Rather, my heart lies just to the east, where the waterfalls and cataracts, the turbulent waters cascade down hills and cliff faces and plummet downward into black and white pools that laughingly skip along to the silently surging and giant vessel of the Columbia River.
This doesn't happen in a vacuum or in some deserted place of desolation. The misty tendrils of water careening down the cliff faces paint mosses and lichens over everything in sight, the seeds and spores bathing in droplets that float to the ground. Trees soar upward and plunge their roots deep, stretching to touch the sky and seize the ground, tapping into the pools below the rushing waters and quenching their gargantuan thirst. Ivy, that ubiquitous green parasite, has less a hold on the trees flourishing near the Gorge's veins (like a watercolor's bleeding) than in those of other stately forests. The trunks here are either bare or fully decked with mossy green beards that drip and sag with moisture as I imagine Vikings' beards did when on the sea or when after taking a particularly long drink of ale.
In the summertime the falls are a sanctuary from the heat, for even in Oregon there are days when the sun looks down without mercy and the pines and firs beckon us to come under their shade with boughs outstretched and their sweet, sweet, almost-blackberry smell. But that scent is often lost in the scene's clamor to overwhelm every sense, for the cool moisture of the air brings its own smell, and all that is green exudes the collective smell of green and life, not assaulting like grass clippings, but a prudent flaunt (if you will). The rocks and the dirt bring their own aged scent of earth and mineral.
I live west of this, in a land uniquely beautiful (as I've hinted at above), but a 30 minute drive acts as a true agent of change. Going just slightly east, out of dense civilization and into this fertile stretch, I drive past the airport, a reminder that though I'm not traveling by plane I nevertheless am making a departure into something distinct and beautiful. The trees gripping the right hand landscape all of a sudden come to the fore as a sprawling expanse of rolling evergreens, the majestic Mount Hood towering in the background and acting as both a gatekeeper and center of this system. It seems to welcome in a voice beyond vocal articulation with a confidence that those who enter for the first time will be in sufficient awe that they need no warning to guard this treasure they are encountering.
Coming in from the East is its own transition: from a rugged and arid landscape into the booming and crowded abundance of emerald sheen and azure sky, the water dancing in the sunlight with Mount Hood looming into view in grand style. I have wondered if this is a small indication of Creation kneeling before God, rejoicing as He jubilantly passes to the sea. Regardless, it is this passage that has joyously welcomed me home both by air and by land, and my heart cannot but sing upon seeing it anew, for a part of me has never left. A part of me wanders and roves through the lush green and swims in the frigid tributaries and sings and claps its hands as the rain descends or the sun's golden rays tease the forest's branches.
I would weep and mourn and rightly rage if that part of me could no longer find residence among the pines, if all were hewed down and the streams dried up and Mount Hood stripped of its snowy gown. I would rage at those who had turned a place of celebration into a truer wasteland than the desert to the East, for one exists by nature and the other is a human artifact. The nation jokes and jibes the unclean nut jobs who cling to trees and break chainsaws and meticulously recycle, right and wrong in their derision. IT is not the highest good, it is perhaps disordered, the region in unChurched, aching sorely for something deeper than a superficial pantheism and long jaunts in nature. But those who only see utility, who see buildings or progress or waste disposal or dispensable and unimportant crude matter rather than the treasure before them surely have a hard glint in their soul and do not know created beauty. I despair of ever being truly heard by them.
I have been lonely among friends, even in Portland, and I bemoan that when a part of me can rejoice for being home, another laments for having nothing of community or mutual understanding or affirmation or even like-mindedness. I can't talk about virginity as a source of pride and natural status for my state of life without defensiveness and judgment or simple lack of understanding. I am alone in my church, in my mid-20's with no brothers of the same age to embrace. I am constantly thirsting as I wander a city of beauty that so tragically will never adequately embrace the outpouring of natural majesty given to it because God is confined to the crazies' and the sillies' households or else seen as somebody who says, "Use this however the hell you want," leaving protection of this beauty a matter of preference rather than human vocation.
But despite the pains and woes it gives, I cannot but love it, for there I grew and there I have wondered and wandered. There I have seen the explosive beauty in the land of waterfalls. In the city I have spent a day drinking in a hundred perfumes of roses infinitely more alluring, appealing, and intoxicating than any concoction that Paris designers or Antonio Banderas or whatever is popular these days even if their brains were working at 100% capacity. There I've felt wind slide past my face in a caress to tell me that rain--and Spring--are nigh. It's there that a thirst for justice was planted in me and it is there that I return time and again when I need a reminder of God's goodness, whether in memory or in physical presence.