Categories: Oregon Readers Essays

Death and Rebirth on Vista Ridge

written by Adam Sawyer

On August 26th, 2011, a lightning strike on the north side of Mt. Hood produced a smolder that would eventually ignite and become the Dollar Lake Fire. By the time autumn rains extinguished the blaze, it had consumed more than 6,300 acres of forest. At the beginning of 2015, a two-year dalliance with heroin had spiralled into full-blown addiction and transformed my life into a similarly decimated landscape.

When I entered rehab in March of that year, I had already lost my best friend as well as my girlfriend, and a hard-fought, burgeoning career as an outdoor writer was being actively flushed down the toilet. After treatment, I moved into a friend’s house and began the painfully slow process of feeling human again. What the Dollar Lake fire had done to the trees of the Mt. Hood Wilderness, heroin replicated on my endorphin receptors. Recovery, in both cases, would require time and patience.

Neural receptors can eventually be repaired. One of the things that helps the process along is fresh air and exercise. The outdoors of Oregon is what inspired me to become a writer in the first place. Before losing my way two years prior, hiking had been my drug of choice. It would now become a critical component in returning to health. But it was slow going. I fatigued easily and wasn’t getting the same mood boost that climbing a mountain or finding a new waterfall used to elicit without fail. This was expected. Again, it would take time.

In the half decade since the fire, hikers checked in on a stretch of the forest that formerly enjoyed a canopied Vista Ridge Trail to an aptly named Eden Park. The first couple of years, there wasn’t much to report. But then came the avalanche lilies. The ethereal, white lilies seemingly push receding snowfields up the mountains every spring. And a few seasons ago, spectacular carpets of countless lilies announced the rebirth of the wilderness with a floral roar. I saw a set of photos of the phenomenon posted on a local hiking forum and needed to witness it in person. But by the time I was able to go, the show was over and I would need to wait another year.

So in late spring of 2016, I watched the hiking and wildflower forums with baited breath, When the time came, I went. Somehow among the scorched trees, life had come back in spectacular fashion. Bluebird skies, white lilies and black snags produced a palette of colors and textures unlike anything I had ever witnessed, and I was moved to tears. In that moment the parallels between the landscape and my life were too much to bear. That afternoon in June, Mother Nature put her hands firmly on my shoulders and told me everything would be OK. She said I’d feel strong again, find love again, and eventually be myself once more. She reminded me to take care of my body and soul and to come see her often. I obliged. She kept her promise. And today, I am eternally grateful for death and rebirth on Vista Ridge.

Next read: In Oregon I Learned to Live

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