I went to Oregon to write with Kate Gray, poet and novelist, and 15 other women. Our home for the retreat sat nestled in the Columbia River Gorge amidst pear and cherry orchards. Mount Adams stood snowy sentry to the north, Mount Hood its partner to the south. Swallows, red tail hawks, osprey, and eagles mesmerized us as they sailed and soared past the two-story picture window.
We wrote to evocative prompts in morning, afternoon, and evening sessions. We laughed. We cried. And we produced some pretty damn good work.
On Friday, the almost omnipresent clouds cleared to reveal the tops of both Cascades peaks; I bounced from the front door to the back window like a ping-pong ball, as if trying to etch them each into my mind before they disappeared again. Mount Hood, rising 11,205, last erupted in 1907, creating the rich soil in which the fruit trees thrived. Mount Adams, at 12,280 feet, is the largest active volcano in the state of Washington. It last spewed in 550 BC.
Kate arranged a hiking outing in lieu of the afternoon session to take advantage of the rare appearance of this elusive glowing orb in the sky. It would allow us all to stretch our legs and expand our minds.
We drove through Mosier to Rowena Crest, where the panoramic views of the glacier-carved gorge took my breath away. I set out on my own, opting for a 2.5-mile (instead of a 7-mile) trail. Silky ground squirrels stood at attention on their hind legs, like prairie dogs, to watch me wade through a newly blossomed swath of yellow, white, and purple wildflowers on the narrow path that led to the edge of the plateau. The very edge, with no barrier or guardrail. I perched cautiously on a rock outcropping, overlooking the Columbia River below. Mount Adams presided over the panorama in the distance. Hawks glided to and fro below scouting prey. Iridescent swallows weaved and bobbed, the sun making their color dance as they did.
I had to drink it in slowly because the vista was almost too much to ingest all at once. Like a sundae that you just want to dive into, but know will be so much better if you savor it slowly.
The glacier had sliced cliffs with precipitous drop-offs on my side. The landscape across the river rolled and lolled in undulating hills just past the train tracks that hugged the bank. From where I sat, the orange engines and the long lines of interlocking cars that they pulled looked very much like the Lionel trains my dad had bought me as a child. In the river I espied a windsurfer (Hood River attracts aficionados) and a riverboat. Islands that dot the river served as sacred burial grounds for the indigenous Native Americans.
Just below me, the glacier had created a narrow crevasse, as green and lush as rainforest. The three grouse I watched waddle over a field in the warmth of the sun looked like three women on their way to market.
I closed my eyes despite an irrational fear that if I did I’d spontaneously fall over into the abyss (yup, I was that close). When I opened them again I felt that the grandeur of the landscape had opened me up – I breathed more deeply and lifted my face up to let the wind get closer. And I could not remember a single thing I’d been fretting about before I’d come to explore this idyllic corner of the Pacific Northwest.
Photos by Diane Lowman