oregon.

Last time we'd crossed the Muddy River, Zach had done gymnastics to clamber across a log, and I had just waded straight through and been grumpy the rest of the day. Five years later, the log's huge root ball had been eroded, making it easier to manage even with a backpack. We inched across one log that was almost entirely overlapped by a bigger log, and although the footing was slippery, we made it in one piece, and started up a steep climb through a fir forest limned with golden morning light. 

Also I got Zach to punch this tree like he's in Minecraft, in order to imitate a picture we took on our thru-hike (see below). He insisted it was far too early in the morning for such theatrics, but accommodated me anyway.

The original Minecraft-punching photo, 2014. Wow, Zach was starved back then. 

The forest today continued to be thoroughly Northwestern: water seeping through the volcanic rock, never-ending stretches of Douglas fir, mushrooms of all shapes and sizes pushing up through the pine-needle duff, scraggly lichen and shag-carpet-like moss coating the trees. We crossed a campground and walked under some power lines, then toiled up a hill to follow a windy ridge carpeted in berry bushes. We snacked on the refreshingly tart huckleberries, the fuzzy-skinned but deliciously jammy thimbleberries, and even the occasional salmonberry even though they're bland. We pressed on for a while, then took a stop at a campsite for a little nap. Although I didn't sleep, it felt good to lie down.


Note the beautiful red elderberry


After a while, though, we were feeling the time crunch, so we hiked onward, following the line of mountains on a fairly level path. We began crossing moraines— fields of rock carried there by glaciers— walking slowly to listen for the telltale dog-squeaky-toy sound of pikas, an alpine relative of rabbits. To our joy, we did hear them, and later that day, we saw movement among the rocks, and a furball the size of a guinea pig hopped up onto one of the stones, its round ears and whiskers twitching. It had been five years since we'd seen these adorable creatures, so we were pretty excited!

Toward the end of the day, we emerged from the trees to an open ridge and a spectacular vista: Mount St. Helens off to our left, Mount Adams looming to our right, and the distant peak of Mount Rainier in between the two. We walked slowly across the open trail, flanked by carpets of heather and clumps of a trumpet-shaped blue flower called gentian. Overhead, huge ravens wheeled, and a pair of some sort of stout falcon took flight from the few remaining trees.

Zach and I walked along the ridge in open-mouthed wonder. "Why on earth don't I remember this?" I asked, and Zach reminded me that last time we'd been here, it was morning and a fog had settled over the nearest ridge of mountains. I was glad we got a second chance to see it in the golden evening light!

If you look closely you can see St. Helens to the left, Rainier in the middle, and Adams right by Zach's head.
Gentian


From there we dropped down into the woods again, and paused at the junction of the PCT and Eagle Creek. On our thru-hike, we'd taken the Eagle Creek alternate because of its legendary beauty and notable features, including a waterfall with a tunnel underneath that you could walk through. Now, that's not an option: Eagle Creek was closed a few years ago after a raging human-caused wildfire. The forest, which is a fire ecosystem, will bounce back, but everyone who loved hiking there was devastated.

So Zach and I hiked on, following the official route of the PCT to see what the twenty-mile section would bring us. Darkness was gathering, so we stopped at a campsite on the shore of the shimmering slate-gray Wahtum Lake. Zach set up the tent while I filtered water and watched an osprey wheel far overhead, crying plaintively. 

That night, I laid back, smiled at the firs silhouetted above us, and plunged into exhausted sleep.

 ~~~

Thursday, August 22, 2019

A Jaunt on the PCT II, Day One



Earlier this week, Zach and I were able to do a three-day hike from Timberline Lodge to Cascade Locks! Here's my journal from the trip…

Day One, August 18th, 2019

We woke up late and ate a leisurely breakfast, getting on the road with Gary by about 10:00. It was cloudy in Portland, but once we started climbing toward the peak of Mount Hood, we left the clouds behind and sailed through the winding roads under clear skies. Around noon we pulled up to Timberline Lodge, ready to continue where we'd ended before.

Gary, Zach and I hiked up past the lodge and turned left on the trail emblazoned with a huge PCT emblem, and joined a scurrying line of people heading alongside the mountain. To our left, Timberline Lodge was framed by the undulating blue mountains and the distant peak of Jefferson. Pale lavender Cascade asters grew in evenly-spaced clumps across the sandy ground, forming meadows between the firs.




We paused at the edge of the Mount Hood Wilderness to fill out a permit, then joined the long line of people hiking into the wilderness. Although we've certainly hiked in more crowded places, it felt anything but wild out here, and we had to constantly stop and step off-trail to let people by, or say "excuse me" and power past slower walkers.

After a couple miles, the crowds began to thin, and as we delved down into a valley and crossed a little stream, only a few hikers remained. 

Gary had previously suggested that we take a little detour onto the Paradise Park loop, a trail that hooked up with the PCT in this section, and we agreed. So instead of continuing on a flat trail among the trees, we turned to the right and hiked between thickets of huckleberries and red elders toward the timberline. 

Before long the trees began to clear, and soon we were in a landscape dominated by meadows— and such meadows! I gawked, unable to believe the sheer beauty and diversity I was looking at. 

Thickets of purple lupine, spikes of bright red Indian paintbrush, clumps of Cascade aster, little sunbursts of arrowleaf groundsel, spikes of Cascade Canada goldenrod, white flower-clusters of American bistort, shapely leaves of green false hellebore sticking out like florists' decorations, and a bunch of other flowers I couldn't identify: all forming the most gorgeous gardens I could imagine. None of the meadows were uniform; each one was shaped by the slope it was on, and lines of color marked where streams flowed down and encouraged new flowers. On the dry meadows the lupine and asters reigned; along the trickling streams, pink clumps of purple monkeyflower and scattered subalpine mariposa lilies became dominant. I floated through the flowers in a dream.



See how the drift of yellow flowers indicates a stream?


After a few hours of hiking, the trail rejoined the PCT, so we said goodbye to Gary and parted ways: him back along the loop, and us forward into drier and more forested terrain.

We hiked down the mountain, ate peanut-butter-chocolate wraps at a campsite near a creek, then set out onto a boulder field to cross the Sandy River.

Even here so near its glacial source, the Sandy River is a raging torrent of opaque water. Zach and I approached, looked at some thin logs laid across the river— right at the water level, slick and shiny— then tried to find another way. There wasn't one, so we took deep breaths and approached the makeshift ford. It was less than ten feet to cross, but the water looked deep and dangerous. A wrong step could get you soaking wet at best and a broken bone at worst. 

Zach went first, inching across, and then I followed, my legs trembling the whole way. Then we laughed in relief on the opposite bank, tried to find the trail through the unmarked boulder field, and ducked back into the forest.

It doesn't look like much, but it's a torrent!

Hooray, we made it!
We ended up taking a short detour that we'd taken before, to see Ramona Falls. I'd remembered the falls as being pretty, but when we approached, I was shocked to find yet another feature that I'd remembered smaller than it was. The 120-foot face of black volcanic rock rose up through the trees, laced with an incredible embroidery of falling water. Zach and I gaped.

We traced our path through the woods, which were flooded with stripes of golden evening light. We stopped to talk to an Australian woman who was visiting the Northwest for the first time— beautifully dark-skinned and full of friendly joy, she was soaking it all in and happy to share the wonder.

This part of the trail was particularly scenic: a carpet of moss rolled over everything, trees grew out of boulders and rotting logs, mushrooms pushed up silently, slugs made a slow-motion slither across the trail, and the sunlight filtered through the fir trees.

The bridge and person are considerably closer than the falls, making it look smaller than it is. 120 feet tall!

Unfortunately, around this time I began to have stomach trouble— not enough nausea to keep me from hiking, but enough to be unpleasant. By the time we stopped at a nice campsite along Muddy Fork River, I was more than ready for rest.


Because of my roiling stomach, I wasn't able to go to sleep, but I tried anyway, putting in earplugs and closing my eyes. I drifted in and out for a while, and as the woods grew dark I noticed that the trees around us were faintly illuminated. My half-asleep brain couldn't figure out why, until I craned my head back and saw a bright white light shining through the woods far away. I thought it was a headlight at first, until I realized that it was actually the moon. So I laid awake in the moonlight and marked time by watching it rise, slowly, slowly, through the trees.

~~~