Ribbons of mist thread through the hills of the Oregon Coast range in the early morning. In the highest places, snow covers the forested ground. The weather report has warned of possible snow at elevations of 1000 feet, but on this stretch of US Highway 20 from its intersection in Newport with 101, then reaching east to Corvallis and beyond, 800 feet is as high as it gets.
The rise is gentle, almost imperceptible, as we travel and the descent the same as we roll into Corvallis, the closest city. We will be retracing our journey very soon with our grand dog panting in the back. It will be midday, Oregon weather on full display.
Our journey home begins, the car cushioned in gray, few others in sight. As we climb to the top of the first hill, the cloud cover breaks apart revealing blue and white, pops of sunlight, but not for long. Up ahead the sky deepens, a sooty mass mounting, and as we pass beneath, the clouds open and release. First rain, then an assault of hail, pummeling the windshield. We slow our progress deferring to the elements, wiper blades at full-throttle. Hail abates; rain mixed with blotchy snow follows, spatters, smears.
We move forward into another blue and white sun-split umbrella arcing overhead. What a performance—every kind of weather in under 10 minutes, a meteorological marvel, a sky symphony.
Sublimity: the quality or state of something being sublime or exalted. That’s what the dictionary says about where we are—and it epitomizes our early spring hike to see Ten Falls.
We are standing under a rock shelf, thundering water reminding us of sheer power. Can you see the trees, once huge, towering, scattered like so many matchsticks in the creek below? Yes, it’s a creek and that will be apparent once August rolls around, but for today, the words “water shortage” seem impossible. That is one of the reasons we came, snow still caught in the uneven terrain of cliff sides, gradual melt swelling water’s rush.
So many greens here, and the uneven sky, gray blanket giving way to blue before blue beats a hasty retreat. We climb, surrounded by living walls. These are not the tame, manicured stuff of your DIY shows, oh no. These are what nature offers. Silver drops, snow surrenders, cascades from fern tips, drips, drips, drips. One can only look up in wonder.
As we hike out, now flanked by civilization, an asphalt road winding its way to the parking lot, our path running a meandering parallel, snow and hail begin to fall, white mixed with sting. But the sporadic swish of passing cars stops. We are in a silent forest once again, Doug firs proud, old, weathered yet sturdy, shelter us. Headed for home.
Transfixed, I stand before a work of art covering most of a wall. I know very little about art—but I know what moves me. I remember visiting the New Orleans Museum of Art on the heels of a magical afternoon spent in the Besthoff Sculpture Garden, a treasure in the city park, (not to be missed). It was a balmy 80+ degree day, and the museum was the dessert.
There I was moved in a way that I had never been, despite trips to many museums. My ticket? Claude Monet’s Snow Effect Giverny-1893.
In an instant, chill blanketed the air, winter enfolded me. The sultry NOLA outside fell away. I stood frozen. I needed to go no further. I had traveled to Giverny. Now I understood what my husband, after all these years, felt when he, an art aficionado and knowledgeable—but NOT SNOOTY—tried to convey this experience. That was several years ago, and while we’ve viewed much art since then…not the same. (I lie—Mark Rothko in Houston, magic carpet, too.)
Now I’m standing in front of this canvas, and I swear, on this balmy San José Art Walk evening in the Patricia Mendoza gallery, I am in the sea, deep in the sea. I cannot move, the weight of water holds me captive. When I surface, catch my breath, I put on my glasses to read the tiny card accompanying the canvas. “El Mar Profundo” by Eduardo Mejorado. “The Deep Sea.”
The price is $26,000 USD, a serious price for a serious piece of art, and worth every penny. What a trip—beauty.
It’s salt I taste, definitely, and it has seeped softly into my mouth through the meeting of my lips. The tracks of tears I barely register. Beauty has that effect.
The birch stands amid a cluster, not too tall. I have pulled off the road on my way up the mountain pass in late autumn. Oregon offers just what these trees need: moisture, shade, space, the perfect medium. Now the leaves, deciduous and dropping their gold on the ground below, lift and fall with a gentle breeze. Sunlight is muted; the road remains empty—but for me.
It has rained earlier, the remnants drip from the serrated edges of the triangular leaves. The sound is swallowed by the soil. So the flash of wing high in the branches strikes me, drawing my eyes upward along the papery trunk. Some bark, beginning to peel, curls against the surface.
But the red wing, the upright crimson perched on a branch, holds sway. I cannot look away. Attention-getting red without artifice here; I happened along at just the right time.
I have stopped only to stretch my legs, for my trip is a long one, now lightened by this moment, this serendipitous pause. I will let tear traces linger.