Cascade Head South Trail is a fairy tale staircase of exposed roots climbing though a cavern of giant spruce trees and berry thickets into the meadows that overlook the ocean and a lumpy cloud cover.
The forest light grows dim as I walk back. Swainson’s thrushes are filling the wood with their mystic arpeggios and sometimes it sounds like there is one right next to the trail. I stop and try to spot one in the tall leafy brush to no avail. They are good at hiding, being still, throwing their voices.
Around a bend I startle one into noisy wing beats and watch it fly deeper into the brush. I can’t get a good look at it and eventually move along until one flies up the trail and lands on a tree in plain sight. I spot it in my binoculars long enough to see the brown spots across its breast but it flies off before I can focus. The light continues to fade so I forget about spotting birds and listen instead to the spiraling songs coming from every direction, the water-drop calls traded back and forth.
Once a coworker asked me if I knew what bird made a certain song, before he even began his description I knew he was talking about a Swainson’s Thrush because of the wonder in his eyes. He had clearly been touched by something shimmery, something transcending the roughness of the world.
Down the trail a ways I hear a Varied Thrush sing, the eerie harmonic of its simple one note song drifting elegantly through the woods. If my coworker had been asking about a Varied Thrush his eyes would have held awe, a little apprehensive of the seedy underworld this bird had given him a glimpse of, parting his thoughts into silence like a heavy velvet curtain.
I don’t want to leave.
A few days from now at home in a seemingly unrelated conversation I will learn something about eerie harmonics after I say to a friend, Men are so attractive when they share their expertise.
Humans are attractive when they are in their purpose, my friend replies. He’s right, intellectual prowess is not what I find attractive about my latest muse, it’s passion. This fellow spent his life immersed in the things he loves and now seems deeply imbued with them and with purpose.
I consider my own passions and decide it is not a thing to double check or asses rationally in terms of what I can give the world. We have a right to make our lives and our loves matter deeply to us even if they matter to no one else. It seems like a small thing. But for some of us it requires a strange amount of courage to choose.
I have often wondered over the usefulness of essays about being outdoors engrossed in my own thoughts. To my surprise, each finished piece feels like an important shoot growing out from under a large rock that has long weighed on my spirit. Now that I see how purpose is dependent on passion I can imagine my work as an eerie harmonic floating through the far woods, occasionally touching a dusk traveler who might slip out of their thoughts to love the seedy, unplanned life they so elegantly inhabit.