Dog Mountain, WA

Ticks. Rattlesnakes. Poison Oak. These are the three things emphasized most in nearly every review of the Dog Mountain trail in the Columbia River Gorge. It also boasts one of the finest displays of spring wildflowers in the Pacific Northwest and is an immensely popular trail in the region. After my experience on Wednesday I can attest to the trail’s beauty but I wish to modify the list of dangers to include fatigue, disorientation, and blisters.

The Dog Mountain trail is a loop that begins along the Columbia River about 45 miles out of Portland on the Washington side of the river. It is not overly long for a day-hike; anywhere from 6.1 miles to 7.5 miles depending on what source you consult. My 25 cent Special K pedometer claims eight miles. But, as my friends Amy and Branden pointed out as we stood gasping for breath at one point, you can’t put much trust in an electronic object that was purchased at a garage sale and manufactured to promote the consumption of cereal. At that point it did seem to be flawed, indicating that we had achieved the 3.7 miles to the summit when the trail marker before us clearly stated another mile of switch-backs awaited us.

It is a strenuous ascent from the floor of the Gorge but much of it lies under the cover of the tree line. A generous collection of poison oak borders the path in many places. I’ve hiked in Oregon for many years and never had any trouble with poison oak but I didn’t trust that my friends would be so lucky. “Don’t pet any dogs.” I warned on the ride there. They asked me to point out some poison oak when we arrived so they could identify it on the trail. I hadn’t even left the parking area before my finger was flying around to show off the countless examples that fringed the gravel clearing. It took nearly an hour of hiking before they stopped walking with their arms clamped to their sides.

As you ascend, intermittent breaks in the canopy allow you views out over the Western Gorge (this all assumes, of course, that you initially take the portion of the loop that heads west up out of the parking area). Looking up the mountain to determine the trail will give no clues about the awesome sights that await you at the top. After a few hours of strenuous switch backs you emerge onto a wind-swept hillside. Swaying in the invisible currents are thousands of bright flowers- yellows, reds, purples; all intermixed and clinging to the sharply inclined slope. To the south the snowy crown of Mt. Hood rises from behind Oregon’s basalt ridges that border the Columbia. Turning to look back down the trail grants a view of a blunted St. Helens among a collection of hazy blue Cascades.

A strip of beaten dirt takes you along the undulating hillside of color until you reach the top. With a view east now possible you can look beyond Hood River and see where the rain soaked tree-line gives way to the scrubby golden grasses of eastern Oregon. Fatigued as we were the sights still awed us and, for a time, while sharing food, we neglected to think about the other half of the loop that remained.

In many ways the descent seems more grueling than the ascent. Due to the steep grade it appears that people on the switch-backs below lose their connection to the Earth. Watching torsos disappear and reappear among a constant rippling of the ground is mentally disconcerting. It lead to a timidity in my step as I tried to regain control of my sense of perspective.

Perhaps the greatest anguish results from being crushed into the front of your boots with every step. Amy and Branden lacked the proper footwear and both suffered blisters. By the final stretch there was limping accompanied by a grim locomotion influenced primarily by gravity. The verdant beauty of the forested hillside became a mist on the periphery of a grim determination. Thankfully, rattlesnakes and ticks never made an appearance.



She seemed to have a preoccupation with weeping that was incongruous with her demeanor. I didn’t want to presuppose anything overly melodramatic, but I did make note of it. Once she showed me a series of photographs that were to be bound into a limited run book. She displayed them in a matter-of-fact way that indicated that I wasn’t to critique, just observe. I observed that she lingered longer on an image of water droplets sliding down a car door. The tracks of the water moving down the side of the car mimicked the path of pigment that was being created on large sheets of paper outside of Claudia’s tiny studio. She had deliberately put these pigmented sheets of paper into the rain over a series of weeks. As the water fell from the sky it would run down the paper and pull some pigment with it. Over time these monolithic sheets of white paper were covered with the pigmented traces of falling rain. Visually they resembled the branching of streams and rivers. Metaphorically, they were about sorrow. That much seemed obvious. I should have known that I wasn’t seeing the whole picture because Claudia was never “obvious.” At that point, perhaps even Claudia wasn’t seeing her whole picture.

I was reading about rain recently. Apparently, precipitation within clouds is in a constant state of movement. These tiny particles of moisture are blown about on the currents of the wind. As they travel they bump into one another and join to form a larger water particle. Rain occurs when so many of these collisions have occurred that the particles have grown heavy enough to be pulled to Earth by gravity. Each drop of rain is a massive collection of individual particles that found one another. When I think about Claudia’s death I think about how her passing will bring together many individuals. Some will have known her in passing, such as myself, while others will have traveled with her for a much greater portion of her life. Regardless of the duration or intimacy of our knowing Claudia we are all joined together through her life.

Open. . . That was the name of the book she shared with me. It had only one page of text. It read:

“Open your eyes when you cry.”

“Look, it’s raining.”


The Illusive Studio

The mind reels at the attainment of a long held goal. Naturally, there is an overwhelming sense of accomplishment, but there also exists a sort of giddiness like you encounter as a child when you’ve just gotten away with something that borders on inappropriate. Perhaps this feeling is unique to me. Perhaps it is indicative of a disjointed cultural heritage that exhorts the denial of personal ambition on Sundays but rewards it every other day of the week. Regardless, as I stood for the first time in the art studio that my wife and I are to share I felt a surge of sensations, chief among them being relief. Relief that adult life isn’t always just taxes, toil, and teeth cleanings.

The importance of a space devoted to creating art might be difficult to fathom if you’re not an artist. To fully understand, it is best to imagine all the tools of a mechanic situated in their living room. While it might be possible to rebuild the carburetor there, it will most likely result in lingering smells, dirty floors, and damaged furniture. Bizarre clutter would be inevitable and it would expand to cover any flat surface. The cat would sleep in the toolbox. Guests would be overly apologetic about their early departure. That’s the fate of any artist, craftsman, or enthusiast that allows their passion to coincide with the space they call home.

This has been the fate in my household ever since graduating from art school. Sometimes the studio has been a corner in the office and other times its been the entire living room. In many ways this haphazard arrangement of creative space convinces you that you’re not really serious about your art. Indeed, many critics and curators would undoubtedly agree. We can’t all be Felix Gonzales-Torres; working on the kitchen table or borrowing a studio from friends as needed.

Whether or not the liberation of our living room will dramatically improve my creative output remains to be seen. I must admit that many artists seek a studio to simply prove that they’re serious and then hardly utilize the space. This tends to be obvious to others and completely hidden from them. After all, isn’t part of art making being creative? You’d think that following the tired formula of leasing drafty cheap loft space would, in some way, relegate you (and your work) to Clicheland. I don’t care however. I’m looking forward to being able to back away from my work and not bump into dinner on the dining room table.