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.
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.
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…