Thursday, May 21, 2009

Wilderness Disciples

"Creek song and bird song and heart song climbing up the trail, plenty of time left on the trail, backpackers on the trail from Wahtum, someone has placed logs on the rock by the beach to make a bench for footsore reckless wanderers with beat spirits beating against the deep ribcage timbered hillsides – refuge here above the falls for castaways and saints – I share my seat with spiders, butterflies."

Written Above Twister Falls, Eagle Creek, OR, May 8th, 2009

I got a fairly early start – not as early as I wanted, but I’m learning to let it flow, and not stress about it – headed up Eagle Creek on a warm Sunday morning. It was cold at first, took a mile to get the blood into my fingers, and I passed the usual sights in the first few miles out of a sense of urgency - half of Portland arrayed behind me, having slept until a more human hour, and soon they’d be at every view from Metlako to Punchbowl Falls. Leap-frogged up-trail with three guys training, one with repaired ACL. Good luck to him, and to his friend with the huge pack. Lots of people coming down from overnights above High Bridge – Wahtum probably still snowed in at 4,000ft. All the packs and bent backs made the trail antique, an old Chinese road filled with monks and wilderness disciples, some coming, some going, all of us wandering. Feeling intensified at the wilderness boundary, with the posted warning about bear and cougar. Like an old map in an adventure story – here be dragons – you step into the unknown, into an area untamed by man. You’re on your own. Happy trails.

That’s the beauty of it: you’re on your own among meadows filled with flowers, tall cliffs covered in moss and waterfall spray, creek roaring in your ears as it bops like a poet splashing up-tempo rapids in spring melt. Sun warm on my arms and a cool beer on the bank above a 200ft waterfall. I think about Dean Moriarty, about a Bakonjo proverb I just read – “Fearing is not dying” – and I think about how I’m not afraid of dying, I just don’t want to die yet. Too much to do, too many unfinished projects. There are still people to meet and people to love and conversations over beer and wine and dinner and life, places to go, ideas, study, lists that never end and always grow, and what’s that “around the next turning of the canyon walls?” I’ve looked at my mortality and decided it’s more fun to look at my life, because damn there just isn’t enough time, so fill it up and let it overflow like a creek in spring melt with laughter and joy and the spectrum splayed across mist and all the regrets you can carry in a bucket with holes in it.

Creeks pour forth truths unbidden.

On the way down the air grew hot and my hair grew into a lion’s mane of Old Testament attitude. Sweat covered my skin and I crossed back from the wilderness with wild spirit eyes, deep and calm but flashing ire at the crowds pushing in from below. They wouldn’t get far, and wouldn’t understand. Eagle Creek deserves better from her lovers. We should all stop to listen, and if we can’t, we should stop anyway. When we learn to listen, we learn to hear, and when we learn to hear, we learn to speak. I listened to the creek crack stones in foaming eddies, heard the sharp disintegration into gravel, and spoke the name Metlako – she poured down her beauty and joined the flow at the bottom of the canyon, where salmon return in fall seeking gravel rinsed smooth by the narrative of creek song.

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