One trail, many seasons

From the latest entry in my Appreciation of Oregon series published in The Oregonian and on OregonLive

Falls Creek, Washington 2008

The last time I dove into Falls Creek, I hooted and whooped from the moment my bare feet left the moss covered rock until I emerged from the pristine pool. Then I really let the world know how cold that water was. If fish could talk, they’d surely be talking still, either about the shrieking or my Oregon white skin.

Falls Creek is just a speck in the massive Gifford Pinchot National Forest, one  the oldest National Forests in the United States. The Gifford stretches over more than 1.3 million acres in southwest Washington but the Falls Creek Trail and Falls Creek Falls are an easy drive from Portland, so for this Appreciation of Oregon we are going to claim it as part of our greater Oregon Country.

I visited the forest many times over several months in 2008 for a series of stories for The Oregonian. Each trip into the Gifford included an exploration of the Falls Creek trail, the gentle hike that begins just north of the Carson National Fish Hatchery and ended at my self imposed destination of Falls Creek Falls.

The Gifford is a life’s work, too grand to soak up in a few visits, so my goal with returning to the same trail was to become familiar with one particular piece of the forest. I wanted to make pictures of familiar places that could represent changes in season and time. Pictures that somehow might spark some thought about the complexity of a forest.

It was difficult to decide what to photograph. Would it be huckleberries in fall, wrist sized alders in winter, wild flowers in spring or bear grass at the onset of summer. There were huge trees, snags, logging scars, several creeks and suspension bridges. And there was an abundance of wildlife including, beaver, elk, whitetail deer, hawks and eagles.

I finally latched on to a few things that I thought would transcend the passage of time.  Some rocks in Falls Creek--not too far from my swimming hole—the 50-foot pool at the bottom of the lower falls, trees alive and dead, and the road that leads to the trailhead which is gated off in winter.

Most of these pictures have never been published and none of them have been published as pairs or diptics. I havn’t been to Falls Creek in years but I’m guessing I could return and discover these scenes mostly unchanged. Sure, the water will ebb and flow and the forest will decompose and regenerate but there’s a comfort in the sturdiness of the Gifford or any forest. There’s also wonderment at how fragile it all is.

As I pulled myself out of the water that day in Falls Creek my eyes lingered on a single alder leaf. The bright green leaf still held its tinder spring color. The crystalline water trickled a few inches over the leaf but it held firm to the rocks, undisturbed and surly in its final spot.