Mt. Rainier from Reflection Lakes

We got an early start, reaching the Pinnacle Peak trailhead across from Reflection Lakes by 8:30 a.m. (on September 9, 2022) It was sunny, but cool and breezy. Little reflection on Reflection Lakes, due to the wind. The trail was all uphill—gentle uphill the first mile and then a steeper climb, often through loose gravel or rocks. We took it slow and easy, enjoying the quiet of the woods and the frequent views of Mt. Rainier.

I was glad I brought my hiking poles. They were useful both on the uphill and on the pleasant downhill return trip, giving me added confidence as I walked on the slant.

Not too far up, in a rocky area, two marmots popped up to look us over. We saw at least three more on the hike, and they weren’t too skittish—although we made no attempt to approach closely. We only saw one cute little pika, but he actually ran across the trail right in front of me. We read that pikas don’t hibernate, but collect plants in their dens to last them through the winter. That explained a couple of places where we saw piles of plants on the rocks, probably waiting to be carried underground.

I kept stopping to take photographs of Mt. Rainier. The views just kept getting better and better as we climbed higher. We could see Paradise Lodge and the cars parked there—which made us glad we chose the Pinnacle Peak trail instead of Paradise. We saw only a handful of people the entire time on this hike, unlike the crowded parking lots and trails of Paradise we had drive past the afternoon before.

Mt. Rainier with some smoky haze and Gary, my husband and faithful hiking partner

We reached the saddle between Pinnacle Peak and Plummer Peak. Looking back, we had an amazing view of Mt. Rainier. The other direction was supposed to be a view of Mt. Adams, but smoke from forest fires hid it from view. There were still nice views of the hills and of Pinnacle, Plummer, and Castle Peaks.

Pinnacle Peak from the backside

The Pinnacle Peak hike rates as one of our best-ever hikes. Only 3.5 miles round trip, peaceful and uncrowded, and with gorgeous views. It would have been even better in August—although likely more crowded—when the meadows were covered with wildflowers in bloom. Only a few scattered flowers remained in early September.

View from Holman Vista

For a serene hike through beach pines, shrubs, and the occasional dune, check out the Sutton Creek Trail just north of Florence, Oregon. Florence is known for its sand dunes, and part of this trail hits the edge of some dunes, but most of it remains in the woods, a woods that might do Middle-earth proud.

We camped at Sutton campground four miles north of Florence. It is a quiet campground set amid fir and alder trees along Sutton Creek. Ferns, salal, huckleberry, and what looked to be salmonberry surround the campsites and give a good degree of privacy. And Sutton Creek Trail, a loop (or rather, figure 8) trail begins right in the campground.

The part of the loop closest to the creek meandered through beach pines filled in with salal, huckleberry bushes, and tall rhododendrons (not blooming in August). At times the brush and trees became so dense it was like walking through green and gray tunnels. Moss hung from some of the trees and sprinkled across the ground with occasional lichens and a few large—and odd-looking—mushrooms. It seemed like a landscape suited to elves and hobbits.

We heard an occasional jay or crow and, towards the end, the high-pitched shriek of an osprey high above. The only birds I actually saw were crows trying to maneuver the blustery winds, a single robin, and four nondescript wrentits flitting through the bushes.

We enjoyed the view from Holman Vista, looking over Sutton Creek to the wooded dunes beyond. The ocean roared from beyond the dunes, but it wasn’t visible. We tried what used to be the Beach Trail, but found no reliable way to cross Sutton Creek to the dunes. Apparently there was once a bridge there, but now there were only random logs for those more intrepid than I.

We turned onto the Northern Sutton Creek Trail. While the first half of the loop was a hard dirt trail through the woods, much of the second half of the trail became sandier with brushy dunes rising up to the left. Parts of the trail went along the edge of the dunes, and we found slogging uphill through the sand slower going. The area was more open with nice views of the sandy hills. We saw a couple of garter snakes slither off the path as we approached.

The first half of the trail has occasional benches where we enjoyed taking a short break. There were fewer on the return half of the loop. We ate our lunch sitting on a log beside the trail. At the dune near the end of our return—less than half a mile from Sutton Campground—two rope swings hung from a large tree over the sand. My husband tried one out just for fun.

The total hike is about six miles. Some ups and downs, but nothing at all extreme. Weather was nice—high 60s to maybe 70. A cool hike through the woods with a little added warmth in the more open areas made it a lovely coastal hike.

And if you visit the area, be sure to take a short trip to the Darlingtonia Wayside, less than a mile north on Highway 101. Carnivorous plants in abundance.

A Quote for Summer

Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.

John Lubbock

Tiger swallowtail on a tiger lily
Lone Tree Campground in Cottonwood Canyon State Park

We camped two nights at Lone Tree Campground in Cottonwood Canyon State Park, a quiet little campground along the John Day River in central Oregon. This is a fairly recent addition to the state parks, which includes 21 nice flat campsites with fire pits and with windbreaks and/or sun-sheltered picnic tables, but no hookups or dump station for RVs. There are also four cabins and a number of walk-in tent sites. They are all located in a pretty valley surrounded by picturesque hills. At one end, an old barn remains from the cattle ranch that used to be here.

Valley of Cottonwood Canyon State Park–with old barn

There are several hikes in the area, short ones around the campground and a longer trail on each side of the river. The Pinnacles Trail heads out from the end of the campground, while the Lost Corral Trail requires a short drive across a bridge to the trailhead parking lot. We took the easy way, walking from our campsite. At the Pinnacles trailhead we noted cautions about ticks, rattlesnakes, and cougars, all possible dangers here. Fortunately, we saw none of them during our visit. A reminder to pack plenty of water was also posted, definitely an important suggestion in this dry and warm area.

The weather forecast was for sunshine and a high of 75 (F). I wore a jacket to begin with, as the cliffs along the first part of the hike provided morning shade. The John Day River flowed along at full strength, with occasional ducks and Canada geese along its edges, red-winged blackbirds calling from the bushes, and swallows dipping and gliding above. We saw one cliff swallow carrying straw to build a nest on the edge of the towering cliff.

John Day River

The trail itself was pretty wide and smooth, mostly level and easy. After we passed the cliffs, the views opened up and the sun warmed us—time to remove jackets and roll up sleeves. (And wish I had remembered to pack a hat!) The scenery was gorgeous in a barren kind of way. I kept looking for mountain goats, but never saw any. But we did see plenty of butterflies and lizards. Some even held still long enough for me to get pictures.

After about three miles, the trail was blocked by a sign restricting access to protect the nesting areas of golden eagles. We saw one eagle soaring above the hills. Soon a couple of crows went after it, attacking it in flight until it left the area. We rested a bit on a bench nearby, then hiked slowly back, as the sun beating down on us was beginning to take a toll. We took plenty of water breaks and ate peanut butter and jam sandwiches in the shade of a large walnut tree on the appropriately-named Lower Walnut Trail, a short loop off the main trail. After a nice rest break, we headed on back to camp. The Pinnacles trail was our longest hike so far this year—and definitely worth the effort. We plan to return to Cottonwood Canyon State Park, a lovely desert oasis.

along the Pinnacles hike
Red-breasted nuthatch

It’s always fun to feed the birds. I first fill the feeders–two seed feeders and one suet feeder–and then scatter larger seeds and peanuts on the ground for the jays and squirrels. As soon as I leave, the Steller’s jays will swoop in, followed by the scrub jays. They gobble down the peanuts, one at a time, flying off to eat one, then back in for another. Sometimes they try to jam two in their beak at a time, which seldom works. The jays are quickly followed by the smaller birds–and usually a squirrel or two.

But today, the fun began before I even reached the feeders. When I was about six feet away, a little downy woodpecker–a male–alit in the tree. There was still a small chunk of suet left in the feeder, so I froze in place and watched. Mr. Downy approached the feeder one branch at a time. Then he landed on the feeder and started eating. I held as still as I could. I love the little downies. But then I made a small movement, and the little woodpecker was gone.

I replaced the suet, then turned toward the seed feeders. And who should flit in but the sweet red-breasted nuthatch. “Hello, little guy,” I whispered. “I’ll have your feeder filled soon.” But he (she?) wasn’t feeling shy today. He landed on a branch a mere two feet from my head and sat there, studying me as I studied him. I could see all the details of his body–the rusty breast feathers, the white strip on his head, the sparkling black eye. It felt magical. After a couple of minutes, the nuthatch flew off, and I finished putting out the seed. But the feeling of magic remained.

Scrub jay and Steller’s jay

The Great Backyard Bird Count has been fun. Birds have so much character. The Steller’s jays sweep in when I toss out peanuts. I hear them calling from the trees, alerting their friends and relatives. They swoop in to grab a peanut or two, then swoop away to a tree to eat, then back again. Most days they start coming in before I even leave the feeder area. However, my camera apparently freaks them out, because they wouldn’t come near when I was trying to take their picture. (The above was taken through the window.)

Red-breasted nuthatch

The chickadees and nuthatches flit in to the seed feeder, grab a sunflower seed, and retreat somewhere to eat it. But the house finches, house sparrows, and pine siskins sit at the feeder, gobbling down seed after seed. The towhees, juncos, and other sparrows hop about on the ground, eating what I’ve thrown down there and what the other birds knock out of the feeders. The juncos are the most active, darting from ground to tree to bush and chasing each other around from time to time.

White-crowned sparrow

The woodpeckers go for the suet, although the little downy woodpeckers will also eat from the seed feeder. And this year three yellow-rumped warblers (Yes, they do have yellow rumps!) visited the suet. I’ve never seen them at the feeder before, so that was an exciting surprise.

Yellow-rumped warbler coming in for a landing

God must have had fun making birds, because they are such delightful critters. They make me wish I could fly.

Longing for Quiet


Have all the noises of life ever made you long for a few moments of silence? Yeah, me, too. And I found it not all that far from home.

Standing in the meadow surrounded by tall firs, I felt the silence all around me like a living presence. Few sounds broke the stillness—only a bird’s call far away and the gentle sighing of the breeze. The quiet sank into me, filled me with peace. If only I could stay here forever, what a joy that would be.

We’d only been camping at Little Crater Lake, a small campground on Mt. Hood, for two nights. A short retreat from the stresses of 2021: Covid, Afghanistan, fires, hurricanes, floods, political conflicts. All of this added to the ordinary stress of modern-day life seemed an overwhelming burden, even though we ourselves were relatively untouched by the disasters. But like many these days, we were bombarded by the news—always the bad news—and it weighed us down.

I had forgotten how much I needed the quiet of nature, of time spent in God’s magnificent creation. We hiked through the woods, lounged in our campsite reading, or just closed our eyes and listened to the quiet. It restored our souls.

We need to find time for quiet in our lives. Even if you can’t get away, perhaps you can walk through a neighborhood park or garden, sit in your backyard, or visit an apartment rooftop. Or make a tiny retreat in your home with pictures from nature and things that bring peace to your mind and soul. Close your eyes and imagine a beautiful place you have been. Imagine the breeze and the sunshine on your skin. Birds singing or crickets chirping. Maybe a river bubbling over the rocks or ocean waves beating against the sand. Then say a prayer to the God who made it all, and let your gratitude be the quiet that washes away stress.

Hope in the Spring

[This was written in May, but I’ve been a little slow posting. And then the site was misbehaving. So my apologies for a post on spring, when it’s now the middle of summer…]

Spring is probably my favorite time of year, because it is a time of new beginnings. Plants shoot out from the earth, changing the bland winter landscape. Leaves open up on trees in a million different shades of green. Flowers bloom in whites and pinks, yellows and blues, reds and oranges, then drop their blossoms like multi-colored snow onto the ground. Everything is growing, and it feels like I can grow and change, too.

I plant my garden in the spring with the perennial hope that this will be the year I control the weeds. This will be the year I get the rows mulched early and have a garden that looks like something in a gardening magazine. Yeah, it never works out that way—those nasty weeds always invade. But in the spring, it all seems possible. Even after years of experience, that hope never dies.

Hope. It is the one thing that keeps us going. Hope has sustained me through this long, long past year. Hope that the virus will be overcome, that isolation will end, that we will be able to see our sons, daughters-in-law, and grandsons. Before long, that hope will be realized. Our airline tickets are purchased, and I can hardly wait to wrap my arms around those I love. Just a little longer to wait. [And it was a wonderful visit!]

Hope can sustain us through difficult times. Not just isolation, but sickness, loss and grief, all kinds of tragedy. As Christians, we have the greatest hope of all, one that will take us beyond this life. I am so very grateful for that Hope, celebrated each spring at Easter.

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” – Desmond Tutu

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.

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