Sometimes I don’t reveal favorite places, nor do you. We want to keep them secret within our ever more crowded public lands. However, Lookout Mountain is not a secret and is, in fact, a featured hike within my favorite guidebook: Oregon’s Ancient Forests: A HIking Guide, by Chandra LeGue of Oregon Wild.
As a roadless area, Lookout Mountain is immediately in a tenuous position. To hike there is to both delight in the shady groves of older forests with their delicate understories of ferns, baneberries, and columbine — and to worry about their future. Protected? Or another logging travesty? Fortunately, Lookout Mountain has loyal allies, including Oregon Wild. Still, we must be ever vigilant and ready to speak up for the trees.
Last week (before the heat wave), Wes and I camped in the Ochoco National Forest close to Lookout Mountain, reveling in the ancient ponderosas redolent in vanilla-butterscotch scents. We hiked the seven-mile loop featured in the hiking guide-our second time. (Note–dispersed camping site not to be revealed).
To hike Lookout Mountain is a journey of biodiversity, from the zestiness of green blister beetles mating on a flower stem to the spires of larch and fir on north-facing slopes and bodacious ponderosa pines on the south-facing aspects, and higher up? The forests becomes lodgepole pine interspersed with sagebrush wildflower meadows with juniper. Toss in aspen groves, trickling ferny streams, and Indian paintbrush flashing scarlet behind a beckoning of penstemon all done up in blue and purple blooms, and that’s just the beginning.
Don’t forget the wheezy sweet melody of black-throated gray warblers up high in the grand firs; the ruffed grouse mama nearly attacking my pant legs and then luring me away from her chicks with her hurt animal cry; and that raucous family of northern three-toed woodpeckers jammering among lodgepole pines of a high mountain meadow.
While roadless, the human history of Lookout Mountain is a story of past mining, of remnants of an old fire lookout on the summit ridge with awesome Cascade views, and of healing scars within a larger landscape that has long known the lighter tread of the people who are now part of the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs and the Northern Paiute. These are their traditional territories.
On our hike, I knelt to taste a wild onion in a meadow and dug up part of an edible coral fungi mushroom growing within the rich humus of the mixed fir forests. My harvest was light and my intention to feel connected to the local sustenance cooked up in a frying pan that eve.
When my fingers felt their way through the rich compost to tug on the cauliflower-like mushroom, I noticed all the tiny interconnecting threads…mycelia! I had my hands deep in this magical world of forest communication underground—tree talkers by root communication via fungi. The wood wide web was there–the very one we step on over and over again without knowing that beneath our feet there’s so much signaling, sharing, and a humbling intelligence.
Right before the hike I had finished reading a life-changing new book– Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest by the esteemed forest ecologist and lyrical Canadian writer Suzanne Simard. All I will say for now is READ THIS BOOK. I thought I knew some things about the forest and intimate connections and how all is a community and never a collection of individuals, but now? I will be returning to this well many times to better understand the interweavings and science so clearly interpreted. I was moved to tears more than once by the memoir.
Read Suzanne’s book and you will be always be wondering, especially in forests with great ancient trees. Is this the mother tree? And are these her seedling kin receiving her nutrients that are fueling the luxuriant new needles? Or what about the two trees that grow side by side equally grand? How is this Douglas-fir companioned with the ponderosa pine? And what of the sea of verdant understory plants?
Around our camp, I continued to prowl and kneel low and investigate. I took photos and will share a sampling. I also wandered the Baneberry Trail–a nature trail loop through a fabulous fir forest, alder groves, ferns, and spring, a trail that is overgrown and should be revived. The messages of interdependence and of valuing all species, and the coolness of intact undisturbed forests in a warming world are important to heed.
As Bend reached a terribly hot 109 degrees today, I hope we will learn that we must save our forests that are doing the best to save us from our fossil fuel sins. Long live the wild forests and big trees– sequestering and storing carbon, overflowing with diversity and sustaining us all, if we will do our part to honor them and change our ways.
Enjoy a bit of a photo recording below–starting with those frisky mating beetles.