We set off under a thin winter sun, the palest of yellows. We traveled through rain and then snowfall. Oh the charms of Ecola State Park on a cold winter’s day, in our own Clatsop County, in the Coastal Range just north of Cannon Beach.
Capt. William Clark and Sacagawea and a small party of soldiers traveled over these same hills, only to marvel at the voluminous quantity of the Pacific Ocean. And the Native Americans, the First Peoples, lived just below, along the surf-torn beaches, under the grandfather trees and their dense spreading limbs. There were no roads, and the trails likely belonged to deer and elk.
The Corps of Discovery came to see a beached whale. Sacagawea begged an invitation. The tale she might tell back on the Great Plains to her people, the Shoshone — the marvel of it all! She wondered if she would be believed. She continued to insist she had earned her way, a long way from the tall-grass plains that lay beyond the shining mountains, the Rockies. She wanted to see that big fish. But the whale had been butchered by the Tillamook, and she could only marvel at the skeletal remains of the leviathan.
My wife, Laurie, and I and two friends from Eugene trek up the forest trail. It’s winter and cold, though the exertion of the uphill hike warms the body and focuses the mind. Our senses feel empowered as we move up Indian Beach Trail, as we fold like earth creatures into the lush green forest.
Magnificent Sitka spruce and hemlock dominate our walk. The sword ferns are thick. A stiff wind tousles the fronds. The purple-berried Salal bushes champion the rugged landscape. The berries sustained the North Coast natives during the long, wet winters when the salmon disappeared from the rivers, when game was scarce as gold and the First Peoples ate small cakes composed of the mealy berry, smoked fish and eulachan grease.
Undergrowth haunts the buck and roll of these evergreen forests and somehow calls to us, seekers in the verdant groves. Downhill, a winter stream sings out its gurgling vocals as the currents wash the veined granite stones, rounder and smoother each year until they form fine-honed pebbles, then pea-gravel. All gathers in the washouts and backwaters of the freshet. Here is a visual merry-go-round of swirling water and flotsam. Here the winter rains drop with a hard, wet sound, punctuating our heavy breathing. The forest gathers the raindrops, smothers our conversations and leaves us branded by its opulent, copious singsong.
We continue our jaunt uphill until the land flattens and the rains slow. And a flutter of snow begins to swirl about us, silently, as stealthily as forgotten dreams, those belonging to the ancients who lived in the majesty of this country, or the more recent bodies that still marvel when they can gape at the wonders of an old-growth forest.
The hike is about five miles, and it dips and rises like the hills themselves. Near the top is a small compound of Adirondack-style log houses, available to travelers by the park service. And a quarter mile farther, the trail springs precariously out and over the Pacific Ocean, which seems to be waiting for us like an ominous liberating crusader. We continue along the loop that circles back to the day-use area just above Indian Beach.
And, just as suddenly, the sun breaks through cumulus, and the waves are top-lit, and the brilliant combs on the surf-tops seem illuminated by a virgin white mantel that drapes onto the gravel and sandy beaches, or extends, as far as our gazes spread, westerly, toward the far horizon. We stand in awe.
How lucky we are on such a winter’s day, alone with the best of friends in what remains a paradise of forest and ocean and dreams to come. Visions of rain and snow and the fortunes of the blessed, standing spellbound above the Oregon beaches, our eyes wide open, and so close to home.