Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Preparing for the Dolomites

      Last spring, after I had already planned to hike the Alta Via 2 trail in the Dolomite Mountains of northern Italy with my friend Mike in September, I heard of friends of friends who go to the Dolomites every summer. They train rigorously - 100 miles on their bikes one day, another 100 the next day. 
     Uh-oh, I thought. If I'm going to be able to do this, I had better get ready. I had better start training.
     Mile and I had already hiked along the Oregon coast in April and had done the Boy Scout Tree Trail in the redwoods. We had made an off-trail hike on the flagged route of what will be the East ART in the Applegate. But now we intensified the activity.
    In May we hiked Bald Mountain above the Little Applegate, then the E ART again, and Mule Mountain. The next week we did the Elliott Ridge Trail (see post on 6/19), and in the next three weeks we hiked six trails, culminating in the Cameron Meadows-Frog Pond loop in the Red Buttes, a hike of seven miles up the mountain and down again, and, three days later, a day hike to Oregon Caves and back, up and over Mt. Elijah, a total of about fourteen miles, with a stop in the chalet for a milk shake before the return.
     The next week we climbed Mt. Elijah again, then did five more trails (Clover Lake and the Harriet Lake overlook in Mountain Lakes Wilderness; Grayback Mountain just above my house; Mt. Scott, Cleetwood Cove, and part of the Rim Trail, all at Crater Lake National Park - see posts on August 11 and 4). The last weekend of July we did a three-day backpacking trip to Island Lake in the Siskiyou Wilderness Area, seven and a half steep miles up to Island Lake, and, the next day cross-country to the top of Jeremiah Mountain. In the meantime I had hiked Dolason Prairie Trail in Redwood National Park (posted on July 28) and for three days in the Russian Wilderness with another friend and had gone up Grayback again with out-of-town visitors. 
     By that time I was feeling pretty strong. But there could be no slacking! We did a short hike on the Pacific Crest Trail at Soda Mountain and then four days later the 15-mile Cook and Green/Horse Trail loop, stopping at Echo Lake for a swim on the way down. Three days later we left for the Marble Mountain Wilderness, where we camped at misnamed Paradise Lake, which was so unswimmable I immediately suggested we hike another two or two and a half miles to Bear Lake, which, to Mike's great relief, I pronounced swimmable and in which I had a good long swim. The next day we hiked eight miles to Shadow Lake, which was even better than Bear Lake, and got there at 2:00 so figured we had time to hike four miles to the top of the Marble Rim - and four miles back, of course, for a total of sixteen miles that day, but it was fantastically beautiful to be on the rim, more than a thousand vertical feet above the valley, and in the midst of all that white marble.
     We had scheduled one last hike before leaving for Italy, but by this time I was daring the Dolomites to throw anything they wanted at me. I felt like I could do anything, including hiking six miles in 100 degree heat. Therefore it seemed unnecessary to actually do it, so I suggested we go to a movie instead.
     In fourteen weeks Mike and I had done twenty-two hikes, of varying steepness and length. I feel as prepared as I can possibly be. When I look at YouTube videos of Alta Via 2, I quake a bit at what might lie ahead, but could it be any more difficult than what I've done this summer? If it's steep, I've done it. If it's long, I've done that, too. I've hiked with a pack twice as heavy as the one I'll be carrying in the Dolomites. Standing on the edge of the Marble Rim could not have induced any less vertigo than I'll experience on the Dolomites. 
      When I get to the Dolomites and talk with other hikers at the rifugios, I'll say, "You want some real challenges? Come to the Siskiyous, and see how they test your mettle!"

Thursday, August 18, 2016

What Difference Does a Dress Make?

            I recently wore, to a garden wedding, a long dress made from a light, ethereal fabric of soft greens and blues. 

At the ceremony I noticed the cute, cute dress my friend Haley was wearing, zebra-striped (if zebras were dark purple), knee-length, and close-fitting. Later, during the dancing, I saw that she was wearing a different dress and said, in surprise, “Haley, you changed clothes!” She said that the other dress was uncomfortable on her but, oh, it would probably fit me, did I want it, it was in her car, let’s go look at it.
            It was not only a cute dress but a very unusual one with a top-to-bottom zipper on the side and an Ivanka Trump tag on it. Could I bring myself to wear an Ivanka Trump dress? Somehow the idea of an Ivanka Trump dress on me, of all people, seemed to be a joke on her – she would be appalled. I wasn’t the sort of person she had in mind when she designed the dress. So, yes, I could.  (Take that, Trump!) Casting a quick eye to make sure no one was around, I stripped off my soft green and blue dress and put on the slinky, tight-fitting (but fittingly tight) purple-zebra-striped dress. It fit! Haley really did give it to me, and now I, too, had changed clothes in the middle of the evening.

            Rejoining the party, giggling in anticipation of the surprise of the man I had come with (“Diana! You changed clothes!”), I looked for and found him. We chatted, we had a glass of wine, we danced – not a word. Is it possible he never even noticed?
            It was possible. Such has happened before. The first time I took a camp dress on a wilderness trip with my friend Phil, I put it on the first night after my swim, the second night, the third night – and on the third night Phil looked at me in astonishment and said, “You brought a dress?!” I said in exasperation, “Yes, and I’ve worn it for the past three nights.”
         Sometimes, though, the dress does make an impression. Years ago, at Cliff Lake in the Marble Mountain Wilderness with my friend Louann, who also brings a dress on backpacking trips, we naturally changed into our camp dresses in the evening. We were cooking our dinners when three men with fishing rods walked by our camp on the way to their own. They acknowledged our presence and passed on by. Shortly afterward, sitting by the lake to watch twilight slowly nudge daylight out of the way, we heard people on the trail again.
         “Knock-knock,” said a jovial male voice, and the three fishermen ducked through the trees into our campsite.
         “We just thought we’d come by and introduce ourselves,” the first one said and did so, calling names and grounding each name with a place.
         He, Mr. Seattle, was the outgoing, hearty one. Mr. Jacksonville, ungainly with braces on his teeth, a skinny frame, and carrot hair, slouched behind Mr. Seattle, grinning, saying little. Mr. Medford also said little but stood forthright and bold, unapologetic but unobtrusive. I understood, therefore, the following scenario:
         Mr. Seattle, Mr. Jacksonville, and Mr. Medford, returning to their campsite from their fishing spot on the lake, had passed our camp, looked up to say hello, and seen two women – my god, in dresses! – sitting on white rocks against a sparkling Cliff Lake with the 1300-foot, sunset-gold headwall of the cirque behind them. Mr. Jacksonville had the original idea: “Hey, come on! Let’s go introduce ourselves to the girls. Want to? Huh? Yeah. You can go first.”
         Mr. Seattle: “Well, sure. I’m not shy. We’ll just knock on their door – ha-ha – and go right in.” He and Mr. Jacksonville turned to Mr. Medford.
         Mr. Jacksonville: “Whattaya say? Huh? Wanna say hi to the girls? Huh?” Yuk-yuk-yuk.
         Mr. Medford: “If you go, I’ll go with you, but it’s your idea, not mine.”
         Maybe it’s the way of women, but after they left, Louann and I laughed and laughed. “It was the dresses,” I said. “I’m sure it was the dresses.” Louann agreed. Femininity is such a lure.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Crater Lake, from Above and Within

            Standing at 8,934 feet on top of Mt. Scott last week, gazing down at Crater Lake, I imagined being the first person ever to see Crater Lake, enraptured by the enormous, ultra-blue body of water in the deep caldera of the mountains and finding the scene impossible to grasp. That big, that blue – nothing could have prepared the first-time viewer for it, not the ocean, not any other lake seen from any other mountain. The sight would have been, almost is, beyond comprehension. 

            When Mike and I arrived at the top, four or five people were already there, chatting with each other. Where are you from? Where did you stay last night? Where will you go from here? – the banalities of vacation talk. I was impatient with their chat. They might as well be at Annie Creek Restaurant, I thought, at the entrance to the park, exchanging the same pleasantries over a cup of coffee, instead of here, where all the power of Mother Nature had provided a soul-lifting experience, which they were ignoring. It was like prattling with the person kneeling next to you at the altar at communion or reading your phone messages during a performance of the Brahms piano concerto.
            Nonetheless, I allowed these pleasant people to have their own experience and tried not to let their conversation drown out the conversation the grandeur would speak with me. Stopping my ears on one side, I listened on the other.
            Once off the mountain Mike and I drove to Cleetwood Cove to walk the 1.1-mile trail 700 feet down to the lake’s shore. At the boat dock I found a swarm of people waiting for their boat ride and, on this hot day, shores crowded with swimmers, waders, and sun-bathers. At the swimming area, people were jumping off the high rock, taunting each other with dares to jump, splashing, swimming, screaming at the shock of the cold water.
            Ignoring the crowd, I made my way down the rocks to the shore, Mike behind me. I stripped off my hiking dress to the swimsuit underneath. I submerged to my knees, pushed into the water, and was off.
            Mesmerized by color and clarity, hardly conscious of the movement of my body, I headed for the center of the lake. My legs hit ice-cold pockets of water, but the surface water was surprisingly warm. The sounds of laughter and screams of rock-jumpers gradually diminished. I kept on swimming. The blue was all-encompassing, the clarity absolute transparency. I kept on swimming. I stopped and turned around to look. The swimmers and sun-bathers were no longer visible. I was alone in the blue universe of Crater Lake. No one’s banal conversation could destroy my spiritual experience. The lake was mine. “I own this lake,” I thought, and kept swimming.
            Finally, shaking myself from my trance, I trod water and looked around me at the blue universe and remembered that I need to save half my strength for the return. But how would I know when I had used up half my strength? I swam a little farther. I trod water again, looked around, and finally decided to be wise and return. I swam back towards shore until the people took on dimensionality and their voices audibility, and then, since I hadn't used up half my strength, after all, I swam parallel to the shore for a bit before again heading toward Mike, whom I could finally discern on the rock where I had left him. I pulled myself from Crater Lake onto the rocks. Gradually my amphibian nature slipped away until I was land creature again.
            Earlier in the day I had looked down on Crater Lake from above, capturing its entirety in my sight, seeing it in its context. Now I had looked into Crater Lake from within. I had immersed myself in its being, had become one with its element, had known it intimately in its molecular form. Because it is the purist lake in the world, I had drunk of it as I swam.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

A Special Celebration at Crater Lake National Park of the 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service

            On the morning of July 29, I stood at the Watchman Overlook at Crater Lake National Park. Far below me, tucked deep into the Mt. Mazama caldera, lay the lake, a royal blue deeper than any sky, any flower, any stone. From behind me an ancient song of the Klamath Tribe was hurtling over the lake, driven by pounding drums. Chills swept up my back. These people were singing this same song in this same spot 13,000 years ago, flinging the power of their song from rim to rim across this most mysterious and most beautiful of all lakes. The centuries collapsed around me.
            This was the prelude to Michael Gordon’s magnificent new piece for orchestra, chorus, and Native American drummers and singers, around 140 musicians, commissioned by the Britt Festival, in Jacksonville, Oregon, in recognition of the one hundredth anniversary of the National Park Service. Gordon had visited Crater Lake National Park in winter and in summer. He had lived with the Klamath Tribe. He had let the history and natural history, the flora and fauna, the beauty and seasonal variations of the lake and the park become a part of him. I was at this moment at the world premiere of the resulting composition, “Natural History.” There would be other performances at the park the next day, but this one – by invitation only except for those, like me, who were willing to walk the 3.7-mile trail up and down the hills along the rim to get there – was the only one at which the audience could see the lake while listening to the music. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
            The Steiger Butte Drum of the Klamath tribe, the woodwinds and strings of the Britt Orchestra, a 50-member choir of regional singers, and the VIP chairs were below where I stood on a hillside. Teddy Abrams conducted from a podium in their midst. Eight or ten trombonists and trumpeters lined up at the edge of the parking lot, following a conductor who was following Abrams. Eight or ten percussionists stood in a line that angled up a hill above Abrams and the orchestra. Behind them sat or stood a small audience of walkers and bicyclists. The sun beat down fiercely. Introductions and welcomes were made, including one in the language of the Klamath tribe. Then the tribal singing and drumming began. Then there was a pause. The lake shimmered in its velvet blueness, majestic in its enormity, and then, with soft repetitive notes, as though not to challenge the beauty of the landscape, Gordon’s “Natural History” began.
            Music came in ripples and waves. A reprisal of the Klamath tribal song entered for a few measures. The trombones and trumpets, from their separated space, came to the fore, not all together but in waves. A trombone in the orchestra echoed the wave, like the last lap of water in the distance. The percussionists one at a time, in a wave, raised their hands with tambourines and let them fall, like wind flowing through the forest. The chorus entered, starting with words of Thoreau: “I wish to speak a word for Nature for absolute Freedom and Wildness,” something the music was doing even without words, but then the chorus went on to speak more words for Nature: a catalogue of beings found in the park, from red-tailed hawk to bleeding heart, from bumble bee to rough-skinned newt. The words were sung in staccato rhythms with the steady beat of the drum (like the bark of foxes, the cawing of crows). The last of the words evoked again the Klamath Tribe: “My father always told me that Giwas, which means 'spiritual place', Giwas is Crater Lake. I go up there to gather healing and prayer.”
            The music captured monumentality: of time, landscape, beauty. It elicited images of waves and wind and water, crickets and dawn and birds, and, without an obvious boom of the eruption of a volcano, it also evoked Mt. Mazama, the collapse of the caldera, and the formation of Crater Lake from eons of snow-melt, spring-water, and rain. The music was as monumental as the lake and the mountains before me, as rhythmical as the seasons that fall on the lake, as even and yet as varied as the natural history of its title. Landscape and music blended into one beauty.
            The day before the concert I had taken a long swim in Crater Lake, swimming so far into the depths of the blue that my friend on the shore lost sight of me, the way a hawk, spiraling upward, becomes lost in the distances of sky as we watch. As I listened to this evocative music from the magnificent overlook of the lake, the only thing better, I thought, would be to hear that music while swimming. But that would have been impossible. The music lifted from the musicians, was flung skyward with the toss of the conductors’ hands, and floated upward, far above the lake, to disappear, like the hawk, into the blue above.