I went hiking by myself today. It felt kind of weird, driving over to the arboretum with no one in the passenger seat. I used to climb mountains alone fairly regularly, but what with gas guilt and always knowing someone who also wants to walk, it has been about fifteen years since I have been in the woods alone. Let me say—it was lovely (no offence to my usual trail partners!).
It was cool and cloudy at the parking lot. As I set off up the logging road to Cronemuller Lake heading for the Powerhouse trail, I snugged into my old red anorak and wooly hat. The road is fairly wide and I pondered the inevitable bag of dog poop by the side of the path. I understand not wanting to carry it around with you, but why even bag it up? Why not kick it into the blackberry bushes, where it will break down, rather than leaving a neat package to forget on the return trip? Maybe I need to make a sign—“”Hey! Remember your POOP!” – and put it on the gate.
At the lake—actually a small manmade pond used by the OSU logging club for Logging Olympics—I turned off the road and began to climb. Forests in Oregon never really stop; all winter, the mosses and lichens swell, mushrooms and coral lichen sprout, ferns grow, small birds rustle in the underbrush, and, by late January, the Oregon plum is blooming. An occasional slug or newt crosses the trail. I paused to admire the drilling patterns of woodpeckers in an ancient Doug Fir, removing my mittens and unzipping the underarms of my jacket to cool down. Over two bridges, up a steep bit, and I arrived at the old Powerhouse. There used to be a sign here explaining how the loggers kept the powder away from the rest of their equipment and that was why the building had such a solid foundation. It’s gone now. But, it is still an excellent pausing place. It was so quiet, that, when a dog bounded out of the woods across from me, we both yelped, startled.
As I was climbing, the clouds thinned. A bit of blue sky shone above—sun hit my face as I reached the clearcut hilltop. I paused, again, sitting on a stump, enjoying the warmth, watching the clouds break over the hills in the distance. There, then gone, then back again—the mist rolled over the forests. Down below was a small golden field and the first settlement in this part of the Willamette Valley. A few tall firs reached for the sky; small alder bushes with tiny winter catkins lined the path; dead grasses and brambles caught at my feet. The last time I was here, the purple brodiaea was blooming. Mist moved in and I stood up, shivering. One more climb…
I crossed several old logging roads and a couple of cross country runners and headed for the last peak. When we first moved here, 15 years ago, the peak had a bench and a view out over the valley. It was a good place to stop for a snack. Now, the view is gone, lost to the fir trees. I climbed into the clouds once more. Cold, damp air pressed against me. I pulled on hat, mittens, zipped up my coat…moisture condensed on the needles and branches and then dripped down my neck. For a moment, I was back in the Redwoods, where the giant trees created showers for morning hikers.
The trail headed downward, dropping into a forest tunnel. Dark branches met overhead and blocked all of the light. Coral lichen and mushrooms sprout here, bits of brightness against the dark soil, dark needles. This is the cold side of the hill and the fog rolled in. I moved quickly downward to get out from under the clouds. Down, down, down. Past the test patches of Ponderosa pines from Carson, New Mexico, Harney, South Dakota, Eldorado, California, all planted in 1928. Past the thinned area from 2007. Past a new trail, heading down.
I’ve hit my famous stride now, walking from my hips, moving right along, thinking about—lunch. There’s always that point on the walk where you have left the forest and moved towards the dinner table; conversation inevitably moves from philosophy to food. I remembered the homemade English Muffins sitting on the kitchen table, the ripe long-keeper tomatoes in the basement, the Ceylon silver striped tea on the shelf, and picked up the pace.