I walked to the top of Pilot Butte today with my spouse. There is nothing noteworthy in that because there was nothing special about today, but weird things did happen. It started off as just a pleasant day for a walk, just like so many other days here in Bend. Even if today wasn’t special, there were lots of people on the trail and about half of them had dogs on a leash. But there was no special reason for them to be on the butte — it wasn’t the first beautiful day of spring, it wasn’t a holiday and it was getting late and a bit windy. In other words there wasn’t much reason for people to be climbing the butte at this time, but there they were, and there we were. Everyone greeted us as we passed, perhaps because we all had ear-to-ear smiles.
The mountain peaks of the Cascades, named the Sisters, looked so very close they felt like our sibling relatives. It was nearing sunset and we had to squint directly into the sun to see the Middle Sister. Off to the right, Mt. Jefferson reared its snow-covered glaciers into the approaching gloaming. In front of Jeff the shorter extinct mini-volcano, Black Butte, sat like an Egyptian pyramid. Black Butte’s mantel of winter snow has melted now that summer is near and it lives up to its dark name. It is quite black and perfectly conical from this angle. Today it seemed special because it appeared especially black, being silhouetted by the back-lit more distant hazy mountains.
Perhaps the most famous of these mountains is distant Mt. Hood, (I climbed it in 1953 with Orin Pilkey the day before I graduated from high school) which on a really clear day is beautifully symmetrical when seen from Pilot Butte, but today it was almost lost in the mists of the distant sunset haze. Much nearer, the Three Sisters and Broken Top were intermittently capped in lenticular clouds, but were not obscured by mist.
To the east the hundred miles of high desert of eastern Oregon was all aglow with the low angled sunshine. Few people live permanently in that astonishingly beautiful desert, but many people visit it to hike and camp there to have a huge chunk of wilderness all to themselves. But usually people seeking a wilderness experience come to the forests to the west of Pilot Butte, the enchanting Cascade mountains with their dark forests of odoriferous beauty. And why not come here? It is simply pleasant being out in any part of the Oregon wilderness.
Perhaps a balmy sunset is not to the liking of the youthful adrenaline junkies, but I’ve been there and done some of that, and this new adrenaline-free lifestyle feels much better to my older self. But I grant the kids those thrills while they are young, and there’s plenty of open space out here to explore their testosterone-driven dreams. This is a fantastic place to be living, and although few people may use the word contentment, because they are still struggling with their daily problems, contentment is perceptibly in the environment. It’s easy to get contentment here in the Bend area – just pause, look around and think – this is really fantastic just the way it is.
Standing at the mountain identification placard at the top of Pilot Butte, I had a fantasy of me planking the Three Sisters. Planking is a silly photo gag that people all over the world have been participating in this year. The subject person is carefully framed within a picturesque photo, just like a typical tourist, but with a difference. Instead of facing the camera with a pedestrian, stiff, hands to the sides, frozen-face smile, the planker lies face down horizontally across the picture frame, with their hands pressed firmly to their sides. Who knows what strange photos may come of these weird poses, but we can see some of them posted to the web. To me they are reminiscent of René Magritte’s paintings, like the one with a boulder floating in the sky. My mental image, while atop Pilot Butte today, was of me floating horizontally above the Sisters, like the sunset clouds, but with me Superman like, with my hands to my sides. I don’t know quite how to create the levitation effect, but that’s what I was mentally hallucinating, and I liked it.
As the sun set the wind grew noticeably chilly, and as I was only wearing a shell jacket without a sweater underneath, it was time to descend the spiral paved road. We had ascended the nature trail, which spirals gently around the butte totally separated from the road and is smoothed with dirt and cinders, but going down it would be quicker on the pavement, so whoosh, down we went. There were still a few people, joggers in running shorts, ascending, but they were working hard and probably wouldn’t stop to look at the chilly view for long and would soon be back down.
I can only stand just so much contentment; then I must return to the mere happiness of trying to improve things.