16. A Day of Miscalculations
Monday Sept. 26, 2005.
On the final Monday of the trip, I ride with Keli as she drives Karis to catch her bus, then Dave cooks me one final toad-in-the-hole and I am on my way. I am trying to catch the train, you see: That’s what I have in mind, and I am blind to anything else. So I say goodbye to my friends, drive over to I-5 and take it all the way north, past Eugene and Salem to the Portland bypass. I hurry along I-84 eastbound, seeing nothing, skipping several river-oriented attractions, hoping to get to Hood River in time to catch the four-hour excursion train that will go to Mount Hood and back. I don’t have a schedule, but I figure – hope – that if I am there by noon, the train won’t have left. It hasn’t. It won’t. The train runs year-round, just as the brochure had said – but not on Mondays or Tuesdays. This was Monday, and I am slated to take the airplane out of Portland Wednesday morning.
Well, now what? Lunch first. I ask the kid at the information counter at the empty train depot where he would eat, and he says Egg Harbor, a breakfast-only place across town. So I make my way over there, not without getting lost a little – and find myself seated at a window looking straight north at a mountain somewhere in the state of Washington. Had to be Mount Adams. I take a picture, and that is as close to Washington state as I would get, if you don’t count the trip on the Columbia the next day.
Salmon for lunch, not bad. But, lunch over, what to do? I decide to drive to Mount Hood, and so I head due south on 35 for 30-some climbing and winding miles, interrupted by road work: one-lane stretches marked by men with signs stopping cars. But where is the mountain? Or rather (since the mountain itself is clear enough) where is the access? There doesn’t seem to be any (though later I realize I had missed it), and after a while I find that I am at the end of 35, and the junction with 26, which runs south of the mountain! Grumbling, I turn west, my way still periodically impeded by construction delays.
I pass Timberline Lodge, figuring that a ski lodge has nothing to do with me. A little farther down the road, I come to a nice-looking place, and ask how one gets to see the mountain. Timberline, I am told, is as close as anything. Well, I decide that I will go back to Timberline (it is still just mid-afternoon), look around a bit, and probably return to this pleasant place for the night. I am a bit disappointed. Things aren’t working out as I had hoped.
But at the bottom of the six-mile road that leads to the lodge, I pick up a young hitchhiker. Turns out he lives in the little town of Government Camp and works at Timberline. His car is in the shop. As we climb, he talks about the lodge, and I find myself growing more interested in it. The long and the short of it is that because I picked him up, I talked to him, and because I talked to him, I looked into the possibility of staying there, instead of just assuming that it would be too expensive.
I wouldn’t want to have missed that evening and night. But if not for that brief conversation, I would have. Passing up the hitchhiker would have been one more miscalculation in a day of miscalculations. There’s something to be said for simple kindness of heart.
Monday Sept. 26, 2005.
When I didn’t know what else I intended to see in Oregon, I knew Crater Lake and Mount Hood. Volcanoes are power spots – sacred spots – and they offer opportunities not available elsewhere. Matching consciousness to the “vibration” of such an energy is something like grounding an electrical wire so that the current may flow.
Some years earlier, my friends Jim Chastain and Michael Langevin and I had climbed onto snow-covered Mount Shasta and had spent a couple of magical hours there. We had known to connect with the psychic energy that underlies it, and we had created a brief ceremony expressing who we were and what we hoped for. The tourists and skiers around us had been no distraction; we had enjoyed the day on many levels and I had not forgotten.
On Hood, though, I am alone. I arrive at Timberline Lodge in mid-afternoon after a drive of several hours up the Willamette valley, expecting to be able to spend only a little time before driving off to find some place more affordable. But Timberline Lodge offers what it calls “chalet” accommodations – rooms without televisions or telephones, and with the bathrooms down the hall. This is no inconvenience, and so I arrange to stay the night.
Before even unpacking the rental car, I follow the trail around the lodge toward the mountain. I can’t walk far at any one time, particularly uphill, but there is no bar to sitting on rocks and communing, then walking a little farther and sitting, and walking again. Sometimes I am among trees, but mostly I am walking amid bare rock.
Snow there is none, even to the top of the mountain. Ice there is a very little, just one patch, far up the side, dirty ice, and ice almost not to be distinguished from rock, all of it in one sheltered fold. Drought this year, I am told.
Well, I hadn’t come to ski, but to absorb. As I had done at Crater Lake, I open to the energy of the place, visualizing grounding my energy deep within the earth while concentrating (though this is not quite the right word) on remaining in a state of deep receptivity. Hood does not overwhelm me with energy in the way that Crater Lake had. I experience it, instead, as a calm deep undisturbed presence. The energy underlying Hood has been there a long time and isn’t expecting to see much that’s new. (This is anthropomorphizing, of course, but after all in writing about such things we are confined to words.)
I spend a long dreamy time on the far reaches of Mount Hood, out of sight or sound of others except now and then. Sometimes I face north and there is Hood reaching up into the deep blue sky. Then I turn and look far to the south, or southeast, or southwest, and see the long arrays of low mountains stretching down into central Oregon, Mount Jefferson the most obvious, like a pale blue more symmetrical reflection of Hood.
Finally I go in, get settled, and have a light supper and an excellent pint of a local ale. When I came out again, it is deep sunset, and the world is in shades of blue. The same trails, the same trees and rocks, only watch your step more carefully; be surer of your footing. No people around at all now, and the deeply tranquil surroundings settling within me. Hood is unending terrain, sharply tilted. Jefferson is a pale triangle floating amid blue and purple seas. The sky to the west is every shade of bright yellow and orange and red, and darkness elsewhere. Then it is night.
I go inside well satisfied that I could remain. I prowl around, learning the history of Timberline Lodge from a 22-minute film that perhaps nobody else ever watches entirely; looking at exhibits; wandering through the common area with greater appreciation now that I knew what I was seeing. Timberline was a WPA project, conceived and executed to employ hundreds of unemployed Oregonians while creating something of lasting value.
Every bit of that lodge (which is owned by the Forest Service) had been constructed by a small core of craftsmen and craftswomen and the hundreds to whom they had taught their crafts. The buildings, the furniture, the decorative touches on walls and stairways, all came out of this successful attempt to help people who had become desperate from lack of money and lack of work.
The lodge seems to me to be a statement in wood. It was created by and owned by the government as a time when government was trying to do something for ordinary people. Although only the rich could have used the lodge in 1937 when it was finished, here was a project designed also, and even primarily, for the common people. It was designed to provide – and did provide – another start in life for hundreds of desperate men and women who wanted to work, at a time when there was no work to be found.
I leave next morning by way of the gift shop, and among other things I buy a baseball cap that says Timberline Lodge. Silly, I suppose, but after seeing the film and examining so many beautiful artifacts still to be appreciated after nearly 70 years, I feel a part of it. At a time when government has turned its back on the people, and when my very bones feel apprehension of what is coming down on us economically and politically – in other words, socially – Timberline is a reminder that hard times need not be only years the locusts have eaten. Hard times can also germinate the seeds of renewal. Given leadership, people will remember that we are not just individuals, but families; not just families but communities; not just communities but one interconnected consciousness.
All the long drive from Hood to the Columbia, my progress is interrupted (as it had been the day before) by road crews working, like the work crews who had built Timberline long ago. I don’t mind waiting. Some things require time. Sometimes the act of constructing is as important as what is constructed.