Sunday, July 22, 2012

Day in the Wilderness

Click here to see where I went today.

I went to the wilderness, even though I got a late start.  I went to Opal Creek Ancient Forest, where there are trees I swear five feet across and so tall I went dizzy looking up from the bottom of the trunk, to peer at the top. 

Opal Creek isn't that far from where I live, by the back roads.  It is in the Little Santiam Recreation Area, north of highway 22, and just north of this county's line.  N. Fork Road you take from highway 22, up past campgrounds and county parks and swimming holes.  Past Elkhorn.  Til the road turns to gravel.  Then finally it forks and you stay on the bumpy washboardy one to the left.  To the right, if you take that forest service road, you go down to Three Pools, a  very cool swimming hole.  If you go further, you'll hit Shady Cove campground, where I intend to camp before the summer's done.

The upper forest service road, 2209, dead ends at Opal Creek Wilderness area's gate. 

Before I got there, driving through Scio and on to Lyons, from Albany, I was listening to my favorite OPB show---Prairie Home Companion.  I love that show.  Makes dysfunction ok.  Makes me laugh.  I love the songs.  Sometimes the songs and the way they are sung make me cry.  It's a down home homey show.  It's like a cozy blanket.  Like a campfire.  Like corn on the cob with butter melting.

So I get up to the gate and off I go.  I am wearing jeans and a T-shirt and my old tennis shoes.  My sandals dangle from my decades old daypack, in which I carry lunch, Vitawater I got at a service station, and my shorts.  I've also got my bear pepper spray.  I just always carry that.  Not so much for bears, you understand.

I have my old single ski pole, by this time, the snow cuff at the bottom is mostly broken off.  It's my walking pole.

I'm determined to swim in Opal Pool.  The photos online of Opal pool are sublime.  Last summer I drove up to this trail, but much later in the day and I only got so far as Merten Mill and 2.5 miles in, and I climbed down a steep bank and went swimming in a pool there.

Then I hiked back and got back as dark settled in.

This time, I got out my door by a little after noon and was hiking by 1:00.

I get to Merten Mill--a preserved old mill site, with rusted out pieces of equipment all over and a half gone building or two.  On I go.  I pass up the trail to the right, that crosses by foot bridge Opal Creek and proceeds up the other side, eventually coming to Opal Pool and if you continue from there, Jawbone Flats, the little town back in there, ten residents, a research and education center.

On I go from Merten Mill.  It's a easy hike really.  I'm seeing lots of other hikers, some with friendly dogs, some with kids, some with backpacks, on their way out.

It's like being right in the middle of Prairie Home Companion out on the trails most places.  Almost just like it.  Maybe that's why I like hiking so much.  The people you meet are spectacular.  I think so anyhow.

Finally, on a hill, I'm talking to myself, encouraging my bad leg on and don't realize a pair of older hikers have popped out from around the bend.  In apologetics, I tell them, "I talk to myself all the time."  "Well what do you say to yourself?" the lady asks.  "I tell my leg what a good leg it's been and how I know it can make it all the way," I say, with a smile.

I ask how much farther to Jawbone Flats.  The woman says  300 yards and the man says 500.  I think the man was closer to right.

All of a sudden there it is, announced by a little square wood sign that says, simply "Jawbone Flats Population 10".

The dirt main street has private residence cabins and rental cabins on either side.  I beeline it for a little rustic cabin with a sign that says "Company Store" and go inside.   A man  sits behind the counter on the left.  To the right, I eye a plate with one lone brownie left.  $3.00, the little sign says.  I'm thinking about buying that brownie.  Then I remember I packed a lunch.  I tell the man who immediately has required my first name, that I'm taking a hike for my constitution, but I need to sit a spell.  He motions me to the bench on the porch.  I put my pack down and throw my legs up on it and lean back on the bench.  What a life, I think.   The man comes out and sits beside me, throwing his legs up on the porch railing.

I say, "So do you get paid to live out here?" 

"Yeah," he says, almost apologetically.  We sit and yap awhile about this and that.  I ask where Opal Pool is and he points up the street to a brown building, the paddle wheel water powered generator building, and says, "Make a right there and follow the signs."  So I do.

I take a right.  There's a flat field, with a camp bathroom for backpackers.  On I trek until I see a sign pointing down that says "Opal".  I head down.  Three women at that fork and ask if I know where the trail I was on goes to, pointing on, not the way I came from.  I said truthfully, "I really don't know."  They hesitate, then start off, but one turns and says, "Where's Jawbone Flats?"  I point down the way I came from and they look relieved and say things like, "I guess asking the right question is important."

I come to a bridge and stare at the beautiful falls of Opal Pool.  But it doesn't look like online, like a swimming hole . I turn and look down stream and see a beautiful crystal clear opal colored pool.  Takes my breath away.

I crosss the bridge and find a way down to that pool.  I take my shoes off then my socks and stretch my toes out.  Then I unhook my sandals from my pack where they swung, being bungee corded on.  then I take off my jeans, beneath which are my shorts.  I put on my sandals, grasp my old ski pole, and wade in.  The water is so beautiful it calls to me.  Water has that effect on me.  But it's also freezing cold.  It's take your breath away turn your legs pink cold.   I go in anyhow.  It's too clear and beautiful for words. 

I don't stay in long because I don't want to die of hypothermia even though if you were going to die somewhere, this would be the most beautiful place in the world I can think of right now to be your last look at the world.

I pass a couple on the way up the bank who reiterate my thoughts on the beautfy of this place.  They said they decided to go ahead and buy a travel trailer.  They were going to wait til they were old and retired, but....

I interjected...."you want to live now." 

"Yes," they both said almost at the same time.  "We've taken it out 25 times already this year.  We even snow camped." 

"Right on!" I said.  I told them how I've vegetated in a vile mood and now I'm trying to get out into this beautiful state instead whenever I can.  "We could die at any moment," I said, remembering the CO shooting again.  "I want to see places like this."

The couple both nodded. "We do too."

I went back down the other side of the creek trail, which was rocky and narrow and beautiful.  Finally I came to the bridge that crossed back to the other side and joined the main trail in, just beyone Merten Mill.  So I knew where I was then and knew I had a couple miles at least still to go.  My right leg was hurting.  I began to sing to myself to keep my mind from it.  I had a hard time coming up with songs whose lyrics I could recall, however.  I remembered "Joy to the World" by Three Dog Night, of all songs.  Then a Cheeseburger in Paradise came to mind.

A family passed me.  The woman turned, asked "Was that you in the water back there?"

"It was," I admitted. 

"Was it cold?" she asked.

"Freezing," I said.  She smiled.  "Good for you for going in." 

I said, "It was something that had to be done."

I made it up the trail the last couple of miles and sprinted the last quarter mile.  My bad leg said it wanted to do that, to show me it could and that it did and would support me.

I was humming Margaritaville by then and was very sure I was warped somehow into an OPB broadcast of Prairie Home Companion.



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