This weekend, I stopped looking for hope in my phone and sought refuge in places that aren't up for debate. Open sky. Snow-draped volcanoes. Cold, clear rivers moving wordlessly over cobble beds.
On Friday, we decamped to the Sandy River, which was running clear off the flanks of Mount Hood after a break in fall storms. Something about the way the river current held Hayley and I in our sixty-five-pound canoe drained the anxiety right out of me. We drifted through riffles and three foot pools. A kingfisher chattered alongside for one reach, leaping ahead of us branch to branch. A wise old blue heron eyed us before turning on her heal and taking to wing. By the grace of the river, we had none of our usual squabbles over routes and lines. Only my shoulders protested, warmly.
Later in the weekend, we sojourned up the mountain itself. After parking at the big-timbered, Works Progress-crafted Timberline Lodge, we leaned into the pumice-lined trail and Hood's massive heft. The bulk of it soared up seven thousand feet ahead of us, snow-laden and craggy in the heights. Its improbable mass, made by forces that we've explained but that still defy good reason in the flesh. A god in any other language.
Turning to look south along the spine of the Cascades, Mount Jefferson stared back, a white sentry under a dampened streak of pastelled yellow. Behind it, the Three Sisters, their height foreshortening the long 120 miles between here and there. All around were the dark green ridges of the Cascades, the supporting cast, folded upwards by millions of years of silent tectonic scrum and occasional fiery spasm along our continental boundary.
They say that awe brings us closer to each other. A soaring peak or a grove of old-growth trees humbles us, drives away artifice, and reshapes our brain for empathy and connection.
It's not hard to see that out of our boxes, away from our devices, we're different, kinder animals. Hitchhiking the shuttle back upriver from our parked car on Friday, a young guy with an easy smile in white pickup plucked me from the side of the road after more than a few Suburus had passed me by. He fished the Sandy often and had a friend in the area.
"Figured you were on a float and headed up to Dabney, with that life jacket on," he said.
He worried that we wouldn't be able to get our car out of the lower parking lot at the end of the paddle, if dusk settled in.
"Sometimes they lock it up. What kind of car do you have -- maybe you can jump the curb?"
"A Prius," I answered, without thinking.
"I shouldn't even be giving you a ride," he deadpanned.
I froze for a second, fearful.
"Just tell me you drive a normal speed," he said, breaking the ice. I snorted happily back at him.
Turns out he loved racing cars. "This is a four-banger -- slowest car I ever owned."
He dropped me in the parking lot upriver and I thanked him profusely. After he had left, I realized that he was headed back down the same road we'd traveled, to his friend's place. He'd gone two or three miles out of his way, in order to put us on the river.
And out there, beyond the digital din, an idea bubbled up from some of the stalemated states and dysfunctional places we've lived around the world. When so-called leaders lay waste to collective imagination, you hold fast to what is at hand. Your neighbors. Your families. Your natural refuges. The places you call home. And you build back up from there.
Here is where we start anew, with a deep awareness of what is bigger and more holy than all of us.