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Walks on the Wildwood

Every Sunday morning since the start of the New Year, I've taken a hike in Forest Park. It's a trend I won't be able to keep up through the coming months as I travel around Oregon and Washington for readings. Nevertheless, I will pine for these excursions while I'm away. Forest Park is the wooded wilderness that stretches over seven miles along the western ridge (known as the Tualatin Mountains by Native Americans and the West Hills by today's locals) of Portland. I have a commanding view of these hills and their mostly coniferous (Douglas-fir, hemlock, and cedar) forest from my apartment in the St. Johns neighborhood.

If you've read Colin Meloy and Carson Ellis's fantastic Wildwood, you have read about this extraordinary place (though it may not be quite as extraordinary as their heroine, Prue, finds it). I imagine a time, years from now, when The Wildwood Chronicles have reached the status of an American Chronicles of Narnia, and children all over the country beg their parents to take them on pilgrimages to the Wildwood Trail.

The Wildwood Trail is an actual footpath that meanders through the north-central stretch of Forest Park, intersecting other trails and firelanes, creating sundry loops. Like all the trails in the park, you will cross rustic wooden bridges over burbling streams, and find mossy ravines pierced by golden arrows of sunlight or wrapped in the damp embrace of clouds. Though the Wildwood Trail is well-trod by the likes of me, quietude and reverence prevail.

On our recent hikes the weather has varied wildly. New Year's Day was crystal clear and windy; we stopped frequently to lean against swaying trees and listen to the creaking and whistling. The following weekend, while St. Johns was in the grip of an impermeable fog, up in the hills the sun was just breaking though the wooly branches, glinting off of hundreds of new-spun, dew-drenched spiderwebs. And the most recent Sunday, with temperatures around 34 degrees, I poured hot black tea into a jar and bundled up for a leisurely stroll through the snow-dusted ferns.

Things we do while hiking in Forest Park: look closely at lichens and fungi; listen carefully for the bushtits and chickadees, red-breasted nuthatch, and Townsend's warblers; look up at the snags (standing dead trees) for birds of prey and mammals perching there.

When we get home, we might pull out some of our favorite books to recall scientific names or geological terms: Non-Flowering Plants (A Golden Nature Guide) by Shuttleworth and Zim; One City's Wilderness by Marcy Cottrell Houle; Birds of North America by Robbins, Bruun, and Zim; Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast by Pojar and MacKinnon; and In Search of Ancient Oregon by Ellen Morris Bishop.

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Alexis M. Smith grew up in Soldotna, Alaska, and Seattle, Washington. She received an MFA in creative writing from Goddard College. She has written for Tarpaulin Sky and She has a son and two cats, and they all live together in a little apartment in Portland, Oregon. Glaciers is her first novel.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. Glaciers (Tin House New Voice)
    Used Trade Paper $5.95
  2. In Search of Ancient Oregon: A...
    Used Trade Paper $15.00
  3. Plants of the Pacific Northwest...
    Used Trade Paper $13.00
  4. Birds of North America Used Trade Paper $10.95
  5. One City's Wilderness: Portland's...
    New Trade Paper $19.95

Alexis Smith is the author of Glaciers (Tin House New Voice)

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