Aug 12, 2014

Summer surprises

I've discovered a new favorite nocturnal hideaway in Bellingham. Actually, it's just outside of town limits, and about a 15 minute drive from our current residence. It's close enough not to demand a significant time commitment to get to and from, but just far enough out of town to be safely out of earshot of the roar of the freeway, blaring train horns, and all sorts of other urban noises that I will never get used to. Perhaps just as importantly, it's also far removed from any bright city light, so I may truly escape into the embrace of darkness.

Following a quiet rural road that follows the northern and eastern edge of the county's largest lake takes me to a wooded trailhead at its end. From there, I have the option of either following a perfectly level path that hugs the edge of the lake for several miles, or climbing a very steep, overgrown, disused logging road as far up into the mountains as I care to venture.

A couple weeks ago, I chose to take the easy shoreline trail carved nicely between the sheer cliffs of the mountain and usually placid lakeside. Oddly, when I had left home, I felt hardly a hint of a breeze, but out here, the wind was coming in strong, lashing the lakeshore with miniature waves. And boy, it felt refreshing, especially in the thick of summer's typically warm, stagnant weather. No less delightful was the sound of the treetops swaying and whispering in the breeze, which is practically an everyday occurrence in Hawaii but something I always miss when I am removed from the island. The stars were visible in much greater numbers than I'm able to see close in town, as well. I came across a nice little waterfall sliding down a series of smooth rock faces, which I was able to scale up to reach the tallest tumble. With the many clusters of lights across the lake no longer in sight, I could have just as well been deep within the wilderness. It was a nice, relaxing stroll.

Last night, I returned to the area and chose the high road, with the hiker's intention of at least finding a good viewpoint, and with the wolf's desire to bask in the rejuvenating luminance of the full moon. Whether the trail was going to take me to anything memorable or noteworthy, some lupine time with the moon was of prime importance. So with a casual pace, I began the steep, steady ascent up the narrow rocky path, pausing to pick and nibble on a few blackberries along the way. The beginning of the trail was set in fairly dense woods, but in between the tall firs and denser underbrush I could still catch glimpses of the moon hovering shyly in the low southern sky. She was a dull rusty color tonight, blanketed with a haze of high cloud cover that up in the Pacific northwest usually signals a change in the weather toward the direction of rain.

The air certainly felt like rain, too. In fact, it was uncomfortably muggy and warmer than usual. It reminded me of wandering around certain parts of the desert southwest in the thick of a summer monsoon. That along with the physical effort of climbing really left me sweating, so off came my damp shirt. Interestingly, only minutes afterward, I was surprised by a brilliant flash of lightning followed by thunder. Whereas I'm certain summer thunderstorms are very common in many other areas, this was the first thunderstorm I've seen in our area all year. I've felt thunderstorm deprived.

If there is only one thing I miss about living in Arizona, it was the regular summer thunderstorms occurring mostly in July and August. Many of them were powerful enough to be humbling and awe-inspiring, and I would go out of my way to experience them and photographically capture their splendor when I could. While living in Flagstaff, I used to love answering the call of an impending storm's crashing thunder, heading out for a walk to somewhere with a decent view to admire it. I would ensure there was some type of shelter nearby, even if it was just a baseball field dugout or a park pavilion, but usually, I would just run around and enjoy most of the torrential rain the passing storm had to offer. And I would never tire of watching the lightning or listening to the thunder. Storms are truly a phenomenal spectacle of natural force and energy, and they really spark something inside of me that makes me feel intensely alive as I experience them. It's no wonder I miss them so. In the middle of the desert, they truly felt like a godsend, a cherished special occurrence, for most of the rest of the year everything was either wilting in the harsh desert sun or freezing in the dead of frigid mountain winter. Storms are what brought the arid landscape to life.

The one I experienced last night was over and done within a few minutes, however. Eventually the trail emerged at a large clearing for three rows of massive electricity pylons, their wires stretching into the distance for visible miles. I followed it for about a mile farther as it contoured up the steep mountain face, weaving between the clearing and the adjacent second-growth forest, until I came across the best viewpoint I was probably going to find. From that vantage point, I could see north clear to the refineries in Ferndale, south all the way to the town of Burlington, and all of the northern half of the lake. Though obscured somewhat by clouds, the view of the many lofty mountain peaks and valleys and illuminated city landmarks so far in the distance was quite mesmerizing. I've always had an affinity for scrambling up mountains and hillsides to get a better look at the lay of the land, especially in the deep of the night. There's no better sort of spot to quietly reflect on my place in the world as I gaze over my domain from high above. I'm glad I found yet another easily accessible place in which to do it.

After heading back down to the start of the trail, I took the short stroll down to the lakeshore, just to relax by the water for a little bit. When my paws touched the water, I was amazed by its unexpected warmth. Without much further thought, and being the water dog I've always been, I abandoned all my clothing on the rocky beach and sauntered into the nice, cool water for a refreshing dip. After sweating so damn much, it felt absolutely heavenly. There is also something spiritually nourishing, something that fills me with primal fulfillment, about swimming in the buff in the full moonlight. One of those experiences that is so entirely natural, not to mention instinctual.

Good night, beloved moon.

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