Thursday, January 24, 2019

The King of Roads

I had no idea that the Columbia River Scenic Byway is known as the "King of Roads" - or that it was America's first scenic byway. Frankly, I knew next to nothing about Oregon until this year as I started to explore my growing attraction to the state just south of home. Growing up I thought of Oregon only as Bend and my grandparents' house there. I clearly remember writing an essay on the pond in their neighborhood when prompted with the school assignment, What is your favorite place? My own little Walden, it seems.

Last Summer I took myself on a solo road trip to central Oregon. There, I took in Painted Hills and Smith Rock State Park:
As Above So Below
Terra Incognita

Now that I live in Olympia, day trips to the Columbia River and NW Oregon are more accessible than ever before. I find myself magnetically drawn to this gaping gorge that cuts through the Cascade mountain range, separating states. Before settling in Oly I was hunting for a place in/near Hood River, which sits along the Oregon border. Alas...the job market isn't so hot in those sleepy lil' towns.

This week we headed south to take in some of the many waterfalls along the scenic byway, that King of Roads. Even the laziest human can enjoy some vivid nature porn in this glorious pocket of Oregon. Dozens of exquisite falls line the road, most of which don't require any real effort to access. We had to seek out extra mileage and extend some of the little trails to lesser known, more "hidden" falls-like Fairy.

Fairy Falls

We easily took in four falls in one afternoon: Wahkeena, Fairy, Bridal Veil, and Latourell, along with a drive by of Multnomah. Can't get me out of the car for that one. It's not that I hate Multnomah, the highest waterfall in Oregon. It's that I hate the crowds.

Latourell was by far my favorite, and the most Icelandic of the gang. This whole area is reminiscent of my favorite Nordic country though: towering stacks of blackened volcanic basalt, highlighter-bright moss, and plunging, nameless falls of various size pouring around every turn.

Latourell Falls
Latourell from afar

The Columbia plateau was formed by millions of years of expansive lava floods emanating from as far away as Montana. Large basalt skyscrapers that remain, like Beacon Rock and Crown Point, offer the best views of this phenomenal little corner of Earth. There's a unique comfort in the climactic beauty that only cataclysmic disaster can create. Arresting light and moss bursting through the ruins like Tupac's rose from the concrete.

At 31, I've become much more invested in the geologic history of the places I hike. These days I research each new area I visit and try my best to understand what I'm witnessing. Yeah....wish I had paid more attention in Rocks for Jocks (Geology 101) rather than writing it off as my one and only Science credit. Yay, Bachelor of Arts!

Bridal Veil
Bridal Veil

I'm exceptionally grateful to experience this Columbia byway after the devastating Eagle Creek Fire of 2017 blocked access to much of it. The blaze was ignited by a 15 year old who threw a firework into Eagle Creek Canyon. It charred through 50 acres, an area larger than the metropolis of Washington D.C. Some of the most spectacular sections of this wilderness are still inaccessible, including the magical Oneonta Gorge. Oneonta is the miniature, PNW version of Zion's Narrows. You hike up a creek bed, under a log jam, through waist-high water to a climatic waterfall that drops into a swimming hole. Then there's nearby Tunnel Falls, with a giant waterfall you can walk behind (Icelandic indeed).

Wahkeena Trail
Charred trees

Though disappointing, the ongoing closures will allow deep healing for the Eagle Creek region and much needed respite from human trampling. The Gorge may well be the next stop for me in stationary living. Otherwise, without a doubt a frequent haunt if I go the way of van/RV life. Until then, I'm really enjoying hiking in it as much as possible. Heading South against traffic ain't so bad either...

More on waterfalls

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Guide Thyself

This will border on sounding like a page out of the Narcicistic Personality Disorder handbook, but bear with me: At times when I'm funneling through a loop of indecision or conflict, I look back on my journal or blog to remind myself of my former wisdom and advice. Lessons I've learned and misplaced. I whole heartedly believe that writers write what they most need to hear anyway. This purging has to serve some actual purpose, right?!

We live in a time where self help and personal development is a multi-billion dollar industry: books, courses, retreats, podcasts, yogis, etc. It's not just Tony Robbins or Deepak Chopra now. Rather, vast swathes of people seem to be clambering for a career in the semi new age sector-as an Influencer, Life Coach, Speaker, or Healer. If not, they're probably imbibing some array of these offerings. Everything from the self-help section of Barnes and Noble to Reiki, $10k yoga teacher retreats, and weekly therapy.

Seeking for the sake of seeking is a benevolent enterprise, but it can also consume the weaker aspects of our spirit. See, there's a limit to the effectiveness of other people's advice. Not just people we hire or buy into as our Gurus either. At times the well meaning advice of those we love and respect can create the most debilitating disconnect from our often soft-spoken inner voice.

The risk is this: sometimes guidance outside ourselves creates an inner chaos rather than an empowering consensus. Other people's opinions begin to bleed into our consciousness as we move forward in our own lives. Lives that we are ultimately responsible for. Suddenly we aren't sure who has it right- the little voice inside us, distant as it may be, or the seemingly smart advice of those we genuinely respect.

"Confusion is a gift from God. Those times when you feel most desperate for a solution, sit. Wait. The information will become clear. The confusion is there to guide you. Seek detachment and become the producer of your life." -Rza

We have everything we need within us. We know ourselves more intimately than anyone else can or ever will. Yet we also impulsively rush decisions and ultimately, untimely results. Waiting is sooo dammmnn uncomfortable. Thus we crave an end to the manic pause. For me, coming to a conclusion that feels righteous and livable requires removing the deadline, or even a time frame.

We try to hand off the consequence of making our own firm decisions by asking for guidance that we don't really need. In fact, input from others can often distort a vision that would otherwise be clear (though rarely immediate). And even if not would certainly be ours.

We humans are such dynamic creatures of light and limbs. We need to practice honing our intention and discipline, without constantly relying on authority. It's hard work, maneuvering life and choices with tender execution. I have to be careful to enforce my own beliefs and dreams, rather than being imposed upon. We are forever responsible for ourselves and the decisions we make. It doesn't mean we won't fuck up, or wonder about a path we discarded, but I find myself easier to forgive than others. It's pretty hard to keep a wall up against your own soul.

"Does this choice enlarge or diminish me?" -James Hollis

We had another lovely Sunday in the church of Mt. Rainier. Actually this trail to High Hut is just outside the park boundary, and part of the Mount Tahoma Trail Association. The hut itself is available for rent but we simply used the stove inside to service our coffee addiction. The views from the top of this steep little snow climb were so astounding! Besides the obvious, full frontal Rainier views we also caught sight of The Olympics, Anderson Lake, the Nisqually valley, St. Helens, and a slightly obscured Mt. Adams. 

Even at our weakest, we are still fully capable of commandeering our own story. Sometimes I need to reflect on past moments of powerful unblocking to re-align with my inner conductor. Relationship is essential to life, but friends and lovers and even sages are meant to be adventure partners, not the authors of our biography. Take every bit of advice you receive with a grain of salt. Or better yet, a dead sea dose of salt.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Every Possible Permutation of Water

Liquid, ice, snow, clouds: Every possible permutation of water excites and enlivens me. Last weekend at Rainier, we were blessed with the complete array of agua, from solid glacial ice to rushing river. Claire even introduced me to the bubbling mineral springs right across the road from the Longmire parking lot.

Longmire itself is named after James Longmire, a settler who arrived in Washington via covered wagon. He "discovered" the previously mentioned series of geothermal springs in 1883 (white people discovering anything on indigenous land requires quotations and a lethal dose of skepticism). These became a main draw for his homestead resort, later the original headquarters of Rainier National Park at its inception. Longmire is still an operational inn, as well as a museum, which sits directly inside the Southwest entrance to Rainier.

I don't usually enter the park through this Nisqually route. In fact I'm pretty sure I only have one other time, when I hiked Rampart Ridge a Summer ago. Since moving to Olympia, I've done quite a few trails at Rainier: Rampart Ridge, Snoquera Falls, Fremont Fire Lookout, Naches Peak, Sheep Lake to Sourdough Gap... It's become my new go-to hike region, despite living right off the 101 and so close to the Olympic National Forest.

We were in search of snow, and though we brought our snowshoes along, we didn't end up using them. Fresh flakes were slated to dump the day of our hike; Instead we were greeted with warm temps in the upper 30's and clouds that parted to reveal clear blue skies as the afternoon unfolded. Yaktrax helped as we made our way up the Wonderland trail a couple miles to a turn off. There, we crossed a foot bridge over the Niqually River, and trudged uphill to small but serene Carter Falls. Looking back now, I wish we had pushed on to Narada Falls, which is another 2 miles in but absolutely gorgeous from the photos I've seen. Carter served as a nice picnic point, where we enjoyed some canned champagne to cheers the New Year.

On our way back from Carter Falls, we stopped off at Cougar Rock Campground, which is probably diassterously overrun with people in Summer but was instead utterly silent and peaceful. There we post-holed our way through deeper, less trodden snow and found a true relic: an operational pay phone! There was also a Wes Anderson-esque outdoor amphitheater that mimicked a scene from his film Moonrise Kingdom (one of my favorites). 

We were genuinely lucky to access Rainier despite the government shut down. Unlike the horrific photos I've seen online of places like Yosemite and Joshua Tree, we didn't see trash (or poo) piled to the sky. Though, this is the only park entrance open to the public currently, and majestic tip-top Sunrise is inaccessible until further notice. My heart goes out to the park employees who are without work right now. We appreciate you! We miss you!

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

New Years Musings

I spent my New Years Eve the same way as nearly every other: sleeping it away. I don't know why I begrudge traditional celebration so much. I'm honestly such a Grinch about social norms. I don't dress up for Halloween, I hate fireworks, and I don't usually celebrate events like 4th of July or New Years in the social sense. I can't help it! It's in my inherent nature to dissent, like my girl RGB.

I read an interesting piece this morning though, about picking words to exemplify your new year, rather than setting specific resolutions or intentions. As a logophile, this immediately appealed to me. Plus, I hate trying to set meaningful intentions when I'm lost in the abyss, as I have been lately.

My words for 2019 are Miraculous, Expand, and Evocative. These are words I use frequently in my journal and mantras, so they were pretty easy to come up with. Let me know if you develop some for yourself.

My long term job ended as November began. I'm editing part time right now and job searching (half heartedly, I'm going to tell you right now). All this to say I have no excuse to not be writing incessantly, every day. I should be getting my Faulkner on- "Don't be a writer, Be writing." Maybe now would be the time to actually complete a first draft of the allegorical novel I started writing bits and pieces of years ago. Or, to submit more articles since I had great success with one a few months ago.

Here's what I'm doing instead, to be perfectly honest with you: Reading. Constantly. Wandering aisles at the library and my local favorite, Browsers Bookstore. Dog-earing pages to return to and write down quotes, because A) I don't believe it's wrong to dog ear and B) I'm obsessed with recording and reflecting on favorite passages, re-visiting books and words with earnestness. Reading in the bath, on the couch, in cafes, in bed. 


The good news is reading begets writing. One improves the other, both are essential limbs, and hopefully the chasm between the two will slowly close to a small ravine I can jump across. I'm at a loss for words right now to accurately reflect what I'm going through, so swimming around in the thoughts and stories of other people feels safe and secure. Reading is a distinct state between living and dreaming; Visualizing through someone else's eyes, losing time. All that is a welcome distraction while it lasts. Then I cry, or I call someone, or I drink a little too much. Because sometimes you just do what you can to accept the weighted sensation of groundlessness, and you try not to judge yourself for how you handle it, or for shit like not writing more. 

"Maybe, just maybe, it's enough to give this story over to you, not to hold onto it any longer. To know that Spring is robust and fall is the beginning of the colored descent, and there is nothing you can do about either but receive it all and surrender to no perfect answer and allow no conclusion." -Natalie Goldberg

A few books I've chewed through recently:

The Seat of the Soul - Gary Zukav
Insomniac City - Bill Hayes
Earth is Hiring - Peta Kelly
The Great Spring - Natalie Goldberg
Good Sex-Jennifer Graham
On Writing-Stephen King

And a past post with a list of some ultimate favorites:  

Reading List

[Photos from the currently roaring Little Mashel River Falls in Pack Forest]