I like rain. There is sublime joy from walking in it. Unique is the passion play between warm, fragrant earth as it opens to receive the powerful spring rainstorm. To me it sounds like homemade Fajitas with peppers, onions and fresh spices sizzling in a cast iron frying pan. There is however, a particular kind rain at the Oregon coast, specifically in Newport Oregon, when wind and rain combine, such that, within a half a mile of the coast that it will rain in a curious sideways fashion. As if the world had been tilted ninety degrees. This horizontal rain has its own beauty, but after three straight days of it, I too was ready for some change. It was, after all, the second week of June. Nearly summer. I was jittery. Jumpy. Though not a coffee drinker, which I know in Oregon, is just plain wrong, but nevertheless, it was like I was on my fifth double mochaccino. Whatever that is. I needed to get out of the house and fast!
Backing out of the driveway I see the sun is just starting to break through the clouds and in the distance I see a double rainbow. Commonplace here at the coast, but no less unique and beautiful. Left at the end of the block takes me to Walmart and right takes me across the Yaquina Bay bridge. Walmart is the safe bet. Indoors. I can get in a decent walk and grab some milk or orange juice, or something, anything, so they don’t look at me with that, “what you didn’t buy anything” grimace. I choose right, towards the bridge. At seven am, only the very top of the bridge is visible through the fog. Were it not that I knew this route by heart, the nearly hidden left turn, that even on the brightest of days is more mirage than entrance would be impossible to find. Friends have told me, “this must be some kind’a magical place all right. I had to turn around three times.” Anyone who has driven on Highway 101, knows that by mid May, that the parade of RV’s, makes turning around on Highway 101, an all day affair.
Turning down the gravel road, I laugh at the very small sign that reads, “Nature Area.” I giggle again. I am so close to the Pacific Ocean I could spit in it, but the city of Newport wants me to know I am near a nature area. If they only knew. For this so called nature area is indeed magical. It is one of those few places that if you’er not meant to find it, you just won’t. I know Newport natives that have never heard of it, or have looked for it and never found it. I get reports back like, “nothin’ down that road” or “found the gravel pit” and “ya sure that’s the right road?” Oh it’s the right road, and for me at least, it is exactly what I am looking for. I park my car near the small, pressure treated bench, where I put on my serious old school style heavy hiking boots. Two layers of socks, my arcane bit of lacing and tying, and I am ready. I grab my two most stout walking sticks and my knapsack from the trunk and head down the trail.
The pea gravel sounds like frozen snow as my boots crunch loudly. Knock, knock! Anybody home, they announce. The improved part of the trail goes on for about a half mile ending at a utilitarian, redwood colored bridge made of pressure treated lumber, held together with stainless steel screws and nails. To the left of me, is a solid row of tree sized rhododendrons. Tightly packed together, with their leaves, blooms and branches all interwoven, like one of those English formal gardens that you see on PBS. It’s a nice walk, but, my path today does not lie down manicure lane. The wisdom I seek is to found at the end of much different trail.
About three hundred yards down the gravel trail I turn right in between two medium size aspen trees. The trail winds around a bit and the Aspens and “Rhodies” are replaced with larger and larger pine and cedar trees. Some would call this old growth, but the proper term is mid-growth. Most of the trees here are replants from the early nineteen hundreds. There are a few old ones here, but most if not essentially all of the great ones were felled in the logging boom of the late eighteen hundreds. It is dense in here. Each step I take it grows darker as the canopy blocks out the sunlight and the trail is slick with fresh mud. My heavy soled boots swish and slide, and then slurp as the thick mud only reluctantly lets go. There is wildness here. An unkempt yet uniquely organized amalgamation of green and growing things. Grove-like patches of Chanterelles, Hen-of-the-Woods other fungi become plentiful. Some are quite tasty, but most will kill you before you can say pass the salt please. I arrive at the place I call Sentinel’s Gate. Following my usual ritual, I place both my palms on the heart of the sentinel. His exposed heart beats still, but his mortal wound from the logger’s saw is still raw and rough. My fingers search out the undulating pattern of the many rings and they feel the fear of the painful, jagged horizontal saw cuts that murdered him, from who knows how long ago. 369 rings, last time I counted in 1998. The colony at Plymouth Rock was less than ten years old then. Even trees that most would call old and dead will speak to you, if you are patient, open hearted and willing to listen. A word of caution though, you may not always like what you hear.
Past sentinel’s gate the trail winds down into the valley. Today the path is treacherous. Mud, fallen branches, and newly exposed roots make me glad I brought both walking sticks. It is midnight dark now. Only small shafts of sunlight hit the ground as they illuminate the maze of glittery silver trails left by hundreds of slugs. Mastodon sized, a few Banana slugs slink in front of me. I am forced to choose each step very carefully. In places the moss and lichens are thick, lush and brightly colored. deep iridescent greens, electric yellows remind me of 1960’s deep pile, shag carpeting. Reaching the valley floor, I turn south as the trail climbs equally steep up to the top of the hill. You cant’s quite see the ocean from here, but the thick salt air tells you it is very close. I take time to rearrange a few rocks and branches to make a place to sit less painful.
After removing my boots I give my toes a chance to scout out a spot to begin my meditation. Quickly stripping my remaining clothes, I sit cross legged, naked, as I fidget a bit. Giving warm bare skin, a chance of melding with, colder than I would like, very wet ground. Focusing on my breath, thirty years of daily practice, is new again in this moment. Mist rises from the valley beneath me and the pungent smell of peat mixed with the salt air, can mean only one thing. The earth is opening herself up, yet again to to receive the coming rain. For a moment or two the valley is eerily quiet. There is a depth, a palatable prayer-like quality to the silence. Suddenly, sheets of rain echo and boom as it races towards me across the valley floor. I am wet. Truth and wisdom of this day, rise from within me and through the vehicle of the rain, penetrate me. The rainstorm rages and consumes me. The line, a manufactured delusion really, between nature and my individual self blurs and vanishes. I am the rain, and the rain is me.