Saturday, December 30, 2006

Am I Lucky, or What?

Today was a typical, but overwhelmingly wonderful, day. We set off on a standard, average walk with our dogs. But in this part of the world, standard and average means the most remarkable scenery coupled with solitude and tranquility.

We put our two dogs in the car and headed for one of the many nearby picturesque mountain lakes we have to choose from. Lucky, right? A ten minute drive and we're there. We helped our old guy out of the car, put leashes on both and set off down the trail. The old one walked about fifty yards or so through the woods, smelling the air and the leaves and sticks, peeing on a few rocks and enjoying looking around. He tired out pretty quickly, but kept going strong until we could tell it would be difficult for him to make it back, so we turned him around and guided him back to the car for nap while we took the younger dog for a frolic along the lake. Pretty average so far, wouldn't you agree?

Except that the lake is a huge, glacier-formed beauty surrounded by pine-covered hills, which lead to craggy mountains capped with snow and ice. The only human on the water today was a single, quiet, surface-skimming kayaker. No speedboats, no jet skis, no noise. The trail is situated between the lake and a mountain of sandstone boulders on top of rock on top of more layers of sandstone all covered with a dense forest of Western red cedar, pine, alder and maple. Waves of sword ferns cascade down the mountain, bright green against the darker green cedar. Even more green explodes before us as furry moss climbs the hill, blanketing limbs, blanketing tree trunks, blanketing rocks.

Walking down the trail, we heard water flowing fast down the mountain, and held our breath in anticipation. And just a few steps later, there it was: a picture book waterfall, a "next to the word waterfall in the dictionary" waterfall. Not real wide at the top where it starts falling in white foam, then it hits a pool and rests before it falls another fifty feet or so, where it ends in a bubbly little creek, strewn with rocks, limbs, boulders, that slow down the flow a bit but it won't be stopped because of gravity and force and so much water melting, draining from the glacier source a distant mountain away it comes down, down, down, settles and turns under the wooden bridge and out to the lake.

And I'm standing on the bridge, lost in my thoughts, watching the water flow, listening to the rush, while he is throwing sticks out into the lake for the young energetic dog to swim out, scoop up, and bring back, over and over. And all is lovely in my world today.

But there's more. Another waterfall and then another. Three waterfalls, the lake, the mountains, the trees, the boulders. Someone has stacked three or four groups of rocks on the shore, perfectly, precariously balanced. Our pup runs around them, picking her way carefully without disturbing a single one. We let her run, swim, jump, while we walk for a few miles altogether.

Then the tummies start rumbling and the idea of pizza and beer is too irresistible for words. Off to a favorite spot on the side of the road that leads to the big mountain, twenty or thirty minutes away; this is farther than we usually drive, so it's a rare treat. As I'm riding, I'm looking out the window and I see something large and black flying along the river. I watch the bald eagle fly with us for about a half mile, casing the riverbank for salmon carcasses. He's in for a treat, too. But he looks so much more elegant in his pursuit.

He doesn't know the joy of hand-brewed beer, though, and there is nothing better to top this day off than the IPA we slurped and swallowed. It is worth walking thirty miles for, if necessary. I have been on summer hikes when only the idea of this IPA sustained us. And the pizza? Divine.

Yet I think of millions of people on the planet, living in squalor, living in slums, in cities far too over-crowded, never able to escape their surroundings for a day, an hour. Millions of people who will never see a waterfall like I saw today. Never see the lake, the mountains, the moss that I wanted to etch onto my memory because it is all so unbelievable beautiful. Who will never know the joy of walking along a lake trail on an average, normal day and see the beauty I saw today. And I know I am lucky. So fortunate to have been born in this country, with this skin and the privilege that comes with it. I'm lucky and I don't know what to do with it except to try to appreciate and to protect what comes my way.

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