Driving east from Bend toward Burns, I made an impulsive stop at the Oregon Badlands Wilderness, a new set of trails. Well, the trails have been around for eons but they have recently been acknowledged with trailhead maps, parking areas and Bureau of Land Management protection (locals are no longer allowed to dump their garbage and old mattresses there).
Since I wasn’t used to hot weather and it was at least 80 degrees, I didn’t hike in far enough to experience the area’s claim to fame—petroglyphs in rugged lava canyons—but I was able to see ancient junipers, a few stalwart desert flowers, and acres and acres of sagebrush. Occasionally the dusty, soft volcanic pumice trail would yield to the underlying black lava that forms the area.
I had tried to text a photograph of the trailhead to Mike, both because he would be interested and for the sake of safety (I was deviating from my announced trajectory and I was alone), but my phone couldn’t find a signal. I was slightly distracted by the fact that the iced tea I’d drunk while on Bend’s fancy main drag just 30 minutes prior had worked its way through my system and wanted out. Forgetting the phone, I trotted over to the nearest large juniper and dropped trou. Ducking behind a tree was an unnecessary formality, as there were no other human beings for miles.
My mind was still in city mode, hurling thoughts about what I needed to do when I got to Burns, when I got home, when I returned to work, in rapid succession. I had forgotten to tag the blog post I’d made hastily while the hotel staff waited for me to clear out of my room. I had forgotten to send an email to my gracious hosts at the Nature of Words. I had forgotten to email my publicist about a trip to New York. I needed to ask my husband something. Oh, and ask him about that, too. And that, too.
I kept walking.
As I continued, observations of my surroundings slowly supplanted the endless banter of current and future obligations. Meadowlarks called to each other. The wind blew my hair and lifted the odor of baking sage to a swirling perfume. My feet crunched softly in the pumice, and the sun beat down on my hastily sunblock-slathered shoulders.
I kept walking.
The wind was huffing across the expanse of high desert; I limited my pace to accommodate breathing through my nose, for the hot air threatened to scour my open mouth of moisture in seconds. It whistled through the gnarled juniper branches and jostled the stalwart desert flowers that managed to survive on a few inches of spring rain.
I stopped to admire a monkeyflower, which danced playfully in the breeze. It seemed to me that most desert plants grew yellow flowers because they take less energy. I considered the showy hibiscus of the tropics. The monkeyflower fit the theory, true or not: it had a beautiful bright magenta flower but the plant itself was about three inches tall, much shorter and smaller than those with small, yellow blooms.
When my mind had quieted and I’d put a good dent in the water I carried, I turned around. By the time I returned to my car I had entered country mode, and I was ready to continue my journey into Eastern Oregon.