AFTER THE EERIE ICE CAVES

I joined him on a trip to the ice caves at the mouth of a Rainier glacier. I nearly froze to death, too, when rain suddenly appeared and blew up under my poncho. When we hiked down through the summer snowstorm, I shivered uncontrollably. Back at the trailhead, sitting in the car and acknowledging symptoms of impending hypothermia, I was grateful Todd had put hot chocolate in the Thermos, possibly saving my life.

“To think, we got stuck in a snowstorm in mid-August,” I said. “Who’s gonna believe that story back east when we tell ’em?”

“Maybe we shouldn’t even try. They’ll have enough trouble understanding ice caves or glaciers.”

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NIGHT WATCH

1 between sunset and sunrise the ocean returns to desolate obsidian of her dark depths in the character at best, stars above strand of shoreline, depending maybe the moon with her sea-legs or repeated slapping 2 breakers arrive as a single point of reflected white opening out evenly in a line on either side a […]

FLOATING THE CANYON

I had not yet floated the canyon. Small parties take to the river at the far end of its slit. Reclining in large inner tubes, they then ride the current for miles, careful to exit the running water just before it goes over the dam or sucks a careless victim through the siphon that carries irrigation water through the mountain. You must be careful, too, not to step on rattlesnakes that come down for a drink. Like the current in the pool, this must be coordinated. Two cars, at the minimum, one on each end of the run. Or else having a friend to retrieve you.

The invitation came. Todd couldn’t get away, but Erik could. As we floated, we waved at cars passing on the twisting two-lane highway. They waved back. I should have worn more than a bikini. I came home rather burned. Still, it was fun.

We waved, too, at friends who came out from back east to visit. Broke out the Dungeness crab and fireworks and promptly filled the sink with wineglasses and dirty dishes. We popped open the champagne and a gust caught the plastic cork and carried it aloft — all the way over the roof over our head, like a kite. “Powerful stuff!” I squealed. Our party continued until midnight. Their children, I’d hear later, considered it the highlight of their two-month journey. By the following summer, though, their correspondence will have ceased, and I won’t know why. These days, even the closest bonds are conditional. But how about me?

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RETURN

1 slowly approaching a line that grows from the edge of the sea and then spreads at the harbor mouth slowly, details emerge and at last, some recognition in what’s become familiar home, or at least neighborhood extending attuned here, more than elsewhere the awareness, something all your own has happened with this place but […]

ON THE FLANKS OF MOUNT ADAMS

We continued on through bunchgrass and stubble, then into scrub pine and garry oak, pass cattle ranches and trailer parks, and eventually slipped into unbroken pine. We were low on gasoline but it was too late to turn around, not if we were to reach campground before dusk. Did we have enough fuel to get out?

“Well, that will be all downhill,” I said, even though I was jumping or flying off the handle at every bump.

Todd hoped to camp at timberline, calculated twilight, the gas tank, tires, rocky lane, and the red powder covering car, nearly said the hell with it, let’s not pitch tent but head for a motel. Instead, according to plan, we both sleep soundly, having an entire campground to ourselves. Only later did I hear that rattlesnakes thrive in here.

In the morning, hiking at the timberline, we collected elk bones — vertebrae, mostly. As the crown of the great mountain floated six thousand feet above, we heard rumbling icefalls and boulders breaking loose from the glaciers. Echoes glinted off the sun-melt trickle. I gathered sprigs and stones for her textiles. To the south, urging me to trying reaching out to touch its flight, Mount Hood soared into a lens cap cloud. The morning air, an ethereal blue vapor, turned icy mountains into silky threads. What I thought was rock and snow instead revealed nude shimmering before our eyes. Elation glowed. The wonder in my eyes reflects happiness.

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ESTABLISHING DIRECTION

1 light in shimmering bronze illuminates maritime charts and sails unfurling with desires, an escape in the apex of broad wakes who you think you are doesn’t matter when the tide turns a band from the North Star turns toward harbor – glints of affirmation or rebuke from a stranger – ruffles bells and rigging […]

ASTRONAUTS, TOO

Indeed, the day was already getting on. We set out on paved trails only to hear camera-toting tourists in halter tops and polyester shorts complain about the path. “If these idiots can’t follow blacktop, heaven help us,” I told him.

“Can you imagine these suckers in deep forest?” he answered.

“Actually,” I said, “these asphalt walkways are far superior to the logging roads around here. If they only knew!”

In time, he’d see just what people inflict on back country when their sport-utility vehicles and litter invade logging roads. For now, observing a huff-a-puff, bug-eyed depletion force out-of-shape sightseers to halt pitifully at ten-foot intervals, Todd reevaluated his theory that mere exposure to wilderness might bring about mass spiritual enlightenment. He conceded that without preparation, including effective teaching, the encounter itself can be meaningless. Knowing the names and relationships of what one meets is important. …

For that matter, I perceived how few Americans have seen much of their own land. They’re not alone, either. It’s taken Todd nearly three decades to get to this corner of our country. Who knows if we’d ever see the remainder.

I nodded toward the path again. On the last leg of their summit assault, a line of climbers emerged around a wind-swept thicket, their eyes covered by dark glasses, their faces covered in white zinc oxide sunscreen, their heads wrapped in woolen caps, their backs burdened by heavy backpacks, their footsteps measured in heavy boots. “Next to the tourists, they look like astronauts,” I whispered and then declared, “We’re enlisting in an environmentalist organization. The more militant, the better.”

We would also discover how little most Americans know of their own history. If knowledge is wealth, its lack imposes a price. The spider’s web connects many points, each one informing the other. Dinner has arrived. Or will, if one waits.

This invasion, too, will pass — I hoped.

The Cascades are aptly named, for creeks thread and lunge down precipices. The range drew its name from Celilo Falls in the Columbia River, a site now submerged by a hydroelectric dam. Nevertheless, we viewed milky threads everywhere on both sides of the Cascade Divide and realized our own thoughts cascade, too.

“Hey, you old Toad,” I teased. “Did you notice where the clouds broke away when we were coming up? Like, it was miserable back in Seattle but absolutely sunny by the time we get here. Where did it happen?”

He hadn’t noticed. We were finding the Pacific Northwest to be like that if you don’t pay attention. I drove the leg homeward through ever-drier timberland until trees themselves end without notice.

On this trip, we had tasted many points along a line to fill out later. The experience itself sent Todd back to his charts for verification and additional details. So this is how it fits together?

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