It’s been awhile since I last wrote, I suppose my quest for stillness has been working a little too well. I’ll try to give a quick synopsis of some of the more interesting things that have happened since I last wrote in July.
Camping at Northrup Creek
In early August, I decided to join some friends for a short weekend camping trip at Northrup Creek, near Birkenfeld, Oregon. I got a late start getting on the road and ran into some significant traffic on Highway 6 so I decided to get off the main highway and meander my way through some beautiful, winding country roads until I finally reached the gravel road that took me several miles into the Clatsop State Forest. Shortly after arriving, I joined my friends already en route hiking the Big Tree Trail which did not disappoint, there were indeed several big trees along the way. After our hike, we went back to the camp site and lounged around in our hammocks and chairs for awhile before preparing a dinner of Italian sausages, potato and pasta salad, cole slaw, beer and wine. After dinner, we played several lively rounds of Uno until the sunset at which point we started a camp fire and roasted marshmallows before retiring to our tents for a good night of sleep in the cool, forest air. In the morning, we prepared a delicious breakfast of blackberry pancakes, eggs, sausage and coffee. We hung out a bit after that simply enjoying the peace and quiet of the forest before packing up, saying our farewells, and heading back to Portland.
On August 21st, a solar eclipse was visible from Portland. Many folks headed south and east to catch the celestial event in it’s totality. I, on the other hand, decided to stay in town and forego the traffic. I did walk down to the Tom McCall Waterfront Park and join the hundreds of other folks who were curious to see the show as well. I did not have the special glasses or filter for my camera but that was intentional, I was more interested in capturing images of the people around me and their reactions to the eclipse. At the peak of the eclipse, the color of everything changed into an eery sort of green/grey, wavy lines appeared on the ground, and crescent shaped shadows filtered through the tree leaves. It was definitely a very cool experience. After seeing images of what those in the path of totality experienced though, I believe the next time I have an opportunity to watch a solar eclipse from that vantage point, I will definitely do it.
Second Saturday Dinner Parties
I started hosting a monthly dinner party a couple of months ago. I figured these would be a good way to challenge my culinary comfort zone while also providing an opportunity to bring some friends together on a regular basis to laugh and generally just have a good time. For my first party, I prepared a traditional Spanish Paella which included shrimp, mussels, chicken, prosciutto, and chorizo as well as a plethora of spices and vegetables. Surprisingly, being the first time I’ve ever prepared shellfish, it all turned out really well. For my second party, I prepared a perhaps-not-so-traditional jambalaya, which was also quite successful and well-received. My next party will consist of a butternut squash ravioli with maple cream sauce, a Tuscan vegetable soup, and an Italian-style tomato avocado salad.
I continuously work on minimizing my possessions in hopes of making “room” for more of the things that matter in my life. I sold my bookshelves, along with most of the things on them, which opened up a lot of space in my living room to rearrange the remaining items in a way that is more conducive to entertaining and relaxing without as much to distract myself. I really like the open feel as well as how little time it takes for me to clean the area. I went through my hall and bedroom closets, as well as my kitchen cupboards, and found more items to part with. I feel very good about the number of items I have at this point and the overall energy of my home feels much calmer.
Panther Creek Falls
On Labor Day weekend, Cole and I drove out through the Gorge to Panther Creek Falls in Carson, Washington. It was truly an uncomfortably hot day but as we approached the river side, the temperate dropped considerably due to the cold water rushing by. When I got to the overlook for the waterfall, it was clear something was going on. A group of people were intently looking on, not in the way one marvels in the beauty of a natural wonder but more like in the way someone may watch something possibly horrible or amazing about to happen. Camera in hand, I made my way to the front of the group and saw a long cable stretched between two trees on either side of the wide waterfall, perhaps a hundred feet above the ground. Quickly I realized that a man was about to slack line his way over the waterfall. This was quite the unexpected treat but one me and my camera were happy to document.
Eagle Creek Fire
I’m so thankful I was able to hike the Eagle Creek Trail last year, before a group of teenagers so carelessly threw fireworks into the trees, setting the forest ablaze. Now, even though it will recover, it will never be the same. There are so many lessons to be learned from this incident but the number one for me is to not take places like this for granted; there are no guarantees that they’ll always be there. Too often I say, “Oh, I’ll get to that place someday…it’s on my list”. The day this fire broke out, I drove through the Gorge, exited I-84 at Cascade Locks, drove over the Bridge of the Gods, and hiked at Panther Creek Falls just north of the Gorge in Washington. I had no idea what was about to happen at Eagle Creek. I never imagined I (and others) would never see the Gorge the same way again. I wish I had known so I could have savored every last beautiful tree.
The other lesson I’ve learned is the importance of educating kids to respect and cherish these places. We protect what we love. Perhaps instead of lighting fireworks on the trail for a cheap thrill, these kids would have hiked the trail, enjoyed the waterfalls and wildlife, swam in the water, and let their curiosity run wild as they imagined what may be around the next curve of the trail. Someone wrote recently “I can’t show you how one person respecting nature can change things, but I can show you what it looks like when one doesn’t.”
There are so many other places in the burn area I hadn’t seen yet that are now forever changed. I’ll never know them as they were and there’s nothing anyone can do about that now. Places like the Gorge are the reason I moved to Oregon and they are also the reason I stay, even when I miss my family and friends in Wisconsin more than I can stand at times. To say I am deeply connected to the forests, mountains, deserts, and bodies of water of this area would be a grave understatement. This fire in the Gorge feels similar to the death of a loved one, it will take time to process the grief. I know I am not alone. Many of us here, and anyone who has visited, most likely feels the same.
As of October 6th, a full month after the fire first started, 48,000 acres of pristine forest have burned and it is only 47% contained. Officials estimate that the affected trails, some of the most popular in the area, won’t reopen for another year (September, 2018). Perhaps what is most sad about this particular fire, besides the area in which it burned, one of the most beautiful areas of the Gorge, is that is was completely avoidable.
Harnessing my new vigor for getting out and seeing all the places “on my list”, Cole and I drove out to the coast to do the 7.6 mile Bayocean Spit loop hike near the Tillamook Bay. After parking the car, we headed north along the gravel road, along the Tillamook Bay side of the peninsula. After about a mile, we took a short trail toward the ocean, through what used to be the city center of Bayocean before it was reclaimed by the sea. We then continued north along the beach until we reached the jetty where we then headed east, back toward the Tillamook Bay, and then south back to the parking lot. We spotted some interesting things along the way: a small hut/shelter constructed on the beach, apparently by hand, the spinal column of what I imagine used to be a deer, a truly sketchy restroom, and a gathering of the most cranes I’ve ever seen in one place. All in all, it was a really great hike, despite the wildfire smoke.
Cole’s Birthday and Health Scare
We celebrated Cole’s 9th birthday earlier last month and it was apparent after our coastal hike, that the years may be starting to catch up with him (who am I kidding, they’re catching up with me as well). He appeared more tired that usual after our hike. Now, it could have just been the heat and smoke combined with the length of the hike, as well as the fact that it had been awhile since we did a hike of that length. I do know without a doubt that his little white hairs on his chin are spreading, not just on his face, but throughout the rest of his body too. Of course, he’s still as handsome as ever. We had a little scare right around his birthday when his vet, during his annual checkup, found some abnormal red blood cells in one of his tests. I brought him back in a week or so later for a follow up test and we discovered that the red blood cells had been replaced by white blood cells, which most likely just meant that he had a urinary tract infection and not the mass in his bladder that the vet originally feared. He completed two weeks of antibiotics and went in for a follow up test. I am happy to report everything was normal and he officially has a clean bill of health.
Fall Has Arrived
It is officially fall and I’m fairly certain the hot spells of the summer are finally over, for this year at least. The night temperatures dip down into the 40s and the day time highs hover in the 60s and low 70s occasionally. This is my most favorite time of year in the Pacific Northwest. Cole and I have been going for long morning walks throughout different areas of downtown. I’ve been sharing some iPhone photography of these areas, trying to savor these cool, dry mornings as much as I can before the winter rain begins for next several months. With fall comes football season and Cole and I have been enjoying cheering on our Packers from afar. As if fall couldn’t get any better, Starbucks has begun to serve their Pumpkin Spice Lattes again, although this year, I’m enjoying the decaf versions and therefore, sleeping much better.
Eastern Oregon Road Trip
Last weekend, Cole and I took a road trip to eastern Oregon to hike the Deschutes and White River Falls State Parks before visiting abandoned homesteads, churches, and schoolhouses. The weather cooperated perfectly for my photos and I even discovered some unexpected areas that were simply magnificent. I don’t normally photograph buildings and until recently, hadn’t had an overwhelming urge to shoot abandoned places but something about these three areas in particular really spoke to me. I’m really happy with how that road trip went and I hope I can get in one or two more before winter rolls in. I am never happier than when on the road with Cole, some good tunes, and my camera.