WIND MTN. (a hiker’s review)
A note from Bear: The following text is what I hope will be the first of many contributions from community members and volunteers. Today’s post, a meditative review of a favorite local hiking spot, is written by Moh Burford: poet, librarian, and occasional volunteer in the SECRETS classroom and on field trips, during which he goes by the steward name, “Oak.”
I wish to speak a word for Nature, for absolute freedom and wildness, as contrasted with a freedom and culture merely civil—to regard humans as inhabitants, or a part and parcel of Nature, rather than a member of society.
Henry David Thoreau, “Walking” (1862)
All the way there the wind pushed our little car so hard it swayed and shuddered, twitched and jumped. For those not strapped to a kite or sail, this was a day when the outdoors felt particularly inhospitable. On a day like this, then, one wouldn’t imagine your destination to be named after that which you are trying to escape, and yet, escape we did, as by the time we pulled up to the small circular parking area for Wind Mountain, the wind had all but disappeared. Still, its mighty thrashing could be heard as it played a chaotic tune along the densely wooded mountainsides of the Columbia River Valley.
My partner and I had picked Wind Mtn. not for its namesake but for its vigorous brevity. The hike is only a few miles long, but is almost entirely uphill and, with minimal commitment of one’s time, gives one that gorgeous feeling of having accomplished something meaningful. For me, this is the joy of hiking: the feeling of accomplishment in each step—that I am exactly where I’m supposed to be, doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. One is wholly removed from society and civilization, work and paychecks, strip malls and big-box stores when they are trekking up the side of a mountain. And so hiking is never about consumption or instant gratification; rather, it is work accomplished by one’s body over time. It is a great feeling.
The trailhead, so unassuming you’ll pass it in a breath if you’ve got your head down, is on the right-hand side a little ways down what looks to be an old logging road. From the trailhead—where you will no doubt brush off your boots before and after, as a good steward should—we began our sun-dappled climb.
Early on and throughout the hike I noticed a number of trees which seemed to have fallen over at their root-base, creating a kind of natural portal along the trail, with mountain on one side and root-base on the other. Each time I crossed through, I reminded myself that with every step I was again and again leaving the civil society of the work day and entering the wildness of nature, a place of so few encumbrances.
While the trail is steep, it is by no means monotonous. In contrast to other hikes that rely wholly on grinding switchbacks, Wind Mtn.’s trail, however steep, still retains the feeling of meandering through the woods. The trail is alive with plant life. My partner and I never spotted the same insect twice and were filled with joy at the variety of flowers and ground cover. The trees there are lined with a moss so deeply green and soft you’d think you were touching velvet.
As many as three times during our ascent we came across fan-shaped rocky outcroppings—of what looked like shale—that started above us, slid across the trail, and down the side of the mountain. Each of these outcroppings seemed to be of different ages—I guess, as moss on one seemed older and more grown out, while on another there was almost no moss at all, but I’ll admit here that my ignorance of such matters is vast. What made these stony streams, and over what period of time, was beyond my guessing. When we leaned closer to the sides of the crackling ground, we found small flowers and succulent-like ground cover peeking around every corner. Amidst one of these chalky beds, we came across a pack of dogs and their owner, a majestic flock to be sure.
The top of Wind Mtn. is a kind of mohawk of vegetation, with small clearings on both the west and east side of the very top, and thick ferns, bushes, and grasses, not to mention reaching pines dividing the two sides. You come upon this rich glade all at once from around a bend and follow a narrow path, hemmed in by reaching bushes, to the very top. At this point, the atmosphere of the hike has changed. The wind has returned as promised and swirls around you but in confused rushes, as if it cannot pick a direction. The air at the top is solemn and there is a weight to the environment that speaks to its history as a sacred place. The two small clearings provide the best sites for taking in the stunning view at the top, where they are home to sharply descending fields of stone. Based on the way these two clearings are positioned at the face of the mountain, it is almost as if the mountain had cried these rocky outcroppings, every tear a jagged stone. From the east especially, you can take in a 180-degree view of the majestic Columbia River Valley. One can see the swollen and glittering snail’s trail of the Columbia River, its peregrinations echoing across the spiny ridges on display.
At one point on our descent we heard a strange noise emanating from above us, a kind of deep, crackling squeal. Looking up, we saw a small tree had fallen along the side of a larger one, gotten stuck, and over time warn an indention where the smaller tree had come to rest, so that when the wind blows it moves the little tree along the bigger one, like a bow along a violin, creating a music unlike any I had heard before.
I felt bolstered and grand by the end of our trek. Back at the trailhead, the wind gurgled its old song, and the sky was grey and warm. My attention was caught by a tuneful noise: I found that some loving steward of the forest—as it did not look official—had constructed a sign and wind chime pointing to the Wind Mtn. trailhead, made of beautifully hand-crafted wood. With the light sighing of chimes on a spring afternoon, it looked like something made out of love for the mountain, a gratitude I shared.