March 20, 2020
On the first full day of spring I head out before daylight for a frosty, snow-patched trail. I’ve been to this trailhead at Mt. St. Helens—and others nearby—several times, but never done the interpretive loop. I get a later start than I had planned. I won’t get to the trailhead before the sun comes up. It doesn’t matter.
The barista asks if I want my usual then asks how I am. I can’t quite say I’m fine, but tell her I’ll be better with coffee and a mountain. We chat while she makes my latte. I ask how business is. She says it’s actually good, she’s glad to have a job, for now.
“People are all just so sad,” she says. “I ask how they are doing and they say, ‘Well, I’m not working.'”
“Take good care,” I say as she hands me my cup, and I’m off.
The mist over Silver Lake, the crescent moon hanging in the pinking sky, nearly makes me weep. I pull off the road to sit with it. “It’s still a beautiful world,” I say out loud. I make a mental note to see if that phrase has an Instagram following; if not I’ll start one. More than ever right now we need to find the good. The planet is appreciating this human smack down.
I reach Elk Rock viewpoint just as if I had planned to be there right at that moment. I pull into the lot, the lone car, to watch the sun come up and spread its rays across Mt. Adams to the very near St. Helens.
There is one car in the lot at the trailhead. Another comes while I’m lacing my boots. The occupant is dressed and equipped for the longer trail, largish pack over his camo outfit—maybe thinking the virus won’t detect him. I stay at my car until he heads out the trail well ahead of me.
I decide to go a ways up the Boundary trail I’ve hiked in the past before I do the loop. Get in a couple extra miles and some heart-healthy elevation climbing. (Okay, I didn’t exactly decide to do that; but I’m not sorry it happened.)
It’s a spectacular day. The mountain that will be completely bare by mid-summer has a heavy snow coat now. The creeks and marsh sparkle in the sun. The Toutle River is in a tumbling hurry.
Voices. Dammit. The trail is narrow. Someone will have to step off onto the fragile recovering landscape to keep the requisite physical distance. Oh well, these are unusual times. Then I realize they aren’t human voices, but geese!
I’ve seen no one on the trail when I return to the parking lot, 5.5 miles later. At 10:30 there are six cars now, all appropriately socially distanced from one another.
I stop at Coldwater Lake and walk the Birth of a Lake path, sitting on a bench to write in my journal. If I were a fisherperson, I would want to fish here. If I were a duck or a goose or an eagle, this would be my heart home. When this lake was created as a result of the eruption, it was water and rock in the blast zone. Forty years later it is becoming nearly as beautiful as Spirit Lake was in my childhood.
I take the Jackson Highway home rather than I-5. This is a red county and political signs, some looking bedraggled, are nailed to trees and fences every few hundred yards. The “worship cancelled” signs on churches won’t let me forget these are strange times. I read a science fiction novel a few years back about a pandemic; it seemed incomprehensible. And here we are.
This will probably be my last hike for a while. The rain is returning for one thing; and I fully expect Washington will be one of the next states to impose “shelter at home” travel restrictions. I am so grateful to have a forest with trails next door to my home and a sweeping view before which to do yoga on Zoom. It’s still a beautiful world.