Do you think we can learn from places?
Those who wander
In fact, I have Facebook evidence (we all know that if it’s on Facebook, it’s true). A little over a year ago, I had spiraled quite high into the Siskiyou Mountain Range along a rustic mountain road, and I noticed an arc above me. From either side of my car, the fir trees curved toward each other, as though their tops were kissing. The sunlight flittered downward like tinsel, and I had to brake and blink against the twinkling. Only a meter to my left, the road crumbled into tree trunks and steep, downward-careening mountainside; on the right, trees grew from rock, bowed and bent against the mountain.
“Legit, I could open my car door and fall off this mountain,” I said to myself. I became aware of the stab of fear in my chest. I thought, To be this high off the ground is unnatural. A moment later, I gave it a second thought: Except people have been here before. Someone plowed this road. Thousands of people, probably, have pushed themselves up this mountain. Discovery – discovering new things – is arguably the most natural, most human thing one can do.
This experience, and the amazing hike I eventually took that day, made me consider some of the lessons I had learned from my relocation to Oregon. As I made my way home, I composed a mental list that later went on Facebook; a year after that, I reposted it. Here, I share it again, with a little added commentary.
So without further ado, let’s get into Oregon Lessons Part 1. I offer you…
Ten lessons I have learned in the 2+ 3+ years I’ve lived in Oregon:
Driving on one-lane mountain “roads” that more closely resemble city park bike paths becomes less terrifying and strange over time.
The road I described above was not the first, the last, or even the scariest Oregon road I’d driven. My ex-husband and I decided to take a drive to the coast. We took the GPS-recommended route there, which required driving south and west to go north, and that made no sense to my still-urban brain. “Modern engineering is a miracle!” I exclaimed on our way back home. “Certainly there’s a more direct route!” Sure enough, the GPS offered an alternate route, traversing the mountains along forest service roads. I noticed an open gate, used to block the road in winter, and an ominous sign about the road being unmaintained and unnavigable from November 1 – April 31. It was April 30. We’d be fine; I mean, the gate was open.
I will spare you the details. The route we took is known as the “Bear Camp Coastal Route,” a moniker that sounds harmless, like it’s a beachy-fun path full of dancing, surfing Care Bears. That’s not what we saw. However, it’s worth noting: We survived. We later learned others did not. (Seriously – Google it! The Wikipedia page mentions two deaths and “numerous motorists…stranded” on the route. Creepy.)
Anyway, my point is that nowadays, I am a lot better prepared for wilderness travel; I play it safe; and yet, I don’t abide by that fear. Traveling those roads has allowed me to see things I otherwise never would have seen. Which brings me to…
The second point in my Oregon Lessons Part 1…
With enough patience and enough travel along the aforementioned roads/bike paths, one might see the enormous, retreating butt of a black bear as she hightails it back into the woods.
People always get bear-a-noid. I do too. I don’t understand why. In Oregon, we do not have grizzlies, the more ferocious of the North American species. We have black bears, and unlike our friends in the eastern portion of the country, we have introverted, timid, scaredy-cat black bears. Almost all of my native Oregonian friends have remarked that while they’ve seen evidence of bears – scat, scratches, that kind of thing – they’ve never actually seen one. I, however, have.
As I navigated a one-lane mountain road, slowly so as not to hit an oncoming car (which is hilarious, because the likelihood of another car being there was slim to none), I saw movement about fifty feet in the distance. I slowed the car to a crawl as a giant black bear sprinted along the roadside, jumped up a hill, and got swallowed up by the forest.
“Holy crap!” I exclaimed. “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, that is so dang cool!” I am still bragging about this.
One of my more memorable lessons of these Oregon Lessons Part 1!
8 times out of 10, fear is a liar. Of the remaining two times, one is fear asking us to more closely examine something, and the other is fear acting as a legitimate warning of potential death and/or destruction. Preparation is prudent but bravery is mandatory.
According to the United States National Park Service, the likelihood of being attacked by a bear is 1 in 2.1 million (and that’s including statistics for grizzlies).
According to the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, you have a 0.0064% risk of death while mountain hiking – and that risk can be made even smaller by avoiding foul weather, preparing appropriately for climate and terrain, staying hydrated, and knowing your way around a map and compass.
Who doesn’t feel afraid when they’re trying something new? How many new things have I done over the past four years? I hit a point a while back where I realized: I could either be a perpetual ball of fear and anxiety, or I could step bravely into life. I choose the latter most of the time, though sometimes I also cry while I eat potato chips with salsa (I know it sounds gross, but it’s actually delicious).
Always close the lid of the latrine before exiting, and never try to shove a pizza box down it.
I just think this is a valuable life lesson. Always, always, always close the lid of the latrine. Do you know what happens if you don’t? Flies attack the bare bottom of the exhausted explorer who uses that toilet after you. If avoiding a plague of bum-flies isn’t enough, you might also consider the odiferous contribution an open latrine makes to its surrounding environment. By “odiferous,” I mean everyone for three square miles will gag.
Also, just don’t shove pizza boxes in the latrine. Don’t put any trash in the latrine. It can’t be pumped out, it will take forever to decompose, flies will think it’s their penthouse apartment, and people like me will have to – you know – on top of it.
And to the final point I will make in Oregon Lessons Part 1:
Untouched natural beauty of an unimaginable magnitude exists if you are willing to leave your car behind and walk in search for it.
5 and a half. Even the fanciest camera in the hands of the most talented photographer cannot capture that beauty the way a human eye can in real time.
We live on a large and beautiful planet, and I want to see as many quiet, barely touched places as I can before I bite it.
It is difficult. I have had some injuries, and sometimes my body hurts and my motivation is non-existent. Sometimes napping all day seems appealing. Sometimes I start to get fearful, especially when I’m alone, and I create intricate, imaginary scenarios that ultimately result in my early demise. In the end, I am perhaps a little addicted to those vistas, and I covet them the way some people long for fine jewelry or haute cuisine. They remind me that I am a tiny part of a much larger whole, and in this way, they remind me that I am connected to everything. I am never alone.
So there is my Oregon Lessons Part 1.
Until next time, when I will share the remaining five lessons,
P.S. – What life lessons have you learned from being in a new place? Share via email at AskNatalieColumn @ gmail.com – Contributors are identified by their first name, but you can request anonymity if you’d prefer.