GO YOUR OWN WAY


Returning through the woods from the lava fields at Clear Lake, I came upon a lovely seasonal stream that was flowing downhill from a nearby hillside through the thick Douglas fir forest.  I had seen the stream on the way out a few hours earlier and decided I would stop on the way back to look more closely at it.  Had we been doing a loop around the lake, I might have stopped right then, for I’ve decided while hiking that if there is any question I should take a closer look or a photograph, I do it.

The stream had a snow bridge, nice flowing water, and when I looked a little more carefully in front of me, a few icicles as well.  The noise was pleasant, and the knowledge that in a few weeks this place would be dry reminded me how dynamic nature is.

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Tributary of Clear Lake, Oregon.

I posted those comments, and a good friend wrote that if I traveled more slowly I would see a lot more.  He’s not the first to tell me that, and he won’t be the last. He’s right, in a way. I think many have the sense I go through life in a big hurry and miss seeing things that others see.  Perhaps, it is true.  My father was always in a hurry, and I emulated him.  I have distinct recollections of those times in my life I was hurried to do things that weren’t a rush.  I became a hurried, harried practitioner, and the more I hurried, the less benefit I got from it.  Little I did seemed to me to be soon enough, right enough or timely enough.

What is seeing a lot more?  Why am I out in the woods anyway?  I go my own way, and to me, there is so much to see and so little time to see it.  When I spent the summer of 1992 in the canoe country of Minnesota, I wanted to see every lake I could.  It was impossible, of course, but I got into more than three hundred.  I saw plenty—eagles, otter, beavers, moose, bear—but a big reason that I went was to cover ground or water, lots of it, every day.  It mattered to me.  Why?  It did.  Sure, I could have paddled four miles and found inlets with all sorts of interesting plant and animal life.  Occasionally, I did that, but the long days under pack and paddle was part of fulfilling my need.  I have wonderful memories of the 18 mile day in a cold October rain, where I saw nobody for the fourth consecutive day, a day that took me to Little Saganaga Lake, or the push the following day down to Alice, where I encountered a blizzard, solo, in October.  That trip has stayed in my mind as one of my great ones.  I went six days without seeing another soul.

I did the 26.6 mile McKenzie Trail hike last year, setting a good pace and finishing it in under 9 hours of walking.  The purpose was to hike the whole trail, my kind of hike, and I enjoyed it.  I did the 23 mile Duffy Loop, which carried me through an awful stretch burned over by the B and B fire 13 years earlier, solo.  I won’t go back, but I know what is out there.  There is no blank spot on a map when I look at it.  On the Noatak River, from near the headwaters by Mt. Igepak to Lake Matcharak, I know what that country looks like.  I’ve trod the ground, paddled the water.  I saw a lot of griz, caribou, and even a wolverine.

To me, the hard work, the long distances covered matter.  I have awakened and seen Orion’s reflection on a lake, the sunrise through thick fog, watched a smallmouth jump out of the water with my lure, and watched an osprey dive deep into a lake to come away with a fish.  It all mattered.  Speed on the trail is something I like.  I’m not the fastest, never could be, never would want to be.  I process nature as I go, and I process very slowly.  It is often later when I realize what a special scene I had encountered.  I saw it, and I spent as much time as I wanted to.  Then I moved on.  On the out and back trips, I remember certain areas as special to view, and as I return, the processing primes me for these views.

I posted a greatly abbreviated summary of the above, and then realized I needed to continue.  I was on the Owyhee River last year, where distance covered was not under my control, except on day hikes, and one of those I got dropped by a the guide and three other clients.  I realized finally that I couldn’t keep pace, and I didn’t much like the uphill bushwhacking that we did.  I stopped, said no more, and turned towards the river, taking the best pictures I took the whole trip.  Had I kept going uphill, I would have seen more and from higher.  But I went, which is what mattered, and I saw something very nice, by myself.

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Owyhee River, Oregon

Those who say I miss too much often don’t share the my values.  I don’t tell people what they should or shouldn’t see.  One clear night on the Owyhee, we had an opportunity to see the night sky from one of the darkest places in the contiguous states.  Almost nobody was interested.  I am encountering people who are not interested in seeing the total eclipse this summer, and almost nobody viewed the transit of Mercury that I had in my telescope last May.  These are all interesting, beautiful, and to me special.

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Transit of Mercury, 9 May 2016; large sunspot in upper center, with Mercury at the 4 o’clock position.

I could go as far as to say that if one is not interested in any of these, one is going through life too fast. But I don’t.  I want others to go through life at their own pace, listening to Nature, listening to the Earth, but listening more to themselves, always learning.

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Sunrise over Odell Lake, Oregon; 2 March 2017

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