July 19, 2020
I did something yesterday I never do. I went for an unplanned hike.
I was late getting up, almost 5:30. I made my pre-coffee honey ginger lemon tea and took my place in the corner chair. The mountain was a crisp outline against the clear pink-glow sky. I could go to the grocery store early this morning, I thought. It’s been mildly bothering me when I could go. Not Monday, I have a Zoom group early. Not Tuesday, I’m going for a hike. After that, there might be Camp Gigi this week and I need to go before that happens because I don’t want to take a little guy (or two) with me. I would be back in time to finish my blackberry vine and weed extraction along the driveway before it gets hot. Problem solved.
Or, you could go to the mountain. Where did that come from? Right there in front of you. But it’s late. Not that late. But it’s the weekend. You don’t have to hike. But I have things to do. No you don’t.
I jump up, get dressed, slip bread into the toaster, slice some apples and cheese, fill my water bottle, slather peanut butter on the toast and wrap it in a paper towel, grab my pack and am out the door at 6:00, heading for the only drive through coffee open that early on Sunday.
Unfortunately, I’m across town when I realize I forgot my hat. Can’t go to Mt. St. Helens on a sunny day without a hat. Shit. I drive back across town, up the hill to home. It’s 6:30 before I’m on the interstate, latte in hand.
As I wind up the road, passing the Weyerhaeuser-owned land and the “Planted in 1983, 89, 91” signage, and “Harvest in 2028,” I can’t help thinking how like the pandemic this area is. A cataclysmic event changed the landscape I knew as a child. Forty years later, it is not anywhere close to how it looked in April of 1980—before May 18—but I’m no longer sure where the blast zone is. I can no longer quite remember how it did look, before. It for sure doesn’t look like it did the first time I saw it after the eruption. But some of the replanted land will be ready to harvest in just eight more years.
On the drive, I listen to an interview with a Texas doctor on NPR’s Weekend Edition. He read an excerpt from his fictional story of post-pandemic life, decades from now. Driving through the eruption blast zone, I think we are living in the pandemic blast zone, and nothing will be quite the same as before again, at least if we don’t do something different now. I suspect life will always be strange for us of a certain age. We’ll adjust—and we will always grieve. Our children will get over it and have a long life in the new reality. Their grief will be brief. Our youngest grandchildren won’t remember “before” at all. Mt. St. Helens will always be arid and barren to those who remember, but it is how it’s “always” been to my children’s generation. Generations from now there will be tall, dense noble fir again. But it will be a long time.
Once off I-5 and heading into Toledo, I see not one car on the road until I’m almost to my destination: the Loowit Viewpoint just short of the Johnston visitor center, which is still closed due to the pandemic, keeping the hoards away. Unfortunately, I don’t think to stop at the restroom at Coldwater Lake and have to pee into my empty coffee cup at the viewpoint. But, as I said, no cars.
I’ve hiked the Boundary West trail before, from the Hummocks trail near the lake all the way up to the observatory—and back—and it has a freakishly scary bit on a switchback up the side of a cliff below the meadow I am bound for in search of wildflowers. I decided that time I would never do that stretch again. I did sort of forget there is also a semi-freakishly scary bit between the viewpoint and the meadow. Or maybe I hoped it was above the viewpoint. Anyway, I didn’t slide off; but I was very aware I had not told anyone exactly where I was hiking. (Though my orange car in the lot is easily identifiable.)
There is a photographer with a long zoom lens on a tripod and binoculars and his clearly not-a-rabid-hiker companion looking for elk along the river far below on the trail. I see no one else.
The flowers, though more lush at the beginning higher point of my three mile (RT) hike and in the dry-creek copse—the only bit of shade—they are drying up in the meadow. There is so little moisture in this moonscape landscape. The plants have to work hard to thrive.
The red strawberry vines remind me of the pandemic: spreading and connecting willy nilly and bursting into a new plant, covering the area. Mask Up people!
Had I planned for this treeless hike, I would have been here 90 minutes earlier than I am and not gotten caught in the heat of the day at 10:00. I fight to get sunscreen-infused sweat out of my eyes as I approach the return trip across the freakishly scary part. I need not to be distracted from careful foot placement by suddenly stinging eyes.
Back in the car, I drive on up to the observatory for the heck of it. Many cars there. I drive right back out. I stop at Coldwater Lake for a few minutes. People there too, but I sit by the water for a few minutes.
I’m home at 12:30. I love living in SW Washington where I can have a first rate spontaneous adventure and be home for lunch! Fortunately, it’s too hot now to do yard work. I enjoy the deck for the rest of the day instead.