Beginning and End on the First Day
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).
With autumn coming and the end of warm sunny days to explore, it’s hard to leave my favorite hiking zones; but variety is good. Yesterday I set the alarm for 5:00 (though of course I was awake…because I set an alarm), and got an early start to the other side of the mountain. I beat the road construction crews, and the gate into the Park was not yet staffed, so I got in free, which was a little disappointing because I like to flash my get-in-free pass. The parking lot that was jammed five hours later, was nearly empty when I arrived at 8:30 on a weekday.
Sunrise is very different from my side of Rainier. No old or second growth forests, therefore no shade. The temperature was forecast in the “upper sixties…’feels like’ mid-80s.” Much closer to the sun up there, plus being on the east side.
The trails at Sunrise are 95 percent sandy, five percent rocky; not full of roots, no carpet of evergreen needles. It’s dry and dusty. There are no streams to cross as they tumble down the mountainside through the forest; no waterfalls. The alpine smell is subtle, because there aren’t many trees. It isn’t damp. There are no high, lush meadows.
There isn’t the sense of anticipation I’ve experienced and loved on my other hikes this summer—the stunning scenery is all laid out in front of you. Which is not to undersell the jaw-dropping awe of the immensity and span of the Universe from up there.
I chose the Burroughs Mountain trail, which goes even closer to the sun, and to Herself. On the good advice of a friend who was there last week, I headed out on the trail less traveled. There are a few firs there, and still some wildflowers in the shade, with the huckleberry already beginning to turn scarlet. Spring, summer, and fall are brief and jammed together in the mountains.
The trail begins on the Wonderland Trail, meandering for half a mile above a shadow-filled meadow, past Shadow Lake and Sunrise Camp. Leaving the Wonderland—and the trees—it continues along Sunrise Rim with spectacular views into the White River valley and across to the Tatoosh Range (I think), rounding a curve to the Queen of the Pacific Northwest.
At the apex of Burroughs 2 (I did not do the third one), I found two women trying to take a selfie while holding a sign. I offered assistance. I stepped back to snap the shot as they held up their sign: “We 💜 you, Gretchen.” What are the odds? I asked them where Gretchen was. She used to live here, they told me, but now she lives in Flagstaff, AZ. 😳. They both live on Whidbey Island, they offered. As they were leaving, on a hunch, I mentioned the names of two of my friends on Whidbey. Yes, they knew them! Sometimes the world just astounds me.
I built a small cairn in homage to Herself—not getting the fourth piece to balance, but pretty pleased the tricky third one did—and headed back to Burroughs 1, planning to take Sourdough Ridge Trail, the rim on the other side, back down. It overlooks Berkeley Park and, perhaps, on into Grand Park. I’ve been to Berkeley and will return one day to continue to the Grand. The parks here are in the valleys, the others I’ve been to this summer are at the apex.
Far below me, I spotted a small tribe of mountain goats run out of a copse of trees and begin grazing. (Yes, they are called a tribe, or a trip; how great is that?) Then I saw another small group, and another. Farther on, right on the Berkeley Park trail, was larger one! As I moved on, continuing to watch them, the smaller groups wandered or ran to join the bigger group. I counted at least 40.
I stopped trying to take photos of goats too far away to take photos of and picked up my pace. The big group looked headed down into the park; but maybe the small one that seemed content to stay a half mile from the intersection of the trails would still be there. It was still early, and I wasn’t in any hurry anyway. I was headed toward Berkeley Park in search of goats.
The goats made the trip memorable. That and the people I spoke to. I made an error in choosing the return trail. I wish I had chosen to hop back on the Wonderland after the goat viewing, rather than the primary trail access from the parking lot, which is like a highway. But then I would have missed the Buddhists on Sourdough Ridge.
I was wearing the shirt the owner of my yoga studio handed me some months ago. I was the right size at the right time and she was getting rid of stored random inventory. I didn’t ask her then or later what the Sanskrit meant.
“Ah, [something that sounded like] moxie!” one of the young men in the foursome said as I stepped aside to let them pass me. I looked puzzled. “Your shirt!” he said, “moxie!”
“What does it mean?” I asked, telling him how I came to have a shirt with something on it I didn’t know the meaning of.
It was a little difficult to understand his accent, and others wanted to get in on the explanation, though mostly they deferred to him. It’s related to “enlightenment” and the cycle of life. Something about the ages 1-7, 7-14, 14-21. After that all is suffering; through the decades from the 20s to the 70s. At that age, through good works and meditation, the Buddha died and achieved enlightenment; and went to heaven. “Moxie!”
“After you die, achieve enlightenment, and go to heaven, the suffering ends,” one of the other young men said. “You don’t want to return to this life, because then the suffering begins again. Stay in heaven!”
If someone can tell me if the word is really pronounced “moxie,” please do. And did I got the story more or less right? I felt enlightened, and glad the trail chose me, instead of the other way around. My PNW is heaven; I’m not sure how any place could be better. But I don’t live on an island; I am aware there is suffering all around me. And I do have to go home to my own. But there was none this day.
Next week: camping at Mt. Hood. I hope there are a few more adventures after that before the weather turns inward. Though I am about ready for introversion, I still have an autumn trip to Paradise in my sights, and then back to my forest a couple more times before the snows.
As I left, a cloud was descending like a curtain. By the time I was out of the park, the mountain was gone.
Update: I asked my yoga teacher about the Sanskrit word on my t-shirt, as mentioned. It’s spelled moksha, not moxie; and it means freedom, or liberation, release. Read more about it here. From this reading, it’s quite possible my enlighteners were Hindi, not Buddhist.
It wasn’t much of an adventure: I sat in my tent and worked on my writing project. I had to come home for the quiet and to hear the owls and coyotes: a logging truck rumbled and groaned down Hwy 101 about every 2.4 minutes, starting at 4:30am. Still, the lake was beautiful, especially when the sun came up, and sparkled out my tent window the rest of the day. And I love to camp. If only someone would bring me food, I could live in my tent, writing at the little table that is part of CuRVy’s standard equipment. (I’m keeping the table when she is replaced.)
So this is a pictorial log. I did walk to Marymere Falls, a flip-flop friendly, well-populated hike. And watched the sun come up over the ridge each morning. Of course there are other hikes: I checked out trip logs for Storm King Mountain (“A very strenuous and monotonous ascent.”) and Pyramid Mountain (“The trail is washed out in one place, but don’t look down and you’ll be fine. You can hold onto rocks in the outcropping, but be careful, some are loose. Wished we had gloves for the ropes at the top,”) and decided my tent and writing and campfire were just fine for this trip.
Tomorrow I’m hiking Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground, Rainier NP. See you on the other side! (That would be with salmon burger and beer at Base Camp in Ashford at the end!)