December 31 is year end for our fond Gregorian calendar. But before days were marked in ink, the position of the stars and sun held greater importance. Truly, the last day of the year is the shortest day and the longest night. There is power to these solstices and equinoxes, although lost to time to these Western eyes. It is humbling to directly experience our frailty as we are one with the wilderness of night.
"Get out! Go!!!" was the resounding message I received just before the solstice. Frankly I'm not much of a winter camper, although I will gladly persevere to be surrounded by these magic forests. Finances are tight these days, but fortified with stories of John Muir surviving untold days on rough oat bread, we loaded up and headed into those frosted mountains.
Portland was gentle and cold, damp with warm December rain. The polarity of the Clackamas brought a crystalline frosted world to our doorstep, if only for a few days. With deep blue skies beckoning we plied the icy highway nervously, slowly, not wanting to start the trip in spectacular upside down fashion in some ditch. High hopes for other camps were abandoned when we realized the frozen nature of this winter world.
We chose Pot Creek Camp, although littered with the remains of butchered deer. 16 tossed legs by the creek, a pile of skins in a hollow, a 1/2 chewed skull and ribcage further down. What a stupid waste. A good hunter respects both the animal and the camp.
How strange to partake in this frozen world! Upon scrutiny every thin blade and speck is coated with a billion ice crystals, sparkling blind from their minuscule place, each an individual, each a whole with lost identity.
"leave no trace" yeah I get it
There is no one out in the woods. Just before Christmas, the mad stores and packed shelves are overrun by the rabid dogs of the season. But the Clackamas is sweetly flowing through still and silent trees. A grand peace has overtaken these forests of summertime bustle. I am eternally grateful for the quiet, so hard to find even in wilderness. What a world we live in.
And quickly, very quickly in fact, the last sun of this past year drops like a rock past the crisp ridges. I have never experienced such a quick transition from day to night. The planets and stars hang suspended from the sky like an infant mobile. The veil of the universe is thin as mist as celestial bodies droop into our camp with a palpable awareness. This sky contains infinite eyes. The silence is overpowering.
wizard and cedar
The night lasts long and frozen, with the lungs of deep space exhaling into the frost of our being. Eva is scared from her slumber by the orange eye of the moon peering into her bed. She is not easily disturbed, but on this weird night I can understand. It is strange out there.
But the day starts anew, with a blessed sun piercing the frost and forlorn dawn. Happy new year!
Warm enough to toast little toes.
But not warm enough to warm the air or to melt the circus frosts. You'd never know it by the dazzling sun and Arizona blue.
After breakfast, we decide to get moving and explore. Since our summer trip, I knew of the abandoned trail nearby heading quietly up the ridge and into oblivion. It took me a while to find it again in the tangle, but we are soon rewarded for our efforts. Frozen logs are slippery, watch your step...
Randy and Eva taking a break
Abandoned trails are hard work. First you have to find them, then comes the hard work of clearing a route. When a clearcut is encountered, the work is doubled. Hours of chopping will give you a meager swath. Little improvements over the years do add up, especially when the trail has been abandoned for 60 years. Madness. But do we risk losing our heritage?
As the sun sets, the old trail heads down, down and out, back to the Clackamas and rolling back to a past that no longer exists.
Just as we are ready for lunch, the sun drops like a bowling ball and the stars are flung out on springs. Night seems deeply improbable.
Randy with extra eye blows fire and smoke
And we talk and laugh deep into the ink.
“I will love the light for it shows me the way. Yet I will endure the darkness for it shows me the stars.” – Og Mandino