Today is a Sunday. Sundays have become “Kirsten Time”… a day in which I don’t make plans with anyone else, turn off my phone for most of the day, ignore Facebook as much as possible and concentrate on the important things… namely hiking, writing and dancing. It’s been a weirdly dry autumn and today was no exception. Bear and I were super pumped to get out into Forest Park while there was a good possibility we would not end up soaking wet. I packed rain gear for us both as well as extra jeans and socks just in case.
The plan originally was to head up NW St. Helens Road past Casa Diablo (vegan strip club… cheers, Portland) and start out at the bottom of Firelane 1. Alas, there is no parking at the trailhead for Firelane 1. We tried leaving the truck in the La Quinta parking lot but I couldn’t handle the possibility that it would get towed, so we headed back and instead drove up Cornell to NW 53rd Drive and started out on the Birch Trail.
But first, I peed behind a tree in a gloriously rust colored glade in front of the parking area.
The Birch Trail was muddy. The downside to hiking in winter. The first 20 minutes I concentrated solely on not falling on my ass and also wrangling Honey Bear away from all the off leash dogs and runners. Eventually the path dried up and there weren’t so many people and I got into the meditative rhythm of the woods.
Our route was a poem: Beech to Wildwood to Wild Cherry to Alder to Dogwood. We spent some time on the Leif Erikson as well, but the trail is as prosaic as its name. Gravel and pavement, mountain bikes whizzing by, cell phone yammerers and grumpy dog owners. We always walk this trail as fast as possible. But the others! Narrow, winding paths through graceful trees, drooping ferns, lush moss hanging everywhere. Up hills and curving around ravines and little chattering streams running under the trail. The winter sun lay on the ground in long strips of shimmershine glow. A patchwork forest of yellow liquid gold, red orange brown autumn decay, cascadia evergreen.
Once, coming down the Alder Trail deep in thought, I looked up to see a tiny wild feral faerie creature – big eyes, silverblack fur, tiny paws. I stopped, entranced. Of course it was just a chihuahua run ahead of his people. But we had a moment.
HB romped and splashed through every mud puddle and creek and tiny waterfall. I said to her, “Look, you know if you do that you’re going to have to take a cold spray shower from the hose in the backyard, and you know you’re going to hate that, so you better stop.” She just gave me a look that said “QUIET, FOOL” and kept romping… but she did stand patiently for her shower when we got home so I think she understood.
The sun was setting as we came back up Wildwood toward the truck. The sweet golden light was gone, the people were gone, and the forest started to feel spooky. I find the woods at night both alluring and terrifying. It’s the old story. The dark, the shining eyes, predators on the hunt, the moon shining, the quiet, a misstep, things unseen. A world apart from human hustle and bustle. The primal fear.
But… what magic happens there without us?
Closer to the parking area we began to pass runners out on their evening fitness routines – yoga pants and tennis shoes and sweat bands. One of them – an absurdly handsome man, Pan-like with curly black hair and pointy ears and brown eyes – smiled invitingly at me as HB flirted with his dog in passing. We passed three young boys running far ahead of their adult supervisors. The had stick swords and were bursting with excitement and freedom. The last of the pack – long black hair, black t-shirt, I would have been friends with him in middle school – asked me to stall the adults behind them as long as possible. I said, I’ll try. The adults looked anxious and didn’t smile when I laughingly told them my instructions. I wanted to go back and play swords with the boys.
We came upon the truck just as the sun disappeared and the cold chill of November nighttime entered the air. Goodnight, forest.