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Beginning of Peter Skene Ogden Trail

Recently my husband, Gary, and I spent a couple of nights at La Pine State Park in central Oregon. It was a pretty park by the Deschutes River, set among open pine woods (hence the name). The campground road was a bit bumpy driving in, and the driveway angled up, but the site itself was level and quite pleasant. The river was out of sight, but within hearing, and a trail passed just behind our campsite. (We had two very nice hikes from there, not included in this post.)

Through the pine forest

The morning after our arrival, we packed some PBJ sandwiches, fruit, and trail bars and drove to the Ogden Group Camp along Paulina Creek, only a few miles away. Parking was plentiful, but cars few (Nice!). The outhouse was clean and fresh, and we noted a couple of picnic tables near the creek. Crossing the creek on a wooden bridge, we set out on the Peter Skene Ogden trail.

Greenleaf manzanita

At first Paulina Creek flowed gently along grassy banks, bright in the sunshine. The trail was fairly level with some small rises and dips, then began a very gradual climb through the pine forest. The creek picked up speed in places where it tumbled over or between rocks. While the trail occasionally wandered away from the creek, it was always within earshot. Little birds moved quietly through the bushes—dark-eyed juncos and mountain chickadees—looking for bugs to eat.

Less than halfway in, we crossed a second bridge, pausing to enjoy the clear water and beauty of the Ponderosa pines. After that the trail gradually grew steeper—but never more than this wimpy hiker could easily handle. We passed an occasional hiker or pair of hikers. Most had dogs, which wasn’t surprising since the hiking book we used (Day Hiking: Bend and Central Oregon) mentioned the many great places for dogs to splash in the creek. Some pretty pink flowers—greenleaf manzanita my Picture This app said—lined the path in places. A nice contrast to the brownness of the trail.

Paulina Creek Falls by McKay Crossing Campground

After about 3 miles, we reached McKay Crossing Campground, which was apparently closed at the time. This was also the location of a beautiful waterfall—not a huge one by any means, but very pretty. We sat on the rocks above it and rested for a bit, taking photos and relishing the view.

The return trip was a pleasant, gently downhill tromp. I’m always glad when the uphill comes first and the downhill later when temperatures are higher and energy lower. Reaching the beginning/end of the hike, we stopped at one of those picnic tables to eat our lunch before heading back to camp. A lovely little hike for a warm spring day.

Broken Sand Dollars

Seaside, Oregon

A sunny day at the beach. What a blessing for our anniversary! And our first hotel stay since last anniversary. So nice to get away, even briefly, during these days of Covid. Even though the wind whipped against us, it felt good to be out walking by the ocean. Hearing the waves break on the beach, seeing the gulls soaring across the sky, smelling the salty ocean air.

As always, I looked for sand dollars as we walked. But all the ones I saw were broken—not many would be more than a fifty-cent-piece, as we used to joke. Perfect sand dollars are hard to find. Isn’t that how it goes in life, as well? In marriage, child-rearing, life itself—most days are only half-perfect, a mixture of good and bad. And sometimes disaster strikes—this year in the form a pandemic that destroyed the whole idea of normal. Like a sand dollar smashed by a careless boot. Brokenness becomes the life we live.

The next morning dawned bright and still. As we strolled along the beach, I saw more broken shells. But then, wait, a whole one! I snapped a photo to remember it. A few more steps and there was another…and another. Suddenly it seemed like perfect sand dollars were everywhere. Like the broken world was coming whole again with each round shell. I took more pictures and left the sand dollars for others to find, imagining their excitement when they spotted the first complete one. And we walked on, enjoying this oh-so-perfect morning. Like a brief glimpse of heaven.

Spotted towhee

Last week was the Great Backyard Bird Count. It came in the middle of a winter storm–freezing rain, snow, sleet, all of the usual fun stuff that we in Oregon generally get once a year. More snow that usual, but not as much as December, 2008. So I was putting out lots of bird seed and suet, as well as thawing the hummingbird feeder from time to time. My cat watched with me from the living room window, although I suspect her thoughts toward those birds were quite different from mine.

Juncos, towhees, sparrows, and a starling or two

I wrote a few thoughts as I watched those birds, ranging in size from an Anna’s hummingbird and a flock of bushtits to three northern flickers and one immature Cooper’s hawk.

Sing Your Song
As the snow swirls in the wind outside, I watch the amazing birds and am in awe of God’s creativity. Think of the great variety of birds, plants that range from a tiny white clover to the majesty of the redwoods, landscapes from towering mountains to waves crashing on the beach and quiet forests hung with moss. Everywhere we look, we can see signs of God’s power–and His love.

God created you with even more care and attention to detail than the most gorgeous flower. And He loves you with a love that will never end. He has given you unique talents and attributes. You are special to God, and you have a special part to play in this world. Sometimes the plainest little birds sing the most beautiful songs. You may think yourself small and insignificant, but you are not. Find the song God made you to sing, and sing it with all your heart!

Northern flicker

vine maple in sun (1 of 1)With Covid still in full swing, my husband and I have searched for out-of-the-way places to camp and hike. While we carry our masks with us, it’s much nicer if we can keep them in our pockets and enjoy a solitary hike. There are other benefits to hiking lesser known trails. We love the quiet of the deep woods, the soothing sounds of a clear stream rushing over stones, bird calls that echo through the stillness. These are all more fully enjoyed without other voices breaking the quiet.fleabane (1 of 1)

We recently camped two nights in a forest camp along the Breitenbush River in the Oregon Cascades. The first full day we drove some distance to a hike that climbed to a nice viewpoint, where we rested and ate lunch. We only saw two other people the whole time. On the day we were leaving, we decided to take a short hike from the campground. The trail began above the river, partially visible through the trees and brush. Nothing special, but we would at least get our steps in, we thought. But then things changed.

Gary in rainforest (1 of 1)The trail turned away from the river, entering some woods. Suddenly we felt like we had entered the Hoh Rainforest. The ground was green with moss and thick strands hung from the trees. Ferns grew amidst the salal, Oregon grape, and huckleberry plants. Sunlight slanted through maple and fir trees, adding to the beauty. And all of this just steps from a dusty trail above a river.moss-hung tree (1 of 1)

We hadn’t expected much of the trail—just a pleasant stroll before breaking camp. What we received was a special gift from God, beauty to carry with us as we returned to our home. What if we hadn’t gone for a morning walk? We would never have known what we missed. How often does that happen in my life? How many times do I stick to what I know, rather than trying out something new? Maybe I need to try new things more often—cook a new recipe, read a book outside my usual genres, develop a new skill, make a new friend. What beauty might be waiting for me just around the bend?

 

PCT by Panther Creek (1 of 1)

beginning of the hike

Only about an hour’s hike to a viewpoint, the camp host told my husband and me. It was uphill, but not steep, he said. So we headed out from Panther Creek Campground to the Pacific Coast Trail—and immediately the path sloped uphill through tall trees. Not steep? Well, it probably depends on one’s definition. We hit our first switch back and continued to the next. And the next. And the next.

After an hour, we were still going. Every so often we saw bright areas ahead, like the top of the hill. Not long now, we thought. But then the next switchback revealed the trail continuing onward and upward, with no top in sight. Two hours and still no viewpoint. Did I mention I am a lousy uphill hiker?

phantom orchid (1 of 1)

phantom orchid

Another switchback, another long uphill stretch. Was that the top of the hill to the side or just another illusion? I plowed forward without my usual rest breaks, up the last two switchbacks. I strode into the sunlight and gazed at dark green hills below. A few steps more, and Mt. Adams came into view. Finally, we made it. We rested a bit, enjoying our achievement—and the scenery—before heading back down to camp (a hike which, for some odd reason, took half the time of the hike up).

trees on PCT (1 of 1)

tall trees on the way

That hike is a bit like our current situation with COVID-19. We bought our masks, tried ordering groceries online, holed up in our safe, little home, expecting normal life to be just around the next switchback. My husband and I discussed taking a May trip to Japan to see our son and daughter-in-law. So glad we never made reservations. Then we thought summer might bring a reprieve. We might at least get out to Pittsburgh to see our other son and his family. Nope, still struggling up the hill. And now, who knows when it will end? My legs are getting tired and my heart is pounding as we work our way up this hill—or perhaps this mountain.

tapertip onion (1 of 1)

tapertip onion

But our hike was a success. We kept going and made it to the viewpoint. Our reward was a lovely sight and a feeling of accomplishment. So hang in there, friends. We can ask God for extra strength when ours is running out. Better yet, we can rely on His strength, rather than our own. It may not be easy. We may get tired well before we reach the end. But with God’s help, we will eventually make it to the viewpoint and be very glad we didn’t give up.

Mt. Adams (1 of 1)

Mt. Adams

 

Return of the Juncos

Male junco under the feeder

Male junco under the feeder

Autumn is officially here and winter on the way. I can tell because the juncos have returned. I saw them on our morning walk, white outer tail feathers flashing as they flew up from the ground to hide in the bushes and lower tree branches. They used to be called Oregon juncos, but now they are stuck with the duller-sounding name of dark-eyed juncos. More accurate, I suppose, as their range is much wider than just Oregon. Still, being a lifelong Oregonian, I preferred the earlier name.

Female junco eating seeds under the feeder

Female junco eating seeds

These sweet little birds spend the warmer half of the year farther north or up in the mountains. Sometimes when my husband and I hike on Mt. Hood in the summer, I hear their quiet little chips in the brush or see those flashing tail feathers as they flee our presence. Black/gray heads—depending upon whether they are male or female—and gray/brown bodies: the rest of them is pretty nondescript. But those tail feathers give them away every time.

Male dark-eyed junco in dogwood tree

Male junco in dogwood tree

Juncos are ground feeders. They hop about under our seed feeder, picking up what the other birds and squirrels knock out of the feeder, along with the seeds I purposely throw on the ground. They sleep in the bushes. Unlike some birds we get at the feeder, they get along well with each other and never cause any trouble. Such patient, considerate, and peaceful birds. We could use a few more juncos in this crazy world of ours.

Vine maple with bright autumn leaves

Vine maple in autumn

zucchini3 (1 of 1)About this time every year, I always wonder why I planted so many zucchini plants. Stacks of the shiny green vegetable—along with the yellow variety I also planted—pile up on the kitchen counter. The menu is filled with similar-sounding dinners: zucchini spaghetti, zucchini fajitas, zucchini rice casserole, zucchini crescent pie—and that’s just for starters. Why, oh why, did I plant so much?zucchini1 (1 of 1)

 

Apparently over the winter my memories fade. By the time planting season rolls in I have forgotten just how many vegetables those few hills produced. Three hills of zucchini and two of yellow summer squash. It doesn’t seem like that much. Of course, it might be better if I actually thinned the hills down to one or two plants, but I hate to pull out perfectly healthy seedlings. And so yet again I have too much zucchini. Will I ever learn my lesson?

Schonburg, Vienna

There have been other lessons I was slow to learn. Like taking chances. I could have gone to Europe while I was in high school, but I chickened out. I wouldn’t know anyone on the trip, and that was just too scary—even though it would have been nice to actually use the German I was studying. I did the same thing in college. The result: I didn’t make it to Europe until I was 66 years old. I gave in to fear other times, as well—giving up a volunteer position that would have taken me to a distant state after college. Now I regret that decision, thinking of the experiences I might have had.

I notice I’m not the only person who doesn’t seem to learn quickly. How many people get one speeding ticket and obey the law from that day forward? How many get drunk once and learn their lesson from the morning after? How many are quick to find new friends when their old ones lead them astray? Sadly, humans do not always learn from experience.DSC00753

Fortunately, too much zucchini lends itself to an easy solution. I have friends who are unable to grow gardens and gladly accept my excess produce. If only other mistakes were so easily corrected! However, there is hope. I married a man who likes adventure, and he helped me to move beyond my comfort zone. Raising our boys was an adventure that involved many new experiences, ones I would never have dared on my own.

zucchini2 (1 of 1)Those with more serious issues can also learn and leave their mistakes behind.  Faithful friends can support and admonish you as you try to change. Support groups abound for every kind of bad habit or addiction. Pastors and counselors can give advice and help. God is watching and listening, there to provide strength when needed. Mistakes do not need to be repeated in an endless cycle. If you reach out for help, the future can be different.

As for me, perhaps next year instead of five hills of zucchini, I will plant four—if my memory doesn’t fail me again. And—with God’s help—instead of holding back in fear, I will try to eagerly accept the adventures He has for me.

IMG_1481The air was cool, the sky cloudy as we drove up Mt. Hood toward Mirror Lake on June 19. While it had been a favorite hike early in our marriage, we hadn’t been there in years. At first we thought we missed the parking area, a little turnout on Highway 26. But then we realized that tight parking area had been closed in favor of a shiny new parking lot just up the road—with lots of spaces and a permanent outhouse.

IMG_1501

A new parking lot meant a different start to the trail, as well as new bridges along the way. The new trail was wider than the old, probably bulldozed through the woods. The hike, now a mile or so longer, eventually hooked up with the old trail, as we meandered through patches of purple rhododendrons, working our way uphill. When we reached the lake, the space opened up. Rhodies were everywhere, along with tall stalks of bear grass, huckleberry plants with tiny green berries, and other blossoming plants. Clouds hid the mountain, and wisps of fog drifted across the lake, whipped by a breeze that rippled the water. On this day Mirror Lake did not live up to its name.

IMG_1511

We hiked on a ways past the lake, seeing even more wildflowers and some nice views. But the fog was growing thicker, and we realized that the nearby mountain would not appear today. We reminisced about the time we hiked up to Tom, Dick, and Harry Mountain and saw swarms of hummingbirds feeding on the flowers in a meadow below the ridge. We didn’t make it that far this time, but turned back so we could eat our lunch at the lake.

 

Despite the clouds, it was a good hike. I much prefer hiking in cool weather rather than hot weather. And the flowers were wonderful. Nature has so many moods, and the quieter beauty of a cloudy day can be as lovely as the brightness of the sunshine. But it would have been nice to get a view of the mountain. I guess we will just have to return sometime and try again.IMG_1546

Beach Serenity

clouds and reflections (1 of 1)What is it about the beach? Why does a feeling of peace seep into my entire being as I walk along the shore, coat zipped up against the wind?

gull over waves (1 of 1)

Perhaps it is the pounding of the surf, like the heartbeat of the ocean, secure and constant. Perhaps the open sands stretching out before me, fresh and clean from the outgoing tide. Or the calls of the soaring gulls echoing over my head. Or even the clouds, constantly changing and moving, giving a new perspective with each passing moment. Perhaps it is all of these with a little added magic that draws me in and fills me with joy.

dark beach clouds (1 of 1)My husband and I spent a couple of days at the beach recently, celebrating 40 years of marriage. Our hotel room overlooked the ocean, so its steady beat was ever-present. We were fortunate to have sunshine for a good portion of the visit and enjoyed several walks on the beach. Of course, beach weather can be fickle, and we did get caught in one downpour, thankful we had worn our raincoats when we ventured out into what was then sunshine and mostly clear skies.

bird tracks on beach (1 of 1)The shore has so many aspects, from the vastness of the ocean to the tiny details of pebbles and bird prints in the sand. It opens my eyes to wonder and my soul to God. Nature’s beauty is easy to see, but God’s glory is all around us, even in the most unlikely places—in the city, at work, in our everyday lives. Even in those bundles of contradiction we call people. I pray I can keep my eyes and soul open, wherever I find myself.people walking by water (1 of 1)

When Winter Lingers

snow in woods (1 of 1)

Are we ever satisfied with life as it is? It seems I am always looking forward to the next thing. At this time of year, I want spring to come. I’ve had enough of the cold, the early darkness, the slippery sidewalks. Then when spring comes, I look forward to summer—camping trips, visits to Pittsburgh to see the kids and grandkids, evening walks. However, summer gets too hot, and I complain and look forward to fall. And then, silly me, I wonder where the year has gone.

sun through branches (1 of 1)

Snow fell this week, very unusual in March in our part of Oregon. When I asked a friend if she was ready for spring like I was, she talked about what a blessing it was to sit by her window and watch the snow gently come down. This friend has suffered incredible grief and pain the past year, and yet she saw the snow as a blessing. She could enjoy the moment for what it was. I was both humbled and encouraged. Surely I, too, could savor the beauty without wishing the time away.

prints in snow (1 of 1)This morning we woke to more snow, a soft white covering over the usual dirt and mud. The sun broke through and made the whitened tree limbs sparkle. Rabbits had left their little trails across the yard. Sounds were muffled, except for the soft chiming of ice bits hitting the ground as they fell from the trees. I grabbed my camera and headed out. This might be the last snowfall of the season, and I needed to capture it. To soak up today’s beauty while it lasted—because today is where I live my life. And this moment is, indeed, a blessing.

snow on trees (1 of 1)

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