Summer Day Thoughts – Reminiscence; Catherine Creek, 8.3.2012

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve discovered that I equally prefer places that are often mundane, or in the middle of nowhere, filled with solitude, as much as the hike that leads to the spectacular viewpoint. Getting to know a place throughout the year, throughout the seasons, the cycle of trees and wildflowers, the appearance and disappearance of the birds and wildlife that frequent the area, are often as pleasurable as a spectacular view of mountains or waterfall.

One place that I visited more often than any other in my years of hiking has been, Catherine Creek, in Washington state. Well known for its’ incredible spring wildflower displays, that begin in February and last well into May or June, but I also find that I have been repeatedly drawn back to Catherine Creek in mid-to-late summer when all the wildflower enthusiasts have long since fled and all that is left is isolation and the wind blowing through the tall grasses that have gone to seed.

On a scorching August day I arrived to find that I’m the only car in the parking lot, but it is one of those summer days where I simply cannot stay in town and I must get outdoors. A late start, squeezing through the beginnings of rush-hour traffic, into a leisurely drive through the Gorge to find myself here at Catherine Creek in mid-afternoon.

I wander up a well-traveled trail, past the long dried stream bed of Catherine Creek, deep blue sky summer sun bearing down but with a perfect breeze, no humidity, and the white noise of wind through grasses and the occasional call of the meadowlarks, hiding in shade; perfect weather to sit for hours reading and writing and watching the summer sun head westward. 90 degrees with no wind unbearable, 90 degrees with a steady breeze perfection.

Wild grasses at CC

On summer days like these it is easy to settle into the rhythm and flow of my surroundings; robins chasing a ground squirrel out of fir, a kite that buzzes low overhead, and then hops from tree to tree observing me, red tail hawks that circle in the sky – I am definitely the oddity out here on this grassy slope on this summer afternoon- two adults and a fledgling that spend the afternoon soaring, in constant conversation with one another on the day unfolding.

Today is all about the simple act of observation, in stillness. Sitting cross-legged, embracing the 360 view around me, a slow, languorous day, becoming just another bump on the land. A group of wild turkeys move slowly farther up the ridge, always with one keeping an eye on me even though I’m hundreds of feet away from them.  I am thrilled to see wild turkeys on the slopes above Catherine Creek, though I’ve seen them in several other locations here on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge, their increasing numbers is good news, and a simple highlight of the day.

Wild Turkeys

An impromptu live poetry reading of Michael McClure ensues on a hillock, shadows begin to lengthen, the sun eases westerly and a growing feeling of melancholy at the thought of heading home as another perfect summer day passes by…
Summer shadows

Oak Machine

I recently came across a band called, Leafblade, with a new album, The Kiss of Spirit and Flesh. There is a wonderful song called, Oak Machine, that instantly made me think of the white oak groves in the Columbia River Gorge.

And so I dedicate this lovely song to the oaks, big and small, in the Columbia River Gorge.

Of junipers.

Another sunny day in paradise. Two days after freezing fog turned Bend into a crystalline paradise, I’m sitting in a shrine-like pose, outside in sunshine and mild temperatures, in a grove of juniper, a mental health day with hot tea, free vitamin D and a little Steve Roach quietly filling the spaces between the silence.

The juniper, as I look around, seem wise, and infinitely patient. Their oft contorted and twisted bark tells the story of their lives wrung out of the rocky ground. An intense desire, and stubbornness, to live here, dammit! In the land of basalt and dust, roasty summers, frigid winters; here in the Badlands because no other trees dare! Screw you, pines and firs. Here we are, come and get us!

Personalities and individualism, unlike firs and pines, whose uniformity is mostly expected, I look around to see hundreds of individual treeness in so many forms and sizes; squat or tall, ragged shrubs near trees of perfect symmetry, but most juniper are simply scruffy and ornery. And patient. Yes. Change is slow to come. Breathe, drink only in sips, and grow slowly, each year a murmur. Conversations are languorous out here.

Even in death the junipers are poignant and patient, noble and striking, their memories endure long after.

IMG_1650

Every forest is a multi-generational organism, that is the way of nature – but here, from bare bark sentinel to the smallest thought of juniper rising from sandy ground – the uniformity is that there is no uniformity. There are no waves of young trees spreading, no patriarch from which all things grow. These juniper are a scattered lot; whether dispersed by bird or breeze.

Some trees rise high, others twist and lean precariously, defying gravity, as if trying to break free from this mortal coil but for the strong grip of basalt and root anchored to a landscape rugged and ignored – but give juniper space, for space they require, no crowding or competition here, they mill about the high desert, social but not too close, letting sage and grass fill the empty space of the canvas.

But the patience of juniper is also serenity. A perfect place for contemplation here in the company of ancients, who do not measure time as we do.

Salmon River Solitude

 River’s bend
D
e
e
p
Mountain Canyon
Tree-lined
Draped
In
Alder
Fir
Maple.

1     2     3
Exhale
and
D
r
o
p

Stillness
And then a sudden
Cascade
of
Falling
Leaves

Big Leaf
Maple
Yellow
stars
corkscrew
and
twist
Downward

Coordinated

Hushed

Exhaled
Puffs
Of breeze

Leaves…

A golden
Downpour
Fills the air
with
Sunlight flecked
Flashing colors.

Contrasts

Gently
Gliding
Golds
over
Crystal
D
a
r
k
Liquid

To land
…softly…
On slow
Whisper
Flowing
Waters

Now
Swept along
On a new
Journey

Like stars
In dark
Water
(pools)
Fade
(away).