Hark! Spring has arrived! Somehow, without much indication of its transition, winter has been left behind in the mountains and the city has come alive with new life. This week, I have been able to walk out the front door without a jacket and stroll along the sidewalk, smelling the perfume of just-blooming flowers in all their multi-hued glory. I can hum a tune to myself and find my song mirroring that of the sonorous Song Sparrow or Chickadee. On my own bike ride to work, I spot twice the number of bicyclists on the roads, people of all ages taking their wheels to the pavement in celebration. Portland is alive with the exhilaration of a new season. I’m afraid the rain will come back again (knock on wood), but in that event, I will try to remember that “April showers bring May flowers.”
Before I jump headfirst into these days that smell like new flowers, sound like birds primping their feathers before building the perfect nest, before I jump headfirst into longer evenings to spend bike riding on the Willamette Riverfront, I must pay tribute to this winter. I spent two weekends playing in the snow recently, much less than I had hoped considering our snow-less winter here in the Rose City. But the two times I did step feet onto snow and gaze at the wonders of a good snow drift, I came away with much to report.
One weekend, I drove on dry highways under piercingly bright skies to the foothills of Mt. St. Helens, or Loowit. Meghan and I jumped onto cross country skis and traversed through narrow pathways between fir and pine trees. The snow was crunchy, sparkly, icy to the touch, and slick under our skis. Every so often, we would come out into the open, eyes shocked to find that snow and sun can coexist. We traveled alongside a hidden creek, which revealed itself at points where snow had melted. Its voice accompanied us, bubbling, cat-calling, reassuring, exalting.
A few weekends later, when Portland was first celebrating warm days and blooming flowers, Annie, Angela, and I headed up to Mt. Hood to enjoy a weekend of reading books by the fire and tromping about in the snow. We climbed 2000 feet and 8 miles, saw the valley below the mountain from impossible heights, and had the satisfaction of visiting Timberline Lodge’s sturdy fire places on our own power.
On our hike, it felt as if we were making our final ascent into the realms of the unreturn- higher and higher, blue sunshine reflecting off the blue in my eyelashes. We climbed into the clouds themselves and rested our weary feet on their soft, sloping whiteness. They billowed out endlessly, our misty companions, below the sturdy support of our snowshoes. My hands were gloveless but warm, swinging back and forth to gain momentum.
When I turned back to look at what I’d left behind to come to this realm of clouds and mist, I saw the whole world laid out in front of me: Government Camp, Mount Jefferson, and all the hills and dales in between. The fog rolled in slowly below, and we could easily see its creeping progress from our vantage point. It was a ribbon of mist, rising from the sins of those who touch the real ground of mortals. Then, before our eyes, the ribbon turned into a blanket, amassing clouds thicker and thicker. The summer coverlet we had stepped upon in the beginning of our hike had now turned into the thickest, winter down comforter. Dark, navy hills were visible between drifts of fog, covered by geometric puzzles of white snow drifts: white snow against navy trees against grey sky.
Higher and higher, we reached our impossible summit. At this height, tiny crystals of ice joined together in solidarity. Together, they coated the earth in its constant rise and fall, becoming the softest of blankets. We took off our snow shoes and in an act of great trust, we fell back, eyes closed, into their embrace. We left the marks of our bodies behind with the knowledge that the mountain is the softest of beds. Witness to the dazzling snow, we felt galaxies away.
As we made our way down hill towards our snowbound cabin, which was buried under soft drifts of white, frozen footprints were there to guide us weary travelers. Soon, the soft, warm light inside reassured us against the coming bite of the night.
The next morning, we woke to an ethereal sun, a reminder of the freshness of every day. This sun was new. It shone on and through the ice crystals clinging to pine branches as if it never has before. The sun illuminated the snow on the trees and cast infinite rainbows onto the ground. A new day, dazzling. A different world dawned after a midnight snow storm. Trees received new coats, appearing bulkier than they did the day before. The ice was merciless but it hid beneath all this new snow. We will always forget it is there until we remember. The shadows of the branches on every snow drift remind us that we can always see things in multiple lights. If we walk around the other side of the tree, it looks different; it shines in its own way. We walk ed out into this new world, as it sparkles, and stretched our legs, renewed.