Parting thoughts

Sunset basalt

Sunset basalt

There are days,
and there are moments
when amazing deeds
must be done…

S
c
r
a
m
b
l
e

rock walls,
hike high alpine trails,
trudge through a fall snowstorm.

And then there
are days and hours
to sit and ponder,
watch and wait,
read and write.

B
l
i
s
s
f
u
l

Let the world come to you.

Float the sky
with hawks
s
o
a
r
i
n
g
overhead.

Staring contests
with a lizard
peering over a basalt
boulder.

Crimson wildflower blooms
rustling
in desert heat.

This will be enough.

Of Mosquitoes & Men (or the lack, thereof)

Mid-October sunshine, I head into the mountains. Previously, before I lived in Central Oregon, the High Cascade Lakes in the Three Sisters Wilderness were my destination for every summer vacation. Now that I live here, I get to pick and choose when I visit these trails, and I choose to avoid the crowds of tourists that flock to the same trails I once did. Now, I wait. The sun falling southward, the days getting shorter, the tourists long gone, and the bloodsucking mosquitoes, having got their fill, fade away until next year. A perfect time to head into the woods.

Here I am at the trailhead; for mid-October, a later start, but I find sleeping in on a Saturday to sometimes be a desirable priority. Only a couple of cars at the trailhead, and I will likely meet these people heading back down the trail as I hike up. Headed for the lakes and ponds that surround Sister’s Mirror lake, just off the Pacific Crest Trail. Filled with clouds of mosquitoes during the height of summer, and mosquitoes love me oh so well, this is a place that I only visit during the fall season anymore. I might feed a chipmunk, but I won’t feed a mosquito!

In any case, the golden light, the long shadows, the fall colors of huckleberry bushes – mixed with conifer green – and the crispness in the air make this a fine time of the year to visit these lakes. The forest this time of year is also far more silent, less traffic on the trails, bird song faded away, and the cool dense air more seemingly muffling sound as I move through the forest. The temperature, and the light, on the trail changes every hundred feet or so, passing through pools of cool air in deep shadow, or the warming touch of fall sunshine in forest clearings.

Given the shortness of the days I put my head down and hike briskly through the forest, with over 3 miles to go before reaching the Pacific Crest Trail, and the lakes beyond. There is not a lot of elevation gain on this trail, so I move swiftly. I want to make sure that I have plenty of time to linger pond side in the sunshine of this warm afternoon. I still stop to observe the many small lakes and ponds that line this trail, each unique and beautiful in its’ own way. Golden sunshine illuminates fins of basalt rising from the surrounding forest. The ponds reflect both light and shadow on their surface. Both mirror and window on this still afternoon. No big winter storms yet, the trail mostly dry, only occasional sounds of running water trickle in the shadowy distance.

Wilderness Pond

Passing the Pacific Crest Trail, and a small group of hikers, the landscape opens into dun fields of spent grass. Fall sunshine pours onto the surface of Sister’s Mirror lake. Deep blue now, both above and below. High lake solitude sunshine silence abounds.

Sisters Mirror afternoon

Payne Pond; perhaps there is an actual name for this small lake, but the few maps I have seen reveal no given name, and so with the arrogance of explorers of a bygone time, I have assigned my last name to this lake – at least for the day – held in a rocky basin, surrounded by trees that push to the shoreline. A simple, beautiful location that most people pass by on the way to the larger, more spectacular lakes in this area. Mostly surrounded by low cliff, weathered basalt boulders, and a tiny beach from which to see furtive trout swimming, and long dead trees, slow to decompose in still, chill waters, covering the bottom of the lake. Happily, minus the clouds of mosquitoes that turn this tranquil scene into a cacophony of death in July. I will gladly take the cooler days, and the ability to linger.

I have been attracted to this pool for many years, but now I also stop here now because on the far side of this lake there is another of our small wilderness shrines. South facing, 10 or 15 feet above the lake itself, built into the rocky shore, like all of the shrines, only visible when you’re staring directly at it from close distance. Purposely inconspicuous. An entire year since my last visit has left the shrine completely filled with hemlock needles! Only a tiny green Buddha and two crystals remain from last year. No doubt they were snug for the winter buried deep beneath a blanket of needles. For today, I clean and reconstruct, and then reposition the Buddha and add new crystals and blessings. The shrine now ready for another winter in the High Cascades.

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I like that our shrines, being built in out of the way places, take me off trail, on little rambles where, over repeated years, I see changes I might not otherwise notice in the landscape. I enjoy not being wedded to a trail sometimes. Since my last visit a large spruce has fallen close by. Only evident as I hike around the lake and come across its’ sprawling form, splintered in a array of broken trunk and scattered branches. If a tree falls in the wilderness when no one is around does it still fall? Yes. I can attest this to be true as I scramble through a maze of woody debris.

My shirt off, sitting lakeside in the peaceful sunshine! Stillness but for a few remaining high mountain birds that linger. A pause before winter. Only a few stray clouds break up the deep blue skies above. Barely a hint of a breeze right now. Perfection. In July, with my shirt off, I would be drained of blood by now. Though mosquito free, big colorful dragonflies still patrol the pond looking for food. Fiery red to pale pink huckleberry bushes surround me, but only a few dried white huckleberries remain at this late date.

Two hikers, leaving farther lakes, pass along the far shore, myself unseen, sitting Buddha-like on a boulder, in the sunshine. The day shortens, and the sun moves westward, dropping behind tall trees on the far shore, and so I grab my pack to head back down trail to sit in the sunshine by Sisters Mirror Lake until the light fades.

Mt Bachelor

 

Sisters Mirror silence
water ripples
low sun reflections.

I sit alone, absorbing
the warmth of sunshine in
cool mountain air.

A bright golden meadow
of summer grasses
long gone to seed.

Surrounded by dark
Hemlock, spruce and pine
encroaching on the meadow,
a seedling at a time.

Me, not much different than
the birds that live here,
fueled by fruit and seeds.

Silence, so complete.
Stillness and calm,
I absorb that, too.

Sparkling ripples, an
endless procession of
reflections, move
as the Tao, uncaring,
unceasing, their flow
simply knows which way
to go…

 

Sister's Mirror sun
As with every perfect day, and every perfect hike, the urge to linger is strong. So many of my hikes end in twilight or darkness by the time I reach my car. Certainly, the late start is part of the cause, but finding some wilderness perfection and savoring it, apart from the crowds and noise, is always a strong enticement to sit and watch and wait, to tarry the day away. Plus, the evening light warms the trees and landscape as the day fades. Beams of orange and red filter through the trees. Surprise spotlights of color on trees and low hanging mosses as I wind through the darkening forest.

Maybe someday I might make a bony, crunchy dinner for a cougar as I flow through the dim shadows of the forest, but who’s to say I haven’t been spied many times before? Likely. A humpback traveler moving ghostly through the woods. But I would not give up those quiet moments, sunlight turning golden and orange over an inky forest as the sun hovers and is gone. In a society filled with noise and distraction these tranquil moments are few and far between, and so very precious to me.

Reminiscence – Comfort Hike

A comfortable hike, like a well-worn pair of hiking boots or that fleece jacket that you always grab before heading out the door, is always ready, the ‘go to trail,’ the trail that gets chosen on those days when you can’t decide where to go, the trail that you have memorized switchback to switchback, the trail where you know exactly where to look during the right season to find small patches of wildflowers in bloom in a forest clearing, or hiding under an oak, that trail that you’ve hiked in all seasons, the trail you’ve hiked both early in the morning and late into the evening.

Over the years, I have had a few special trails that I’ve hiked throughout the seasons, winter snows permitting – a trail that I’ve become intimately familiar with. For the most part these trails have shared some commonplace traits, such as having at least one spectacular wildflower bloom during the year or having a view that is simply timeless. Birdsong, butterflies, white noise and solitude are other factors that create the relentless draw to return over and over to the same trail.

For many years my favorite spot was a bit of an in between trail. Part of longer loops, but also, for some reason, a trail that was never glamorous or had the reputation that other nearby trails had. Eventually dropped from hiking guides. Which, of course, became part of the attraction for me and my solitude seeking self.

Horseshoe Ridge was one of those trails that perhaps suffered in reputation compared to its nearby Mount Hood wilderness brethren. Perhaps because three quarters of the trail winds through deep wilderness forest, switch backing along the nose of a ridge until reaching the open scree slopes and the views revealed at trails end (although the trail continues along the ridge both east towards Cast Lake and south to West Zigzag Mountain). And perhaps because there are other trails closer to Mt. Hood, or on the slopes of Mt. Hood, those trails always drew more hikers.

An old favorite

An old favorite

The endpoint of the hike, a pile of huge basalty boulders at the high point of Horseshoe Ridge was the perfect place to sit and spend an afternoon. A 360° view, with Mount St. Helens, Mount Rainier and Mount Adams to the North, with Mount Hood filling the horizon to the East, the alpine attraction was obvious. With views of the Salmon-Huckleberry wilderness to the South and on particularly clear days the distant coastal range far to the West. That westward view was often filled with spectacular sunsets from the longest days of summer to the shortest days of winter, when the snow pack was scarce, always unobstructed, filling the horizon with color, making lingering the right decision.

Sunset from Horseshoe Ridge

Sunset from Horseshoe Ridge

The open meadows that surrounded this part of Horseshoe Ridge were filled with bear grass that bloomed hundreds of cream colored columns of flowers every other year, carefully interspersed with paintbrush, larkspur, sweet smelling Cascade lilies and the occasional tiger lily flashing orange above the greenery and ground covers. The cherry on top, as it were, was that the scree slopes on the ridge were filled with huckleberry bushes that feed both bird and beast, and covered the slopes in a riot of color every fall.

Horseshoe Huckleberries

Horseshoe Huckleberries

Depending on the winter snowfall, the hike was accessible from late spring until mid-fall. Horseshoe Ridge was the perfect place to hike. Never many people on the trail, and I mostly was shocked to see other cars at the trailhead. During the summer Horseshoe Ridge was a great place to view hill topping butterflies and hummingbirds feeding on wildflowers, with raptors often soaring overhead and Osprey nesting on the cliffs below.

The other reason this was such a perfect hike is that it was less than 90 minutes from home or work to the trailhead. There was many a day when I would leave work early on a slow summer day, and drive up to the trailhead, then speed hike to the top of the ridge to decompress and linger – read and write, enjoy the sights and sounds, watch the changing afternoon light drift into evening on the mountains and ridges – and then head back after sunset into the deepening twilight of the forest below. Again, this was one of those trails that I hiked so often that I could hike into the deepest twilight before having to pull flashlight out, and never felt at all lost or unsettled by hiking the trail at night. There was both joy and sadness arriving at the last switch back and heading past the trailhead sign before rejoining the road below. Looking up, there was always a window of stars shining in deepest black, framed by the tall dark firs lining either side of the forest road.

There was one stretch of trail, always in shadow, on the North side of the ridge, where sound simply disappeared. It seemed as if even the birds were complicit with this agreement. Living in an urban environment I always had to stop and absorb the silence for a while. The lack of sound was noticeable, perhaps even unsettling, but for a brief moment my body would also slow and pause in this unexpected void of sound.

Sound of silence at sunset

Sound of silence at sunset

I have an almost endless stream of memories from this hike. During a late, wet summer, I spent an afternoon with a very fat, content marmot who climbed and sat two boulders away from me, not 10 feet away, both of us sunning ourselves on a clear but brisk day. Only an occasional glance of concern whenever I would shift too much on my boulder chair. The time a tiny, Whiteface weasel, came rustling through the huckleberry bushes at sunset, to stop between my boots and peer up at me for a while – me, frozen in speechless joy at the experience. A full moon hike where a friend and I headed up the top of the ridge late in the afternoon, packing a big telescope to watch stars and moon, but also able to see jet skiers flashing on the Columbia River at sunset over 50 miles away! Of course, the full moon rising over the shoulder of Mt. Hood was breathtaking that evening, as was every full moon that rose over Mt. Hood that I experienced from Horseshoe Ridge. Hiking through shadow and light in deep forest.

Moonrise over Mt Hood

Moonrise over Mt Hood

In fall, high meadows of deep crimson and fiery orange, contrasting with the sun-bleached basalts, feasting on huckleberries along with frenzied robins chattering and flirting from bush to bush, as fall rushed to winter. So many timeless hours of alpine-glow on Mount Hood, the same, yet always unique and special. A classic mountain view that made it almost impossible to leave and head back home.

Beargrass & Alpenglow

Beargrass & Alpenglow

Was I ever stalked by a cougar during one of my evening hikes back to the jeep? Maybe. Did I startle deer, who in turn startled me back, rustling away through the darkness? Definitely. The slow shift of senses from sight to sound as the light leached away from the forest around me, and the air turned from warm to cool to cold on my skin, was always part of the experience of this trail.

So, how did my relationship with this trail fall away? The first time a massive winter storm washed away a bridge leading to the trailhead. It took the Forest Service two years to replace. Once the bridge was back in place so was I, but then the next winter another storm washed away part of the road leading to the trailhead. This time, because the road led to wilderness, and not timber sales, the Forest Service decided to retire the road – one of the very few roads leading to the West side of the Mt. Hood wilderness – the much longer, uneven Cast Lake trail mostly used by equestrians. Sadly, the Forest Service has a seemingly endless budget for building and repairing logging roads, but little budget for roads leading to trailheads. Not ironically of course, in later years the Forest Service proposed logging the entire area up to the wilderness boundary which would’ve required them to repair and reopen the forest road leading to Horseshoe Ridge trailhead (that proposal was crushed). I was always sad/mad that the Forest Service suddenly had money to repair and reopen the road for logging but that they were unwilling to do so for the simple pleasures of wilderness hiking. The Mount Hood National Forest is for felling, not for fun, I guess. There are still longer trails, with longer drives, to Horseshoe Ridge, but with this closure I moved on to a new ‘comfort’ trail. Horseshoe Ridge will always remain one of the formative trails for my deep love of the outdoors and hiking.

Classic Mt Hood from Horseshoe Ridge

Classic Mt Hood from Horseshoe Ridge

On New Year’s Day

For the most part, I would like my little blog to be about my experiences hiking and being in the outdoors. However, the truth of the matter is, at least for the last year, there has been an elephant in the room, or perhaps in my yard. I moved from Portland to Bend two summers ago and then into a house later that summer. I have always really loved to garden, mostly in the form of planting bee and butterfly friendly wildflowers – be kind to pollinators – as it were. Monarchs and Milkweed – my motto, if I have to have a motto – is that a motto?

My new house has the most generic of suburban landscaping, featuring a ton of lawn, which I loathe, and very little else. I haven’t owned a lawnmower in years and the first thing that happened with my previous two houses that I owned was that I removed the lawn. Well, suffice to say there was (is) a lot of grass in my current yard, and unlike Portland, I learned the chilling truth that at some point during the winter the ground freezes here in Bend (!!!) and thusly my year-round project of digging up sod came to an untimely end last winter.

The project of digging up grass, and taking it to the landfill, is sadly, mostly never-ending, for both my back and sad Subaru cum pickup. On the other hand, my first summer of planting flowers in the newly opened flower beds ended up with a plethora of different pollinators visiting my new plants, which made me very happy, and made for a successful summer, even if my hiking suffered.

I will be trying my best to balance between yard and trail this year, but my obsessive nature (feed the bees and butterflies) will probably swing more towards the yard again in 2015, at least until the grass is gone and more native and pollinator friendly flowers and shrubs have gone into the yard.

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Dorothy Wordsworth wrote, “It is a pleasure to be the real lover of nature to give winter all the glory he can, for summer will make its own way, and speak its own praises.”

On the first day of 2015, the snow that covers my yard also covers the Badlands wilderness, and a sunny first day on the year is enticing reason to get outside for some fun winter photography while stomping around off-trail in the snow!

After a few days in the teens or below, a day in the upper 20s seems downright balmy. A thermos of hot tea, a few layers of clothing and my camera and we’re off for a little late afternoon wander in the snow!

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My starting point briefly follows the tracks of a fellow human into the wilderness before I veer off in my own direction through the pristine snowscape. The fresh coat of snow may cover the ground like a blank canvas but that snow also reveals that life in the Badlands remains active, with the various types of animal tracks revealed criss-crossing the landscape. The Badlands may be silent on this winter afternoon, but there’s definitely wildlife out here, even in the dead of winter.

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On a sunny winter’s day the fresh snow on the ground turns the Badlands into a land of contrasts. Deep blue sky, dark green junipers, and their brown hued snag brethren, rising above a sea of white. The gibbous moon in the cobalt winter sky becomes another facet of the landscape.

Normally, the Badlands are filled with the scent of juniper and sage. On this day, the brisk air is sterile, cold is the scent of no scent. Juniper, a fantastically prolific pollen producer, shut down. Snow covered sage is sageless.

Every few steps revels another lovely pictorial snowscape. A limited palette of colors nevertheless reveals endless beauty at every turn in the long shadows of a late winter’s afternoon. Snow and ice glisten from junipers and sage; droplets of snow melt and refreeze into silver drops that capture and refract sunlight. Basalt pressure ridges become still foam white waves on the land. On the horizon, snowcapped Cascadian peaks via for attention. The cold moon oversees this snowy expanse through branch and snag.

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One thing I don’t miss about having a film camera is the ability to fire off unlimited photos from various angles and settings to try to get the most intriguing and beautiful shots of what I am experiencing. Cold, clear and silent. Every boot step silenced by the thick layer of snow, as I wander, silently observing light and shadow change as the sun quickly lowers in the southwest. In every season I appreciate the endless size, shape and personality of the junipers of the Badlands. Today, a snowy shawl and icy ornamentation, adds to their character.

On a rise, I watch the sun setting. For a brief period orange and golds add color to the snowy mantle of tree and snowscape, before dropping below the horizon.

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The most important point of today’s little adventure is to try and remember to create as many opportunities as possible to get out and hike, especially in winter and early spring, before the world thaws and I’m back planting in the garden once more.

Get out.

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A Horse Ridge Winter’s Afternoon.

HorseHeaven

Dead silent on the ridge top, except for an early fly buzzing by. No bikers, no hikers, well met on the way down. Blue sky, late westering sunshine over Newberry Crater, filling the horizon. Juniper pollen! Oh yes, near 60, today! Trail dry. No snow. No bird song. No whispering breezes.

Blueness, stillness, sunness. Green/gold azure contrasts below deep blue skies surround me.

Image 3

Lumpy dark cinder cones and smancy stratovolcanoes in the distance. No rumblings today, though.

A weird flock of 30 to 40 somethings suddenly break the stillness as they flap and cry as they fly down below the ridgeline. Weaving and twisting in the air, going from somewhere to someplace else in the still space below.

Like white foam – skyfoam – an endless procession of contrails, the ceaseless coming and going of planes overhead, glittering and gone. Most so far above as to be soundless. A crow, instead, fills the empty void. Relax for a bit, humanity.

Sun lingers and long shadows spread farther and farther. The horizon fills with gold and then the sun is gone. Like a switch, the air grows rapidly from cool to cold. Don’t be fooled, mid-February it still is! Time to move, longer, lingering twilight, distant hills glow a faint red, Jefferson and Hood silhouettes fade in the dusk. The lands below begin to pool in black.

Image 2

Jupiter appears, the first beacon in the sky, high above junipered slopes. Mars and Venus, in a cosmic dance, follow in the fading light. I turn, Orion stands above Horse Ridge. Sirius, as always, a bright, flashing jewel in the deep blue to black twilight. The winter sky becomes breathtaking by degrees. A full panorama of planets and stars on display above darkened ridges. A timeless spectacle, but always breathtaking to me. Far from the city lights, I linger, head craned upwards as the Pleiades comes into focus. Can I get vitamin D from distant starshine? Perhaps. I stand still, facing skyward, absorbing distant D, soaking in a canvas of starry night in the sagebrush desert in silence.

Some Summer Moon

A perfect late summer’s day. But instead of hiking, the obsession I have had all summer of working in the yard continues to takes hold, so instead of hiking, I’m digging up sod this afternoon. I have a completist attitude, and my desire to dig up all the useless grass in my yard, and plant pollinator friendly flowers instead, is almost overwhelming. I want bees and butterflies in my yard, and I want to feed them. Grass, not so much. Every square foot of sod that I replace makes the rest of the yard all that more useless. There is a plan B in the back of my mind, of heading up to Pine Mountain Observatory for a visit, but yes, rock hard sod takes an afternoon of digging, plus the run to the landfill to dispose of it, so watching a Pine Mountain sunset followed by galaxy gazing at the observatory does not happen.

But after dinner, the itch to get outside is still there, and so is a big fat gibbous moon, and so at 10 PM I find I am leaving the house behind, with camera and tripod in tow, heading out to the Badlands to wander around for a while in the moonshine.

When I arrived, I’m actually shocked to see a car at the trailhead. Someone from out of state camping in the wilderness! How wonderful. Living so close by, the Badlands are a great hangout spot for me, but it would never occur to me to camp there. Funny perspective.

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How bright is the evening? I have both a headlamp and flashlight with me, neither of which I use as I wander on and off the trail! The trail is already a clearly defined swath in the sandy bright soil. Off I go. Immediately, mentally, I realize I needed to be out here, and that I have made the right decision.

Silence. No wind. Only the occasional sound of distant traffic. Owls sporadically hoot in the distance as they move both here and there in the darkness. Junipers stand solitary in the moonlight.

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The irony that I am playing around with my camera, by myself, in the middle of nowhere, on a Saturday night, is not lost to me. This is my life. At this moment I am bummed that my friends who were here almost a month ago, didn’t get to see this scene of the moonscape volcanic badlands, swamped in monsoonal rains as we were. In a short period of time that I have lived in Bend, I feel an intimacy with this landscape, as I did with my favorite places in the Columbia River Gorge, and around Mt Hood.

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I am having fun. Enjoying the silence – taking my juniper by moonlight photos – great photographer, I am not. But the junipers make excellent subject matter, and is their wont, infinitely patient as I play with settings on my camera. In fact, both the junipers, and the moon, are living a completely different timeline than I. The moonshine and high clouds rolling on the southern horizon diminish the stars, but 90 minutes of connection to the outdoors is renewing and satisfying. I did get outdoors today, I got my moontan and I was able to enjoy and observe another facet of the Badlands tonight.

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No great tale. No high adventure. But I was outdoors, looking up, as the moon looked down. Saturday night’s alright.

Get out!

Summer’s Solstice

Summer solstice 2014. I awake early and get some pre-sunrise Venus, and waning moon, photos above the lightening and brightening eastern horizon of summer! A few high clouds add a splash of color as dawn grows near. I can see one tall, lone pine, in the distance that the sun will rise just south of, a solstice marker, as it were, for the longest day has arrived!

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I have been madly gardening and rebuilding my yard this spring. Not the exciting tales of hiking and the outdoors, to be sure, but the more mundane, yet satisfying, hauling away old sod, and replanting the yard with more bee and butterfly friendly plants and flowers. This project has taken up much of my hiking time this spring. In fact, I celebrate some of this solstice day hauling a load of old sod to the dump. Festive, to be sure!

The plan, as much as there is one, is to take much food and clothing to Horse Ridge, hike near the top, and watch the sun set and enjoy the long twilight of the longest day. Plans are good…sometimes they even happen like they are supposed to. In this case, as I clean and vacuum dead grass and dirt, post-dump, from the car, and begin loading my hiking gear, a cunning flaw in my plan is revealed as the warm clothing I was going to take on this hike is carefully set aside while cleaning, and is forgotten, something I will humorously discover at the Horse Ridge trailhead. For now, the packing goes on, blissfully unaware, and I leave much later in the afternoon than I had planned, and yet, this IS the longest day of the year.

I love the drive east of Bend. There is absolutely nothing special about it, but there is always very little traffic, and open spaces around me, so I can crank up the stereo and enjoy the festival of basalt and juniper as I make good headway for the Badlands Wilderness and Horse Ridge. Along the way I secretly wish I had the time and energy to hike to both the Badlands shrine and the Horse Ridge shrine, but getter older, and spending a lot of time on my legs reworking the yard means that is simply not going to happen today. So, there is that twinge of regret as I drive by the Badlands sign and head down the hill for Horse Ridge.

I arrive at the Horse Ridge trailhead, and I am actually shocked to see another car here today. I gear up (remember the earlier foreshadowing?), and I am unpleasantly surprised that none of my warm clothes are around. Now, it is a warm day outside, but the north wind that is blowing is riding up Horse Ridge and at sunset a tank top and a wind breaker are not going to cut it into the night. And so it seems that I will be heading back to the Badlands, after all!

Desert Daisies

There are only a couple of cars at the Badlands trailhead, and so I grab my gear and head for the shrine. I am pleasantly shocked and surprised by the amount of wildflowers in bloom. I harken back to my first visits to the Badlands last August when deathly heat and broiling sands were the main features to be seen. Today is another matter altogether. Buckwheat, daisies, lavender colored flax and red dwarf monkeyflowers blanket the sandy ground, and grow from rocky basalty perches, as well.

Buckwheat, flax and sage

The truth of the matter is that there are areas so dense with wildflowers that I have to circle around on my wander to make headway towards the shrine. The trek is slow as I stop in amazement to soak up the spectacular beauty around me, and to capture photos of the many little flowers putting on their best face during this first day of summer.

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In typical fashion, as I slowly make my way cross-country, I swing too far to one side and after a while I realize that, once again, I am not anywhere near the shrine. Somehow, I have an approximate sense of bearing, change directions and after a few moments something vaguely familiar appears that leads to another spot, and suddenly, I once again know where I am. Several turns later the shrine rise appears and I am home for the solstice. Always with the pseudo-drama…

This is an odd summer solstice for me. Historically, and for many years, I have celebrated the summer solstice at Catherine Creek, in the Columbia River Gorge, with good friends, at the same grassy knoll. This year, having moved to Bend, the old familiar stomping grounds are far away, as are my hiking companions.

Supposedly, like any other holiday, they are best spent with friends or family. I feel the same way about the equinox and solstice. They have been days of great fun and camaraderie, spending time with friends who share the same deep admiration and appreciation for the simple pleasures of the outdoors. For today, at least, there is an empty place in my heart, and the normally welcomed silence is devoid of laughter and story.

However, the afternoon is anything but silent. A variety of different bird life are busy discussing their summer plans in the junipers around me. Busily flitting from tree to tree, excitement fills the air, and one cannot help but be uplifted by their myriad of song and ceaseless chatter. Even an old friend, a bird I have not yet identified, that for many years baffled us at Catherine Creek, makes an unexpected appearance, and it’s call fills me with nostalgia as it circles around my location squawking.

Snag embodied by the Green Man

Sunlight drifts slowly. The shrine snag reaches towards the westering sun, the heartwood taking on a mask of agelessness, the Green Man, personified. I sit and turn, enjoying the ever changing summer light. I continually brush against sage that fills the warm evening air with its’ soothing scent, olfactory joy. Grasses and sage ripple in the wind – whispers of the new season upon us. As Shakespeare might have written, all the world’s a sage.

Oregon Sunshine

More wandering to be had. A small rabbit is startled and runs past. I climb basalt pressure ridges, ringed layers of basalt cooled then uplifted. But even basalt does not present a problem for buckwheats blooming on top. Mounds of yellow Oregon sunshine brighten their surroundings. I head back to the car, turning frequently to watch the near setting sun stream though the juniper. The hills around me turn red.

Lava Rings

The roads are deserted, and so I drive slowly looking for the perfect spot to capture the orange horizon and silhouetted crest of the Cascades. One spot affords me the view from Three Sisters northward to distant Mt Hood through the trees. The last, first, light of the summer solstice burns bright in distant high clouds. Light lingers on the drive home. Do I feel the planet gently nudge its’ way back southward again? Maybe.

Last light