Sunday, September 6, 2015

Timothy Lake in August

A few weeks ago, with the wind at my back and the paddling easy, I took off for Timothy Lake's northern shore in search of a small piece of beach and forest to call home for a few days. The north shore- far enough away from the campgrounds and most day hikers, but still on the side of the lake that receives long afternoon sun- seemed my best shot at having a quiet, campside seat to a wildfire-induced hazy and glowing sunset. I figured my chances were good; it was a Monday afternoon and the first day of school was coming up quick. The perfect time of year to launch a boat. 

A couple of sites due north had promise, but I paddled east along the shoreline. It seemed something better awaited. Waves splashed over my boat and I liked the sound of them breaking across the deck. A dog called from shore. Osprey whistled in the clouds. Below, the lake smelled of fish and mud and old minerals. The very scent of adventure itself. I was happy to still be paddling, and when a small cove with its rocks and tree stumps and little patch of sand appeared port side, I was even happier. 

In the wilderness, I try hard to Leave No Trace, and appreciate it when other people do too. Therefore, when I came ashore and saw not only a trace, but writing etched into the sand, I was a bit irked. I don't want messages from other people telling me what not to do and do and I doubt you do either. But I left the words there on the beach, and over the next few days, began to understand. In this summer of extreme fire danger, where wildfires have gobbled hundreds of homes and millions of acres, where wild animals have been displaced or killed, where more people than ever are accessing the backcountry, and we stand at a crossroads in terms of our planet and all who inhabit it, I began to understand that whoever wrote these words did so as a steward of the land. Inspired, I spent part of my last morning picking up garbage previous campers left behind, and before I left, I took a stick and carved the words deeper into the sand.

For without such wild and beautiful places, how can we relax like this? 

Jimmy Buffett would be proud. 

My campsite from the water. I had it all- a cove, a place to hang my hammock, a spot for my tent, an eagle's nest somewhere in the trees behind me, and a view of the sunset.  

However, I suspected it would be better from the boat. 

With the sun over the mountain, the evening's chill came on fast, and a critical error in judgement brought me to one of the coldest nights of my life. I'd forgotten my sleeping bag in Portland and only had a liner with me. I thought between that, my sleeping pad, and my clothes, it would be enough. As the night drew on, I found out how very wrong I was. Wearing every single piece of clothing that I brought, I remained miserable. My feet ached and eventually, I stuffed them into a ditty bag looking for any amount of relief. None came. Seemingly right above my tent, a great horned owl put on quite the show hooting and barking for hours. Any other night and I would have been amazed, but that night, I simply wanted that nocturnal bird to return to its nest and go to sleep, signaling dawn was near. I kept telling myself to just make it to morning, just make it to morning. I tried to make myself stronger by thinking of people who survived a night on Everest exposed to true bitterness and cold or my friend who ran the Iditarod last year. I knew she knew cold. It was a long night, but finally around 545, the sun started to rise and I knew, despite three numb toes on my right foot and very cold bones, I made it. However, it took me another four and a half hours before I dare felt warm enough to leave the tent. Luckily, I remembered I had two dog blankets and a sweatshirt in the car and after quite a few cups of hot tea, I paddled over to get them. The following night was much more comfortable.  

During the three days I was there, I had the finest of company- eagles, osprey, kingfishers, and more. One morning while in camp, I heard a familiar knock. Following the sound, I found a pileated woodpecker high in a tree. 

As I lay in my hammock, eagles flew overhead so low I could hear the flapping of their wings- light, like the sound of your mother's sheets blowing on the clothesline. And on the last morning, as I stood brushing my teeth, I heard the softest of sounds behind me. A visitor coming into camp...

She checked out my paddle,

and then my boat,

before disappearing into the wonders of her home.