It was an intense day. After a rough night of grieving, I woke a little late and fired up the computer a little too soon to start working. I immediately jumped into juggling several messages, helping a couple of friends with some things, dealing with emails and doing some Many Gods West stuff. Then I had to take a break to pay bills and well – that is never a fun experience. By then, I was done – stressed, frustrated, and quickly spiraling off into some not-so-good place. It was time for some nature therapy. I dug some clothes out of a bag (I hadn’t gotten to the laundry, either – no added stress there!) and hopped in the car. I knew I was going to go for a drive through the Columbia River Gorge on the Historic Highway, but I didn’t know where I was going to stop yet. I was thinking “waterfall” but since there are dozens in the Gorge that didn’t really narrow it down. But I really enjoy just getting in the car and seeing where it takes me – intuition, spirits, and gods guiding the way.
I passed the waterfalls on the way out, and thought maybe I would stop at Horsetail, since I hadn’t felt the urge to stop anywhere else. When I didn’t get the nudge there either, I started to feel like maybe I would just turn around and go home. But then I remembered I hadn’t continued out Highway 30 to it’s junction with the interstate. I drove a couple more miles and pulled off at the parking area before I got back on to 84.
I looked at the sign – Elowah Falls trail. Oh! I had read about Elowah Falls, and the name sounds pretty awesome*. I checked in and got the definite ‘Yes – GO!’ so I tightened my hiking boots and set off, not really sure where I was going or what to expect.
The trail is just under a mile to the falls, with a few hundred feet of elevation gain; its just enough to make me feel like I’ve worked to get there; combined with the first time on a trail with no guide, it was enough to wear down any resistance. The trail parallels the interstate for the entire length of it, adding some frustration and a heaping dose of paradox.
It is beautiful – vibrant rain forest above and below. The landscape muffles the highway, but it is such that you can’t actually hear the falls until you get close enough to see it peeking through the trees and you start descending a series of switchbacks. It is a bit labyrinthine – trees growing across the trail at odd angles, washouts and rocks, green leaves and flowering plants obscuring your view.
And then you start to feel the water – the air sings with it, the earth softens with it. The trees and rocks are covered in moist moss. I dipped my hand into the pool beneath the small stream falling from the rocks and touched the sweet water to my head.
A few more steps and I stopped, my breath caught as a rush of energy went through me and tears came to my eyes. Opened before me was a great amphitheater where water played, cascading over rocks and singing with such playful joy. Elowah was falling grandly from the cliff. It felt like another time, another place; something out of a fantasy novel. The spirit of this waterfall had a kind and joyful priestess-like presence.
As I came to the falls a crow flew over my head, joining a hawk high in the sky. They did not seem to do the usual territorial debate, rather they circled and seemed to danced. Dozens of swallows flit above me, birdsong resonating through the open canyon. There were no other embodied humans there.
I usually do, at waterfalls. At least the ones that aren’t displayed as tourist attractions (*cough*Multnomah*cough* ) Something about the singing in the air, the joyful play, the gentle power – the timeless presence that is constantly in movement. It resonates with my watery-airness in a way that is comforting and pulls me right into energized alignment.
And I think about how grateful we should all be that such beauty exists. That sense of awe can not be replaced or duplicated. And yet, our capitalist society doesn’t appreciate it enough at all, beyond value as a resource. I wept for the highway that cut through this place, wept for those beings, human and non-human, who used to be here. Oh, the land spirits in the Pacific Northwest are strong and lively beings, make no mistake. But what must it have been like before we paved it over? Before we ran out and murdered the indigenous peoples that knew them as kin? Before we named new spirits in the name of progress?
I marveled at the fantastic geological formations, at all of the forces that merged and dance and broke apart over millions of years to create this place. I watched the faces in the waterfall, and formally introduced myself to the spirit there.
I’ll be returning rather frequently.
On the way home I stopped for my nod to Devil’s Club. We’re still getting to know one other, this powerful plant and I, but oh is that thread getting stronger.
And then, as I left the Gorge and made my way back into “civilization” I had to stop the car to cry again. I can’t really tell you what that was about. It was a moving cascade of things. Rather like a waterfall.
*A note on the name of the falls – Elowah. In the brief research I have done, it seems no one is claiming to know the meaning of the name or why the falls were named Elowah. A mountaineering club had the name changed in 1915. If it is/was a word in the language of the indigenous peoples, I haven’t been able to find it. In Hebrew, Elowah is another word for God (correct me if I’m wrong). I got the sense that the spirit of the falls liked the name okay and the feel of the word is appropriate, but it is not the right name. As is usually the case.
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