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Retreat to the Trees

April 13, 2014
Walnut St. members share stories in the quarterly newsletter that we send to lenders and friends of the house.  The Joel adventure to Opal Creek Wilderness is to good not to share. Enjoy! 
It can be easy at times to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the modern day working-person’s routine, and forget to “stop and smell the roses”. I am particularly susceptible to this pitfall if I don’t stay mindful of it, and I fell into this proverbial pit recently. Between my regular full-time job, my part-time volunteer position on a board of directors, chores for the co-op, and my personal “to-do” list, I got caught up in worrying about all of my responsibilities and the things that were hanging over my head. I finally realized that I was carrying around all this baggage all the time, and fretting myself into a tither. Then I did the best possible thing I could do for myself in such a situation – I got the hell out of dodge and went camping. 

As soon as I hit the road, I could feel myself begin to relax, knowing that for two days I had no obligations and was the master of my own short-term destiny.  It was a good feeling.  I struck out for Salem to meet up with my girlfriend and the two of us headed east toward the Western Cascades area and ended up on the Santiam River, in a small campground where we found a secluded site to set up.  It didn’t take long to realize the joy of getting away from the sounds of the city – traffic and trains, leaf-blowers, sirens, and things of that sort.  It was a gorgeous weekend to be in the great outdoors – sunny and warm by day, with nary a cloud in sight.  The nights were cold, partially due to the chilly breeze coming off of the river, but some thermal under layers and a campfire kept the shivers at bay.  It also never ceases to amaze me how vibrant the night sky is without light pollution.  Between the stars above and the gentle tumbling of the river’s water over rocks and earth, I was in complete bliss.  I could already feel my tension melting away.  Needless to say I slept well. 
Joel2 After a lazy morning and a good breakfast we struck out for a hike that followed the river.  We ambled down the trail, taking photos along the way and finding ourselves constantly in awe of the majesty of the sights around us.  There were tall, broad trees dressed in long lichens, huge fallen giants that had become nurse logs for new trees, fungi, and plenty of birds who mostly stayed out of view but serenaded us and each other with song.  And of course there was the river. At points it ambled along beside us and opened into large, slow pools and eddies that would be perfect for jumping into in hotter weather. At other times it churned over round rocks and through rocky spires and around boulders. Every now and again the trail would wind away from the river only to climb up and over a tall hill, where we would meekly approach the edge of a cliff to get the full panoramic view that splayed out before us.  This was Oregon in its full splendor.   

Whether it was our relaxed pace or just the nature of the route with its hilly sections, our 4.1 mile hike took longer than expected, and thesun was beginning to near the top of the far hills when we got to the far end of the trail.  Being a linear trail and not a loop, we were simply to turn around and do the route again in reverse.  As much as I enjoy a good loop trail, it is also fun to redo a hike in the opposite direction, perhaps for the sake of perspective.  However, given our shortage of sunlight, we pretty much power marched the way back.  It was a fun counterpart to the meandering beginning.  The last of the daylight left us with about 2 miles left to hike, and we finished our trek by the grace of LED lights.  After returning to camp we celebrated with homemade soup and biscuits, and of course the celebratory beers and chocolate.  And while I’d slept well the previous night, there is nothing like the sleep that comes after pure physical exhaustion. 
The next day we packed up camp and moved on down the road to the Henline Falls trail and hiked in to admire the synergy between water and gravity and its power to move mountains – or at least carve canyons into them.  We then found a trail that split off and went just about straight up the hill, so we decided that such a trail must certainly lead to a fantastic viewpoint and that wemust explore it.  Sure enough there was a rocky outcrop and epic viewpoint that served perfectly for a lunch spot and photo opportunity.  It really is the closest to getting a bird’s eye view without leaving the ground.  After we’d had our fill of food and view we carefully picked our way back down to the main trail.  We said goodbye to our adventure and began the tired, relaxed, endorphin-filled drive back through the wooded road and returned to civilization.  It felt like a victory lap after a winning race.  Some times when you find yourself wound up and stressed out, it is good to take a step back – or even get away for a bit – and do something you love.  This is something that I seem to have to rediscover every now and again.

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