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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.