I taught a letterpress workshop in Bend, Oregon this past weekend. I love driving over the mountains this time of year and experiencing the shifts in weather, landscape, and micro-climate. From wet, western valley, to subalpine, to desert valley, to high desert. The weather in Bend was a balm to me - crisp air, blue skies, frost in the mornings.
After a long weekend of setup, teaching, and wind-down, which came on the heels a long nine-day stretch of solid work, I decided to take Monday off to do some exploring on my way home to Portland. I needed some Juniper Therapy.
I drove north on Hwy 97 and eventually turned toward the grasslands that expand east of the highway, north of Smith Rock State Park. My goal had been to find a specific pioneer orchard, which apparently still bears apples and pears amidst poplars and rabbit brush in a little valley near a spring. But as it happened, the orchard was out of my reach. Central Oregon volcanic soil and Forest Service roads, together with recently melted snows creates a kind of mud difficult to describe and even harder to navigate. My Subaru, up to most tasks, slid a bit but kept traction for a good seven miles. It was only when I crested the top of a hill to see the road in front of me in a taco shape followed by a sharp hairpin, that I decided to pull over, call it good, and walk for a while. The orchard can wait until spring.
I happened to pull off the road directly between two buttes. A heavily rutted forest road bisected the valley between them, and I walked as far as it went before it dissolved into scree at the bottom slopes of the buttes in front of me. Deer, bobcat, and cow hoof tracks all tangled together along the road. Prints of something bigger and probably canine, probably coyote, also criss-crossed the path. I pitched myself over the cattle fence ringing the westernmost butte, and tracked up a horse trail which looked to wind up and around the little volcano.
The mud quickly became a problem. Horse shoed foot falls had recently softened the mud on this trail to the consistency of play dough. *Muck Muck Muck*. So I sidestepped one path for another, finding a well-worn deer track and following it for a while, then moving off along another as it crossed the path, then on to another as I wound my way around the hill.
Deer paths are not only deer paths. They are like the super highways of the wild. I saw evidence of rabbit, and all along the way scattered little bones indicating owls and other devourers of tiny critters frequented this path. I stopped to take in the minutia every few minutes, as well as to take a sweeping look over the rolling hills below me. The micro and the macro. Rounding the crest of the butte, a view of Smith Rock appeared on the horizon of the dusky sky, and the next thing I knew I was popping out on the small summit.
The air was calm and balmy for Central Oregon. The sunset terrific and dramatic over the Three Sisters, Mt. Washington, Mt. Jefferson. It was hard to pull myself away from that hill slope, but I hadn't really planned to be where I was and I hadn't come prepared to navigate down an unfamiliar butte in the dark. Next time, I'll stay a while. Next time.