It took me forty five Septembers to get to Wy’east – aka Mount Hood, the way the European settlers named it – from Poieni Peak, a mountain summit in Western Romania mountains underneath which shadow I grew up. I never had this target as a goal, but the unpredictable and the very fortune of magic moments have taken me to this beautiful place. The pleasure of immersing in a place with diverse significance in the life and history of different populations would have been less intense without the presence of the one that changed my life for good and for forever, in ways I would never have imagined. Her love and passion for beautiful things made me the man I am today, forty five Septembers later, and helped to refine my taste for discoveries and my tools to unveil myself to myself and to the world. Gina, my beautiful wife, is the one lighting the fire from the most invisible spark, the one that is planning and organizing everything to the smallest detail, filling any amount of time with the maximum amount of wonderful moments.
We arrived in Portland, Oregon, late at night, flying over the entire North of the United States. The good karma was with us starting at the rental company where from an economy Kia Rio car we booked, we got an upgrade to the newest four doors, four wheeler Jeep Wrangler donning the brightest red color I ever seen. The red monster carrying Idaho plates turned out to be the most beautiful car in the town, attracting envious sights and sincere compliments.
Driving in the darkest of the night and somehow avoiding the streets of the city of Portland, we reached a stretch of perfectly maintained highways to a destination that remained hidden by the night’s black veils.
Everybody in Oregon, from the personnel in the airport, to the clerk at Avis Car Rental Company, to the humble clerk in an anonymous gas station, was extremely warm and polite, in huge contrast with our daily encounters in the rich Northeast.
Driving an American Jeep on American land is enchanting and comforting. The engine roars in perfect harmony with our moods. When the headlights revealed to us the perfectly straight columns of Oregon trees bordering the road and reaching the starry sky, we knew we were coming closer to our destination. This was when we felt the need to lower the windows and inhale the breeze. Soon the white peak of Wy’east appeared for a second and hid behind the curtails of dark blue hills.
We couldn’t say the difference between driving on a flat road and climbing the steep inclines of the mountain, because Jeep is everywhere at home no matter where in America.
Arrived at Government Camp (what a name for what a place!) with its appealing main street. We found our cabin in the blindness of a map of something that is not even considered a town, but a census-designated place. What a similarity to the place of my birth, a settlement serving as a resort but never had an official number and location on the postal map or on any identity card.
Cuddled comfortably on a cozy coach in front of the fireplace, we dared to dream of the adventures of tomorrow. And so we fell asleep.
In the morning, the sun knocked early on the windowpanes and we sank in the aromas of the pines surrounding us. The taste of coffee and of a Mountain Burrito at a local cafeteria have put us in the local enjoyment of life. Wy’east smiled at us from above the trees, its perennial snows melting more and more every year, glowing underneath a clear blue sky.
Forged in iron, the history of the place was entirely told with a simple image. The image of the pioneer driving his waggon, pulled by oxen, his family underneath the poor protection of the thin canvas. The history of how the American West was made, the story of undefeatable people who did not give up in front of anything. Brave heroes expanding the empire over an immense continent. There are, of course, the sins of the past, the tragical displacement and elimination of the real owners of the beautiful lands. There is probably little possibility to pay off what we did to them. Acknowledging the errors, taking ownership of them, and moving on with today’s means will never bring forgiveness, but might bring more harmony. Turning back to the old times is impossible. This is the reason I am using the Native American name of Mount Hood, very little known nowadays.
Timberline Lodge is history, is a museum in which you can sleep, eat and shop. The road winding up the mountain is like any other highway around Portland – perfect. Built by the united forces of people who reached their limits during the Great Depression under a visionary leadership that America should be always proud of. The lodge is the perfect expression of hard work and stubbornness of human kind to tame the wildest places. The last time Wy’east erupted was in 1856, which might seem so far away but so close in geological terms. This mountain is considered to the day an active volcano and ranked by the United States Geological Survey as a high hazard for volcanic activity. In simple terms, the mountain can explode at any time with little warning. They highly charged the exterior and the interior of the lodge with history, beauty and respect, respect for the past, for the present and for the future. The painting of president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the chair he sat on, the speech he produced at the inauguration touched deeply our feelings. The architecture and design are beyond my power of interpretation, but enchanted us.
Down to the Trillium Lake, we admired the snow-capped peak mirroring in clear waters.
Back in Government Camp, we immersed with local and tourists and enjoyed the flavour of local beer, local wine and a German inherited bratwurst. The buildings, their names hold plenty of German and Suisse resonances, either as a tribute to the origins of settlers or to the resemblance to the mountain of Germany or Switzerland, or maybe just the melancholy of those who left those havens in Europe for the freedom and hope of America.
We reserved the second day of our trip for hiking. We did the Zigzag Canyon, starting from Timberline Lodge, following a section of the Pacific Crest Trail right above the timberline. The trail is popular, therefore crowded, but manageable. For the entire day, the sun has not left us, but underneath the canopy, we found the shadow. The canyon is only to be described by its own image, and I will not give it the simplest try. We couldn’t easily say good bye without trying to get as close as possible to the summit and we hiked up on the Mountaineer Trail. We reached the perennial snow patches, and we found so much joy. Playing, running and sunbathing. We fell in love with just another place in our beautiful America.
Going back to the airport, we chose another route, and we headed toward Columbia River Gorge. Driving down the mountain, we discovered new perspectives to the peak, and we arrived on the beautiful land of ranches, orchards and vineyards of this part of Oregon, a place where the time stopped to show the beauty of the fertile land, naturally irrigated by the melting snows of Wy’east, the silent (for how long?!) guardian of the beautiful country.
Columbia River is an exceptional view. The mighty river cuts through rocky mountains to meet its mother ocean. The man has put his hand at work all over alongside and across the river. Indians inhabiting its shores since unmemorable times still fish the waters for Chinook, coho, sockeye salmon and sturgeon. They come up from the river banks to the height of modern highway to sell the fresh prey driving the white man’s big trucks, wearing his clothes and sharing his habits. This was the town of Cascade Locks. A few miles down, at Bonville, the United States Army Corps of Engineers put their brains at work to create the Bonville Lock and Dam. Three thousands Americans enrolled into the majestic project of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration and worked hard to build this dam that will produce plenty of energy for the entire Northwest. Neither was any of the one that projected the structure insensitive to the negative impact the construction will have on the wildlife, the millions of fish travelling up the river to lay their eggs. They have built an ingenious aquatic ladder that allows the fish to continue their natural migration. At the visitor center, through thick panels made of glass, we could see salmon and sturgeon in their natural environment heading up the mighty river.
From here to Portland, the mother nature left us a few pieces of masterwork, the river drawing the landscape among walls of bare rock, Douglas-firs, Ponderosa pines, Grand firs and Western red cedars stand tall on the ledges. Rivers are jumping over the cliffs to meet their sister, the big river, forming spectacular waterfalls, all enclosed by the civilized human for public enjoyment, thus touching the natural work of art with city like structures attracting visitors that are looking for the comfort of admiring nature sitting on the comfortable seats of their cars.
Leaving Oregon, with all the splendid memories, we soon forget the critical aspects, the misery of the city, the unhappiness of the poor, the broken way of life of Native Indians. We spent three beautiful days in one jewel state on the West Coast. Oregon has much more to offer, but that is for the future. A future in which there is no certainty that the perennial snow will remain perennial, there is no certainty that Wy’east will stay dormant to our excesses and abuses, no certainty that wild fires will not burn to ashes thousands of acres of woods, no certainty that the human will stop challenging the Mother Earth.
But we should keep our faith and I will quote the great American novelist, often called “The Dean of Western Writers” Wallace Stegner at the end of this post:
“One cannot be pessimistic about the West. This is the native home of hope. When it fully learns that cooperation, not rugged individualism, is the quality that most characterizes and preserves it, then it will have achieved itself and outlived its origins. Then it has a chance to create a society to match its scenery.”