Not My Mountain, the last day
I coax myself out of bed before the first hint of dawn on my last morning; the coldest of my four days here. The first two mornings were veiled in smoky haze, the third was overcast. This morning, though, I can see starlight through the trees from my tent window.
I slide into my flip flops and zip up my jacket. Wrapping my blanket around me, I slip through the trees in the dark to my chair by the lake. Pinpoints of light dot the sky. I identify the Big Dipper hanging right above the silhouetted mountain, but find nothing else familiar. I look for Orion, but can’t spot it. It’s been so long since I’ve seen the night sky. Even on my hill above my small town—unlike when I was growing up here—there is too much light.
I sit and breath in the silence and wonder until a weak glow begins to blot out the stars around the horizon, then return to my bed to get warm, reading by the light of the lantern.
At 6:00, I return to the lake. Only the bright planet remains visible in the still-dark sky. Owls call from the forest as dawn come; the mergansers fish. One dives suddenly, and comes up with a tiny forage fish. One of its mates fights for it, while the third floats on, looking for its own. Each time a fish is caught, the duck stands up in the water, perhaps to lengthen its gullet for the fish to slide down. I hope for an eagle or an osprey, but they still don’t show up.
Upright wisps of mist float across the far side of the lake, like a heavenly host of skaters silently gliding on an ice-covered pond. I imagine them to include my father and his brothers and sisters on their Michigan farm lake, and I weep for longing of those bygone days when they were young and I was not yet here. I feel embraced by their presence, even as they remain distant from me. Do they know I am here? Watching? Perhaps my tears are for my mother, the last (wo)man standing. I wish she could join them, released from the bounds of her own darkness here in this world.
The sky brightens, and suddenly the glow of the sun—no longer the red ball of the first smoky mornings—peeks above the tree line. The chipmunks scamper out of their nest to greet it, pausing to honor the new day. As it quickly rises into place, they move on to find breakfast.
With a sigh of contentment, I rise too as the camp begins to stir, to make coffee, then return to the lake edge to bask in the sun’s warmth one more time before I make my last breakfast and take down camp. The ghost skaters have left the lake and so must I.
Every place on the planet is beautiful at dawn.
I return home around the east side of the Mt. Hood Scenic Loop. I am glad to see “my mountain” across the river.
I visit Multnomah Falls with a throng of people. As it turns out, we are one of the last throngs to visit for now, due to the wildfire engulfing the area. Three days later the interstate the Falls sits beside closes, along with the Bridge of the Gods crossing the Columbia River to Washington (which the fire jumped). Today, the fire is only 8% contained, and the highway remains closed pending removal of some 200 unstable trees in danger of falling on the roadway and to check for loose boulders.
The Eagle Creek fire is thought to be caused by teens throwing fireworks into the Gorge. I am sick and horrified, sad and angry at the resulting change in this wilderness; even as I am reminded that it is wilderness. It will return, different, as happens in wild places subject to mischief of nature and of humans.
Mt. Hood is not my mountain, but I’m grateful I was there last week (and not this week).