Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Wraith


When I have visitors, I like to take them on mountain hikes because that's my favorite thing to do, and so I'm pretty sure it's their favorite thing too, even if they don't realize it at first. These are five-star humdinger hikes, with meadows and hummingbirds and paisley drifts of wildflowers in every color and vistas of volcanoes on the horizon and a scatter of beeping pikas and, theoretically, maybe even a fat furry marmot: every component, in other words, of true happiness. And the hikes are mostly flat, too, except for being inclined at a sharp angle. Remarkably, several decades'-worth of visitors have--independently of each other--referred to my hikes as "death marches." I'm sure it's meant affectionately.

When Linda and Walter came for a vacation actually devoted to hiking, I made sure to front-load the event with my very favorites, figuring they would be left breathless by, probably, the beauty. And then we went to hike on the coast, where a surprising portion of the beauty is at sea level.

Everyone loves the ocean. People in the personal ads always say they like long walks along the beach. No one ever mentions death marches. Walter and Linda were thrilled. The waves roll in and out and people stand before them mesmerized, as though they are watching infinity in a frame, and are somehow comforted by that.

I'm not. It creeps me out. The ocean is just fine from a distance, like a hundred miles, but up close it's all drowny. There's nothing but water out there and most of it is over my head. There's teeth and tentacles and stingers and slithering and darkness and death. It reminds me of the very dwindlety of life, crushed under time, the waves inexorable, doom, doom, doom, and some day one of them is going to take me out. Somewhere out there is my wave, getting a suggestion from the moon and a spin from the rearing continental shelf and beginning to crank my way. I can't look.

But there are distractions. The cliffs are a frozen snapshot of lava hitting the sea. Birds coat the sea stacks. Every tidal puddle is its own neighborhood. We tread the sand for hours and nobody gets even close to dead. I begin to relax.

"What's that?" Walter asks, pointing at the shoreline.

I raise my binoculars. It's a murre, and it's all wrong. Murres shouldn't be standing at the shoreline all by themselves. Murres should be diving for fishes and flying in bunches and jamming the tops of sea stacks and pooping on rocks. Murres definitely shouldn't be shuffling their feet and letting me walk up close enough to take a picture.

My murre is dragging a wing and has a major gash on her breast. My murre is going to die soon. I long to wrap her up in a fleece and drive her all the way back to the mountain and leave her in the custody of a kindly marmot with a well-stocked larder and a dab of mercurochrome. But I turn to leave. I got the message, friend murre. It's all teeth and tentacles and darkness and doom out there.

34 comments:

  1. These are five-star humdinger hikes, with meadows and hummingbirds and paisley drifts of wildflowers in every color and vistas of volcanoes on the horizon and a scatter of beeping pikas and, theoretically, maybe even a fat furry marmot: every component, in other words, of true happiness. And the hikes are mostly flat, too, except for being inclined at a sharp angle.

    I'm reporting you to the UN for human-rights abuses. If God had meant people to go outside, He wouldn't have given us houses and air conditioners.

    Don't worry too much about all those nasty alien life forms in the ocean. Give it a few more decades, and pollution will exterminate them all. I'd still stay right away from it, though. On a bad day those continental shelves can give the waves some pretty strong suggestions.

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    1. I THINK what you're saying is you'd like me to take you on a hike, right?

      Oh man, those tsunami videos give me the willies.

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  2. In your second picture is that Jefferson faintly seen on the horizon? Looks like a view looking south from up on Hood's foothills.
    Were I to swim, god forbid, in the Pacific I might feel the same, but I've always wanted to do the fabled 'milk run' to Hawaii, on to Tahiti and then up as far as the coast of Thailand. A dream deferred, now just a dream.
    Ever been down south past Bandon, Port Orchard to Brookings? It's a lovely area too.

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    1. That would probably be Adams, St. Helens, or Rainier. That direction, anyway. I can't see it. My niece recommends the Brookings area highly. I've only driven through it.

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    2. Sorry, but I tend to have time on my hands, and gnaw on a bone past it's prime....are you sure that's looking north? It's up on Hood, right? From Hood looking north there are not a lot of hills betwixt it and the george, then it's flat again for a bit before Adams.....
      Sorry, like I said, too much free time.

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    3. Gnaw away! But I'm sure. I know just where that was taken, and it was facing north. All along there you can see St. Helens, Rainier, and Adams. And there are plenty of foothills both sides of the Columbia. I'll take you there.

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    4. Specifically, this is on the Timberline Trail on Mt. Hood, approximately halfway between Bald Mountain and Cairn Basin.

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  3. I so get the drowny thing. I don't even like the bathtub. Water is evil in amounts greater than what I can drink in one go.

    I'm so sorry about your murre. That is sad.

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    1. We considered wrapping her up and taking her to someone for fixing, but decided it was a lost cause. Julie Zickefoose would have known just what to do.

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    2. not necessarily. I wrote on your FB page. I'm sad for you and for the bird. But some things have to die. I'm thinking it got hit by a propeller. Bad prognosis, Zick or not.

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    3. It didn't look good. And I have it on reasonable authority that all things have to die. I can be philosophical about it, but I do turn away sometimes.

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  4. I am not with you on the drowny thing. Love the water and don't see enough of it.
    Ache for the Murre. And our inability to help.
    And would probably be nearly brave enough to sign up for one of your death marches if I was in the neighbourhood. Mind you, given my walking, it would be a slow march. A dirge?

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    1. Another word for the slow march would be Birdwatching! I could take you to the coast and sit quietly inland while you brave the elements.

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    2. Can I join you? I love the high country and the shore, but I have a knee which likes to differ.

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  5. Awwww. I mean it not like you see bleeding pikas or marmots anywhere.

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    1. Have you ever noticed how seldom you see dead things? The scavengers are very efficient.

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  6. I like going on hikes,...well, I do take a camera so there are MANY stops to take a picture of flowers, trees, bugs, snakes, just about everything. I went on a hike once which said to "allow an hour" and 4 hours later zi returned to my vehicle. I am not hiking for speed!!
    You made me cry about the murre. I would have wrapped him up and rushed to the nearest rescue place, vet or emergency room!

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    1. I still wonder if we shouldn't have tried. It would have meant a mile walk and a long car trip and...and...and...still.

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    2. For what it's worth, unless you had a wildlife rescue facility in mind to take the murre to, it was likely better to do what you did. I took a small wild bird with a damaged foot to our vet one time. He said there wasn't anything he could do and it was better to just leave it in the wild and let nature take its course. This is many years ago and my memory is only good for certain things these days, but I thought he also said it's illegal to have wildlife in your possession (maybe only in my province?). So there I was breaking the law AND scaring the bejeebers out of the poor bird (who was probably about to have a heart attack). We placed it back where we had found it, and within the hour it was gone. I like to think it survived with one good foot. I also like to think that if your murre wouldn't have survived, at least you left her in peace for her last hours.

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    3. It's worth a lot. We decided we'd probably make the bird suffer more by attempting to get it out of there. This photo was zoomed in a lot, but even at our distance we were disturbing her.

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  7. Would love to go on one of your hikes, Murr. Sad abut the murre. And I'm always up for birdwatching.

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  8. "the dwindlety of life" Now there's a catch phrase! It describes it perfectly. I love flat hikes with plenty of birds, pika, and marmots. An ocean alongside would be extra credit.

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    1. If only pikas and marmots lived on the beach, we'd have that flat hike for you.

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  9. I hope the poor Murre wasn't a victim of something man made, plastic waste of some kind or fishing net. And perhaps it didn't die?
    I love the ocean, seen from a clifftop with waves crashing on to rocks below, or seen from the beach with waves lapping in and out with the tide. It's all wonderful.
    I'll make a note to have a rescue team standing by in case I ever visit you and get talked into one of your death marches.

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  10. Where is the "like" button if you need it? You know that English is not my first language but I love "drowny" and think that I can get the joke which is not always the case when I read your posts.

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    1. No "like" button for you! You have to tell me in your very best English. Sorry if I'm not always clear--you might have noticed that I like to use English words that might not exactly be in the dictionary.

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  11. A hike with you is definitely a, well, mail carrier's holiday.

    "Drowny" is a good one, but I particularly like "dwindlety."

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    1. Are most of the sad words D words? Maybe.

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  12. Oh yes, letting the poor bird die on the beach was the kindest act. Murres prefer to be outside, right Murr?

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    1. Well MOSTLY. I guess I could have wrapped her up and slotted her in a recliner with a cookie and that might have been okay too.

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  13. Murre, if you don't want to die outside, why do you go on death marches? Sad end to your post, but reality has it's sad bits, and your posts are always real.

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  14. I force the hummingbirds and humming-other-things to come to me. Praying mantis seem to be fairly quiet, so we get along just fine.

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