I’ve been whining about nice weather since February. It means I should be outside, cleaning up the gardens, doing yard maintenance, finding early season places to hike. And I’ve not been feeling it. Even last month, I wanted still to be hibernating inside. And, after forcing myself to get out for a nearby hike in March, three people told me not to hike in Capitol Forest alone and I started being afraid of solo hiking. I don’t want to be afraid. What’s the matter with me? Have I lost my appetite for adventure? Gotten too lazy to make the property look beautiful? Getting old and worn?
And then came May, and I crossed the bridge, turned the corner. (Too much metaphor?) A walk around the yard and suddenly I see potential in the gardens, and I’m impatient with having other things to do that keep me from it. Monday I decided on a first mountain hike and I couldn’t wait until Wednesday. Huh. Note to self: next year just let it be okay to wait until the leaves are on the trees. There is no need to force my inner spring. It will come.
It was overcast Wednesday morning when I got up before 5, eager to be on my way. It promised to be another gorgeous one though—on its way to too hot at the end of the week (I might move to Alaska). I knew I would get above the clouds and I fought off disappointment in the onset of the day, remembering I love emerging from the fog at the top of the world. Besides, this hike through the blast zone at Mt. St. Helens—one of my favorites—is exposed and hot, I wanted to get the up part done ahead of the heat.
It did not disappoint.
It’s a long trail, a loop, with 1-1/2 miles on the busy road at either the beginning or the end. With the advantage of experience (I’ve done this trail at least twice), I decided not to complete the loop along the lake. The ridge is my favorite part anyway, and I could park at the trailhead and avoid the road walk. Excellent plan, except the road to the trailhead, which goes on to Johnston Observatory, is still closed for the winter. I had to walk anyway. At least there were no cars, motorcycles, and motor homes zooming past. In the car I would have missed the five elk that crossed the road ahead of me.
Early on, I met a young couple coming down. Asking them if they had done the loop—and thinking they must have started mighty early, since it was only a bit after 8am—they said they had done it last night, then slept at one of the back country camp sites. They asked if I was going to. I said I had before, but this time I was going to the end of ridge and back the same way.
“No shame in that,” she said.
It never occurred to me that there was. For one thing, I don’t think it’s any less mileage, 9.72 miles with the 2 miles RT on the road from the Hummocks trail parking lot. Did I look aged? I pulled up my new mantra: “I don’t have to do it all today. I don’t have to do it all day.” No shame in that.
I noted the pocket gopher (I assume) tunnels: the bane of lawns and farmland and the savior of the blast zone. Buried deep in their dens 39 years less 10 days ago, after the eruption they ventured back to the surface (what twilight zone did they think they had emerged to?), pushing and carrying seeds out with them that would begin regenerating the landscape.
Like driving through the heart of America on my cross-country journey home seven years ago, where it looks like the dust bowl was just yesterday, the mangled, rusting logging equipment that was stranded and abandoned on that cataclysmic day are a reminder of the heat and force of the blast that snapped cables like twine and twisted, broke apart, and tossed pieces of the massive machine, the bulldozer, the yarding tower, the truck leaving the bodies half buried in ash and sediment. As if the topless mountain with a gaping hole in her side isn’t reminder enough. It makes my stomach hurt a little bit.
While I passionately love the well-heeled Mt. Rainier, going there has always been like visiting the rich relatives in the city. The less ostentatious Mt. St. Helens was my family’s mountain when I was a child. We can see her from our home, we picked huckleberries on her pumice slopes, and canoed on Spirit Lake. Maybe we camped there, I don’t remember. Someday I will go through the 8,000 slides in my home and find the evidence.
This new lake, Coldwater, is a lake still in process of maturing. This trail along the ridge is not a wildflower meadow. The trip up and down is not a cathedral hike through old growth forest, but alder—the first foliage to arrive after a clearcut or a fire. Or a volcanic blast. In fact, it’s on former timber company land; I suppose the stumps represent trees that would have been logged. Weyerhaeuser did clear the fallen timber that was salvageable and accessible. It’s a scientific study, walking here, remembering the first time I came as close as people were allowed after the event when it looked like an atomic bomb had been dropped. Not a speck of green as far as the eye could see. A landscape in black and white. It was possibly the saddest thing I have ever witnessed.
I’m glad I saw it then and can bear witness to the recovery today. There are birds hopping about and singing in the bushes; ants and spiders scurrying on the trail; a scampering chipmunk and a frightened tiny toad. A grouse beats out a rhythm: thrum-thrum, thrum-thrum. I see a prodigious amount of elk scat and tenacious ground cover flowers are coming on. And, what’s that? A rabbit under an alpine fir!
It gives me hope. We humans won’t destroy the earth, only ourselves. It will take a long time, but the earth will recover.
Returning on the same path with the sun at my back instead of in my face, retracing steps instead of doing the loop, there is a different perspective. I see views I didn’t notice before. It’s like aging, life comes from a different frame of reference. I’m fast approaching my 67th birthday; I know my body will change and with it my capacity for the life I enjoy now. “How much longer will I be able to do this,” I wonder. Exactly until I can’t.