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Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

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

 

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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.

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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.

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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

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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)

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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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rainbow (1 of 1)Have you ever taken a walk with a rainbow?

Yesterday my husband, Gary, and I went out for a late afternoon walk. The sky overhead was a gloomy, threatening gray. While our weather app said it wouldn’t rain, Gary brought his umbrella just in case. Not for him—he doesn’t mind walking in the rain—but for his fair-weather walking wife. And, as this is an Oregon winter, rain soon began to fall. He handed me the umbrella, and we strode on.over house (1 of 1)

Then, as the rain continued to come down, light burst through from the sinking sun, sparkling off the wet bushes and the growing puddles. I began scanning the skies. Where there is sunshine and rain, there ought to be a rainbow. Sure enough, one started growing in the northeastern sky. It grew brighter and brighter, and I kept pulling out my phone to snap photos. We hadn’t seen such a distinct rainbow for a long time. We could even see a paler double rainbow above the main one.

rainbow2 (1 of 1)“The pot of gold should be right over there,” Gary commented. Yes, one end of the rainbow was adding lines of color to a shrub across the road while the other end colored a tree behind a neighbor’s house. As we kept walking, the rainbow seemed to follow us, as rainbows do. It moved behind other houses, over fields, the elusive pot of gold shifting to different spots. And still the rain kept falling. For nearly half an hour, that colorful arc kept us company as we walked. Even the rain looked dazzling with rays of sunshine lighting it up.rain (1 of 1)

Then the rain slowed to a gradual stop, and the rainbow faded from the sky. We ended our walk, moods brightened by the fresh air and the beauty we had seen. And I wondered, how often have I missed the beauty of the rainbow because I was too busy concentrating on the gray skies and the rain? Rain and sunshine are so intertwined in life, and sometimes it may seem that the clouds will overwhelm us. But God’s light can break through even the darkest of clouds and reveal the beauty that is there, just waiting for our discovery.

Webbs (1 of 1)

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dogwood leaves (1 of 1)Fall has arrived, and change is in the air. The heat of summer has passed, and rain has watered the parched ground. Today the sun is shining. October clouds have cleared away, and the sky is bright blue. An autumn breeze blows through my hair as I walk out to the garden to see what is left.daad bean leaves (1 of 1)

A handful of pole beans. Half a dozen over-ripe ears of corn. Some good-sized almost-ripe tomatoes, along with a generous number of cherry tomatoes—Sweet 100 and Sun Gold. But the bush beans are gone, and the prolific zucchini is dying back. The pumpkins and winter squash have been harvested, and their vines lie brown and shriveled across the dirt. The garden is fading, as it always does this time of year.

grapes (1 of 1)Yet around the garden, golden leaves waft down from the maples. The dogwood is gradually turning from green to red. Brightly-colored leaves stand out against the blue sky. Grape vines still carry batches of purple fruit. There is much beauty in this time of dying. And also much ugliness in this time of beauty.

yellow maple leaf (1 of 1)

 

For every golden leaf there is a brown, broken one. For every purple grape there is a rotten zucchini. For every blue sky, the remembrance of pouring rain—and more to come. I could look down and focus on the mud, the dead leaves, the empty garden, or I could instead focus on the colorful leaves, the fleeting blue of the sky, the delicious fruits of the season. What will my choice be?

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Sunrise through treeThe early morning sun lit up the fog, giving the yard an unearthly aura. I should get out there with my camera, I thought. But I was still eating breakfast, and the grass was wet, and I was feeling lazy. Still, that light was amazing. I finally roused myself from my chair.

red leavesShoes and jacket on, camera dangling from my neck, I headed outside—only to find the dawn even more spectacular that it had appeared through the window. Dew sparkled on green grass. Leaves were lit up like stained glass windows, as light shone through them. The sun, shining through a tree, shot rays of light in all directions, like heavenly beams in the fog. I snapped picture after picture, forgetting all about my damp feet.

And to think I almost missed it! How much beauty have I missed because I was too comfortable to leave my warm house? How many unique experiences have I let pass me by because I was too fearful to change my safe routine or too set in my ways to step outside the little boxes I created for myself? God gives us so many chances to find beauty, to learn, to grow. But sometimes we need to step outside before we can find them.autumn maple leaf

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snowy-woodsSnow falls silently in the darkness, covering the ground, piling up on the bushes, coating our little Honda Civic in the driveway. In the morning it still falls, creating a fantasy world of white. On Facebook everyone posts pictures of their yards and streets. Children rush out to build snow people. I walk in our half-acre woods, camera clicking, trying to capture the beauty before it melts or blows from the trees. Snow covers the mud and dead plants of winter. It muffles the sounds of cars and trucks—those few brave enough to venture out onto the slippery roads. Peace flows through me as I drink in the fresh beauty.snowy-street

On the second day, no more snow falls. Skies clear, temperatures dip further below freezing. We walk on our quiet dead end road, enjoying the blue skies and the white fields and yards. I throw out extra sunflower seeds for the birds. My husband chops wood for the fire—at least we can keep our living room warm. Then we settle in to work, relax, and watch the squirrel in the feeder (as does our cat) and the birds fighting over seeds.

squirrel-at-feederThe third, fourth, fifth days… Cold, windy, white—we take our walks, but hurry back in to sit by the fire, watch some football, go online, maybe get some work done. The woodpile diminishes. Where the sun hits the roads, ice melts or gets torn up by tires, only to refreeze later in the day, more slippery than ever. Meetings are canceled. Church is canceled for the second week. My husband’s concert is canceled. The snow becomes dirty near the roads, marred by footprints in the yard. Wind blows it from the trees. Where is that pristine beauty we saw just days before?snow-on-fence

Beauty comes and goes. It flits into the everyday with glittering wings, inviting us to stop and marvel. When it stays too long, the magic is lost and it becomes ordinary—or even an annoyance. How sad—because each day has a little bit of splendor hiding within it. We may have to search, may have to keep our eyes open. It is much easier to see the ugliness and focus on the darkness. But these times of beauty give us hope and keep us moving on, even in dark times.

footprints-in-snow“…Whatever is pure, whatever is lovely…dwell on these things.” (Philippians 4:8 NASB)

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Posing at Upper Meadow

Posing at Upper Meadow

Written July 11, 2016

Picturesque lakes, mountain meadows, views of jagged peaks, a forest being reborn after a disastrous fire—all elements of the beautiful Canyon Creek Meadows hike from Jack Lake, not far from Camp Sherman, Oregon.

Getting to the trailhead from our campsite at Smiling River campground on the Metolius River was a bit challenging. Finding the forest road signs to make sure we took the right roads and bouncing along miles of washboard gravel were the main issues. They were quickly forgotten once we hit the trail.

The morning chill didn’t stop a group of school-aged children from splashing in Jack Lake while their teacher/caretaker watched from the shore. It made me shiver—don’t kids feel the cold?

Ghost trees

Ghost trees

We hiked through open pine woods—including several areas of bare “ghost trees” left from a 2003 fire. Small pine and hemlock were growing back, an encouraging sight. Farther along the forest got thicker as we entered unburned regions.

Lower Meadow was a green oasis of merging streams and flower-filled fields, although most of the flowers were yet to bloom. Apparently late July-early August is peak season for blossoms. Still we did see lupine, Indian paintbrush, cat’s ears, and other flowers scattered about.

lunchtime

lunchtime

Crossing a couple of small creeks, we ascended higher (and a bit more steeply) to Upper Meadow, which provided a spectacular view of Three Fingered Jack, still spotted with snow. As we hiked the even steeper trail past Upper Meadow, we had to cross a couple of large patches of snow before reaching the open rock area that led up to a viewpoint. The view was already amazing, and I was hungry and tired, so I wimped out and found a big rock to sit on while we ate lunch. My husband hiked a bit higher to a notch in the rock, but decided that was far enough. While a tricky scramble up a rocky hill will supposedly give views of the other Central Oregon mountains, we never made it there.Canyon Creek Meadows hike view

The hike down was lovely and we took the loop trail from Lower Meadow, which seemed empty of hikers but teeming with mosquitoes. (Could there be a correlation between the two?) Canyon Creek tumbled along next to the first section of the loop, milky with glacier water. More ghost trees stood sentinel around us, poking like needles into the deep blue sky. When we returned to Jack Lake, the group of children was gone, and a serene stillness filled the air.

Jack Lake in the afternoon

Jack Lake in the afternoon

We returned to the Metolius, which was beautiful and remarkably mosquito-free.

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Upper McCord Creek Falls

Upper McCord Creek Falls

Early autumn is a perfect time for hiking in the Pacific Northwest. The bugs have died down, the weather has cooled, but the sun is still shining. And thus my husband, Gary, and I headed out Tuesday to enjoy the outdoors. Looking through 100 Hikes in Northwest Oregon and Southwest Washington by William L. Sullivan, I noticed two short (2-3 mile) hikes in the Columbia Gorge, so close to each other that they were together in one entry. Wahclella Falls and Elowah Falls. Despite our proximity to the Columbia Gorge, we’d never hiked either trail. Time to check them out!Columbia Gorge

Elowah Falls, Columbia GorgeThe first one as we drove east through the Gorge (Oregon side) was Elowah Falls–with a bonus falls available (Upper McCord Creek) with a little extra uphill walking. The trail headed gently uphill, becoming a bit steeper on the Upper McCord part. It passed through shady forest, unfortunately close enough to hear the freeway sounds for much of the way, but finally heading back into the woods a bit. The McCord part opened up to a nice view of the Columbia River with Mt. Adams in the distance (I was thankful for the railing here, as the dropoff was steep.) before arriving at a nice, though rather small, waterfall. We explored a bit, then headed back toward Elowah Falls. As we neared the cascade, we could feel the temperature cool, until we came out in the rocky area below the falls, a fine place to rest and enjoy the view.

Elowah Falls hitting the rocks

Elowah Falls hitting the rocks

Elowah Falls itself tumbled down from the cliff like a long, feathery tail, its pattern constantly changing, fascinating to watch.

Wahclella Falls, Columbia Gorge

Wahclella Falls

We left Elowah Falls, deciding to drive the three miles or so to Wahclella Falls and see what it was like. We were glad we did. The Wahclella Falls trail began as a gentle stroll along lovely Tanner Creek. We watched a pair of dippers zipping from rock to rock in the stream, whistling merrily. Sunlight sparkled on the creek, but the path was shady most of the way, a good thing as the afternoon was warming up. The path climbed higher above the creek before dropping back down to the falls area. Which was beautiful. Wahclella Falls poured into a deep pool, which emptied into rambling Tanner Creek. We sat by the falls and ate our PBJ sandwiches, then wandered on–with many photo breaks along the way. Gary had to explore a little cave near the river–apparently it went back quite some ways, but wasn’t high enough for easy exploration. We meandered on through the rocky little valley, across the creek and back up to the main trail. It is a hike I certainly plan to return to–a little gem I am so glad we discovered.

Cave near Wahclella Falls

Cave near Wahclella Falls

Amazing that we can live in one area for so many years and yet miss out on nearby places of beauty. Why had we never thought to hike those trails before? It’s a reminder to me to watch for beauty all around, for even the familiar places we take for granted may be wondrous if we keep our eyes and hearts open.

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