Almost anyone who has lived in or visited Central Oregon will make a stop at Smith Rock sometime in their lives. The majestic spires are a must-see. But for regular visitors, Smith Rock on a Saturday can try our patience. Finding a parking space is just as frustrating as finding one in downtown Portland on a Saturday night — and just as expensive.
Then, the people-watching begins. There are the over-dressed hikers with huge backpacks, over-built hiking boots, and ski poles to negotiate the incredibly well-managed trails. Since it is illegal to camp inside the park, I wonder how they would ever need that much gear. We greet the birding couples who are rarely below retirement age. Youth groups break the rules and trample off the trail, hollering to make echoes and tossing boulders at each other, laughing loudly. Parents drag complaining kids along, trying to create some bonding time. Dogs pull owners on their climbing rope leashes.
And there are the climbers. The professionals usually speak other languages and walk in hurried, smooth steps to get to secret destinations. The amateurs choose places close to the walkway. They talk loudly and knowingly, cramming all the jargon they can remember into long, expository paragraphs. They must know that everything is heard below — that the rocks reverberate every whisper. But the chance to be on center stage must be tempting. Rapt audiences of walkers below can hear the called encouragements to place your foot on that boulder hold to the left and swing your arm to find the crack up to your right. To me, they look like some of the softball girls I play with, strutting about their position and calling out unnecessary phrases to let everyone know that they belong.
This is my turf. This is where I war with the elements — out here on the rocks. It’s just me and the wall and my own wits.
Bikers look for stretches without walkers so they can speed through. People of all ages, all sizes, are strolling aimlessly or purposefully somewhere. It’s Central Oregon’s plaza, where everyone gathers to show ourselves that we’re out and not holed up in our houses.
We are no exception. Our girls scamper before us, behind us, and around us. Sometimes we get friendly smiles and other time we get barely courteous nods with a look of judgment that says, “BREEDERS.”
Luckily, the kids don’t notice. Soon, their shoes are off and they’re scaling a boulder, their toes gripping like geckos. Paul and I stand side by side, proudly watching the escapades of our offspring — noting the intense personality of Ingrid (like her mother) or the playful Greta (like her father) or the patient determination of Dagne (we’re still trying to figure her out).
Regardless of the crowds, Smith Rock delivers. We’ve walked in the sun among the majestic red walls of rock. We’ve listened to the rock doves, noted the Violet-Green swallows darting over the water, and watched a snake slither down the rocky embankment. We’ve seen the spires and discussed how they look like philosophers or like Moses, crazed from 40 days with God, ready to crash the stone tablets down the side of the mountain. We’ve breathed the fresh air and drank nothing but water for several hours. We’ve sweated and felt the breeze cool us afterwards. We’ve laughed, talked, and most importantly, been silent.
On the way over, Paul read from Thoreau, how we pay a thousand penances in our going to and fro, to and fro, striving and working. Hercules at least had an end to his labors and a friend to burn the heads of the hydra so two more did not grow in their place. We multiply our troubles, adding to them the cares of this world.
But today, we paid no penance. We did not labor. We only reaped the rewards of being alive and full of health and happiness.