"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Catherine Creek

As we drive east into the Columbia River Gorge, the wind scours the sky clear of late winter clouds. By the time we get to Catherine Creek the wind has gentled considerably, apparently enjoying a job well done. The sky is a poem of blue stretched from horizon to horizon.

The strip that serves as a parking lot is full. An encouraging sign. I've been worried that we're too early for the wildflowers that are the reason we've driven two hours on a Saturday afternoon. It's Walt's birthday and he's chosen this place for the maiden voyage of his new camera. It's also our first hike of the year. The day is primed for joy.

The first thing I see are tufts of purple bells sprinkled in the rocky field that is the trailhead. The field guide is a frustration because there's not just one flower with purple bells and my impatience to know now makes the pages stick together. I decide I'll figure it out later and head for the bathroom. On the way back a woman asks me if I know whether the purple flowers are called Widow Grass. I reluctantly admit that I don't know, and rush back to my field guide.

Widow Grass. She was right, and I feel somehow as though I've been given a gift. 

Walt and I set out on the trail. We walk side by side. He's focused on getting used to the new weight of his camera gear. I'm scouting perfect shots and  new flowers. 

"Look, Honey! Look at the way this clump of Widow Grass (now that I know its name, I can't say it enough) nests in the grass."

Usually on these hikes, Walt will reluctantly stop and humor my latest discovery ("Honey, look at this cool fungus!") with a mild acknowledgment of the wonder I'm experiencing. Today he's looking with different eyes. He has a new macro lens to go with his new digital SLR camera.  He has a new appreciation for up close and little miracles of nature.

I can't remember at what point on the hike that I realize that he's being exactly the man I've been in despair of ever seeing again. He's focused, intent, engaged. He's fully present. He's fun to be with.

It might have been  his willingness to shoot, at my request, the Crater Lake blue of the sky through the puzzle of oak branches overhead. It might have been when he turned his cap bill backward in that sexy bad-boy way so it didn't keep bumping the camera. It might have been when he got down on his belly to get a better shot of  Yellow Bells framed perfectly against scales of gray bark.

It might just have been how purely happy he was.

The trail at Catherine Creek winds and climbs through an old homestead. Even though there is little left of the farm, pioneer ghosts and dreams hover over the scrub oak and rock landscape. There is magic here. Every flower we see today is new to me. Gifts from the soul of the place. I collect the names in my heart while Walt documents their existence with his camera.

 Grass Widow.  Yellow Bells. Oaks Toothwort. Desert Parsley, pink and yellow. Smooth Prairie Star.  Western Saxifrage. Gold Stars.

I  feel hope and eternity in these names. 

The trail loops back toward the road along a rocky ridge where the wind, apparently rested, plays with our footing on the rough ground. It's hard to decide whether we're invigorated or intimidated by its power. We walk quietly in the buffet and buzz of the wind, a lovely connected silence full of life and love. Our heads are mostly down so that the wind and rocks don't have their way with us.

I become aware of a single melodic note floating on the air. A bird call that I haven't heard before. I stop and look up in time to see a male Western Bluebird, sky on top - rusty earth below, perched on a bush just close enough for me to be certain what I'm seeing. He sends out another perfect note. His mate, all earth and no sky, responds from another bush slightly farther away from us. They both fly as Walt tries to get closer for a shot, but I don't care.

 In the currency of my naturalist life, a new bird is worth a whole book full of new flowers.

In the currency of my life as a wife, this day overflows with riches that I will be counting for the remainder of my days. Happy Birthday, Walt. Thank you for giving me the present of your full presence on this day. Thank you for giving me the present of renewed hope. Thank you for allowing me to love you.

Pictures by Walt Shucka


riversgrace said...

Beautiful, Deb.

Jess said...

Lovely lovely post. So glad you had that day. And it totally makes me want to go hiking. I am planning it now. Must see some wildflowers.

Carrie Wilson Link said...





All things bright and beautiful, Deb. This is just purely wonderful.

My favorite part:
"Look, Honey! Look at the way this clump of Widow Grass (now that I know its name, I can't say it enough) nests in the grass."

kario said...

I think I held my breath the entire time I was reading your words. I am so glad the two of you shared this day. I hope the gifts continue to ripple throughout your week.

Love you.

Jerri said...

Happy Birthday, Walt. And Deb--thank you for sharing your gifts with us. This is beautiful.

Eileen said...

Beautiful photos,
Beautiful writing,
Beautiful hike,
Beautiful togetherness and love.

grammer said...

so lovely! what a happy day!

it's so heart-busting to learn the extraordinary names of the ordinary and inevitable life happening all around us. you're making me think of new songs with this widow grass, this prairie star...

:) tg

La La said...

You awe me with your writing!

He was present to you, and that makes me SMILE so big I can hardly contain it.

Carrie Wilson Link said...

OK, you are inspiring Tracy to WRITE SONGS. C'mon, you win! That's the best compliment EVER!

holly said...

Wonderful post! Lovely through and through.

FrecklesandDeb said...

"In the currency of my life as a wife, this day overflows with riches that I will be counting for the remainder of my days."

Oh, Deb, you have such a gift with words!
(Oh, and Happy Birthday, Walt! Beautiful pictures!)

holly said...

I just stopped back to re-read this one. Really I think you should submit it somewhere.

Nancy said...

"In the currency of my life as a wife, this day overflows with riches that I will be counting for the remainder of my days." So So beautiful!

M said...

What a beautiful post...not only the pictures, but your words that bring even more vibrant pictures to my mind. And what a wonderful gift that you found in the presence of Walt on this day.

I love you.