Friday, July 16, 2021



Awe is a funny word. It stems from the Old English word ege, meaning “terror and dread.” The hot-looking manhold cover marked WATER which I pass on my evening walks earns my awe of the dreaded kind. No water, no rain, has touched it metal surface in many, many weeks. A mile up the road the arrow on the Umatilla Forest Fire sign is locked in place pointing to EXTREAME. The air has had a scent of smoke over the past few days. The light has a reddish tinge. We are not yet at mid-summer's day.

Warding off dread, I am coating my cabin and outbuildings with a fire retardant. An effort that gives me only a slight feeling of assurance. Avoiding the sun, I work on whichever side is in the shade. Sometimes I take a break by hiking further up the canyon along a stream or join a friend at the river's edge as he fishes in the river. 

My friend reminds me not to let my shadow fall on the water and scare the fish into their own version of shock and awe. What do fish make of their own shadows? My friend and I came across a dozen small trout swimming in a sunlit pool in a mountain stream. There appeared to be twice the number of fish until I realized I was also counting their shadows. The beauty of the pool, the movement of the fish and their shadows, and the delight in finding trout gave me a brush with awe, the reverant kind.  

                                                             Can you find the fish?

In Microadventures: Local Discoveries for Great Escapes, the author Alastair Humphreys suggests, “I can guarantee that within a mile of where you live, there will be something that you’ve never seen or noticed before.” Studies show these small moments of surprise, of awe, contribute to good health. I have many of these moments in the canyon.

This spring  I found a Pacific Tree Frog, caught him, and then let him go in the boggy area across from my cabin. I have been wishing for the evening sound of croaking frogs. Maybe this little guy will start the tradition.

Bees delight me with their varying markings. Each one providing a moment of awe. Within a mile I found this moth mullien blossom visited by a bee with its knees laden with pollen. 

Further up the canyon it is the water that holds the awe. Maybe it is the scarcity of water this summer—I can’t hear the river from my cabin this summer—that makes me appreciate any trail with deep enough water that its rivulets still make music. Listen.

This summer, if I am to have "Microadventures" of the less dreaded type, I have to ignore the dry tips of pine needles, the yellowed sunburnt leaves, and the lid in the road proclaiming water where none is evident.

Instead, find pleasure in the leap of a single drop of water.

Or an eight-inch high waterfall slipping over red volcanic rock and making a froth of bubbles, each one tinged blue and green reflecting the sky and the trees. A lovely sight.

May your summer be filled with awe of the less dreaded kind.