Climbing the Mountain

January 19, 2005

I climbed the Mountain today. It was warm (in the 50’s) and not raining after a cold spell of near freezing all weekend and the heavy rain and winds of the last couple of days. The sky hadn’t decided if it would continue to clear or if the clouds would move in but I took a chance and left my raincoat in the car. Wore a wool sweater, but was comfortable with my windbreaker and beret in my pack. Might need them at the top at least. I hadn’t climbed the mountain in months so I went slowly. In fact, I hadn’t invited anyone else along because I wanted to go my own pace. Check out how my ankle and foot were doing and not feel like I had to push. Still, it was a while before I could let go of that story in my head – why I hadn’t climbed, how I was going to do it more often now and whether my foot would hold out. It wasn’t until after a couple of switchbacks that I relaxed and began to be able to look around me.

It is definitely winter, despite the temperature. The salmonberry stalky without any signs of budding that I can see. There are buds on the alders though and catkins which help to distinguish them from the Cascara sagrada. It was only a year or so ago that Tom and I realized that many of what we had thought alder on the mountain trail were actually cascara . The bark and the kinds of fungus growing on the two are amazingly similar as well as the shape and way they grow. The catkins are the giveaway sign today. When the leaves come out they are different if you look closely.

I stop at the bench and muse for a while about the view there out to Cartm and the Bay, thinking about the development visions dancing in my head and how I might draw them.

Not much blooming alongside the path. Though the remnants of the last cow parsnips, grown precipitously in a warm spell in September look like large yellow blossoms from a distance, a surprise for a minute when I first see them as I come around a corner. The good view to the southeast (what I always think of as the drawing corner) shows the high water results of the last couple of days. The dairy fields look to be underwater and there is a lot of water at Alder Creek Farm, though the tide doesn’t seem all that high up on the ocean beach. Gosh! I love that vista.

I think about the Fawn Lilies when I get to their corner but we won’t see them until at least March. It’s also the wild crabapple corner but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen their subtle blossoms. The red huckleberry look skeletal without leaf or berry. Though, of course, the salal is green and strong as always.

I can’t find the Devil’s Club at the first of its switchbacks – it always fools me there this time of year. So I wonder if I’m at the right corner or if the large hemlock branch fallen a year ago hasn’t finally done it in. It doesn’t go back to just underground in the winter does it? In fact, I don’t see it until the way down and then I wonder how I’d missed it. Maybe the light had shifted a little. It is obvious at the second corner going up though and I even find it at the shrine. Such an amazing plant. I always feel awe towards its spikey stalks – so untouchable – and the, so far, unnamable power I feel from it. I stand for a bit feeling its essence seep into my stomach which seems to welcome it. And as always think about its affinity for diabetes and send a little towards Chuck and Mark and Kathleen.

The winter bareness is wonderful for seeing the shape of the mountain. Despite the steady upward pull of the trail’s zig zags I sometimes forget the lay of the land around me the rest of the year when everything is green and full – how sharply it falls away beside the trail on one side and how far I can see amongst the bare trunks angling up.

After a salute and thank you to the Grandmother Sitka Spruce, I turn off towards the top to visit the Oregon Grape patch I discovered a few years ago. Mahonia nervosa – spread out there like it was planted. The conditions of sunlight and slope just right. It grows so slowly, its spread isn’t very far. Or is that because the big trees shade it on either side? I move gently through to sit in the middle for a minute. Pay homage. Express my gratitude for its help keeping me in true. I haven’t brought my digging fork today for my ever hopeful transplanting project. Seems like it ought to like growing in my yard at the bottom of the mountain, but I haven’t managed it yet. I drink half my water and leave a little as a libation for this most sacred plant for me.

The ground is soon wet on my bottom and the slope steep for my tired ankle when I try to crouch. But instead of heading back to the path as usual I head straight upward through the bushes. I probably can’t do this in the summer – or wouldn’t dare. The salmonberry thickets would be prohibitive. But I find a couple of nice mossy flat places and soon as I crest the ridge I can see the back road coming up as I thought I would. It isn’t hard to make my way back down to it though I have to slither on my bottom holding onto a small tree and jump a little to land on the road. If I’d headed to the right a little further I would have been able to do it more easily. Maybe I’ll remember that another time.

I walk up the road. It’s not my usual approach to the shrine but it gives me a chance to think about hauling that rock up here the first time. Skye and Doug who carried it that last stretch feel very present to me for a minute. I come first to the guardian trees this way. I approach the twinned trees, covered in moss and rising in a V. When I look though them I see the shrine tucked at the base of its Sitka spruce. What a special view of it I have – all misty with the moist air, droplets hanging from every needle and the sun thinking about pouring through but not quite doing it. It’s a gentle wash of light rather than the spectacular heavenly cathedral touch like God shining through. Lovely rather than awesome. I think of showing it to Tom – getting him to bring his camera and surprising him. But really I wish I had one with me because next time the light might not be so perfect.

I go around the Guardians and stand on the other side, my head just brushed by a damp hemlock branch. I speak to the rock – tell it a little of my visions of the morning. When I go to stand in front of it I thank the Directions. The East of visions and bird omens (though I have neither seen nor heard birds this morning for some reason). The South for the heart and love I feel all around me. The West for the dreamers – Bear and the deep diving cetaceans. The North for the stories that are coming through. I dance a little and do an improvised chant, uninhibited on this quiet Wednesday morning.

Coming down I begin to feel chilly for the first time. The wind whips around corners exposed to the southwest. I put my hat on and then the parka. My ankle reminds me of its efforts. I remind it that it is getting strengthened though. And I think about coming up more often, perhaps inviting others to come with me. Pass a section just past the last Devil’s Club where it looked like mountain beaver must be living. The holes in the uphill slope are large. I don’t see the characteristic ferns drawn up to the opening for munching, but I couldn’t think who else would make such large holes. At one point I reach out to affectionately fondle a Sitka spruce branch as I duck under. Ouch! Bad idea. A couple of English daisies (what I always called asters until Vivi corrected me not long ago) greet me at the bottom of the trail. They were blooming yesterday in my yard too. I hadn’t noticed them heading out – didn’t realize they’d be the only ones I’d see.

Back to my car. The only other people I saw were a young couple coming up just before the bench. Strangers, they ask me how the mountain was up there. “Heavenly, as always,” I say, not able to resist a little smugness at my long familiarity with the trail and thinking how they probably won’t discover the shrine but will go all the way to the top. I didn’t think I should push my luck or my feet today by going that high.

Off to have soup at Lucy’s. I’d long ago heard the noon whistle. Have a satisfyingly substantive chat with her sitting on the porch – my parka off again. There we saw little birds – chickadees? – whizzing past in a swarm. Twice. Three times startling us a little as we watch them enjoy the richness of her plantings there. We talk about the hellebore she’d moved there admiring its quiet winter blooming – subtle green blossoms like little caps. “Isn’t that a magic plant?” I ask. Must remember to look it up. She’s going to buy a new one for the entrance corner. Has one on hold for her at Raintree.