Day 88: Coming Home

My next to last day in the wilderness of the Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, I had some words with the Universe.  Right out loud I told her that I’m open and ready ready ready for whatever she has in mind for me and my life.  (I may have been a little impatient and frustrated…)  The next morning, when I woke to the pitter patter of rain on my tent, I heard her tell me it was time to return to Portland.  I have to say I was surprised by this.  I didn’t know I was…well, ready to go back just yet.  But I did know I was tired of being wet.  I love rain (the rainy seasons of the PNW have never bothered me; I’ve always found the rain cleansing and rejuvenating), but living in a tent in the outdoors in the rain is much different than occupying an actual home in a rainy place.  Raincoats and canvas tents, even with hard tops and bottoms, only provide so much protection from the elements, and wet clothes don’t take long to smell up a car.  So…I heeded the message.  I packed in my tent for the “last” time, shed some tears at the idea of bringing my journey to an end, and set my sights (and GPS) on Oregon.

I had a mix of emotions all of the five or six hours I had to drive – and I drove it in silence, without the radio.  I stopped a lot, paying extra close attention to all the sights and sounds and also my sensations.  I had so much to think about.  What a journey I’d taken!

It seemed to work out just right that I left Washington from the east side of the Cascades, as I got to re-enter Oregon in the Columbia Gorge and head to Portland on the route I’d come to the city just over four years ago.  That drive was beautiful then, and it seemed even more vibrant to me after my journey – the trees, the rocks, the cliffs and waterfalls, the river, the blue sky and fluffy white clouds… It made me feel so alive!  The sun and wind coming through my windows were exhilarating.  All over again, it felt like I was coming home.

The closer I got to Portland, the more excited I felt.  I’ve always loved walking along the riverfront, so I drove straight downtown, parked, and followed that path.  I probably looked like a huge dork with my big grin and teary eyes, walking amidst bikers and runners and all the motorized scooters people are suddenly riding (how Portland!).

When I embarked on my journey, I wondered if I’d come back to this place.  I’d never tired of the culture or atmosphere of Portland (I mean, hipsters are sometimes annoying, but you do you, boo; rock that skateboard with a cat on your shoulders!), and natural beauty abounds… Still the traffic and all the people were making me (and my headspace) feel crowded.  So I set out on my journey open to finding a new place to call home…but the only place that called to me in that way that Portland once did was Victoria (BC, Canada), and I’m not looking to change my citizenship status, so coming back to Portland feels right to me, at least for now.  (Who knows what the future might hold!?)

I’m boundlessly grateful for the friends who welcomed me back here and are opening their homes to me…and I love that, once again, I feel like If a city could give me a hug, Portland is what it would feel like.

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Day 68: Netflix & Chill

I left my new friends with the intention of making it to the Glacier area by evening – and I did.  Only when I found my spot in the Flathead National Forest just south of the park, the rain was coming down and the temperature was steadily dropping… I’ll save you the gory details but “nature called” on multiple lines as a I hunkered down under a towel in the forest, and I thought to myself “I think I’ll drive to the next town, find an Airbnb, and take care of this in a warm, dry pace.  So I did.  And boy was I grateful when the wind picked up and the rain poured all night long and into the next day.

I didn’t exactly sleep soundly, what with something banging on the metal roof all night, but I was grateful for Netflix and the company of my favorite Gilmore Girls from Stars Hollow…and when my hostess contacted me in the morning to ask if I’d heard the same noise overnight as my neighbors, I filled her in on the specifics and she offered me an additional night free.  Rain, wind, and cold temps (even snow!) were forecasted for the next 24 hours, so I took her up on the offer and spent what would have been a miserable day outside inside eating pizza and reading and Netflixing and chilling, not in the way I might have done in my tent, but in a warm, snuggly, dry, and comfortable way.  It was lovely.  And perfect.  And I was grateful to those noisy branches (and the kind man who came and removed them, leaving me to sleep in peace the next night).

Day 23: On the Road Again

The rain continued intermittently into the evening (a welcome sight for rangers and forest dwellers alike, I’m sure!), and I could hear the trees creaking in the wind overnight from my “backcountry” campsite tucked into the forest.  I only wondered a couple of times what a disaster it might be if one of the giants fell on my tent while I was sleeping…but I’d taken care to park nearer to stumps and open space than under any big trees.  Better safe than sorry!  And what lovely, natural sounds to sleep to.  I’ll take raindrops and creaky trees over traffic and noisy neighbors any day!

First thing this morning, I travelled the rough road and hiked the short distance to the site of the so-called Chicago Stump.  The 20 foot base is all that remains of a sequoia called the General Noble.  At 285 feet tall, it was estimated to have been 3,200 years old (!) when it was cut down, disassembled, and transported to Illinois for reconstruction and display at the 1893 World’s Fair.  I felt sad as I hiked alone to and looked up at the stump.  Visitors scramble to be photographed with the General Sherman (~2,000 years old) and General Grant (~1,650 years old) trees, while what’s left of this one sits alone.  Still majestic in my eyes, the stump reminded me of all that was left over of Shel Silverstein’s Giving Tree after man took everything she had to give – her fruit, her branches, and her trunk – then abandoned her for another tree he could take from.  Humans sure make me shake my head sometimes.

The rest of the day I spent driving and thoughtful.  I took the scenic route back to the coast and south in the direction of San Diego, a side trip I hadn’t initially planned to take.  The rolling golden hills of the Central Valley were so beautiful I found myself stopping every few miles for a picture then ultimately realizing it was an impossible task to capture the beauty of their expanse.  They looked like endless fields of ripened wheat, dotted with brilliant green oak trees.  Underneath a blue sky, it was captivating.  And when I started up the final ascent toward the coast, rolling clouds appeared over the hills like a creeping fog, and…wow.  Just wow.  What beauty!

Day 22: Radio Silence

I’m a big fan of music all different genres.  I love everything about it – the way it sounds but more than that the way it makes me (and others) feel, the emotions it evokes.  Often, I listen to music that matches or reflects the way I’m already feeling.  I love the way we, as humans, relate to one another through music, its lyrics and stories.  Sometimes, I let music guide my feelings – or listen in hopes it will illicit new or different emotions in me, maybe shift me out of a mood or funk.  Still, other times, I seek spiritual refuge or inspiration from it, specifically tuning-in to music by artists who share my values and make me think.

On my journey, I’ve listened to lots of tunes in my car, but today I decided to drive sans radio.  I made my way through Sequoia and King’s Canyon National Parks listening only to the sounds (and silence) of nature, and there was comfort in that.

When I came down from my campsite way up in the mountain (slowly, by way of that steep and winding road that pushed me to my limits last night), the temperature climbed quickly.  It topped 90 by mid-morning, and I wasn’t especially looking forward to spending the day in a forest I expected to feel more like a jungle, with giant trees trapping the heat below their canopy.  Then, thunder cracked, and the skies opened up, and there was more RAIN.  It came down hard and fast, and the park rangers stood outside in awe of the sight of water falling from the skies, apparently a rarity here in July.  Within 30 minutes, the temperature dropped to the mid-70s, and we humans breathed a sigh of relief in union with the trees and other creatures of the forest.

The giant sequoias are a sight to behold.  The redwoods, which grow along the northern California coast, are the world’s tallest tree.  Giant sequoias, on the other hand, have immense trunks which make them the largest tree in the world by volume.  Redwoods grow tall and relatively slender, while sequoias grow up and around.  

Walking through the “Giant Forest,” as John Muir nicknamed the area replete with the biggest of the big, was both awe-inspiring and humbling (especially when I made my way out of the crowds, standing in line to take pictures with the largest of the trees).  It’s crazy to think what tiny blips we humans are in the history of the world.  Some of these trees have stood majestically in place for thousands of years, with bark that protects them from fire and root structure capable of warding off danger and even communicating with other trees and plants nearby.  I understand Muir’s fascination and tried to imagine myself walking through the forest in his shoes, before maps and tourists and sidewalks and noise.  It must have been amazing.  And so peaceful.

Alone in my car, driving the expanse of both Sequoia and King’s Canyon National Parks, I tried to tap into a similar peace and quiet.  Thoughts still rattled around in my head, but I tried to tune into the wisdom and grace of the forest and let it inspire my thinking, just like I might do with my favorite music.