The Hills Are Alive

Last day on the Pacific Crest Trail this season. For the first time in recent memory, we did not get the whole 80 miles logged out, in spite of spending weeks trying. On Wednesday, Jared and I hiked north from Tacoma Pass, through the patchwork quilt of clearcuts and old growth. It was one of those quiet misty days on the crest, all sounds muffled by low clouds. Water dripping from trees, echoing raven calls as they cruised over to see if we were hunters (anticipating a fresh gut pile, I presume). A few seep-seeps and squeak-squeaks from chickadees and other small resident birds. Our boots treading on cushions of hemlock needles piled up by rainwater running down the trail.

We had been talking about Sasquatch in the truck on the way up. I have never met our native cryptid, but I keep an open mind. There are too many stories to discount the possibility. Real or not, many cultures tell of a wild shadowy figure. I’m currently reading Robert Michael Pyle’s Crossing the Dark Divide, about Bigfoot, Bigfoot hunters, and a part of the Cascades just north of the Columbia River that is known as Bigfoot habitat. It’s an enjoyable thought-provoking read, and my thoughts and imagination were surely provoked while we made our way north through the misty mountain hemlock forest. I would not have been surprised to see a hairy back disappearing through the trees.

Thin watery sunlight penetrated the clouds as we crossed a clearcut south of Bearpaw Butte. This light was enough to ignite the vine maples and huckleberry bushes just now at the peak of fall color. As many times as I have seen this, I still pause in slack-jawed wonder. It’s like wallowing in color: here is the epitome of red. It cannot get any redder. Or yellower or oranger or whatever words there are for this chromatic phenomena. I am fascinated by the transitions within each leaf, as if some unseen hand has airbrushed red across a yellow leaf. There are similar transitions within a single bush. Then we noticed the huckleberries and picked while we walked. We walked slower and slower and our fingers turned purple. First the colors, then the flavors! Richly fruity, complex, sweet and tart at the same time, maybe slightly fermented…

How are people supposed to keep their minds on work when nature puts on a show like this?

Being professionals, we heard the call of duty and continued northward. We were still miles from the road and home. Later in the afternoon, the temperature dropped and the clouds lowered again. A rain shower came sideways at us and I felt icy pellets. As long as we kept moving we wouldn’t get cold. Ventilation is a concern when hiking in rain gear. I call it the “trail crew sauna” when I am as warm and sweaty inside the raincoat as I would be without it. This is why I am a fan of wool shirts when the weather is damp. At least the moisture wicks away from my skin and I stay relatively warm.

Daylight was fading as I cut my last log of the day. My pack was off and I felt cold snowflakes dotting my warm back through the wool. The log was wet and steam curled up from the kerf where the whirling chain tore through. Yellow chips flew out the back of the chainsaw, and I could smell the heartwood of the silver fir. This one had been long dead and was redolent with decay. The chunk fell to the ground and we pushed it out of the trail. The snow had stopped and the sound of water dripping from the trees resumed.

We hiked and hiked and hiked. Uphill and downhill, steady strides. Twilight was long and dim. I was thinking about supper. At last, the white of the truck was visible in the gloom and we could stop hiking. Everyone pulled on a warm layer and settled in the rig to eat the last scraps of food we had with us, and drink some water. Can’t remember what we talked about. I was still thinking about supper.

If I had been a Sasquatch on the Cascade crest this day, I would have spent it basking in every moment of sunlight and stuffing myself with huckleberries. I would have taken a drink of clear water from one of the small creeks crossing the trail, and as daylight faded I would have gathered some dried beargrass and made myself a nest under a sheltering cedar tree out of the wind. And maybe dreamed a dream of big snow coming and walking south to spend winter with others of my kind.

2 thoughts on “The Hills Are Alive

  1. I’ve just recently found your blogs, Debra… am playing catch-up, big-time… so far, though I’ve loved all I’ve read, your musings at the end of this blog, gave me such a feeling… it’s eerie how much alike we think! Arlene

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