We saw several sunny, beautiful days on the Oregon Coast this week, the type of days that make you marvel at the world surrounding you. I’m blown away by any sunny day that emerges from the gray winter, but they are extra special in Oregon. There is a pop to them that stops you in your tracks, makes you feel like something is different and new.
This week, Allyson was out of town, so I was “bach-in it up,” as they like to say. During these times when my partner is away, I do my best not to just sink into scuzzy, dark man filth where I only subsist on cheetos and netflix and mildew. I got in some evening jogs on the beach, skyped with family, and I cleaned out our grill and cooked up some pork chops marinaded in a teriyaki sauce I made myself.
This is the way to do a solitary evening: Take something you enjoy listening to–it can be your favorite music that matches the season of the year perfectly, the radio broadcast of your favorite sport, a podcast–give yourself some sort of soundtrack. Find some household task that will give you a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment. Cook something very tasty that you can savor, something that will put a pleasing smell in the house for the next few hours. Sit down and eat your meal slowly, enjoying each bite as an individual, new thing each time. Have one or two glasses of your favorite drink. Clean up after yourself with one kitchen light on as you finish listening to your soundtrack. Take a look at your shiny, clean kitchen, feel the fullness of a good meal in your stomach. Then settle in for the evening, reading a good book or watching a good movie. At some point in this time, take a short, quiet moment to realize what a slew of blessings are surrounding you, and be sure you’ve enjoyed it and offered thanks for it adequately.
I spent a lot of time on the road this week, meeting with pastors, speaking at clergy meetings, attending camp program team meetings at our sister camp, Suttle Lake. I left the coast early Thursday morning, spending the day roaming around Portland. All in all, I probably touched base with about 10 people, and plenty more heard me talking about camp and how we are growing to be this important part in the growth of people’s faith. I felt very nomadic, bouncing from place to place this week, meeting with someone new at each stop, shifting straight into conversation, after just concluding one–it’s interesting to step back and think about these gear shifts the brain makes to jump from one conversation to another.
As Thursday evening approached, I needed to figure out where I would sleep. I was going to meet with a caravan of camp leaders the next day in Beaverton, but I hadn’t yet decided where I would spend the night. My safety net (and honestly probably my first choice) was to find a nice park location and sleep under the stars. I brought a hammock, sleeping bag, and camp pillow, so I was more than adequately equipped. After eating a ban mi sandwich with pulled pork at Migration Brewing, I raced the sunset to get out to the Columbia River Gorge, one of the most beautiful parts of Oregon.
In the Ken Burns documentary about the National Parks, a lot of time is devoted to John Muir, and the film describes this moment in his life when he was short on money and needed to focus on work and providing for his family. John Muir, besides probable being our nation’s greatest ambassador for the wilderness, was also a great entrepreneur and very good making money when he needed to. So, he settled in taking time away from being outside bearing down on earning some capital and sure enough, made it where they were living comfortably again. But, one day his wife confronted him and told him he needed to go back to the Sierra’s and spend some time. She could see the life and joy was being sucked out of him and no money was worth that.
I am not nearly to that point, but it had been probably a year and half since I had spent even one night outside. I feel myself longing for it. I’ve been hiking in Oregon, sometimes for nearly the whole day, but that doesn’t quite do for the body and soul what spending more extended time in the outdoors will. To know what it’s like to stop out there, to see light diminish then come back again. To hear the sounds of the forest at night, when we normally shut ourselves up behind walls of insulation. I needed some of that in my life, and I now had a wonderful opportunity.
I exited from I84 to US scenic highway 30, parked in the lot for Wahkeena Falls, one of the many waterfalls along the gorge. It was completely dark by the time I began my hike, but the trail was clear and easy to follow, switching back and forth up the side of the gorge. I followed it about a half mile and settled at a lookout point called Lemmons Viewpoint. I strung my hammock between two young Douglas Firs, and from my little nest I could see Washington, the Columbia River, I84, trees towering above me, and stars even higher. I could hear the falls just west of me and feel the wind cut across the cliffs hundreds of feet high that I was nestled in.
It is something to unzip your sleeping bag, emerge like a butterfly from a cocoon, and find yourself on a cliff face looking out over an enormous waterway, mountains all around, the sun beginning to bring color to the green of the ferns, mosses, and evergreen needles. I breathed in the cold morning air, stretched my legs out, and stepped to the edge of the lookout point. For the moment, this was my kingdom–I was the only one there to claim it. It was there for me and me for it.
I discovered that I was missing something I brought with me. My camping pillow was nowhere to be seen, and I knew I brought it. I checked everywhere, the hammock, deep in the sleeping bag, my backpack. I looked over the side of the cliff, and after checking it out from many angles, I saw the pillow just down the cliff about 20-30 feet, resting on a fallen tree. Though the pillow was only about the 20-30 feet, the cliff face was a good 100-200 foot drop. I spent a lot of time trying to concoct a plan to get myself down to rescue my stranded camping pillow. I paced back and forth to find the safest approach. I looked for branches to hold the entire way in case I lost my footing. Ultimately, it seemed too risky, especially with me being there all alone.
So, I abandoned my trusty camping pillow to the elements. It was a cheap Coleman pillow, bought at Wal-Mart for one of my early Lakeshore backpacking trips. There are surely much better camping pillows out there for me to have. But, it hurt to leave that pillow, because of where it had gone with me. That pillow was with me on my first backpacking trips. It was with me in Yosemite. It was with me at Savage Gulch. I rested my head on it when I hiked 25 miles in about 24 hours in Land Between the Lakes. Regardless of how cheap and used it is, it hurt a little to know I had done all that with that pillow and now I would just leave it behind. It felt like I was leaving a piece of those memories on the side of that cliff to be rained on and broken down by the elements. But, I was still alive, my memory still had all those stories, and that pillow couldn’t talk to tell me them anyway.
After our time in Suttle Lake was concluded, and our caravan had arrived back in Portland, I had about 3 hours to kill before Allyson’s return flight landed. Jim, the Conference Camping Director, offered to hike a few Portland bridges with me to pass the time. We made our way through downtown to Tilikum Crossing , Portland’s newest bridge which services walkers, bikers, and mass transit. It is a tree-hugger, hippie-type’s dream to have in a major city, and so of course, I think it’s awesome. It is a beautiful bridge with fantastic views of Portland. After crossing, we cut over to the Ross Island Bridge, which is highway bridge with what feels like a narrow sidewalk when cars are whizzing past at 65 mph. Still, the bridge offered even more amazing views of the city.
There are brand new buildings popping up all over the waterfront, and they look like something that shouldn’t be here for another 20 years or so. I was standing on this bridge built in 1926, looking at a bridge that had opened just six months ago, seeing a city growing by leaps and bounds, surrounded by ancient mountains and forests. I marveled that I get to be here, watching this place grow into what it would be next.
By the close of the day, I felt like I had crammed a week into 24 hours. I parked at PDX and stationed myself at the closest point allowed by TSA to the gate where Allyson’s plane would land. As my lovely wife approached, it felt like a whole new day was beginning. After so many solo adventures, I could finally be reunited with my companion, and we could resume our adventure together. We ate dinner at our favorite Portland restaurant, Old Salt, and caught up on our joys and our worries. After days out on the road, laying down in strange beds, it was good to know that tonight we would snuggle into something warm and familiar, waking up to a new day we would encounter together.
There is much out there for us to see and do. Much to watch grow, much share our stories with. There are many stories just about to be written. It feels like the future is right here, come early to greet us, and we need but open our doors and step out into it.