Arriving here was difficult. 10 miles up rough bouldered dirt road, deadfallen trees block the rutted road; winter blowdown. Drove around; offroad. Messed up a plastic piece on the underside of my car – went a little too fast, got a flat, changed it in the hot sun. Then a two mile walk, uphill through pink June Rhododendron and strangely beautiful white Beargrass, fir trees, moss covered basalt outcrops. Up switchbacks traversing the side of the steep hills, along ridgetop, back into forest and then, in a clearing, at ridges end, I found a kind of paradise.
This was an old fire lookout tower, at edge of ridge, in a clearing, built up over rocks up twelve feet on solid wooden beams. I climbed up, and saw the door was latched. I reached out, and unlatched the hook.
It was a pure bare space: a table, a few chairs, swept wooden floor, a cast iron stove, two iron framed cots. This fire lookout has not been in official use since the 60’s, but the people who have stayed here have left books, bags of rice, some bread, food, pots and pans, few blankets, unmatched utensils, a pair of binoculars, a star chart, candles, a harmonica.
On all four sides were shutters, covering the windows. I opened up the shutters, propped them up with wooden supports I found under one of the cots, and as the lookout was filled with light, it became part of sky, part of forest, part of mountain.
You can see Mt. Adams, St Helens, Mt. Jefferson, 3 Fingered Jack, The Three Sisters; The volcanoes of the Cascade range. On Mt Hood; stark snow covered white against the landscape - Palmer Snow Field, Steel Cliffs, Mississippi Head, and Crater Rock. A lenticular cloud.scrapes the top of Mt. Hood.
Today in one day it has been cloudy, overcast, and then a thunderstorm But now the sky becomes clear; clouds dissipate with liquid and hesitant drift. I have only prepared for a day hike but I realize, I must spend the night.
As the earth spins the sun down low in sky, I sit on the platform, barefoot, I have taken off my hiking boots, my socks are drying on the rail. I watch light shift and change on the curving forms (a sensuous morphology) of the tree covered Cascade hills. Subtle shadows of green in dusk light. Interplay of light and shadow and shades of greens. The sun becomes orange fire behind the trees.
I chop some aspen logs, throw in some broken cedar shingles, and make a fire in the cast iron stove I take a pan, open up a can, and make beef stew.
Stars are coming out now, Jupiter is visible in the west, a hands breadth above the horizon. I see something strange in the west; hovering where the sun set, a thin crescent new moon, so thin bright it is like a curved sliver, carved of bone white china. The thinnest first edge of moon, it sets an hour after the sun’s orange fire burn.
I am writing this by candle light. Burning aspen logs and old shingle that used to shield this place. I read a book of poetry I found in the bookcase. I write in my notebook. I play desolation angel on the harmonica late into night.
Outside, arching over Mount hood, or the dark mass of where Mount Hood should appear, from North and Mt. Adams, to the Three Sisters, is the Milky Way, densely spangled with stars. Stars full of sky, sky full of stars.
I read through all of the log books. “Came up in mid winter, January 8th, snowshoeing in over the snow drifts.” Someone who was a ranger here in 56 has come awash in memory. He writes “It’s all coming back to me like the twilight zone.” Jack Hues, 73 years old, writes proudly that hehas been here more than 50 times. The entries speak of what was seen: woodpeckers at dawn, the mountain covered with fog, bobcats, eagles. Two women write of how they were lost in the snow, calling for help on cell phone, until they saw sanctuary rising out of the fog. I read some wild stories of smoking pot and drinking whisky. One diary entry reads “3 girls, 2 guys, wild sex.” Others write of solitude, serenity, of the world closed in by fog. I see pictures, children’s musings, poems, love letters, and I read in the notebook where to find a spring – I did not bring enough water.
It must be close round midnight. The Milky Way has risen until it is like a spangled banner over the world straight above. I take the binoculars and see so many stars, look straight deep into galaxies center.
As I looked up at the galaxy, I thought about the path of the sun across the sky, the plane of the ecliptic, and I looked up at the angle of the milky way, the galactic plane. And I had a realization; that the solar system is at angles with the galaxy. I had always without thinking thought that the solar system was aligned with the galaxy, there was a reflexive symmetry in their positions. I suddenly realized the sun and its planets revolve and rotate canted, oblique round the galaxy. (I looked it up later, about 62 degrees) I had always supposed we were on the same plane, I had been mistaken. They were not aligned on the same plane. Oblique, not transverse, not longitudinal, not parallel, not perpendicular.
I put another log in the fire. It was cold out in the clear skied night, but warm inside. Lay down on the thin mattress, pulled up an old woolen blanket, and went to sleep.
In the morning, I was up before dawn. The sky became pink to the north, and not for an hour or so of soft light did the sun burn up past the right side of Mt. Hood. I made coffee on the stove, which I had kept burning through the night, and sweetened with lumps of brown sugar. Smoke my last cigarette.
I climb to the edge of the ridge, stand on and outcrop, and watch over a forest valley to the south. I look at Mt. Jefferson, Three Fingered Jack, Broken top. I don’t even know how far I can see. Hawks spire over the ridge, I hike down to the spring: it trickles out of moss covered rocks, in clear brightness. Carry 4 gallons back up the hill.
I spend the morning breathing the air, watching the glaciated face of Hood, looking at birds, studying the landscape, writing in my notebook.
Happy to be in a place so crazy beautiful. A place that seems to come out of the imaginations of the old beat wanderers, a place where they turned into desolation angels. New York, Denver, Mexico City, San Francisco, Morocco, Big Sur, Paris, and the Cascades, the stations of the beatnik cross, The beatnik bodhisattvas wandered, searching for kicks, enlightenment, satori - to leave the world behind, to look into themselves, into the mountains into the sky, into themselves in their holy yearning burn for the fire and ice of crazy beautiful existence. And they wrote, like me. I write in my notebook.
It drifts to the afternoon, and I am seeing the first people I have seen since I got here. Hikers pass through. It must be time to leave. I sweep the floors, close the windows, take a large bag of trash to carry back down, latch the door gently, and leave.
As I hike down, through switchbacks, past Beargrass, beneath ridges of rhododendrons. I can’t help but think about my misconception about the alignment of the solar system to the galaxy. I had traveled through life under misconception. I had believed in alignment without thinking, and was mistaken. There is no alignment, the path of the earth around the sun, and the solar system around the milky way; the relationship of the ecliptic, to the galactic plane, as my own path through life must be, is not aligned, it is canted, angular, oblique.