Every rock I could see was under the influence of water. I stood almost blinded by the animation, knowing that even when the place went dry I would be able to see it, the rocks and canyons as scrolled and driven as floodwater itself. I could only bow my head to this. This is the way things are. Always. Water flowing.Craig Childs in The Secret Knowledge of Water
Yesterday morning I woke up as I alway do and peered out the window between the blinds to check the smoke, hoping for a clear day to go hiking. The sky was hazy, as it has been for several weeks now, the mountains completely obscured by smoke, but something was different. The ground was wet. It had rained. I flipped on the light switch, but no light came on. The power was out.
This backpacker is undaunted by such situations. I carried my little MSR stove out to a table on the deck and heated up water for my morning tea. The steady hiss of the stove reminded me of hundreds of similar mornings in camp, making my tea, savoring it in my favorite green cup that has accompanied me on every backpacking trip for over fifty years. The nostalgia of the moment was overwhelming. I wanted to go hiking. I did.
Along with Lulu, my standard poodle who accompanies me on most of my hikes, I drove to the trailhead at Sherman Pass, my intent being to hike to the top of Columbia Mountain, the site of an old lookout. The trail takes off from the Kettle Crest Trail and circles the mountain, a nice loop about eight miles in length.
But somehow I managed to miss the trail junction, a great mystery, for it is quite obvious and even has a sign. I had my head down, no doubt watching the trail, but then again my head has been down a great deal this summer. I spent the first half of it nursing a hamstring injury that kept me from hiking at all. When at last I was able to get back out on the trail, the fires began, and the air has been heavy with smoke ever since. In early July we experienced a heat wave with temperatures soaring above one hundred degrees for several days in a row.
When I realized I had missed the trail junction I also realized I did not much care. I continued north on the Kettle Crest Trail. The west facing slope of the mountains is more heavily forested than the pine forest near our home. The moisture from the night’s rain clung to the Douglas fir branches, and it felt like a gift. . .water and even a few small puddles on the trail.
Many of you will have heard the term trail magic. It is hard to define. The term refers to the magical way in which the experience of being on a trail can shape our lives in unexpected ways. It is as close as I come to God, providing direction, easing the aching heart, teaching me things I would not have learned in any other way. The magic that day was in the water. It felt strangely unfamiliar. Even the puddles were a cause for celebration.
The way was an easy one with little climbing. Gradually we made our way to Jungle Hill on the east side of the ridge. Lulu and I both drank deeply from the spring. I had a new relationship to water. It would never again seem ordinary. I wanted to carry it with me, to cherish that spring forever. Trail magic had worked its wonders.
Sadly the same storm that had brought puddles to the Kettle Crest Trail also created lightning strikes that sparked dozens of new fires. We learned the next day that fires near Bonaparte Mountain had resulted in trail and road closures and thickened the blue smoke. Campers had been evacuated from Lost Lake. My husband and I watched as single engined air tankers scooped water from Curlew Lake below our home and carried it west.
Yes water. It falls from the sky. . .from clouds and from airplanes. Here on this dry side of the Evergreen State it is always in short supply, so we capture it from rivers and irrigate the farmland and generate power. The real issue is that it always seems to be in the wrong places, too much or too little. If you are in Germany right now you would most likely place yourself in the “too much” category.
Water is present even when we cannot see it, as so beautifully described above in the Craig Childs passage. It is suspended in the air we breath. It carves the canyons. It is there as we rush into the world from the womb and as we leave it with a death rattle. We swim in it, drown in it, bathe in it, drink it. It rises as steam from my cup of tea. It overflows the banks of a stream in a small town in Germany and carries the houses away. It ushers forth from the ground in the blast from a geyser. It falls as the lightest snowflakes, pelts us with hail stones. It is gentle. It is furious.
It is so widely present that most of the time we hardly give it a second thought. Our civilization has made it easy to do that. We get water from a faucet. It pours forth with ease from the shower head. It is channelled into irrigation canals and reservoirs. It gets splashed onto our golf courses and lawns to keep them green. And now it is being unloaded from the belly of an air tanker on the burning forest near my home. I am grateful that planes can do this thing, pour water on fires. I am more grateful still for that sweet elixir. Drink deeply.