Cresting the summit we move from high desert and pine, pine, pine to mixed forests, moss and ferns and a colorful, changing assortment of wildflowers. Pale purple mountain irises call me to turn around on the narrow winding road. A cascade not-so-gently gurgles and pulses alongside the road, sometimes visible and sometimes not. The raucous remnants of fires past are replaced by the quiet of dripping water.
This is based on my first experience with crossing the Cascades, from the high desert to the rain forest side, back on 11 June 2012. We were on our way from Bend to Corvallis for Sara’s second interview. Her first was at OSU-Cascades in Bend earlier in the day and the second was at OSU (proper) in Corvallis the next day. We were taking US 20 and the Santiam Pass through the Willamette National Forest.
The change was dramatic and almost instantaneous, although it continued to gradually change and to get wetter and wetter. There are, of course, many microclimates in both regions. Eventually we emerged from the forest into the Willamette Valley and another kind of lush growth, a far more managed growth.
The initial thoughts (between the two top photos) were written down the day after, about 18 hours after the experience.
The high desert side seems to primarily consist of juniper, assorted pines, and a variety of small shrub-like plants, with wide open space on the ground beneath the canopy. The colors consist of mostly browns and grays from the ground up into the trunks of often massive trees. Only in the upper reaches of the trees where needles remain and in the leaves of some of the bushes is there much green. Up near the summit, black becomes frequently prominent in the burnt and charred remains of trees and on the soil itself from the more frequent forest fires, and in the exposed, alien looking terrain of past volcanic cataclysms.
Once over the pass the greens quickly intrude. Everywhere. The pines and conifers are less scraggly. More and more deciduous trees force their way in. Ferns and other low-lying, often flowering, plants begin to fill in the spaces between trees. The plants force their way up to the roadside and begin to close off the view into the forest. In short order, moss is hanging from the trees. Everything is a riot of green with little room for other colors, except the assorted wildflowers seen along the roadside, and even they are surrounded and nourished by green. Even the browns of the tree trunks are quickly covered in mosses and vines and all sorts of green.
Water can be heard splashing along somewhere near the edge, sometimes nearer, sometimes receding. Glimpses can be seen—through the dappled light—of a growing mountain stream. As stream after stream spills into it, it quickly becomes the South Santiam River, which more or less parallels US 20 for much of the way down into the valley, first on the left and then on the right.
The only other time I had driven over true mountains was in Europe—Southern Germany through Switzerland to Mont Blanc and so on. But there, the changes are not nearly so dramatic. Certainly they are dramatic but in vastly different ways. Then again, it has been many years since that trip. I have been in or along assorted other mountains—Ozarks, Blue Ridges, and a few others—but, again, the changes are not so dramatic, at least not along my direction of travel.
I may have been driving the rented car but nonetheless the profound changes grabbed me in my soul and settled deeply. We have been over the Cascades a few more times since, although we have taken some different routes along with the same one but in reverse, and the changes are equally profound no matter which way you cross the Cascades from Bend to Corvallis or Eugene or Portland. I hope to make the crossing many more times and even to spend a fair bit of time up their on foot. I only hope that it won’t be in winter.
The included photos are of the pale purple irises that called me to turn around and of the mountain stream cascading near the road.
Thank you, my love, for bringing me to Central Oregon.