2015 has been kind of a tough year for hiking for me. Since the start of the year, I’ve had events almost every single weekend, many out of town. And so I had to concentrate my time at home on work-related things, as well as keeping the apartment in some semblance of order. This meant I often ended up skipping my weekly hike–not a good idea, especially with the stress of travel!
However, April opened things up quite a bit; I have a lot of open time until midsummer, so I’m making the most of it. Earlier this month I went on a group hike south of Molalla with the good folks from Rewild Portland. I don’t do a lot of group hiking, just because I tend to go at my own pace, but it did end up being an excellent experience, with a lovely waterfall and a rubber boa and lots of good rewilding tips.
Last Friday I finally got to go on a solo hiking trip for the first time in ages. While I like hiking with other people, I’m much more comfortable on my own. It’s more refreshing, with only my own pace and agenda to attend to. And I like the quiet of solitude. Even though there were other hikers out on Rowena Plateau, we were far enough from each other to not feel crowded.
My first stop, though, was in nearby Mosier, OR. I love historical plaques, and the one that caught my eye as I drove through this little blip on the map said there was a pioneer cemetery up the hill. Sure enough, a three minute walk in the dust brought me to a little collection of mismatched stones from the late 1800s and early 1900s. It’s kind of a sad little place; there are more people recorded to have been buried there than there are stones, which means many go unmarked. And there’s a surprising number of younger people there, from babies to twenty-somethings. Not that this is surprising; it was a tougher time, with a lot less medical care and no vaccinations against common diseases. But the view is lovely, and it’s well-tended without being covered over in unnecessary green turf.
Rowena Plateau itself was a much more involved adventure. I’ve summited Tom McCall Point before; it’s a steep climb rife with poison oak, so I opted to go the easier, flatter route to enjoy the wildflowers. And they were out in force! I confess I don’t know my desert flowers so well; I can recognize arrowleaf balsamroot (a perennial favorite of mine), California poppy and bachelor’s button, and I met some desert parsley as well. But I enjoyed even those I couldn’t put a name to (and got some pictures for later identification.)
It’s also an excellent place for birdwatching. Turkey vultures cruise low over the plateau on thermals, and white-throated swifts nest on the cliffs below–they’re all over the place! There are a couple of ponds hidden along the trail where red-winged blackbirds ply their trade, the males making their characteristic “conk-er-jee!” territorial call. I even got my first confirmed sighting of a sharp-shinned hawk with the boldly striped tail. And a few ravens chortled at me as I walked by.
I find deserts to be deeply compelling; they feel wide and open, as though I could roam forever on their expanses. But they’re also an important reminder of how precious water is; just a few little ponds dotted the landscape, and the places where they trickled over into tiny streams were marked by explosions of yellow and white flowers. One can look out over the Columbia and be thirsty, for all that water is out of reach on top of the plateau. Let us then be thankful for tiny ponds and rivulets of flowers.
After a few hours rambling around the plateau, I headed over to Mayer State Park to have a bit of communion with the Columbia. I sat on a gravel spit with my toes in the still-chilly water and watched a pair of Brewer’s blackbirds go about their business in the trees behind me. I noticed a beer can and a fishing lure on the ground near me, so once I was done soaking my feet I went back to the car and got out one of my SOLVE bags. In under an hour I had the bag half-full, mostly with picnic detritus and knots of old fishing line. (Once a SOLVE volunteer, always a SOLVE volunteer, I suppose!)
I’ve been anxiously awaiting spring all winter, and this was an excellent “welcome home!”, to be sure. The next couple of months are fairly low-demand as far as out of town events go, so I fully intend to make the most of the time close to home. I had a nice conversation with the plant totem Arrowleaf Balsamroot; we spoke about how while it’s good for me to have a solid set of roots at home, even I need to sometimes stretch up toward the sun for special occasions. Plants don’t flower every single day of the year, but when they do it’s cause for celebration. In the same way I don’t spend every day on the trail, but when I do it’s something to be joyfully anticipated.