Winter into spring

While the rest of the country suffers through massive winter storms, we've been lucky here in Sisters country. Except for a cold snap in early January our winter has been mild, with some sunshine present almost every day. But yesterday our walk took us into the heart of a weather war.

Walking east along the long asphalt path that edges the route to McKenzie Pass we looked right to see nothing but whiteout conditions. All was hidden but the storm, from which buffeting winds carried thick snow that melted as it struck. A pale sun worked hard to break through but the storm prevailed.

On our left was a wide expanse of azure blue sky and bright sunlit patches brightening the forest floor. Our path was apparently the dividing line between winter and spring, and though the battle shifted throughout our hour-long walk, winter eventually prevailed.

This morning's walk was different. A light dusting of snow was already melting on the black asphalt and the sun shone from ear to ear except where trees lined the path and cast their morning shadows. These were filled with a thin layer of frozen snow. Some were so perfectly outlined it felt like sacrilege to trod on them, but trod I did.

And I felt a bit guilty. So easily do we cast aside these gifts of nature, like wondrous blinking signs reminding us over and over to pay attention, get out of our heads, and stay mindful. And nature is close here; I have no excuse.

The weather yesterday reminded me of a favorite poem by Nikki Giovanni. I can't improve on her words so I'll leave you with it.

Winter Poem

once a snowflake fell
on my brow and i loved 
it so much and i kissed 
it and it was happy and called its cousins
and brothers and a web
of snow engulfed me then
i reached to love them all
and i squeezed them and they became
a spring rain and i stood perfectly
still and was a flower

Walks 'n rides

An old photo of McKenzie Pass view (5,325 feet). It hasn't changed much.

A friend in Denmark wondered if I was finding good places to walk. Those of you who've been reading this for a few years know that I try to walk three miles every morning, or at least six days a week. I started this habit when we lived in France, where a narrow country road passed a few feet from our door and wandered uphill past vineyards and fodder fields to another tiny village. From there I could continue uphill, which I sometimes did, or turn back toward home.

The road back was a bit wider but there was seldom traffic, a tractor maybe, a few cyclists, a lost tourist, the bread lady. This track edged similar fields. About a quarter mile from home I turned onto the main road where, again, traffic was negligible. There were often horses to visit with along this stretch and in summer, colts. To describe it as bucolic is accurate but that word doesn't acknowledge the abundant wildflowers, the friendly waves, the smelly sheep, or the rugged mountains that surrounded our little valley.

As you might imagine I missed that experience whenever we left, and after we sold the house and returned to the U.S. I was pretty sure I'd lost those peaceful walks forever. Fortunately, I was wrong. Sisters is small and rural and though my walk here lacks old-world charm and has a little more traffic, it makes up for it with grandiose scenery and plenty of tall, red ponderosa pines.

The first half of my walk takes me past fields of those pines, some of them huge and humbling. I often say hello. The Three Sisters, volcanic peaks a little over 10,000 feet high, are behind me most of the way but when I turn my head to look, or turn right at the end of the longest stretch, there they are, dominating the landscape, impossible to miss or resist.

That longest stretch is also state highway 242, which travels through U.S. forest land and crosses McKenzie pass about 15 miles out of town. Since the pass is closed due to snow about nine months of the year there's little-to-no traffic. Once it opens to autos (next week) tourists will be heading up, because the views of spreading lava and towering peaks are spectacular.

This route is a popular bicycling challenge (I'm often passed by cyclists) and in fact Ray rode to the top (14.1 miles, a 2,231 foot climb, part of it a 7.7% grade) a few days ago, soon after the road was plowed from the gate to the top of the pass. The roadside snow towered over him and a Bulletin photographer snapped his photo. If I can get a copy I'll post it. The opening of the pass is a big deal for cyclists and tourists. We've known it to stay closed into July.

Back to my walk: After I turn right and greet the mountains I go one short block and turn left and touch the edge of town before turning back along a different, more commercial route. It's not bucolic or even beautiful but there are still those trees, and this is a short stretch. Soon I'm back onto quiet neighborhood paths and then home again.

It isn't rural France, which will always be my standard, but it's pretty darn good. So your answer, Annette, is "Yes!"


A friend in England wrote to say that after reading my review (5/6/12) she borrowed Half the Sky from the library and is reading it now ("emotionally exhausting," she said, and I have to agree). Several others have promised to read it too, and this makes me happy. Yes, it is a tough book. But if those women can live it, you can read it.