For the past twenty years or so, Tarn and I have hiked into a very rare and wondrous part of the old Cascades. These mountains are referred to as ‘old’ to distinguish them from the geologically ‘new’ volcanic chain that towers thousands of feet higher. The feel of these more ancient mountains is palpably different. They are the first to catch condensing moisture rising from the Willamette Valley which makes them wetter than their counterpart to the east. So the ecology reflects their age and rainfall.

The trail into this particular area was developed a short 24 years ago, but nature has sought to challenge attempts by humans to recreate and explore here. On this day, the part of the trail that passes through an old clearcut is very eroded with many exposed rocks. We then enter a thick understory where the trail disappears altogether. Bluebells, angelica, coneflowers, columbine, ferns, thimbleberry, and wormwood, all grow to shoulder height. We have to use our trekking poles to find the faint path at our feet. Every so many steps, a sink hole appears so we diligently use our poles as probes.

Eventually, the trail reappears and leads to a stand of old-growth Alaskan yellow cedar, a rarity this far south. One tree is said to be over 600 years old. After a brief respite, we again enter an even denser stand of foliage and repeat using our trekking poles to open the way before us. The pathway winds upward until opening into a meadow below a rocky headwall from which numerous springs emerge. The developers of the trail constructed boardwalks to protect the meadows and help the hikers. But they are no match for moisture and mud. The wooden slats are being reclaimed, swallowed by the springs and lush growth. We have to place down skunk cabbage leaves to get through the muddier/boggier areas.

The challenging conditions still do not detract from the magnificent display of wildflowers: brilliant red paintbrush, maroon hedge nettle, all sorts of lomatium, spires of white bog orchid, and way too many others to mention. All this growth is framed by little rivulets of pristine spring water while subtle burbles and splashes provide the soundscape. We soak in the sights and sounds until continuing on the return loop.

I had hoped this part of the trail would be a bit less demanding. But no, the same dense foliage is now punctuated by numerous fallen trees, scattered about like so many giant toothpicks. Many block our way, so we lunge and laugh our way under, over, and through the obstacles in the best way our 70-year-old bodies will allow. Whew! In due course we are able to return to the trailhead. 

I am struck by the way nature reasserts herself. I suppose this trail could be maintained annually with a lot of tools, materials, and sweat—but I am happy to see the area revert to a less impacted condition. Nature spontaneously restores herself when given the chance. In the same way, we automatically return to our naturally awakened condition when we cease identifying with unnatural habits in the mind. We are able to press the ‘restore original version’ button at any time.

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