I thought the biggest drama of a trip to Bend would be the fact that I haven’t taken an overnight trip in 19 months (the nerve-wracking funeral travel last summer just doesn’t count). In that time I haven’t traveled more than 100 miles from Portland, haven’t worn street clothes more than one day in a row, haven’t slept away from my own bed, haven’t skipped more than a day of home-cooked meals, haven’t played cards or music elsewhere, or even read a book on someone else’s couch.
But it turns out, the trip itself came easy. Like riding a bicycle, like the pandemic never happened, like it was just another road trip, except with a great big dollop of joie de vivre at getting out, and at seeing family again. I already shared some photos of a few glorious days of sun, warmth, placid beauty, graceful gardens, a lazy river, and a taste of summer as spring was clearly winding down.
While no pandemic-centered surprises occurred – just the classic mind-shift that defines Oregon’s east/west divide – our last day brought up all kinds of drama.
After several days of t-shirt weather, our morning started with a small flurry of hail, then tiny snowflakes, and a continually changing sky – blue to white to pewter to iron-grey, and back. Threatening, and clearly not summer yet. Oregon weather often changes from one moment to the next, even changing from the front yard to the back, and I was reminded of my early impressions of Oregon, how people love to talk about weather, so changeable and often unpredictable.
The air was nippy as we arrived at the Benham Falls Trail along the Deschutes River. I had to bring out layers of clothing I’d planned to leave packed away for the season, as snow pellets occasionally swirled.
This part of the Deschutes is full of geologic drama, past and present. One side of the river is covered with a massive lava flow from an eruption 7,000 years ago. When 100 feet of lava buried the existing river, it eventually forced the water into new paths, forming serpentine curves that wound around the lava obstruction. Water will have its way, always.
In the distance beyond the lava beds, the tips of the Cascades rose, snow shining in the sun even as we walked beneath gray skies.
The force of springtime water flow had its own drama, roaring loud enough to raise voices to be heard. It poured through, over, and around fallen trees and branches, rocky outcrops, careening past twists and turns, and piling up in front of obstructions before spilling over with a crash. I knew the water was bone-achingly cold because of the previous day kayaking on a peaceful stretch upriver, so I skipped the dipping in.
On the return path I tore my eyes from river and lava to the side where we walked, studded with mostly Ponderosa pines, a variety of foliage on the forest floor, plus plant detritus, and deep dust that flies up and covers your legs and gets in your mouth.
The forces of nature have also had dramatic affects on the trees, creating wood sculptures along the path.
Driving back to Portland, those same mountains drew closer and loomed higher. A variety of weather systems converged, rolling over the mountain peaks, competing for which pattern would dominate. The long perspective over the farmlands in Sisters gave a fine view of Mount Bachelor and its surrounding peaks, snow glowing against a backdrop of blue sky. Looking in a different direction, dark sheets of clouds hung heavy with rain, reaching to the ground in vertical stripes connecting sky and earth.
At the Santiam Pass summit the drama stepped up, snow flurries turned steady, flying at the windshield, and collecting on the road’s center line. We descended the western slope of the mountain and the snow turned wet, to showers, to a smattering, to a downpour, to sun, solid clouds, to sprinkles.
Next we came upon a different sort of drama, the burn scars from last summer’s record breaking fires. Started by lightning and driven by high winds, several big fires joined into an even larger conflagration, the Santiam Fire, and in all burned through 400,000 acres in four counties, taking three months to be fully contained. It burned through several towns, took a half dozen lives, and left a swath of stark damage.
The small portion visible from Highway 22 belied the unimaginable miles of destruction in the interior, but what we saw was enough; the devastation of entire mountain slopes, and charred trees strewn helter skelter like matchsticks from roadside to peak. While many conifers still stood straight and tall, the now branchless bark was charcoal. Others leaned askew at various angles, or were snapped off mid-trunk, raw, pale insides exposed and jagged. Some hung over the edge of the road, waiting for removal, and where the more precarious trees had already been cut down, a hillside of stumps perched like tombstones honoring the dead. It was jarring, off-kilter, and just plain heartbreaking to see how easily a world can be destroyed.
Road crews stopped us several times along the way as they cleared the more threatening remains, widowmakers in extremis. The slower pace allowed us to observe the enormous piles of sticks and branches, long, black logs stacked like cords of wood ready for a huge hearth, and mounds of wood chips ranging from light brown to darker black.
In stunning contrast, swaths of new growth blossomed beneath; fresh green ferns, and the splendidly yellow (though invasive) Scotch Broom, a bright homage to the charred remains and a hint of optimism for future healing.
And then we were out, the slopes familiar and soothing again, and our journey turned northward, coming into yet another drama. Huge, thick storm clouds loomed, stretching from sky to ground. I knew we were in for it, unfooled by the blazing sun setting in blue sky just to the west, and a partial rainbow arching upward in the east, its colors intense against leaden skies.
The deluge came suddenly, ten minutes of downpour, buckets of water obscuring the road. Everything and everyone slowed. Each passing semi or SUV sent up a sheet of water that blinded me, and gripping the wheel, I peered ahead to find road markers beyond the windshield. And then just as abruptly, it stopped.
Gratefully, we arrived home to a garden that had grown (dramatically) in our absence. The stand of snow peas had blown sideways and off the trellis by the storm, but still, a bundle of our first peas waited, ready for the picking. Delicious, in a calm way.