9.03.2012

field trip: Marion Lake

early autumn in the Cascades

Over the weekend, I drove southeast into the mountains with some friends to hike up to Marion Lake, a pristine, natural gem just above the artificially dammed, motorboat-infested reservoir called Detroit Lake in Linn County.


potential rock slide, Marion Trail

On the easy, mostly flat, six-mile round-trip trail, we passed several future rock slides and early signs of autumnal color changes. We were chattered at by a speeding chipmunk and hovered over by a metallic-blue dragonfly. We skirted piles of horse and deer or elk droppings along the path. And (shhh) we lost the trail once for about 20 minutes after taking what looked like a detour down to the water, our steps crunching the carpet of tinder-dry pine cones—which is why at the trail head the Forest Service requests that parties register everyone's names, so they can track forest use and assist search-and-rescue (though, oops, we had not filled out the form).


yellow raft on Marion Lake

Once at the lake, live pines stood nearest the water and dead ones ranged farther outwards, thanks to a couple of forest fires in the past 10 years, leaving the mountains looking a bit gray-faced but still worth the hike. I sat at the edge of the lake in the afternoon sun in the high stillness, hearing the soft breath of horses tethered in a nearby cove, wishing I had a nylon camping hammock to string up around any two trees for a nap, reading myself to sleep.


leafy branch, Marion Lake

But I was two-and-a-half hours from home, with evening plans in the city, and couldn't stay. We ran into a shovel-toting park ranger on the way back, a youthful philosophy graduate of my alma mater who said he was park ranging because he "couldn't find anything else" and that he'd actually been borrowed from someone's Parks and Recreation Department because of federal cost-cutting measures.


wooden trail, Marion Lake

So many people live on this planet, seven billion now. It's strange how paths can cross just once in a lifetime, people who chat on a bus or make conversation in line to pass time, and then never see each other again—and never care. It happens every day. I often think about all the photos in albums of people I don't know, random faces in the margins, frozen in motion in the frame, who are themselves the center of their own albums and myself, in turn, a stranger in their background, unknown and therefore faceless, like the extras in films, paid to laugh and make fake talk, so the center seems real. 

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