In just one night, it engulfed some of the most unique and verdant landscapes on the planet in a maelstrom of exploding trees and racing flames, fanned by the Gorge's famous East Wind. A friend watched a whole mountainside go up in flames in about one minute.
It's too early and I've yet to see it, so I still can't quite conceive of what has happened. Has this sacred, nourishing, touchstone place for me, where I return as often as possible, been irrevocably changed, denuded, and altered forever (at least in my lifetime)?
This I can't yet comprehend.
|The Vista House on Crown Point. Still standing.|
I'm having a hard time putting into words how important the Gorge has been to me throughout my life. It is, as they say, in my bones.
When I was three my family moved to the Troutdale area, where our home was just a few miles from the basalt cliffs across the Sandy River that mark the western entrance to the Gorge. I grew up there learning to love nature, waterfalls, and walking in the woods.
On warm summer nights, my mom would pack a picnic dinner and we'd head up to enjoy the particular refreshing cool in the woods near one of the waterfalls. We often had Oneonta Gorge to ourselves—once my dad featured a shot of my sister and I there on the front page of his newspaper, calling us "woodland sprites" in the caption. (We got teased for that.)
|Below Larch Mountain|
As a teenager I started hiking/backpacking in earnest and explored the Gorge's trails more extensively. Maybe it's because I was 17 and all my senses were heightened, but one great backpack trip stands out:
Towards the end our hike from Mt. Hood down to the Gorge, I vividly remember the soft, forgiving earth underfoot and the richness of the forest as we descended switchbacks nearing Eagle Creek, singing silly trail songs. (Because back then there were no other hikers around to annoy.) To wash away some of the week's grime, we jumped into a pond in the upper creek. Decades later I can still almost feel the bracing, exhilarating chill from jumping into the icy cold water that left my skin tingling afterwards. When we arrived at the Eagle Creek trailhead, our parents had spread out a picnic for us, which we devoured after a week of Top ramen, dried salami, and homemade gorp. Fantastic memories!
Throughout my life the Gorge has been a place of refuge, a soothing balm for my soul. I’m a firm believer that Heaven is here on Earth and that it’s unique for everyone. My version encompasses the verdant western Gorge and its many trails.
|At one of my happy places|
I heard there are pockets of trees spared, and yes, there will be regrowth. But it will take time. A long time. And who knows how climate change will affect the ability of such a unique botanical treasure to return to its former fecund glory.
|Lower Multnomah Fall. The cedar to the right appears to have survived the fire|
|Remnant snags from an early 1990s fire atop Angel's Rest|
|Eagle Creek, Punchbowl Falls|
|Bicyclist on the historic Columbia River Highway just below Crown Point|
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