In my dreams, I can travel to this place again; the home of dark shadows, of soft moss and towering firs.
As I step out of my vehicle into the damp air, I watch my boots squish into the soft earth, mud rising up around the edges. The rain has softened to a light patter after night long with vigorous winds and downpours lashing the windowpanes. I pull up my hood and yank down my jacket sleeves to cover the softer layers I’m wearing underneath. Rain is already dripping down my face, so fuck it. Let’s go.
I sling my pack and lock my car. Across the small parking, a beautiful, well maintained trail leads to a gorgeous, towering waterfall, small beaches along the river, sweet little campsites. This trail is gently graded, perfect for running, and not heavily trafficked at all.
But… we are going the other way.
Into the canyons. Into the trees.
I turn away from the nice, easy trail and instead follow the footpath leading along side a small creek, working its way upstream.
The user trail along the creek doesn’t last, soon I am plunged into the thickets of fallen logs, ferns, and sloping hillsides. I make my way carefully across the creek on a log and begin to climb up, and up. Through the vine maple understory, the earth smells like moss, soil, growing green things. My legs feel weak as I climb, my footing unsure. So I take my time, there is no need to rush.
I imagine it all so clearly: I smell the smells, I feel the soft, damp air on my face. The sounds of my footsteps and my breathing and the creek in the canyon below.
I drop into a fern-lined bowl as I make my way down toward the creek again. I can hear the roar of the falls below. The hillside gets steeper as I descend and the sword ferns fade away as the lush, green, creek side brambles take hold. I belay myself down, grabbing hold of the roots of nearby trees, until I reach the rocky bottom.
Smooth, rounded stones spread out on the fringes of the creek, and I pick my way across towards the basalt amphitheater, where water launches itself from the rim above and cascades down by graceful arch into a tidy pool below. Every inch of this place is moss laden, spongey and soft. Crossing on a high log, I find myself a spot where I can rest on a boulder and take it all in. I breathe deeply into my lungs, taking the energy of this place with me, into me, the only way I know how.
I feel like I’ve stepped into a living secret whenever I venture into these waterfall amphitheaters, whenever I am lucky enough to find myself in a place that humans aren’t meant to stand.
Two years later, when that forest burned, I stood on my deck in central Oregon and watched fir needle ash rain down on my deck from a grey-orange sky. I lived at least fifty miles from any fir trees then. Swiping my hand across the railing of my back porch, I smeared the ash into the grain of the wood and drove it into the prints of my fingers. It was soft.
I closed my eyes and returned to the fern-lined canyon; tiny caves created by moss covered boulders, vine maple understory thriving beneath towering trees, waterfalls bursting from the canyon walls, creating a constant wind in the basalt amphitheater. Tiny plants bob in the breeze, basking in the mist and dappled light.
A landscape that feels unchanged by time, but, in fact, it is not. We are all changed by time; even rocks, even trees, even mountains. The sense of timelessness we experience is a result of our own small perspective. Our short, tiny lives keep us blind to the ways our environment is constantly changing, to the eternal nature of life. Birth, growth, death, decompose. Begin again.
I know I won’t live to see the canyon return to its former glory, but I have faith that the future holds exactly what it’s meant to, even if I never see it with my own eyes. I can return again, any time I choose, because I breathed into these places deeply, and now they live on inside me forever, just as they are meant to.